Why Verbs Matter in Boy Scout Advancement

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As a writer, I spend my days rearranging the letters of the alphabet and peppering them with various punctuation marks. That means, among other things, that I pay close to language.

I know, as Mark Twain once said, that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. I also know that commas save lives–consider the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma” and “Let’s eat Grandma.”

And I know that verbs matter when it comes to Boy Scout advancement.

Recently in a Facebook group I read a Scout’s request for people to interview for requirement 8 of Scouting Heritage merit badge (“Interview at least three people (different from those you interviewed for requirement 5) over the age of 40 who were Scouts. Find out about their Scouting experiences. Ask about the impact that Scouting has had on their lives. Share what you learned with your counselor.”) Now, I couldn’t tell from this Scout’s post whether he was looking to set up phone or email interviews with random Eagle Scouts or whether he just wanted people to post their Scouting stories to Facebook. If the former was true, he was setting up potential Youth Protection problems. If the latter was true, he was looking to take a shortcut, one that would end up shortchanging him, because he could learn far more by conducting an actual interview than by having a brief asynchronous exchange on Facebook.

Years ago, I came across a great quote in an old Cub Scout handicraft book: “It isn’t what the boy does to the board that counts; it’s what the board does to the boy.”

The same is true of every Boy Scout requirement. That’s why paying attention to the verbs is so important.


Need more great troop leadership ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Illustrating Leadership in Scouting

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Although the Scout Oath and Law don’t refer explicitly to leadership, one of the things we try to do as Scoutmasters is teach our Scouts to be leaders. We do that by (let’s hope) setting a good example, but we also do it by pointing out other good leaders to our Scouts.

Here’s one way to do that: Show a video clip illustrating leadership at a PLC meeting or Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops session. Then, ask the Scouts to identify leadership traits they spotted and tell how they might implement that trait in their own leadership roles.

Here’s a great video from YouTube to get you started:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxB-k6Vw73E

The clip shows a teenager trying—and failing—to sing the National Anthem before an NBA game a decade or so ago. As she struggles with embarrassment and stage fright, Philadelphia 76ers coach Mo Cheeks quietly walks over, puts his arm on her shoulder to encourage her, and then sings along with her. By the end of the song, the entire arena has joined in. To me, Cheeks’ action is a great example of leadership and an embodiment of what William Arthur Ward once said: “Blessed is the person who sees the need, recognizes the responsibility, and actively becomes the answer.”

It’s also an example of what we as Scout leaders should do in working with our youth leaders. Too often, we think the youth leadership method means letting our patrol leaders and senior patrol leaders sink or swim without our help. But it’s really incumbent on us to help our youth leaders be successful, even if that means bailing them out from time to time as Cheeks did in that video.

Putting Politics Ahead of Program

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It’s no secret that we live in a highly polarized and politicized age. Even simple decisions like where we shop seem to carry more weight than usual. Based on our political leanings, we’re supposed to either boycott or patronize (buycott?) Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s, Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, Starbucks, and a host of other companies. There’s even an app that lets you scan a product’s UPC code to determine whether or not you should buy it, based on how you feel about animal welfare, the environment, human rights, immigration, LGBTQ rights, social responsibility, or half a dozen other issues.

Not surprisingly, the Boy Scouts of America has gotten caught up in these political crosscurrents in recent years, mostly due to the decisions to accept gay leaders and gay and transgendered youth members. Of course, many longtime Scouters have strong feelings about these issues and have been either elated or disappointed (or something in between) as they’ve watched BSA policy change. That’s understandable. But at the same time, all sorts of groups that have probably never sponsored a unit or written a Friends of Scouting check have jumped into the fray as well.

One such group, the North Carolina Values Coalition, prompted Mark Turner, Scout executive of the Mecklenburg County Council, to write a remarkable response in the Charlotte Observer. In it, he shared a long list of local Scouting accomplishments–267 new Eagle Scouts, 7,000 active members reciting the Scout Oath and Scout Law each week, improvements in school performance among inner-city Scouts–and then he said this: “Don’t tear down the things you don’t understand and the institutions that make our country strong. Take a leap of faith and have a view of life that the glass is half full or you will surely find yourself alone and thirsty.”

When Rex Tillerson was the BSA’s national president, he often talked about keeping the Main Thing the main thing. And the Main Thing was serving more youth.

If people in your community or chartered organization are confused about what the Main Thing is–or if they think the Main Thing is co-opting Scouting to advance their own causes–perhaps you could share Mark Turner’s op-ed with them or offer your own list of the things that really matter.

Ann Landers liked to say, “Nobody can take advantage of you without your permission.” I think it’s time we as Scouters take her advice.


To celebrate the release of the second edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I’m offering a 20% discount on all book orders through St. Patrick’s Day. Just enter the code SMOH2017 when you check out at https://www.eaglebook.com/cart/.

Is the Force Strong With Your Troop?

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A couple of years ago, Walt Disney Pictures rolled out its first film in the Star Wars series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The movie would undoubtedly done well at the box office, but Disney didn’t take any chances. Instead, it spent an estimated $175 million on an elaborate marketing plan that lasted three years.

