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Issue 397 – May 20, 2014

Dear Andy,

We have an 11 year-old Scout who just recently crossed over into our troop. While starting work on his Tenderfoot fitness requirement (10a), he couldn’t do a single pull-up. After 30 days (for 10b) he still couldn’t do a single one. Neither can most of the other new Scouts.

In my opinion, improvement over “zero” is one. This Scout’s father is a new troop volunteer and a personal friend. He says his son can’t do a pull-up and will never be able to do a pull-up, period! Surprisingly, his son is a football player. In his dad’s opinion, improvement from zero can be as little as an inch movement. I’ve never heard of one thirty-sixth of a pull-up, or just lifting your chest barely off the ground counting as a push-up. But if I’m taking this the wrong way, please let me know. Thanks! (Dave)

Thanks for taking the time to write about an important issue…one that’s arisen before on several occasions. Rather than my offering an “opinion,” I’ve taken the time to consult with the BSA’s National Advancement Team Leader (he and I have done this before, on other advancement-related issues, and his viewpoint is not only impeccable, it’s official). Here’s what he has to say (with some slight paraphrasing by me)…

“Tenderfoot req. 10a-b has been debated at the national level over a considerable period of time; the requirement language has been retained intentionally. Here’s why…

“When the BSA writes requirements—especially for the first three Boy Scout ranks—we take into consideration not just what we’re trying to accomplish with an individual requirement and its sub-parts, but also the effect of the requirement language on sustaining boys for Scouting’s long-haul.

“For all youth members, the BSA’s primary goal is general personal growth, with physical fitness a part of this goal. To achieve well-rounded personal growth, we need to keep youth involved for the long term. If our Tenderfoot physical fitness requirement drives boys away early in their Boy Scouting experience, we not only end up with no contributions to fitness, but zero accomplishment toward our overall goal.

“Tenderfoot req. 10a-b has two parts. The first is ‘practice;’ the second, ‘improvement.’ This requirement says, ‘…practicing for 30 days.’ If the Scout doesn’t practice, then he hasn’t fulfilled the requirement. The second part says, ‘improvement;’ however, it purposefully doesn’t specify how much improvement. Any level of improvement is acceptable, so long as it occurs as a result of having practiced for at least the specified time.”

So yes, this means that, a partial pull-up, so long as the Scout has been trying and practicing for at least 30 days, is considered improvement. So is a partial sit-up or push-up. The idea is practice to improve, and so long as both of these have happened, it’s okay.

This is where the new-Scout’s Scoutmaster becomes invaluable to this boy’s growth, both now and throughout his Boy Scouting experience. You, as Scoutmaster, are—as Baden-Powell put it—the Scout’s “big brother” or “kindly uncle.” You’re not an “examiner” or “tester” so much as you’re a friendly encourager who’s taken a personal interest in this new boy in the troop you serve. Here’s how it goes…

“Wally Webelos” joins the troop, earns his Scout badge in his first conference with you, and then begins work toward Tenderfoot—his first Boy Scout rank. You help him get started with a few of the requirements and keep a watchful eye so that, between his Patrol Leader and Troop Guide, he begins accomplishing other requirements. You decide to reserve req. 10a-b for yourself, so you’re there when he does his “first time” best for the five parts of req. 10a. Then you have a conversation with him about how he’s going to practice so that he can improve in each of these a month from now. Wally’s not so sure, so you give him some ideas on how to train and practice. Then you let him go. A week goes by; it’s the next troop meeting. “Hi, Wally!” you ask, “How’re you doing with your practicing?” He gives you an update, and maybe shows you a couple of the exercises he’s doing. You congratulate and encourage him. The following week, you check with him again, and the following week as well, each time asking him how he’s doing on improving over his “day one” results, and maybe even asking him to demonstrate a couple of them. In other words, you not only let him know you care, but you show your caring through coaching and encouragement.

