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Issue 90 – Scout Spirit

“SCOUT SPIRIT”… What is it? How do we “measure” it? How can we get more of it? How do we get our Scouts to pay more attention to it? Why can’t the BSA give us a more tangible definition of it? How do we know when it’s there and when it’s not? Is a rank-directed Scoutmaster Conference or Board of Review the only place we talk about it? What do we do when we think we need more of it?

These and questions like them have been coming into this column for a bunch of years, now, and I’ve tried to do my best in offering insights on these important issues. Perhaps it’s time to put some real focus on it…

“Scout Spirit” is simple in concept: “Live by the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life.” Meaning honor your God by whatever name you choose and your country, extend your helping hand to others, and steadfastly improve yourself in body, mind, and principles. But it’s simultaneously vague, because it doesn’t say “do this…” or “do that…” Our founder, Baden-Powell, put it even more simply, and possibly more obscurely, too: “We’re not about being good; we’re about doing good.”

The wise Scoutmaster knows that we can’t cut a hole in our Scouts’ hearts and stuff this stuff called Scout Spirit in there, or inject it into our Scouts’ veins, or spoon-feed it to them. But the wise Scoutmaster knows that, as our Scouts’ primary role model, living daily by the Scout Oath and Law is paramount, and one of the ultimate keys to success.

We do know what not to do… We have lots of laws in our cities and towns, counties, states, and country that tell us what we can’t do. But the Scout Oath and especially the Scout Law are unique. Unlike even the Ten Commandments, these don’t tell us what not to do; they point the way to what’s the right thing to do. That’s a darned sight more difficult than not doing something, because it takes personal, individual judgment to, as the legendary Davy Crockett is reputed to have put it, “Be sure you’re right; then go ahead.” It’s also been put this way, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, but pretty correctly nonetheless: “Conscience is the voice that tells us what to do when nobody’s looking.”

So, what can we, as Scoutmasters, do to help our Scouts understand and internalize “what’s right” so that they, on their own, can “get it right” and then “go ahead”? Here are some ways. Pick what will work for you, based in part on your troop’s size…

The Scoutmaster’s Minute is the most important “public” opportunity you have to make a difference. Every one of your Minutes can focus on a different aspect of Scout Spirit. Your first twelve Minutes are a slam-dunk – Just tell a brief story focusing on a point of the Scout Law. The next handful can focus on the ideals contained in the Scout Oath. By now, you’re on a roll, so just keep going. Maybe you’ll pick a point from a recent sermon you heard, or maybe it’s from something on the news the night before, or even from a popular TV show!

I recall my Scoutmaster gave us a “Minute” one Tuesday evening, after the “I Love Lucy” show had appeared the evening before. He asked if we’d seen it and of course we all said yes. He asked us if we recalled when Fred Murtz had called Ricky Ricardo a “Cuban crumb,” and we all giggled that we had. He then went around the Scout room and asked the national origin of some of our families, and followed up by asking us how we thought we would feel if we had been labeled on the basis of our heritage. Chagrined, we lowered our eyes, some of us gulped in nervousness, a few of us actually teared up. He then told us how proud he was of us, that he’d never, ever heard any of us do this! He told us that’s what being a Scout is all about. That was over a half-century ago, and it’s as powerful to me right now this moment as it was when I was an 11-year-old Tenderfoot.

One of the reasons why we still remember Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg is that it was 268 words long. It can be entirely spoken in about two minutes. Use this as your model for your Minutes. You’re not there to lecture, or even to moralize. You have an opportunity, each week, to deliver a succinct, powerful, dramatic message that can have immense lasting power. That’s why it’s the Scoutmaster’s Minute.

Have a “Troop Movie Night,” or, like the old Saturday Matinees used to do, run portions of a movie over several troop meetings in succession. Here are a few that are real winners for what we’re doing here:

“Follow Me Boys” (starring Fred MacMurray, with Kurt Russell as a boy actor) gives splendid opportunities to talk over stick-to-it-iveness, the relationships between boys, the Scoutmaster-to-Scouts relationship, and even adult mutual respect and love.

“Miracle,” (Kurt Russell again) by focusing on the seminal “Who do you play for” scene.

“October Sky,” with follow-up conversations about setting a goal and sticking to it.

“Remember The Titans” (starring Denzel Washington), about race relations and teamwork.

“Akeelah And The Bee” provides some marvelous opportunities to reflect on honesty, doing what’s right, parent-child conflicts, boy-girl relationships, sticking to your dream, and even respect toward adults.

There are many others, of course, and these can get you started.

Patrol flags (NOT made by Mom!) and yells. So fundamental, yet still so very valuable about reinforcing the essence of Scouting, which is all about the patrol. Baden-Powell put it this way: “The Patrol Method isn’t a way of delivering the Scouting program; it’s the only way.”

The Scout Benediction: “May the Great Master of all Scouts be with us till we meet again.” Not just at some meetings; at the close of every meeting. And never without the friendship circle.

The opening ceremony, with a twist: The “spirit patrol” (rotated each week—you do remember this from Wood Badge, yes?) not only leads it but—to get started—they’re asked to “make it their own” by injecting something into it that hasn’t been done before. Maybe it’s a recital of the history of an earlier flag (the Betsy Ross, or “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, and so on), or maybe it’s inspirational (why red-white-and-blue – what do these colors symbolize) or even informative (which star is our own state’s star).

A Troop yell, cheer, or chant. My own was “Troop 5, Troop 5, Busy as a bee hive, Yes we are from Troop 5, Troop 5 B-S-A RAH!” Your PLC is charged with doing this for their own troop! Then infuse it into every meeting and outing.

Now it’s your turn. With these for starters, what additional ways can you think of, that will subtly infuse every gathering of your Scouts with Scout Spirit at work? Go with your heart and you’ll always be right.


Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Have an idea? Found something that works? Send it to me
(Please include your Council name or your town & state)

(December 2006 – Copyright © 2006 Andy McCommish)


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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