Scouting’s Secret Ingredient


I live in Louisville, Kentucky, the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken. As you undoubtedly know, KFC uses a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices on its chicken. The internet tells me that those ingredients are salt, tellicherry pepper, white pepper, paprika, savory, sage, ginger, marjoram, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper–and the internet’s never wrong, of course!–but officially the recipe is a secret.

Louisville is also known for a product whose ingredient list is much shorter: bourbon. All bourbon includes is water, yeast, and a grain mix that contains at least 51 percent corn. That’s it.

Of course, if you mix up those ingredients and drink them, you aren’t going to have a very pleasant experience. Because it turns out bourbon actually does have a secret ingredient–or at least an ingredient that doesn’t appear on the list. That ingredient is time. You have to put all the other stuff in a new, charred oak barrel and let the mixture sit for 5, 6, or 7 years, depending on temperature and a bunch of factors I don’t understand.

Time is also Scouting’s secret ingredient. And, interestingly enough, 5, 6, or 7 years is about how much time you have to wait before you see the magic happening in our program.

The longer I’m involved in Scouting, the more I’m reminded that badges and camping trips and Dutch oven cobblers are nothing more than bait we use to keep kids in the program long enough for magic to happen. Some of those things may involve learning skills that spark career interests or unleash leadership potential, but most of them are far more subtle. Like the forging of friendships between Scouts that will last a lifetime and that will get those Scouts through all the trials of college, courtship, and career building. Or like the creation of mentor relationships where a Scout leader becomes a second mother or a stand-in father for a Scout who needs someone to believe in him.

So while it’s fine to think about uniforms and advancement and all the other trappings of Scouting, we should really put our efforts into doing whatever it takes to ensure that our Scouts hang around until, like fine bourbon, they are ready to be released into the world.

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

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