At the 30-day mark, or thereabouts, you ask Wally if he’s ready to see how his practicing has helped him. He repeats the five parts. Wow! He can do three more sit-ups than he could a month ago! And his standing long jump is just a little longer this time. His time on the quarter-mile is faster, even if only by a few seconds. But his push-ups are a problem. Try as he might, he can’t do even one more complete push-up than the first time. But you notice that, at least he can get his body off the ground one more time than before, even if he can’t get his arms completely straight under himself. “Hey, you’ve improved, Wally!” you tell him, ’cause he has. The same happens with the pull-ups. Wally can’t add one more full pull-up to what he did the first time, but at least his elbows bend as his face, not surprisingly, gets red as a fresh tomato. He’s improved! Maybe not to the standards of an Olympic athlete, but Scouting’s goal isn’t to produce Olympic athletes, so it’s okay because he did practice and did his level best to improve, if only slightly in some areas.

You congratulate Wally, and sign his handbook for 10b. You tell him he’ll be a Tenderfoot very soon and, by the way, maybe he’d like to keep practicing and set some personal goals on these five fitness measures for himself? Wally gets the message. He learns that stuff like this doesn’t happen overnight, but discovers that it feels good to improve and get it noticed by someone who’s newly important in his life. Congratulations, Mister Scoutmaster! You’re beginning to make a real difference in the life of a boy—a difference that may last him a lifetime!

Here’s a secret I’ve learned along the Scouting trail… We may remember a couple of the teachers that we had as a boy, and we may even remember a particular pastor or priest or rabbi, but we hardly ever forget our first Scoutmaster! (I recently received a letter from the now-father of a Scout himself. He wrote to tell me he remembered how, when he was a Scout some 50 years ago, I’d made a difference in his life that stuck with him for a half-century. I can’t think of a “paycheck” bigger or better than that! Can you?
Hi Andy,

I thought the BSA doesn’t allow fundraising for other organizations…but then I saw an online post about an Order of the Arrow lodge raising money for a completely non-BSA charity. What’s up? (Or is this a dumb question?) (Rick Hautekeete, ASM, Transatlantic Council)

Nope, definitely not a dumb question! And you’re 100% correct. The BSA specifically prohibits members from fundraising for non-BSA organizations…when such members are acting as part of a unit or other BSA group (such as the OA). Moreover, soliciting for donations—even if they’re for Scouting—is restricted to councils only; individuals and units can’t solicit for donations at all, even if it’s for the BSA! With an interesting wrinkle that you need to know about also: While we can’t request donations, we’re permitted to accept them if offered without solicitation. (I’m going to send you a BSA “FAQ” sheet on fiscal policy.)

Thanks, Andy. Yes, after looking at the policy, I realized we, ourselves, were off the mark when we asked for donations for our Jamboree contingent! (Rick)

That’s why the BSA promotes popcorn sales, car washes, and so forth—It’s all about earning the money to support what you love doing! (Let’s leave “The Grovel Hour” to PBS! )
Hi Andy!

I need some help better understanding a Patrol Leaders Council’s limits of authority. We all know the PLC is responsible for planning and running the troop meeting program, planning and leading the troop’s outdoor activities, but how far does their authority extend? In a well-meaning effort to place the Scouts in charge of the troop, our troop committee has started giving the PLC what I think is a little too much “rope,” as they’re now being accorded the authority to create and even change what I’ve always considered BSA-defined policies and procedures.

I’m not talking about things like “put away your cell phones at troop meetings” or “leave canned soda home when we’re going camping.” I’m talking about the PLC being allowed to determine that our “troop uniform” will be a Scout shirt and a neckerchief and that’s it. And they’ve also “decided” that our semi-annual troop elections will include electing Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders too, in addition to the Senior Patrol Leader, and patrols will elect both their Patrol Leader and their Assistant Patrol Leader. When I’ve broached this stuff as maybe going a bit over the top, the committee’s response has been, “Well, we want a Scout-led troop and this is what the Scouts decided.”

Are the PLC limits of authority spelled out anywhere, specifically as they relate to policy…something I can point to in writing to convince the committee that we’re headed for a train wreck here? Our troop is a generally good one—over 40 years old, with good people. We just need some help getting our Scouting “ship” back on an even keel again. (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m guessing a bunch of folks are going to need to crack open their SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, or borrow one, real fast. What’s happening is bordering on silly. To prove this, suppose the PLC decided that the “troop uniform” is going to be a clown suit? Would “well, the Scouts decided” still apply? Or how about all Scouts carry side-arms? Or how about everybody goes “Zombie Shooting” with real handguns and ammo? Or, they’re going to elect two Senior Patrol Leaders every term, so that more Scouts get credit for leadership? Or we’re gonna have girls in the troop, too. Based on the troop’s adult volunteers’ apparent incapacity to understand what the PLC is for (and what it’s not for), any of these nonsense scenarios could actually happen, ridiculous as they might seem.

