The Serenity Prayer and Your Troop


Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is credited with writing the famous Serenity Prayer, which is usually quoted like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Despite its Christian origins, the prayer is used by people of all spiritual backgrounds, as well as those in various 12-step recovery programs. It seems to help all sorts of people put the problems they face in perspective.

I thought about the prayer recently when I interviewed a Scoutmaster who leads a troop on a military base. (The resulting article will appear in Scouting magazine next spring.) As he explained, this Scoutmaster faces a couple of unique challenges. First, as is the case with all troops on military bases, he’s liable to lose big groups of members each year as families transition to other assignments. Second, because his base is rather small and has less-than-optimal housing and school options, many families choose to live off base, reducing the population of potential members.

Rather than carp about these things, which he most certainly cannot change, this Scoutmaster is making do with what he has–and is making a difference in the lives of a group of young men.

I’m sure your troop faces challenges as well, including some you cannot change (like the hegemony of youth sports) and some you can change (perhaps a frayed relationship with your chartered organization). By focusing on what you can change and accepting what you can’t with serenity–or at least resignation–you can create a better program and serve more young people in the months and years to come.

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



Scouts BSA and the Harm Our Words Can Cause


Did you roll your eyes when you heard the news that the GIrl Scouts of the USA was suing the Boy Scouts of America for trademark infringement? That’s perhaps understandable–until you dig into the complaint GSUSA filed.

Here’s some of the problematic language various BSA councils, districts, and units have used, according to the complaint:

  • “The proceeds from the luncheon will providing funding for our Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Adventure Scouts, Explorer Scouts, and in the development and implementation of our new BSA Girl Scouting Programs!”
  • “GIRL SCOUT Volunteer Opportunity”
  • “Boys/Girls Scouts of America Volunteer Form”
  • “Come talk to me about the GIrl Scouts BSA Troops forming in Kirkland”
  • “There is no more GIrl Scouts”

As someone who writes extensively about Scouting, I try very hard to use terms correctly and often refer to the Language of Scouting website. I always cringe when I hear people talk about “Venture Scouts”–there’s no such thing–and “Cubbing”–a term that was replaced by “Cub Scouting” generations ago. But the examples above could have pretty far-reaching implications.

If you’re planning to say anything at all about the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA (as the Boy Scout program will be called beginning on Feb. 1, 2019), I urge you to review this new Scouts BSA Branding Infographic, which offers helpful dos and don’ts. For more information, review this two-page memo that went to national staff members back in April. (Among the points you’ll read there is that you shouldn’t use quotes from GIrl Scouting founder Juliette Gordon-Low in BSA materials.)

It’s no surprise that you can generate negative headlines for violating Youth Protection Guidelines or getting a Scout hurt on an outing. But the words you use can also cause real harm to our movement (and to other youth-serving organizations) as well.

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



Hand Washing 101 for Scouts


One of the occupational hazards of being a Scout leader is eating the food young Scouts have more or less cooked. I’m sure most of us have choked down our share of hamburgers cooked to the consistency of hockey pucks and bacon that can just about still squeal.

Unfortunately, many Scouts’ cooking techniques are on the level as their sanitation techniques. Not very good in other words.

Ubiquitous bottles of alcohol-based hand gel can help in that regard, but they can also give Scouts (and you) a false sense of confidence. Did you know that hand gels are not effective against C. diff, a nasty bacteria that kills half a million Americans every year? (Yes, most of those victims are older people in healthcare settings, but community-associated infections are on the rise.) And did you know that the gels are less than effective on excessively dirty hands–which are de rigueur on most Scout campouts?

Fortunately, help on hand-washing is close at hand, so to speak. The Mayo Clinic website includes a good basic introduction to the right way to wash your hands, including a link to a fun Jimmy Fallon video you might want to show your Scouts. (Preview it first, however, because it does include a couple of PG-rated comments.)

It’s tough to avoid sampling the questionable cooking your young Scouts do. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t protect yourself and them from the nasty bugs that hitch a ride on dirty hands.

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

Onboarding for Not-so-Dummies


One of the ongoing challenges the BSA faces is retaining new members, Back in 2004, the National Boy Scout Retention Study found that nearly four in 10 new Scouts leave within a year. Here’s the specific breakdown

  • One year or less: 39%
  • Two years: 20%
  • Three years: 17%
  • Four years: 19%
  • More than four years: 5%

I’m not sure whether those numbers are still accurate, but I assume they’re pretty close. I also assume that a big percentage of those who quit within a year actually quit within the first month. In other words, they never really get started in the program in any meaningful way.

New member retention can be a big problem in Cub Scouting as well, which is why the BSA just launched an email campaign designed to welcome new families and smooth their transition in Scouting. You can read about the campaign on the Bryan on Scouting blog, but in essence each family that registers online receives a series of five one-topic emails during their first 14 days; they receive pack contact information, details on uniforms and equipment, an invitation to subscribe to Boys’ Life (if they haven’t already), and more. (Of course, their pack leaders probably shared most of that information at the signup night or orientation meeting, but much of it probably whizzed right past their heads as they tried to decipher all the jargon and acronyms they were clouding the air.)

