Capturing Scouts’ Attention


We’ve all been there: In the middle of a conversation with a spouse, boss, or coworker, we realize the other person hasn’t heard a word we’ve said. Perhaps she’s thinking about how she’s going to respond. Perhaps he’s checking an “urgent” text message. Or perhaps–squirrell!–something else distracts that person from what we’re saying.

Of course, the same thing happens at every troop meeting, especially when some well-meaning adult makes a series of long-winded announcements. (Cue a clip of Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah wah woh wah wah.”) But it can also happen when you’re trying to teach a skill or even introduce a new game.

I thought about this recently when I came across an informedED article on capturing and holding the attention of students in school. You can read the article for yourself, but one of the key points was that teaching techniques that involve demonstrations and questions are more effective than straight lecture.

The article concludes with 10 concrete suggestions, many of which apply directly to Scouting–if we do Scouting as it was intended. I especially suggestion #4 (“Incorporate regular free play”):

The government of Finland has decided that all grade-school students should receive 15 minutes of free play time during every hour of class. The research supports this method: Analysing higher brain regions following periods of abundant social play in juvenile animals, Gregory & Kaufeldt found that one-third of all the genes they monitored were “significantly jogged one way or another by the playful activities.” They explain: “Without a regular diet of fun social engagements, children become hungry for play and begin to ‘act out,’ potentially disrupting the flow of classroom instructional activities.”

Are you making time for fun in your troop meetings? Are you involving your youth leaders in planning (suggestion #5)? Does the teaching you offer stretch Scouts a bit without being too far over their heads (suggestion #6)? If not, you may just be wasting your breath and their time.

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

What’s Behind Door Number 12?


My troop meets at a big church. It’s not a megachurch by any means, but people have been known to lose their way down some its many hallways.

To help people navigate better, the church recently installed large numbers next to each of the building’s 12 entrances. Those numbers are designed primarily for first-responders, but they’ll undoubtedly prove helpful to people delivering pizza to the youth group, to friends trying to connect before a Christmas concert, and to anyone else who’s unfamiliar with the building–including people attending Eagle courts of honor held there.

Although most people who attend Eagle courts of honor are the usual suspects (troop members and their families), your invitation list should be much broader. As I discuss in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, you or the family should invite the honoree’s school friends, members of his extended family, representatives of the organization that benefited from his project and anyone else you can think of who would want to help celebrate his accomplishment. Many, if not most, of those people won’t know whether the court of honor is behind door number 1, 2, or 12, which means your invitations need to be as specific as possible.

This is not just an issue when the building you’re using is as large as ours. Even in a small building, you’ll want to direct people to the best entrance, taking into consideration which doors will be unlocked on the day of the ceremony and where stairs might cause a problem for those with mobility issues. Even if you love hiking as much as I do, you shouldn’t make your guests take a hike before settling in to enjoy your court of honor!

What? You don’t have a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book yet? Click the title to order one now in either print or Kindle format. When you do, I think you’ll agree with the reader who said, “The information is insightful and a welcome addition for our parents preparing for their sons’ ceremony. It is well organized and easy to follow. It flows like a river.”

The Indispensable Scouter


Here in Louisville this week, news outlets have been full of stories about John Schnatter, founder and namesake of Papa John’s Pizza. The impetus was a Forbes magazine story (which Schantter has since corroborated) that the pizza magnate used racially charged language on a conference call this spring. In the wake of that revelation, Schnatter resigned from the University of Louisville’s board and stepped down as chairman of the company he founded. At the same time all sorts of organizations that have received charitable donations from him are reassessing their relationship with him. Ditto for organizations that have marketing arrangements with Papa John’s Pizza. (Such are the pitfalls of naming a company after a living person; far better, perhaps, to use Washington or Lincoln!)

So what’s the Scouting connection? As far as I know, Schnatter doesn’t have a connection with Scouting, although his company has been very supportive of our local council over the years.

But I think there is a connection. When any organization is tied too closely to a single individual, the organization will suffer if that individual royally screws up. And moral failings aren’t the only risk. What happens, for example, when a business owner dies without having a succession plan in place? Or what happens to a Scout troop when its Scoutmaster, the linchpin of the whole organization, is suddenly transferred to the other end of the country?

These days, troops around the country are celebrating their 50th, 75th, and even 100th anniversaries. While I don’t know their individual stories, I’m sure one thing unites them: None of them has had an “indispensable” man or woman as Scoutmaster. Instead, they’ve been led by Scoutmasters who now how important it is to build a strong leadership team that can survive the loss of any one person.

If your troop has an “indispensable” person as Scoutmaster (or really in any position), now’s the time to start making plans for his or her eventual departure. Volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook will help you get started. And if you are your troop’s “indispensable” leader, I encourage you to read and reflect on the old poem “Indispensable Man.” You may discover that you aren’t that “indispensable” after all.

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

The Question of Court of Honor Gifts


I recently came home from a beach vacation with my family. We had a great time, in part because of the service provided by those who hauled our luggage, served us in restaurants, and cleaned the house we were renting. Of course, we did our best to provide appropriate tips, even though we weren’t always sure when tips were appropriate.

You’ve probably been in similar situations. You know you should tip your restaurant server. But what about the cashier at a quick-service restaurant? (There’s a tip jar by the cash register, after all.) What about tour guides? What about tram drivers? What about valet parking attendants (assuming they don’t dent your car!)? There are plenty of gray areas where most people struggle with knowing how to apply the rules of etiquette.

The same is true for gift-giving. Everybody (hopefully) knows to bring a gift to a wedding. But what about an anniversary party?

And what about an Eagle court of honor?

Gifts are nice but certainly not required. But do the people you’re inviting to your next court of honor know that? Will someone be embarrassed because she’s the only person to bring a gift or–perhaps worse–will someone skip the ceremony because he isn’t sure what’s appropriate?

I think the best way to resolve this dilemma is to address it up front. Simply include language like this with the invitation:

  • No gifts, please. Your presence is a gift.


  • Bobby requests any gifts go to the Metropolitan Food Bank, the beneficiary of his Eagle Scout project.

People coming to courts of honor have plenty of questions to consider–what to wear, where to park, how long the ceremony will last. Don’t make them also wonder and worry about the question of gifts.

For more 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.