Video Stores, Streaming Video, and Your Troop


As you may have heard by now, the BSA has begun a discussion about whether and how to serve the whole family–both boys and girls, in other words–at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh began the conversation at May’s National Annual Meeting, and councils across the country have been holding listening sessions this summer to gather input from volunteers.

I missed the meeting in my local council, but I caught the video used in all the meetings online. In it, Surbaugh lays out his rationale for beginning a broader discussion of this important topic.

My point in this post is not to weigh in on this specific topic (although I applaud Surbaugh’s willingness to ask challenging questions and think outside the patrol box). Instead, I want to highlight a key point Surbaugh makes. In the video, he argues that Scouting’s problem is not its programs–which are proven to meet the needs of families–but the way it delivers those programs. What keeps people away, he says, is not content but convenience.

Starting about the 11:30 mark in the video, Surbaugh describes the evolution of options for watching movies at home:

  • First, there were video stores–remember those?–that rented VHS tapes. You had to “be kind and rewind” unless you wanted to pay a penalty.
  • Next came DVDs and Blu-ray discs, which offered higher quality and eliminated the need to rewind.
  • These days, of course, we stream videos on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and a bunch of other services–no trip to Blockbuster required.

Surbaugh imagines that a lot of people a decade or so ago lost money trying to invent even better discs, not realizing the product was good enough for most people.

That same thinking can happen in troops. We don’t necessarily need bigger, louder, more expensive activities to attract and retain members (not that high adventure isn’t important for older Scouts). We do need to think about how we’re delivering the program and how effectively we’re communicating with families.

Take the simple issue of departure and return times for outings.Is it easy for parents in your troop to get to your meeting place at 4 p.m. on a Friday? Would getting back at 12 p.m. on a Sunday work better for families than 2 p.m. or 10 a.m.? Do you announce departure and return times from the moment an outing is announced–and stick with those times as plans develop? And do you text parents from the road to confirm your return time, especially if you’re going to miss your target?

We need to think about questions like those–and more complex ones as well. If not, families are as likely to hit the eject button as the play button.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Going to the Mat with Eagle Court of Honor Certificates


Many Eagle Scouts end up with more certificates, letters, and plaques than they know what to do with. There’s the official Eagle Scout certificate, of course, and hopefully a NESA certificate and one of my Eagle Mountain Certificates. And then there are the certificates sent by various public officials and branches of the military, many of which will eventually end up with a scrapbook.

Displaying all these recognition items at the court of honor can be a problem—or an expensive proposition if you decide to frame them all. Of course, you can wave them around during the ceremony, but only people in the front few rows will be able to see what they say.

One of my readers found a simple solution. She bought ready-made mats at Walmart for $3.97 and matted (but didn’t frame) the certificates her son had received. She then set the certificates up on brass plate stands, which she found for $1.00. (Don’t tell that reader, but you can find mats online for $1.00 or less at sites like

This is an impressive and inexpensive way to display certificates, and it lets you later put those certificates in a scrapbook or frame them if you prefer. In fact, you could reuse the mats and stands for future courts of honor.

For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and


Promoting Youth Protection Through Posters


An important topic the BSA’s Youth Protection training covers is Scouting’s barriers to abuse: no one-one-one contact, appropriate discipline, etc. But there’s an important barrier that isn’t listed, and that’s the requirement that all leaders renew their training every two years.

That policy exists both because the rules change from time to time–10 or 15 years ago, there was no guidance about social media–and because people tend to forget information they don’t use every day. (Recently, for example, I tried without much success to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle for a woodworking project, something I learned way back in high school.)

To keep Youth Protection policies more top of mind, the BSA has created a series of posters that you can display in your meeting place or at training courses. These attractive posters do a good job of highlighting key elements of Youth Protection, and I encourage you to download and use them.

The posters are:

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Not My Job–Or Is It?


Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you see something new.

During my tenure as Scoutmaster, the father of our newest Eagle Scout called me a few days before his son’s court of honor. The dad had printed 100 programs for the ceremony—only to discover that that was a task the troop traditionally handled.

The good news is that I’d been waiting until the last minute to produce the programs, so we didn’t end up with duplicates. The bad news is that that father spent several hours trying to lay out the programs in Microsoft Word (I assume) when I could have done the job in 15 minutes with the Adobe InDesign template I normally used.

Interestingly enough, I know I had told the family that the troop would handle the programs. Or at least I think I’d told them. After holding three courts of honor in four months, I might have slipped up.

To be sure we didn’t have a similar miscommunication in the future, I prepared a simple checklist that explained what the troop was responsible for (e.g., room reservations and printed programs), what we expected the family to handle (e.g., invitations and displays), and what should be handled jointly (e.g., developing the ceremony and recruiting presenters). I recommend you do the same. Otherwise, you may get a phone call like I did—or end up with twice as many programs as you need!

For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and


Advancement and Intentions


For an upcoming Scouting magazine column, I’ve been delving into the various Boy Scout advancement requirements having to do with camping–and specifically what does and doesn’t qualify as camping when it comes to counting nights. One thing I’ve realized is that there’s a bit of a discrepancy between the rank and merit badge requirements.

The Second Class and First Class requirements specify spending the night “in a tent that you pitch or other structure that you help erect, such as a lean-to, snow cave, or tepee,” while Camping merit badge only mentions sleeping “in a tent or under the stars.”

A legalistic leader–and we have plenty of those in Scouting–might get hung up on this discrepancy, saying that sleeping in a lean-to shouldn’t count for Camping merit badge or arguing that there’s no difference between a tent and a tepee. A lenient leader–and we have plenty of those, too–might ignore the details and let Scouts count nights spent in a cabin or church basement toward Camping merit badge.

Both approaches, however, miss the point of the requirements, which is to put Scouts in situations where they must practice the patrol method and Scoutcraft skills like tent-pitching and camp cooking. Sleeping in a church basement makes that less likely; sleeping in a lean-to doesn’t. If I were making the call, I’d probably allow a night spent in a lean-to but definitely wouldn’t allow a night spent in a church basement.

There’s one more point to consider: 20 nights of camping (including up to six nights of long-term camping) is not a lot to ask of a Scout before he reaches Eagle. If you feel the need to make exceptions to the rules, it’s probably a good idea to look at your troop’s camping program. If your Scouts don’t have enough chances to camp, the problem lies with the calendar your patrol leaders’ council has planned, not with the advancement requirements.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at