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.

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The Power of Participation in Eagle Courts of Honor

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Sometime later this year, I expect to attend the Eagle court of honor for a young man who almost quit Scouting back in 2013. That was the year I gave him and his brother “Future Eagle Scout” pins that we’d been distributing at the National Eagle Scout Association‘s booth at the National Jamboree.

According to his dad, my young friend decided to stay in the program in part because of that pin. I can’t take credit for his decision to stay, however. I didn’t even know he was wrestling with the decision; I just happened to bring home a couple of extra pins.

I thought about that story recently when I read a Facebook post by an Eagle Scout from a decade ago who had been invited to participate in an Eagle court of honor for two members of his old troop. After the ceremony, he discovered that they were the two Cub Scouts he’d invited at the spur of the moment to participate in his own court of honor. The Scouts’ mother told him through tears that they had been about to quit Scouting but had changed their mind after participating in that ceremony.

If you’ve been a Scouting volunteer for more than a few months, you may have gotten tired of asking people to help out, either because you don’t want to burden them or because you’re tired of being turned down or because it’s just easier to do a job yourself (or leave it undone). That Facebook post should serve as a powerful reminder that involving Cub Scouts or younger Scouts in Eagle courts of honor has the potential to transform their lives in amazing ways.

As you plan your next Eagle court of honor, think of one or two Scouts whose participation could be transformative. Just be prepared to say yes when they invite you to their own courts of honor a decade from now!


What? You don’t have a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book yet? Click the title to order one now in either print or Kindle format. When you do, I think you’ll agree with the reader who said, “The information is insightful and a welcome addition for our parents preparing for their sons’ ceremony. It is well organized and easy to follow. It flows like a river.”

Inclusivity and Eagle Courts of Honor

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I’ve recently been doing something I’ve been putting off for awhile: updating The Eagle Court of Honor Book to reflect the inclusion of girls in what is now called Scouts BSA. I’m looking forward to the day when the first girls become Eagle Scouts and (I hope!) receive their badges at ceremonies inspired by the book.

That’s not to say it has been all that easy to catch every reference in the book to “he,” “this young man,” “the brotherhood of Eagle Scouts,” etc., etc. In fact, although I’ve been through the entire book twice, I feel the need to reread it one more time.

But this experience has reminded me yet again how important it is for every Eagle court of honor to be tailored to fit its honoree. Although it would be much simpler to use an off-the-shelf, fill-in-the-blank script, that’s not what new Eagle Scouts deserve. After devoting years to becoming Eagle Scouts, they should right expect us as their leaders to devote a few hours to creating the perfect ceremony to honor them, whether that means using the right pronouns, making room for their nontraditional families during the badge presentation, or simply reflecting their unique personalities and experiences in the experience.

After all, we only get one chance.


What? You don’t have a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book yet? Click the title to order one now in either print or Kindle format. When you do, I think you’ll agree with the reader who said, “The information is insightful and a welcome addition for our parents preparing for their sons’ ceremony. It is well organized and easy to follow. It flows like a river.”

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.

The Element of Surprise at Eagle Courts of Honor

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If you’ve read The Eagle Court of Honor Book (and I hope you have!), you know that I really emphasize planning pretty much every minute of the ceremony. I even talk about giving presenters copies of the script with their lines highlighted for easy reference.

I’m not here to recant that advice. However, I do think it’s important to allow for, and even plan, some surprises for the honoree. That’s why I don’t recommend giving the honoree a script that includes (for example) the Eagle Scout charge that his mentor is going to present.

But the surprises could be even bigger–and could bring new levels of meaning to the event. Imagine, for example, a Scout whose Eagle project benefited an inner-city elementary school. Wouldn’t it be cool if those kids made thank you cards for the Scout? Or if they shot a tribute video? Or if they showed up unannounced and crashed the party? Adding something like that to the court of honor would demonstrate the impact that the honoree has far more than a wordy description of his project.

I thought about this idea of surprises when I was watching Super Bowl LIII. The game was certainly no surprising–it was really more of a snooze-fest–but one of the commercials hinted at the possibilities. If you haven’t seen it, the commercial featured Anthony Lynn, the coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, giving a pep talk to a group of first responders at a fire station. What he didn’t realize–spoiler alert!–was that the people he was talking to were actually some of the people who’d saved his life when he was hit by a drunk driver back in 2005. Not surprisingly, both he and some of the first responders become emotional during their brief reunion.

I’m not saying you should set up something that dramatic at your next court of honor. But I do hope that example inspires you to do something unexpected to make the event more meaningful for both the honoree and the audience.


What? You don’t have a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book yet? Click the title to order one now in either print or Kindle format. When you do, I think you’ll agree with the reader who said, “The information is insightful and a welcome addition for our parents preparing for their sons’ ceremony. It is well organized and easy to follow. It flows like a river.”

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.