Within My Power

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“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a boy.”

You’ve probably read some variation of those words before. But did you know they first appeared in Scouting magazine in 1950? They did, and they end a powerful essay by BSA administrator Forest E. Witcraft. Here it is in its entirety:

I am not a very important man, as importance is commonly rated. I do not have great wealth, control a big business, or occupy a position of great honor or authority.

Yet I may someday mold destiny. For it is within my power to become the most important man in the world in the life of a boy. And every boy is a potential atom bomb in human history.

A humble citizen like myself might have been the Scoutmaster of a troop in which an undersized unhappy Austrian lad by the name of Adolph might have found a joyous boyhood, full of the ideals of brotherhood, goodwill, and kindness. And the world would have been different.

A humble citizen like myself might have been the organizer of a Scout troop in which a Russian boy called Joe might have learned the lessons of democratic cooperation.

These men would never have known that they had averted world tragedy, yet actually they would have been among the most important men who ever lived.

All about me are boys. They are the makers of history, the builders of tomorrow. If I can have some part in guiding them up the trails of Scouting, on to the high road of noble character and constructive citizenship, I may prove to be the most important man in their lives, the most important man in my community.

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a boy.

These days, of course, Scouting serves girls as well as boys. These days, of course, the world is threatened by people with different names than Hitler and Stalin. Nonetheless, the truth of Witcraft’s words remain.

I recently interviewed a leading university president who became an Eagle Scout in 1960. He told me he loved Scouting but struggled with swimming and lifesaving. Fortunately, his Scoutmaster wouldn’t let him give up. Instead, the man gave him unlimited access to his motel’s pool and, probably more importantly, the encouragement to persevere and overcome the challenge he faced. And the world is different because one man was important in the life of one boy.

Too often in Scouting, we focus on numbers, thinking we’re only successful if we have lots of kids in our troops or produce lots of Eagle Scouts. But the most important number is really one. If you change the life of just one Scout this week, this month, or this year, you will be a very important person indeed.


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

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Solving the Puzzle of Youth Leadership

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My toddler grandson loves working puzzles–not 500-piece jigsaw puzzles, of course, but the kind that have six or eight pieces that fit neatly into recesses in a wooden board. Many of these puzzles have an animal theme, but his favorite (shown here) features six colored shapes and three more complex pieces that together make of pictures of a couple of frogs with paintbrushes. (Because why not!)

If you study the picture closely, you’ll see that the colored shapes are same colors as the recesses they fit into, while the recesses the other pieces fit into show the exact same pictures as the pieces themselves. Simple, huh? Not really, if you’re a toddler, because a toddler doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination, analytical ability, or puzzle-solving experience of an adult. And so it takes a lot of trial and error and gentle guidance to get the puzzle completed.

It’s much the same with your youth leaders. Tasks that seem simple to you–planning a troop meeting, for example–are as difficult for them as that puzzle is for my grandson. It’s only when you can see the problem through their eyes that you can help them be successful.

Here are four tips that can help you help your youth leaders be successful:

  • Be patient. A good rule of thumb is to silently sing “Happy BIrthday to You” before you step into any non-emergency situation.
  • Ask questions that will help them find the answer. I like to say that the true mark of a great leader is a question mark.
  • Know when to offer help. Don’t let a youth leader cross the border from frustration and dysfunction. Instead, provide the guidance he or she needs to be successful.
  • Be okay with imperfection. Your youth leaders may never do a job as well as you would, but if they’ve learned something from the process and are ready to take on the next task, then they–and you–have been successful.

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

Better than Badges

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In the lead-up to welcoming girls into what is now Scouts BSA, one of the selling points was that girls would be able to work toward the Eagle Scout Award. The BSA even created a special one-time policy allowing older girls to apply for time extensions if they’re unable to complete all the requirements before their 18th birthdays. (The policy also applies to boys who join late this year.)

I’m excited about seeing girls become Eagle Scouts, and I’m fine with the temporary policy. However, it’s important to remember that advancement is not the purpose of Scouting. Too often, I’m afraid, we focus so much on the earning of badges that we forget about the learning that leads to them.

Years ago, I came across a quote in a Cub Scout handicrafts book that I love: “It isn’t what the boy does to the board that counts; it’s what the board does to the boy.” Similarly, it’s not the badge on a Scout’s chest that matters; it’s the heart that beats beneath that chest.

This focus on badges isn’t new. In Aids to Scoutmastership, Robert Baden-Powell wrote:

There is always the danger of badge-hunting supplanting badge-earning. Our aim is to make boys into smiling, sensible, self-effacing, hardworking citizens, instead of showy, self-indulgent boys. The Scoutmaster must be on the alert to check badge-hunting and to realise which is the badge-hunter and which is the keen and earnest worker.

Unfortunately, many Scout leaders have become badge-hunters on behalf of their Scouts, only planning activities that lead directly to advancement. In doing so, they risk robbing Scouts of experiences that really matter, even ones as simple as exploring the world around them.

When I interview prominent Eagle Scouts for Eagles’ Call magazine, I always ask them about their favorite Scouting memories. Recently, I interviewed a man who’s active in promoting conservation and biodiversity, and he described an unusual memory: One time his troop was camping in a farmer’s pasture, and he and a friend used a seine to see what was swimming in the water. They were amazed by the abundance of life they found in ordinary water. He told me he still thinks about that simple activity when he’s working in the field.