So let’s go back to square one… The PLC decides on what the troop program—hiking, camping, summer camp, other Scout activities—will be, and they also run six of the seven parts of the troop meetings. When it comes to what activities the PLC wants to do, the troop committee can offer suggestions but—and here’s one I’ll be they don’t know either—the troop committee doesn’t have “veto” power unless the activity violates a BSA policy (check the GTSS).

Neither the PLC nor the committee, nor certainly not the Scoutmaster ever has the authority to deviate from the fundamentals of the Boy Scout program. There’s only one uniform, period. Only the SPL and Patrol Leaders are elected positions; APLs are appointed by their respective PLs, and all troop-level positions—ASPL, Quartermaster, JASM, Scribe, etc.—are appointed by the SPL with the guidance of the Scoutmaster.

One more thing… The only participants in a PLC meeting are (1) the SPL, who runs the meeting, (2) the PLs (and a Troop Guide if you have a new-Scout patrol), and (3) the Scribe, who takes notes but doesn’t vote. (In the case of a new-Scout patrol PL and TG combination, they get only one vote, total.) The Scoutmaster sits to the side and advises the SPL as needed. All other Scouts, regardless of position, stay home.

By the way, in case you hadn’t guessed, everything I’ve just described isn’t my “opinion”—it’s BSA policy. It’s not subject to alteration, discussion, or debate. You’ll find this in writing in no less than five sources: SCOUT HANDBOOK, SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK, SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK, and PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK. They all say exactly the same thing.

But here’s the deal… Unfortunately, 99% of the problem that’s been created here is the result of a Scoutmaster either asleep at the switch (he should have headed this stuff off before it got out of hand) or a Scoutmaster who hasn’t recently read his SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK or taken the necessary training.

Luckily, there’s a simple “fix” here, if the Scoutmaster’s willing to “Scout up”… It begins with a simple apology to the PLC, followed by explaining what a PLC is for (and not for). Here’s what it might look like, when the Scoutmaster sits down with the PLC for that chat…

“Scouts, I’m going to apologize right now for letting you go astray. You’re a great group of leaders and we’ve got a great troop. But recently you’ve made some decisions that I failed to counsel you on, and that’s on me—not you. You didn’t know, and I didn’t alert you, as I should have. So here they are, and we’re going to fix these right now…

“Uniforms. There’s only one Scout uniform and it’s shown in your own handbooks. This is our uniform, and we don’t have the authority to change it. That’s what the BSA says, and that’s what we’re going to stick to if we want to be Scouts. So, the PLC can choose neckerchiefs and even design one if you’d like. And you can pick which Scout hat or cap you’d like for the troop. But as far as the shirt, belt, pants or shorts, and socks, we’re a Scout troop and we’ll wear our Scout uniforms completely and correctly.

“Next, troop elections. The BSA tells us exactly how troop elections are to be handled. We’re expected to do things this way, just like we don’t use a football to play a basketball game. The SPL is elected by all the Scouts of the troop. After he’s elected, he chooses all other troop-level positions, including ASPL, Quartermaster, and so on, and I give him some guidance on that. The Patrol Leaders are elected by their respective patrols, and then they choose their assistants.

“Now, your most important responsibility: Troop meetings and weekend activities. So let’s get started…”

If your Scoutmaster is willing to do this, and the committee sees the light, your troop will get itself back on track quickly and efficiently.
Dear Andy,

I’ll be doing a session on proper flag etiquette for a Wood Badge course. Can you recommend any good resources? I know that ours might be a little different from the BSA (William J. Taylor, Scouts Canada, Thunder Bay, Ontario)

Thanks for finding me, and for writing. I think this is just what you’re looking for:

Have a great time “on the hill”!

Happy Scouting!

(“I used to be an Owl…”)

Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 397 – 5/20/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


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.

Read Andy's full biography

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