That plan included all the standard tools in the marketing toolbox—and many more:

  • It focused on meeting current fans where they were (by having a presence at events like Comic-Con).
  • It capitalized on nostalgia (with trailer appearances by Han Solo, R2D2, and Chewbacca) and on reaching new fans (through tie-ins with makers of toys and breakfast cereals).
  • It prompted its marketing partners to advertise the movie. (For example, Target stores turned their entrances into spaceship doors, and All Nippon Airways wrapped three of its jets in Star Wars graphics.)
  • It made extensive use of social media (including Facebook selfie-sabers and Google’s “Choose Your Side” feature).
  • It built anticipation with teasers (especially by making fans wonder whether Luke Skywalker would appear in the movie).
  • It launched a huge range of branded merchandise (including Star Was Band-Aids, lightsaber barbecue tongs, Pandora bracelet charms, and Death Star waffle irons).

As a result of all this marketing, the movie, which cost $306 million to produce, more than broke even on opening weekend. It has now earned over $2 billion.

So what does all this have to do with Scouting? Simply this: The folks at Walt Disney Pictures knew they had a great film on their hands, but they also knew that was enough. They knew it didn’t matter how good the film was if people weren’t motivated to see it.

It’s the same way in Scouting. You may know that next month’s campout is going to be the best ever or that next summer’s Philmont expedition will be the experience of a lifetime, but do your Scouts know? Are you using every tool at your disposal to advertise troop activities and motivate Scouts to participate (including posters, videos, testimonials, Facebook groups, etc.)? And are you using the same tools to market your troop to potential new members?

If not, don’t be surprised if your troop becomes a critical hit and a box-office bomb.


To celebrate the release of the second edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I’m offering a 20% discount on all book orders through St. Patrick’s Day. Just enter the code SMOH2017 when you check out at https://www.eaglebook.com/cart/.

The New Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook Has Arrived

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Thanks to an exceptionally mild winter, spring is coming early here in Kentucky, and trees and shrubs are starting to blossom. In fact, I saw the most amazing fruit on a pine tree in my yard today: the second edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook.

Okay, books don’t really grow on trees. Instead, they’re made from trees (in this case, from sustainably grown and harvested trees, as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council). That means that if you want your own copy of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, you’ll have to buy it. And, as you might expect, I’m happy to help.

I blogged about the new edition a couple of months ago, but here’s an overview of what’s new:

  • A new cover
  • Extensive updates through to reflect changes in BSA policies and procedures
  • 16 pages of new content, much of which appeared first on this blog

In addition, the online resources that have long been part of the book have moved to the web, which makes updating them easier and freed up another 16 or so pages for new content.

I’m really excited about the new edition, and I hope you will be, too. You can buy it now from my website or in a Kindle edition from Amazon. (As Amazon and local Scout shops restock printed copies, they’ll be getting the new edition as well.)

To celebrate the new edition, I’m offering a 20% discount on all book orders through St. Patrick’s Day. Just enter the code SMOH2017 when you check out at https://www.eaglebook.com/cart/.

Building Resilience in Your Youth Leaders

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I decided long ago that the biggest challenge most Scout leaders face happens to be the biggest challenge most parents face: namely, dealing with that alien, vaguely humanoid species called the American teenager. And it’s especially challenging the first time around because kids morph into teenagers far faster than we can adapt. I think that’s why many Scout leaders who have followed their sons through Cub Scouting into Boy Scouting struggle when those boys hit their teen years; suddenly, the strategies that used to work are ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.

With that background in mind, I was excited recently to get a review copy the new book Crazy-Stressed: Saving Today’s Overwhelmed Teens with Love, Laughter, and the Science of Resilience by family counselor Michael J. Bradley, Ed.D. I’ll be interviewing Dr. Bradley soon for a Scouting magazine parenting article, but there’s plenty in the book that I know won’t fit into the article.

As the subtitle indicates, the book talks a lot about resilience, an essential skill for any functioning adult. And a big factor in developing resilience is having the opportunity to make decisions and control your own destiny.

When you think about it, that’s what Boy Scouting’s youth leadership method is designed to do. Every time we empower our patrol leaders’ councils to make decisions–and support those decisions even if they’re different than we would have made–we help our youth leaders develop resilience. Every time we sandbag them, overrule them, or make decisions by fiat, we cripple them in small ways. (The obvious exceptions, of course, involve health, safety, and potential violations of BSA policy.)

In his book, Dr. Bradley offers a quote I think every Scouter working with youth leaders ought to commit to memory: “The bad decision made well teaches far more than the good decision made poorly.”

To translate that into Scouting terms, “The bad decision made by the PLC teaches far more than the good decision made by the adults.” When you help your youth leaders make decisions well–even if those decisions are bad–you help them build their resilience muscles in ways that will benefit them–and your troop–for a long time to come.

Diagnosing Troop Attendance Problems

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Many troop struggle to get a decent percentage of their members out on weekend trips. If yours is one of them, what should you do?

Do some research. Sit down with your Scouts who are skipping outings and find out why—not in an accusatory manner but in an information-gathering manner. (Or, if you’re too close to the situation, recruit a troop committee member to do the interviews.)

What you’ll find should help you determine what action to take next. If you discover that your high-school-age Scouts don’t want to miss Friday night football games, consider starting fall outings on Saturday mornings and coming back later on Sunday. If you discover that Scouts aren’t hearing about outings until it’s too late to make plans, the problem is communications. If they’re skipping the challenging outings but not the lazy weekends—or vice versa—talk to the PLC about striking a better balance between challenge and relaxation.

The point is that you need to diagnose the problem before you can prescribe a cure. Just like your doctor asks you a dozen questions to determine what’s wrong with you, you need to ask a dozen questions to determine what’s wrong with your program.