Wouldn’t it have been a shame if his Scoutmaster has told him and his friend to quit fooling around because it was time to work on a merit badge?


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

Finding Hidden Pockets of Time for Scouting

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The last time I stopped by the grocery store, a friend’s GIrl Scout troop was selling cookies out front. That wouldn’t be unusual except that it was the middle of a school day. The girls weren’t skipping school, however. Instead, our local schools were closed due to a teachers’ strike, and my friend was striking–pardon the pun–while the iron was hot. Or at least while her girls were available.

It’s no secret that kids are busier than they’ve been since child labor laws went into effect. These days it’s common for students to play multiple sports, play in the band, participate in drama club, take lots of Advanced Placement courses–AP Macroeconomics, anyone?–and still find time to maintain an active presence on social media. That makes it harder than ever to squeeze in Scouting activities, which is why smart leaders seize on opportunities like teachers’ strikes that close the schools.

Here are some other times you can potentially sneak in a little extra Scouting–like a day hike or a merit badge session:

  • Snow days when the roads are passable (often roads are clear by mid-morning)
  • Teacher in-service days
  • Three-day weekends like Presidents Day weekend
  • The day before Mothers Day–just don’t be at camp that Sunday!
  • Thanksgiving weekend
  • The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day

Have you found other hidden pockets of time on the calendar? I’d love to hear your stories.


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

Not Your Father’s Scouting Program

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In the lead-up to the recent addition of girls to what is now Scouts BSA, I often wondered about what unexpected outcomes the change might bring. Among those I saw early on were a grassroots groundswell of volunteer interest in starting new units (for boys and girls alike), tons of positive media exposure, and (it appears) big improvements in uniforming options for females.

One outcome I didn’t necessarily expect was how readily male Scouts would welcome females into the program. For example, the official Scouting magazine blog recently highlighted a troop whose patrol leaders’ council voted to donate $1,000 to their linked troop for girls and described how the young men leading the Order of the Arrow’s Tamegonit Lodge worked hard to ensure that young women could join the OA the very same weekend they could join troops. (The young women in question were Venturers, which is how they qualified.)

That second story reminds me of an important truth we adult leaders often fail to grasp–perhaps especially if we’re decades removed from our time as Scouts. To paraphrase an old Oldsmobile slogan, this is not your father’s Scouting program. Scouting today is different in large and small ways from the program of past generations, and when we fail to recognize the differences we fail to serve current Scouts well.

A case in point that has nothing to do with girls: When I was Scoutmaster, I did everything I could to get my Scouts to sing like my troop mates and I used to do. They never bought in to my vision, and I wasted a lot of energy that could have been better used in other ways. (Ditto for getting them to wear neckerchiefs.)

Today’s Scouting program is not better or worse than the program I enjoyed; it’s just different. That’s why we adults in Scouts BSA troops need to get out of the driver’s seat and leave the driving to our youth leaders–even if they’d rather not drive an Oldsmobile.


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

New Units: No Longer A Dirty Word

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When I was a district Scout executive, quite a few of my volunteers assumed that starting units was the job of professional Scouters. And not only that, it was something no self-respecting volunteer would undertake because, they argued, starting new units was “all about numbers.” (They forgot that those “numbers” had names: John, Sam, Brian, etc., etc.)

My, how times have changed. I’m a member of the BSA Family Packs/Girl Troops group on Facebook–a really good forum for learning more about family Scouting–and I’ve been amazed to learn about all the grassroots, volunteer-led efforts around the country to start packs and troops for girls. One guy I met through that group will be kicking off his new girl troop with 36 Scouts and 22 adults on February 1! It seems that the resurgence of volunteer interest in starting units is a great side effect of welcoming girls into Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA.

If you’re interested in jumping on board the bandwagon, whether to start a girl troop to function alongside your boy troop or a Venturing crew or Sea Scout ship for your older youth, you ought to check out the BSA’s Unit Performance Guide. It’s a great resource on how to start a new, sustainable unit.

And if you get stuck, reach out to your district executive. After all, it really is part of his or her job to grow Scouting by starting new units to serve numbers with names like Jane, Samantha, Brianna, etc., etc.


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

The Government Shutdown, WII-FM, and Your Troop

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As the recent government shutdown began seriously to affect many federal employees, plenty of Americans stepped up to help. Consider these headlines:

  • Businesses Pitch in to Aid Federal Workers During Government Shutdown
  • Chef Ming Tsai Is Giving Government Workers Free Dumplings During Government Shutdown
  • Chef José Andrés Opens Resource Center for Furloughed Workers
  • Pop-up Food Pantry at John Wayne Airport Helps TSA Workers During Government Shutdown

Those individuals and organizations were heeding the words of William Arthur Ward, who once said, “Blessed is the person who sees the need, recognizes the responsibility, and actively becomes the answer.”

They were also, if we’re being honest, doing a little marketing. And that’s okay. I once heard marketing defined as figuring out what you have that someone else needs and making the connection. The idea is that by focusing on your customer’s needs, you end up fulfilling your own.

Bad marketers focus on their own needs (“Buy my product so I can make a profit”). Good marketers focus on the needs of other people, realizing that everybody’s favorite radio station is WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?).

What’s the connection with Scouting? Too often when we’re recruiting, we focus on our needs–filling out our patrols, identifying new assistant Scoutmasters, etc.–rather than on the needs we can help potential troop families meet. When we think about what they need first, we discover that we can probably meet their needs–and our own.


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