The BSA isn’t doing the same thing for troops quite yet, but there’s no reason your troop couldn’t adopt and adapt the idea. Simply think about what new families need to know, pre-write a series of short emails, and create a system to send them out automatically. For example, the person in charge of processing applications could schedule the emails to go out, using the “delay delivery” feature in an email program like Microsoft Outlook. (If you use Gmail, Boomerang for Gmail might be a viable option.)

If you live in the corporate world, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the concept of onboarding, which companies are spending a huge amount of time and money on improving these days. One oft-quoted study says new hires who complete a well-designed onboarding process are 69 percent more likely to still be on the job three years later (than, I suppose, new hires who are left to find the bathroom and breakroom on their own.)

Would you like to increase the odds that your new Scouts will still be around in three years? Onboarding emails might help.

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

Hot Off the Press: Girls, Scouts, and the Eagle Scout Award


Since the BSA announced that girls will soon be able to join what will now be called Scouts BSA (formerly known as the Boy Scout program), many enthusiastic Scouters have been calculating how long it will take until the first girl becomes an Eagle Scout. Some have dreamed of their daughters reaching the peak first. Others have been disappointed that their daughters won’t have enough time to complete all the requirements.

Both groups can now step back and take a deep breath. Or two. First, the BSA has announced that it won’t be publicly identifying the first female Eagle Scout. Instead, it will honor the inaugural class in the fall of 2020 (although it encourages local units to celebrate their first female Eagle Scouts). Second, the BSA is offering time extensions to any youth who are 16 or 17 on Feb. 1, 2019–the first day girls can join–and who register as members of Scouts BSA by Dec. 31, 2019. These extensions, which must be approved by the National Council, will allow both girls and first-time-joining boys to become Eagle Scouts after they turn 18.

I’m excited about both these announcements. I like that all new Scouts will be able to earn Scouting’s highest rank if they so choose, and I especially like that there won’t be an unseemly race to be first, where the destination, not the journey, would have inevitably seemed to be the only reward.

For more information, including the details on how to request time extensions next year, visit the Eagle Scout rank page on the BSA website. Details of the temporary transition rules are in this PDF document.

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

Putting Out the Unwelcome Mat–Take Two


Not long ago, I blogged about troops that put out the unwelcome mat and then are surprised that the world doesn’t beat a path to their doors. I neglected to mention one way they do that, and that’s by having bad information on their Be a Scout pin.

In case you’ve just returned from a trip to a remote island without internet access (if such a thing exists anymore!), Be a Scout is a BSA website that lets potential members find packs, troops, crews, and ships by simply entering their ZIP code. Search results for each unit include the chartered organization, meeting place, contact information and–if the unit specifies it–the unit’s website (which could be a Facebook page.)

Recently, I was trying to track down a volunteer for a Scouting magazine article I’m writing and ran into a dead-end. Her pack’s Facebook page was listed on Be A Scout, but the Facebook page was for a closed group, meaning only members could see anything on the page. In the past, similar searches have sent me to dead websites or one of those pages telling you the URL is up for sale.

So what you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you. Three things, I think. First, update your troop’s pin based on the information in this helpful guide from the BSA. Second, do a search on Be a Scout to see how your troop’s information appears. Third–and this step is essential–have a friend who’s not involved in your troop do a similar search. That will ensure that critical information visitors need is accessible to people who visit your website or Facebook page.

These days, the BSA is increasingly promoting the Be a Scout website as THE place to go to get started in Scouting. That’s a great thing if your unit’s pin is updated. And if your pin’s not updated? Then it’s a great thing for the troop down the street.

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

Scout Leader Lessons from the Wrong Side of the Road


This year, my wife and I traveled to the UK on vacation. Since we wanted to visit several cities (and quite a few villages), we rented a car.

Now, you probably know that Brits drive on the left side of the road, but you may not know that they have roundabouts at most intersections and lots of narrow roads boxed in by head-high hedges. At one point, we were on a road so narrow that we could literally reach out either side of the car and touch the hedges. And that was a two-lane road! (Bonus tip: never drive down a road marked “unsuitable for HGVs,” which stands for heavy goods vehicles.)

But what really got my attention was something I wasn’t prepared: how fast things seemed to be coming at me. It felt like the world had switched to fast-forward. I barely had time to read the often-cryptic road signs, shift gears, pick the correct lane in the roundabouts, absorb what my GPS was trying to tell me, and avoid the hedges and oncoming trucks. By day three or four, however, the world had slowed down to more or less normal speed, and I began to enjoy the adventure.

Upon reflection, I realize I probably felt the way all new drivers feel–and the way our Scouts feel when they try to master a new skill for the first time, whether that’s cooking over an open fire or planning a troop meeting. As Scoutmaster, I often got frustrated when my patrol leaders’ council would take 20 minutes–20 minutes!–to decide which patrol would do the opening and closing at a single troop meeting or when a patrol would take two hours to cook a simple breakfast of pancakes and bacon (and another hour to wash the dishes). But I now realize I was looking at their world through my eyes.

Does that ever happen in your troop? Perhaps you should think about how you become more patient when you see a student driver on the road and imagine your Scouts wearing signs that say “camp cook in training” or “apprentice leader.” If you do that, I can guarantee that the world will quickly slow down to normal speed for them, just like it did for me in the UK.

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