Skills for Life


We’ve probably all met Little League dads and soccer moms who are totally convinced that their kids are on the fast track to full-ride scholarships, pro contracts, and lucrative shoe deals. But I’m convinced that most parents have a clearer-eyed view of sports. They understand, to paraphrase a NCAA tagline, that most kids are going to go pro in something other than sports. (In fact, just 0.08 percent of college athletes will sign pro contracts.) Smart parents see youth sports as a venue for kids to learn discipline, teamwork, perseverance, and other virtues while having fun and being physically active, not as a ticket to fame and fortune.

So how do parents see Scouting? We Scouters know that our mission is to prepare young people to make ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law, but do people outside Scouting know this? I’m not sure they always do. I’m not sure they see how the specialized skills we teach–Dutch oven cooking, anyone?–translate to success in high school and beyond.

I started thinking about this question recently when a friend shared an amazing video from the Scout Association in the UK. Without words, this video clearly demonstrates how Scouting teaches skills for life, as the tagline promises.

I encourage you to watch the video and then to think about ways you can share its message with prospective and current parents in your troop. If you don’t help them see how Scouting teaches skills for life, they’re all too likely to view Scouting as just another option for their kids, perhaps one that’s inferior to those they know are associated with values like discipline, teamwork, and perseverance.

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


Where Does Scouting Go From Here?


This week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its decision to stop chartering Scouting units beginning on Jan. 1, 2020. The decision wasn’t unexpected–church leaders had signaled as much when they announced a year ago that they were dropping Venturing–but it is still sending shockwaves through much of the BSA. And it’s certainly a big deal for us to lose nearly 20 percent of our Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Coming on the heels of decisions to admit girls and gay youths and adults, the announcement has some people predicting that the end is near for the BSA.

I respectfully disagree. At the same time that many people are understandably concerned, others are understandably excited. The influx of girls is bringing new energy to Cub Scouting, and I’m sure the earlier decisions on gay members and leaders have improved Scouting’s image in the eyes of countless people who would otherwise have avoided the organization. (To cite just one statistic, 54 percent of Christians and 83 percent of religiously unaffiliated people say homosexuality should be accepted by society.)

As I’ve thought recently about where the BSA is and where it’s going, I’ve been reminded of the history of Philmont Scout Ranch, one of my favorite places on the planet. In 1939, deep in the Great Depression, the BSA opened what was then called the Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp on 35,857 acres donated by oilman Waite Phillips. Two years later, as America faced the prospect of entering World War II, Philmont expanded to 127,395 acres, thanks to an additional gift from Phillips (a gift that also included the VIlla Philmonte and an office tower in Tulsa, Oklahoma). And in 1963, in the midst of another turbulent decade in American history, Norton Clapp added 10,098 acres to the property, which brought much of Baldy Mountain within Philmont’s boundaries.

Phillips, Clapp, and Chief Scout Executive James E. West were visionary leaders, men who knew the dark clouds would soon part. I think we have visionary leaders today. But I also think the future lies in the hands of ordinary Scouters like you and me.

At the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in 2013, past BSA President Rex Tillerson talked about how the decision on admitting gay members marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Then he said this:

“Now, there’s another train about to leave. I know where this train’s going. This train’s going where there’s millions of kids that want to be served. This train’s going where we’re going to save lives. We’re going to reach in there and save children from their poor conditions. We’re going to serve kids and make the leaders of tomorrow, millions of them. That’s where this train’s going. I need — we need — every one of you to be on that train. The main thing to remember is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is to serve more youth.”

All aboard!

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



A Scout by Any Other Name …


A decade or so ago, I taught at the Philmont Training Center with my friend Barry Bingham of the Greater St. Louis Area Council. One of the points Barry made to our participants that week was that we should stop using the word “boy.” His reasoning was simple: For African American males, being called a boy has long-rooted, negative connotations. Moreover, few 16- and 17-year-old males of any race like to be called boys; young men is preferable. (I took that lesson to heart when I wrote The Troop Leader Guidebook, choosing the term “youth leader” over “boy leader” whenever possible.)

Well, Barry got his wish this week, although in a way neither of us could have imagined that summer at PTC. With the pending addition of girls (effective Feb. 1, 2019), the iconic Boy Scout program will become Scouts BSA. The name change was announced on May 2, along with the unveiling of the new Scout Me In marketing campaign. (Note that the Boy Scouts of America will remain the Boy Scouts of America.)

I think the name change makes sense, although I agree with William Shakespeare, who once said, “A Scout by any other name would smell as bad after a weekend in the woods.” Or something like that.

Two other points come to mind. First, it’s a good problem to have when an organization outlives its name. I’m sure AT&T is glad that it survived the telegraph era (the second T in its name), something many of its competitors didn’t. And I’m sure AARP has been more successful since it stopped being known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

Second, labels are ultimately irrelevant if organizations are ineffective–and vice versa. If you run a great program, it really doesn’t matter what that program is called. Case in point: A couple of jamborees ago, I saw a group of girls in bright pink T-shirts that read, “Yes, I Am a Boy Scout.” (They were actually Venturers, but you get the point.)

So revel in the new name–or revolt against it. But then roll up your sleeves and make your troop the best show in town.

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


What Happens When We Assume


Several years ago, I helped restart the Cub Scout pack at my church. That work put me and other experienced Scouters face to face with kids and parents who know little if anything about Scouting.

One thing that fascinated me was seeing how much we experienced Scouters assumed that people knew. The most obvious example was the way we tossed about jargon without giving any explanation. And I’m not just talking about acronyms (although those are a problem); I’m talking about words like “district” and “council” that have specific definitions in Scouting.

