Selecting a Boy Scout Troop with your Webelos
By James Montigny
Scoutmaster (Troop 124) and Cub Scout Roundtable Commissioner (Thunderbird District)
There are many factors, social, logistic and monetary that influence a Webelos family’s choices when it comes to Boy Scout Troops. There are also many elements that get overlooked because the significance is not always apparent at that stage of a boy’s Scouting career. Spending a few evenings or weekends to truly research his options is by far the best investment any parent can make for their Scout even if the choice seems obvious at first. Although a Webelos is only required to spend time with one unit to earn his Arrow of Light, it is recommended that every Scout visit a minimum of three local Troops to determine what both he and his parents like, want and do not like or want in a unit. Troops come in all sizes and composition, level of activity, areas of focus, chief goals and program format. What works for one boy may not work well for another.
The size of the Troop is often cited as an important characteristic of a Troop. Larger Troops are often able to be active in environments that require large numbers to be cost-effective, they generally have an abundance of equipment available and often come with a mature leadership team. Far more important that the number of boys on the roster is the number of boys who actively participate. Poor attendance, particularly among veteran Scouts, is a sign of a weak program, dissatisfied members or youth lost in the sea of uniforms. Good attendance, including older Scouts and regardless of Troop size, is a sign of a strong program that engages boys and families and gives them a reason to want to return week after week. This is the type of unit that will propel boys beyond the Eagle rank and into the true purpose of Scouting; being prepared for life. Troops, both large and small can deliver strong programs.
Activity level is another important factor in selected a Boy Scout Troop. Active units retain Scouts though real-world application of skills and real observation of concepts. It is important to understand that the frequency of meetings and activities is less important than the nature of the activities. Units who participate in activities for the better of the community, to develop skills, that interest the boys and to pass along knowledge to the next generation of Scouts are far more effective than units who’s focus is based on the Scoutmaster’s personal interests or a recycled plan that has been used year after year. The important questions to ask are “Why are we doing this?” and “What do we home to accomplish?”. A program with a purpose is a key difference between a Scout Troop and a social club.
Leadership, both youth and adult, can make or break a Scouting program. Boy Scout Troops can be led in a variety of ways, each posing its own advantages and disadvantages. An adult-led Troop if often more efficient at generating Eagle Scouts and delivering lesson plans. It requires less effort on everyone’s part because those leading the effort generally have a great deal of experience. Families will often see this as a natural extension of the Cub Scout program, which makes it comfortable and ensures that all boys who participate advance. It is common to hear Scouts talk about “Eagling out”, which means that boys consider the Eagle rank to be the end of trail and reason to reduce activity level until they ultimately leave the program altogether and miss out on the opportunity to lead. Remember that although drama is common in any volunteer organization, the lion’s share is generated and perpetuated by adults, not by the youth. Conversely, boy-led Troops can be less efficient and sometimes chaotic as boys rarely do things as quickly, well or proficiently as adults with many more years of experience. Boys may not deliver lessons in as much detail, will make mistakes and miss deadlines. The benefit of a boy-led Troop is that the boys have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, to observe each other and learn from the consequences of their actions. A boy-led Troop is in-tune with the interests of the boys since the boys make the decisions. We well-run boy-led Troop allows boys to take on and delegate responsibilities that most adults would never expect from a youth, yet the boys are eager and able to complete the task because they enjoy it. A wise Scoutmaster knows when to step in and provide guidance and when the boys are best left to their own devices, the same Scoutmaster often experiences less anxiety as a result.
The make-up of the Troop Committee is important as the body is responsible for ensuring that the boys’ program is implemented in a safe and fair manner. The committee should be made up of a mix of new and veteran parents with the freedom to voice concerns without fear of repercussion. Soliciting candid feedback one-on-one from committee members and parents is a wonderful tool in helping determine how your Scout might fit into the unit. Negative feedback should be weighted heavily as Scout families are notoriously loyal to their unit and rarely speak ill of the organization without good reason.
Above all, observe the boys. Look for boys who are having fun, look for boys who are setting an example and imagine how your family fits into the group.