Video Stores, Streaming Video, and Your Troop


As you may have heard by now, the BSA has begun a discussion about whether and how to serve the whole family–both boys and girls, in other words–at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh began the conversation at May’s National Annual Meeting, and councils across the country have been holding listening sessions this summer to gather input from volunteers.

I missed the meeting in my local council, but I caught the video used in all the meetings online. In it, Surbaugh lays out his rationale for beginning a broader discussion of this important topic.

My point in this post is not to weigh in on this specific topic (although I applaud Surbaugh’s willingness to ask challenging questions and think outside the patrol box). Instead, I want to highlight a key point Surbaugh makes. In the video, he argues that Scouting’s problem is not its programs–which are proven to meet the needs of families–but the way it delivers those programs. What keeps people away, he says, is not content but convenience.

Starting about the 11:30 mark in the video, Surbaugh describes the evolution of options for watching movies at home:

  • First, there were video stores–remember those?–that rented VHS tapes. You had to “be kind and rewind” unless you wanted to pay a penalty.
  • Next came DVDs and Blu-ray discs, which offered higher quality and eliminated the need to rewind.
  • These days, of course, we stream videos on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and a bunch of other services–no trip to Blockbuster required.

Surbaugh imagines that a lot of people a decade or so ago lost money trying to invent even better discs, not realizing the product was good enough for most people.

That same thinking can happen in troops. We don’t necessarily need bigger, louder, more expensive activities to attract and retain members (not that high adventure isn’t important for older Scouts). We do need to think about how we’re delivering the program and how effectively we’re communicating with families.

Take the simple issue of departure and return times for outings.Is it easy for parents in your troop to get to your meeting place at 4 p.m. on a Friday? Would getting back at 12 p.m. on a Sunday work better for families than 2 p.m. or 10 a.m.? Do you announce departure and return times from the moment an outing is announced–and stick with those times as plans develop? And do you text parents from the road to confirm your return time, especially if you’re going to miss your target?

We need to think about questions like those–and more complex ones as well. If not, families are as likely to hit the eject button as the play button.

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


Going to the Mat with Eagle Court of Honor Certificates


Many Eagle Scouts end up with more certificates, letters, and plaques than they know what to do with. There’s the official Eagle Scout certificate, of course, and hopefully a NESA certificate and one of my Eagle Mountain Certificates. And then there are the certificates sent by various public officials and branches of the military, many of which will eventually end up with a scrapbook.

Displaying all these recognition items at the court of honor can be a problem—or an expensive proposition if you decide to frame them all. Of course, you can wave them around during the ceremony, but only people in the front few rows will be able to see what they say.

One of my readers found a simple solution. She bought ready-made mats at Walmart for $3.97 and matted (but didn’t frame) the certificates her son had received. She then set the certificates up on brass plate stands, which she found for $1.00. (Don’t tell that reader, but you can find mats online for $1.00 or less at sites like

This is an impressive and inexpensive way to display certificates, and it lets you later put those certificates in a scrapbook or frame them if you prefer. In fact, you could reuse the mats and stands for future courts of honor.

For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and


Promoting Youth Protection Through Posters


An important topic the BSA’s Youth Protection training covers is Scouting’s barriers to abuse: no one-one-one contact, appropriate discipline, etc. But there’s an important barrier that isn’t listed, and that’s the requirement that all leaders renew their training every two years.

That policy exists both because the rules change from time to time–10 or 15 years ago, there was no guidance about social media–and because people tend to forget information they don’t use every day. (Recently, for example, I tried without much success to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle for a woodworking project, something I learned way back in high school.)

To keep Youth Protection policies more top of mind, the BSA has created a series of posters that you can display in your meeting place or at training courses. These attractive posters do a good job of highlighting key elements of Youth Protection, and I encourage you to download and use them.

The posters are:

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

Not My Job–Or Is It?


Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you see something new.

During my tenure as Scoutmaster, the father of our newest Eagle Scout called me a few days before his son’s court of honor. The dad had printed 100 programs for the ceremony—only to discover that that was a task the troop traditionally handled.

The good news is that I’d been waiting until the last minute to produce the programs, so we didn’t end up with duplicates. The bad news is that that father spent several hours trying to lay out the programs in Microsoft Word (I assume) when I could have done the job in 15 minutes with the Adobe InDesign template I normally used.

Interestingly enough, I know I had told the family that the troop would handle the programs. Or at least I think I’d told them. After holding three courts of honor in four months, I might have slipped up.

To be sure we didn’t have a similar miscommunication in the future, I prepared a simple checklist that explained what the troop was responsible for (e.g., room reservations and printed programs), what we expected the family to handle (e.g., invitations and displays), and what should be handled jointly (e.g., developing the ceremony and recruiting presenters). I recommend you do the same. Otherwise, you may get a phone call like I did—or end up with twice as many programs as you need!

For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and


Advancement and Intentions


For an upcoming Scouting magazine column, I’ve been delving into the various Boy Scout advancement requirements having to do with camping–and specifically what does and doesn’t qualify as camping when it comes to counting nights. One thing I’ve realized is that there’s a bit of a discrepancy between the rank and merit badge requirements.