But the problem goes deeper than that. After one of our organizational meetings, I realized that we’d never talked with new pack families about the purposes, methods, and values of Cub Scouting. We’d just assumed people know.

So what’s the takeaway for your troop? When new families come through the door—whether off the street or from a Webelos den—we need to explain Boy Scouting again like it’s the very first time. Tell them about the aims and methods. Show them a troop organizational chart. Refer them to resources where they can learn more about Scouting.

Whatever you do, don’t assume. As the old saying goes, when you assume, you just make an ass out of you and me.

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


Are We Selling Our Scouts Short?


When I was in journalism school, one of the first lessons I learned (if I didn’t know it already) was the importance of novelty in news. As the old saying goes, it’s not news when a dog bites a man, but it is news when a man bites a dog.

I thought about that truism when I read a recent Bryan on Scouting blog post about Order of the Arrow members helping to restore a Scout camp in Puerto Rico that was damaged by Hurricane Maria. A hundred Scouts from the mainland and 50 Scouts from the island worked so quickly that the camp was forced to more projects for them during the week–a nice problem to have!

As it relates to the Order of the Arrow, this was definitely a dog-bites-man story. The project, dubbed Arrowcorp Puerto Rico, was just one more example of the brotherhood of cheerful service living up to its name.

But as it relates to Boy Scouting as a whole, I wonder if it was more of a man-bites-dog story. Too often, I fear, troops planning service projects don’t really stretch themselves, while Life Scouts planning Eagle Scout service projects don’t do the sorts of transformative service projects that they’ll be proud of a decade from now. Perhaps that’s because we’re all too busy these days. Perhaps that’s because we get tunnel vision when we’re looking for project ideas. Perhaps that’s because adult leaders underestimate their Scouts.

If you’re not sure what your Scouts are capable of, consider the fact that more than a million people, many of them teens, participated in March for Our Lives rallies about gun violence in March 2018. However you feel about gun control, that’s an impressive number.

The teens involved in those rallies participated because the cause meant something to them. So did the Arrowmen who gave up their spring break to restore a Scout camp in Puerto Rico.

What means something to your Scouts? What would motivate them to earn headlines with their community service?

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

Scouts with Disabilities–How to Stay out of the Headlines


Boy Scouting has been in the news this week, but not for something good. The father of a Scouting with Down syndrome has sued the BSA for blocking his son from becoming an Eagle Scout. I don’t know the details of the situation, but you can read the BSA’s official response at

The unfortunate thing about this whole situation is that Scouting has almost since its founding welcomed young people with disabilities. The Kentucky School for the Blind had a Scout troop way back in 1911–they’re shown above on a hike–and just last year three blind triplets in Virginia became Eagle Scouts.

Those three Scouts and many others with both physical and mental disabilities became Eagle Scouts because the BSA has detailed procedures in place for adjusting requirements and/or allowing membership beyond the age of 18. These procedures are outlined in the Guide to Advancement, which I referred to in a Scouting magazine article earlier this year.

Again, I don’t know what happened in the Utah situation that’s been in the news, but I have a hunch as to why things like this happen. Simply put, unfamiliarity breeds confusion. When you don’t do something regularly, whether that’s filling out an income-tax form or helping a Scout with disabilities work toward the Eagle rank, you’re bound to get confused and maybe make mistakes. (Conversely, when you do something regularly–like when you’re a CPA completing dozens of tax returns–the work becomes second nature.)

So the next time you have a Scout who needs special accommodations along the trail to Eagle, take the time to read the resources the BSA has provided, including those mentioned above and those on the BSA website. And if you’re still confused, send an email to for help. Lots of people have been down the same road and would be happy to lend a hand.

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

Critical Changes to Youth Protection Training


This weekend, people across America will be moving their clocks ahead an hour (or not and thus showing up late for church on Sunday!). At the same time, and perhaps more importantly, the BSA is moving the calendar ahead on Youth Protection Training.

As the BSA announced this week, every registered adult leader must take the new version of Youth Protection Training by October 1 of this year–even if they just did their training a month or two ago. The reason is that the training, which is now available on the BSA website, has been overhauled to broaden the coverage and incorporate videos from abuse-prevention experts and abuse victims.

But there’s another important change that may catch troop leaders off-guard. Beginning June 1, any adult who spends 72 hours or more on a unit outing must be registered, which means he or she must have completed Youth Protection Training and must have passed a criminal background check. And the 72 hours need not be continuous. For example, a dad who spends most of summer camp with your troop but goes home for a couple of days of meetings would still need to be registered, trained and background-checked. (When originally announced this policy only applied to Boy Scout troops, but it now applies across the board.)

Here are the key points from an email the BSA sent out this week:

  • As of January 1, 2018, no new leader can be registered without first completing youth protection training.
  • As of January 1, 2018, no council, regional, or national leader will be allowed to renew their registration if they are not current on their Youth Protection Training.
  • As of September 1, 2017, no unit may re-charter without all leaders being current on their Youth Protection Training. Registrars no longer have the ability to approve charters without full compliance.
  • Effective June 1, 2018, adults accompanying a Scouting unit who are present at the activity for 72 total hours or more must be registered as a leader, including completion of a criminal background check and Youth Protection Training. The 72 hours need not be consecutive.

There’s nothing we as Scouters do that’s more important than keeping our members safe. While these changes may complicate your job in the short term, in the long term they will undoubtedly pay off by creating a safer environment for every Scout.

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