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


Putting out the Unwelcome Mat


One of my favorite summer activities is a trip to a nearby farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. I love picking up fresh produce, listening to live music, running into old friends and grabbing a great cup of coffee. Plus, the market experience seems to make everyone happy.

Well, almost everyone.

The owners of the adjacent strip mall don’t like market patrons using their parking lot, so they put up signs every Saturday specifying that their lot is only for the use of their own customers. Now, I totally understand their need to save room for their customers to park, but I also have to think they’re turning away potential new customers with their signs. And market patrons tend to be upper-middle-income folks with money to spend; otherwise, why would they pay a premium for fresh local produce, meat, and eggs?

I’ve often wondered what would happen if the folks who run the strip mall decided to designate their lightly used side parking lot for market customers. Or if they signed on as sponsors of the market. Or if they set up fresh water stations on hot August Saturdays. Perhaps their stores would get to be as crowded as the market stalls.

It occurs to me that a lot of Scout troops think like those mall owners, intentionally or inadvertently turning away families with their inflexibility. This might happen when a Scout needs to leave a campout early to perform in a concert or when a Scout shows up to a meeting out of uniform because he just came from football practice.

When we put out unwelcome mats, we’re betting that our product is more appealing than the one down the street. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I would want to stake my troop’s future on that bet.

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

Girls in Boy Scouting: What’s Your Plan?


On Feb. 1, 2019, just over five months from this writing, the Boy Scout program will become Scouts BSA. For the first time ever, girls will be invited into the Boy Scouts of America’s flagship program, albeit in separate girl troops. (I hope this is not new news to you. If it is, you need to get out more!)

In some cases, girl troops will be fully functional come Feb. 1. For example, I recently heard from a Scouter whose new troop already has its number, its chartered organization and 10 adult leaders in place. They plan to start having leader meetings and informal gatherings with their future members this fall so that can hit the ground running come February.

In other cases, Feb. 1 will mark the starting point for planning, which means those troops might be up and running in time for summer camp four or five months later.

In still other cases, chartered organizations will opt to continue serving only boys, which is certainly their right.

Although it makes sense to try to achieve first-mover advantage–to be the first on your block to welcome girls–many experts say first-mover advantage is overrated. In the end, it’s probably better to do things right than to do them right now.

That said, every current troop and chartered organization needs to do something right now–and that’s to talk about what they intend to do. If you’re going to start a girl troop, begin the planning now; good resources are the BSA’s Family Scouting page and its Unit Performance Guide. (There’s also a more concise step-by-step guide at, but the language hasn’t been updated to include girls.) If you’re not going to start a girl troop, make sure you know where in your district potential female members can go should they come knocking on your door. And by all means, make sure your troop and your chartered organization are on the same page. You shouldn’t surprise your chartered organization by welcoming (or turning away) girls, given that it’s really their choice to serve girls or not. And you certainly don’t want to end up in the news because a disagreement escalates.

There will undoubtedly be a few bumps along the road as Boy Scouting becomes Scouts BSA. Good communication and good planning can ensure that you don’t cause them.

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


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

Capturing Scouts’ Attention


We’ve all been there: In the middle of a conversation with a spouse, boss, or coworker, we realize the other person hasn’t heard a word we’ve said. Perhaps she’s thinking about how she’s going to respond. Perhaps he’s checking an “urgent” text message. Or perhaps–squirrell!–something else distracts that person from what we’re saying.

Of course, the same thing happens at every troop meeting, especially when some well-meaning adult makes a series of long-winded announcements. (Cue a clip of Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah wah woh wah wah.”) But it can also happen when you’re trying to teach a skill or even introduce a new game.

I thought about this recently when I came across an informedED article on capturing and holding the attention of students in school. You can read the article for yourself, but one of the key points was that teaching techniques that involve demonstrations and questions are more effective than straight lecture.

The article concludes with 10 concrete suggestions, many of which apply directly to Scouting–if we do Scouting as it was intended. I especially suggestion #4 (“Incorporate regular free play”):

The government of Finland has decided that all grade-school students should receive 15 minutes of free play time during every hour of class. The research supports this method: Analysing higher brain regions following periods of abundant social play in juvenile animals, Gregory & Kaufeldt found that one-third of all the genes they monitored were “significantly jogged one way or another by the playful activities.” They explain: “Without a regular diet of fun social engagements, children become hungry for play and begin to ‘act out,’ potentially disrupting the flow of classroom instructional activities.”

Are you making time for fun in your troop meetings? Are you involving your youth leaders in planning (suggestion #5)? Does the teaching you offer stretch Scouts a bit without being too far over their heads (suggestion #6)? If not, you may just be wasting your breath and their time.

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

The Indispensable Scouter


Here in Louisville this week, news outlets have been full of stories about John Schnatter, founder and namesake of Papa John’s Pizza. The impetus was a Forbes magazine story (which Schantter has since corroborated) that the pizza magnate used racially charged language on a conference call this spring. In the wake of that revelation, Schnatter resigned from the University of Louisville’s board and stepped down as chairman of the company he founded. At the same time all sorts of organizations that have received charitable donations from him are reassessing their relationship with him. Ditto for organizations that have marketing arrangements with Papa John’s Pizza. (Such are the pitfalls of naming a company after a living person; far better, perhaps, to use Washington or Lincoln!)

So what’s the Scouting connection? As far as I know, Schnatter doesn’t have a connection with Scouting, although his company has been very supportive of our local council over the years.

But I think there is a connection. When any organization is tied too closely to a single individual, the organization will suffer if that individual royally screws up. And moral failings aren’t the only risk. What happens, for example, when a business owner dies without having a succession plan in place? Or what happens to a Scout troop when its Scoutmaster, the linchpin of the whole organization, is suddenly transferred to the other end of the country?

These days, troops around the country are celebrating their 50th, 75th, and even 100th anniversaries. While I don’t know their individual stories, I’m sure one thing unites them: None of them has had an “indispensable” man or woman as Scoutmaster. Instead, they’ve been led by Scoutmasters who now how important it is to build a strong leadership team that can survive the loss of any one person.

If your troop has an “indispensable” person as Scoutmaster (or really in any position), now’s the time to start making plans for his or her eventual departure. Volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook will help you get started. And if you are your troop’s “indispensable” leader, I encourage you to read and reflect on the old poem “Indispensable Man.” You may discover that you aren’t that “indispensable” after all.

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

Help Your Troop and Philmont


I’m an unabashed fan of Philmont Scout Ranch and watched with much trepidation the progress of the Ute Park fire just before the 2018 season was scheduled to begin. Like many Philmont alumni, I felt powerless to do anything to help the situation, short of donate to the Philmont Staff Association’s Ute Park Fire Relief Fund, which I was happy to do.

But there’s another way to help Philmont that can benefit both the ranch and your troop.

Since Philmont had to cancel the first half of the backcountry season, it ended up with twice as many trail meals as it needs. And despite jokes about pemmican bars having the same half-life as uranium, these meals really do have expiration dates. So Philmont is selling the extra meals online through Tooth of Time Traders, its award-winning outdoor retailer. Breakfasts are $7.50, while lunches and dinners are $8.50. (Each meal feeds two people.) There are 10 options per meal, so you can mix and match to your heart’s desire. (Click here to see all the menus.)

I’ve often recommended these meals as a great option for Philmont shakedown hikes. (The ranch sells excess inventory at the end of each season.) But they’d work equally well for day hikes or weekend campouts when you want to leave the patrol boxes and Dutch ovens behind. In fact, I could go for a Blueberry Buzz Bar or some Strawberry Bolt Energy Chews right now!

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