The Second Class and First Class requirements specify spending the night “in a tent that you pitch or other structure that you help erect, such as a lean-to, snow cave, or tepee,” while Camping merit badge only mentions sleeping “in a tent or under the stars.”

A legalistic leader–and we have plenty of those in Scouting–might get hung up on this discrepancy, saying that sleeping in a lean-to shouldn’t count for Camping merit badge or arguing that there’s no difference between a tent and a tepee. A lenient leader–and we have plenty of those, too–might ignore the details and let Scouts count nights spent in a cabin or church basement toward Camping merit badge.

Both approaches, however, miss the point of the requirements, which is to put Scouts in situations where they must practice the patrol method and Scoutcraft skills like tent-pitching and camp cooking. Sleeping in a church basement makes that less likely; sleeping in a lean-to doesn’t. If I were making the call, I’d probably allow a night spent in a lean-to but definitely wouldn’t allow a night spent in a church basement.

There’s one more point to consider: 20 nights of camping (including up to six nights of long-term camping) is not a lot to ask of a Scout before he reaches Eagle. If you feel the need to make exceptions to the rules, it’s probably a good idea to look at your troop’s camping program. If your Scouts don’t have enough chances to camp, the problem lies with the calendar your patrol leaders’ council has planned, not with the advancement requirements.

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

Invoking a Great Court of Honor Invocation


Several years ago, I asked our associate pastor at the time, who happened to be a young single woman, to give the invocation and benediction at an Eagle court of honor. She was more than happy to do so, but she admitted that she didn’t know very much about Scouting or exactly what an Eagle court of honor was all about.

To reduce her anxiety level—and to make sure her prayers fit the texture of the ceremony—I gave her a draft of the ceremony script a week or so before the event. The resulting prayers were beautiful; they echoed the theme of the court of honor (“The Eagle Mountain”) and brought the ceremony up to a higher level.

When you recruit someone to offer the invocation and benediction at a court of honor–or to offer any other unscripted comments–give them a copy of your script or take the time to explain what an Eagle court of honor is all about. You (and they) will be glad you did.


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and


President Trump, the Jamboree, and Me


I’ve worked with young people my whole adult life, both in Scouting and in church, so I’m very good at keeping my political opinions to myself—and certainly off social media. As I said in a blog post several years ago, “You’ll never see me post anything online that wouldn’t be appropriate for the youngest Scout to read, and if you want to know about my political leanings or adult-beverage preferences, you’ll have to ask.”

That said, I’ve had enough people ask me about President Trump’s speech at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree that I feel compelled to say something. Or a few things actually.

My first thought is that Mr. Trump’s political comments were absolutely inappropriate—just as political comments from a Democratic president would have been in this setting. The Boy Scouts of America is, by its very nature, an apolitical organization, founded to “to promote, through organization, and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues,” according to its 1916 federal charter. Beyond congratulating the Scouts on their achievements and encouraging them to continue to serve their country, there’s nothing more a president should say in this setting. (By the way, the jamboree included more than 700 international Scouts, making Mr. Trump’s “America first” message even more inappropriate.)

My second thought is that I HATE these presidential visits to jamborees—and I’ve been through a few of them, having attended six jamborees from 1981 through 2013. They are logistical nightmares that turn the program upside down. Mr. Trump’s visit required several program areas to shut down as early as 10 a.m. on the day of his visit, and many troops had to leave their campsites as early as 2 p.m. in order to get through security. And that’s not even as bad as the jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill where we had to do an extra mobilization because the president’s schedule didn’t align with the two planned arena shows. My biggest memory of that day is the Scouts who were passing out in the blazing Virginia heat.

My third thought—and probably the most important—is that the furor surrounding Mr. Trump’s speech has obscured what a diverse organization Scouting is today. Because Mr. Trump got some of the Scouts to boo President Obama, there’s a sense that all Scouts are Republicans. Because he talked (for some odd reason) about Christmas, there’s a sense that Scouting is an exclusively Christian organization. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As Mr. Trump was speaking, I happened to be transcribing an interview with a Scouter who works with an inner-city troop in Massachusetts where families speak at least six languages. She described in moving terms how these children of immigrants are going on to become the first members of their families to graduate from college. In the past, I’ve interviewed Muslim and Sikh Scouters who have found Scouting to be a warm, welcoming place.

At the 2010 jamboree, for example, Abdul-Rashid Abdullah helped run a mosque set up on site, where kids of all faiths could learn about Islam. He told me later, “Through Scouting, people of diverse cultures and diverse faiths can come together and learn from one another, learn to respect one another, and live together.”

At the 2013 jamboree, volunteers at the Sikh exhibit helped 1,500 Scouts learn to tie turbans. “We had turbaned kids running up and down the slope playing Frisbee,” Kavneet Pannu told me. “The zip line was above us, and we could see turbans on the zip line. Some kids didn’t remove their turbans for two days because they thought it was the coolest thing.”

In our hyper-politicized age, groups of all stripes want to use Scouting to advance their own purposes. As Scouters, it’s our job to keep our purpose clear: to help boys grow up to be men—regardless of how they worship, who they vote for, or what adult beverage they prefer.

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