Debunking an Old Scouters’ Tale


One of my favorite projects for Eagle’s Call magazine is writing about outstanding Eagle projects, typically those that have won the Adams Award at the national, regional or local level. Some projects fascinate me because of their creativity, others move me because of the tragedies that inspired them, and a few awe me because of the jaw-dropping number of hours they took.

When a Scout and his volunteers log hundreds of hours, I like to mention that fact. When a Scout finishes his project in a day or two, I never do. I don’t want to draw the wrath of Scouters who mistakenly think that an Eagle project must take at least 100 hours, 200 hours or some other mythical number.

This old Scouters’ tale comes up so often that the current version of the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook rebuffs it in two separate places. Read the second rebuttal, and you get a sense of the frustration members of the BSA Advancement Committee must feel:

If you have been told you must meet a minimum number of hours, then you may lodge a complaint with your district or council. If you have given leadership to an otherwise worthy project and are turned down by your board of review solely because of a lack of hours, you should appeal the decision.

Section of the BSA’s Guide to Advancement (which every Scouter should study carefully) says much the same thing:

No unit, district, council, or individual shall place any requirement or other standard on the number of hours spent on a project. The Boy Scouts of America collects data about time worked on Eagle Scout service projects only because it points to a level of excellence in achieving the BSA aim related to citizenship.

There’s an old medical school joke you’ve probably heard: What do you call someone who finished last in his med school class? The answer: “Doctor.” It’s the same with Eagle Scout candidates. Whether they spent 10 hours or 1000, they are equally qualified to wear the Eagle Scout badge, assuming they met all the real requirements–not those invented by old Scouters.

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


Get Creative With Your Troop Games


When I was a Scout, we seemed to play one of two games at every troop meeting: British Bulldog outdoors in the warmer months and Steal the Bacon indoors when the temperature dropped. If those of us on the patrol leaders’ council had been a little more creative (or had gotten around to reading the various planning resources available from the BSA), we might have tried a different game every now and then.

I’m guessing your troop gets ends up in a similar rut. Although the three volumes of Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews offer dozens of fresh game ideas, your PLC probably needs a more Scout-friendly game source.

I found one recently your Scouts might like. Called Youth Group Games, if that link doesn’t work–it features hundreds of games designed for church youth groups. Most of them, however, would work just as well in a Scouting setting.

What makes the site interesting is the search form built into the home page. With a just a few mouse clicks you can narrow your search to one (or more) of 21 categories, including chilled out, large groups and team building. You can also specify indoors or outdoors and even specify duration and a level of messiness. You can even find Steal the Bacon, although I hope you’ll look for something a little more original!

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 Your Scouts’ Bowl Game?


Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, Americans everywhere are looking forward to the next major cultural event: college bowl season. (Oh yes, and Christmas!) Between December 15 and January 7, dozens of football teams will play in more than 40 bowl games, from the venerable Rose Bowl (the “Daddy of them All”) to the not-so-famous Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Given the crowded schedule, most athletes stand a much better chance of playing in a bowl game than graduating in four years.

There will still be plenty of teams on the outside looking in, however. And as some of those teams have limped to the end of their losing seasons, TV commentators covering rivalry games have been quick to say things like “This is their bowl game.” And while there’s not (yet) a Losers’ Bracket Bowl or a Toilet Bowl, it’s probably true that most players would rather take down a hated in-state rival than play in a forgettable bowl game in a half-empty stadium on a cold December Tuesday night.

So what in the world does all this have to do with Scouting? I think it’s easy to put so much emphasis on high adventure–as life-changing as it can be–that we forget that most Scouts will never visit one of the four national high adventure bases.

For most Scouts, summer camp is their bowl game. Or the district camporee is their bowl game. Or even a totally forgettable (in your mind) troop outing is their bowl game. And so we owe it to them to make every activity special, even as we encourage them to challenge themselves and expand their horizons.

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

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