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Issue 490 – June 9, 2016

Hi Andy,

I’ve just finished my first year as a Cub Scout adult volunteer—Tiger Den Leader—after several decades as a Scout and Scouter.

We finished this year with ten Tigers, of which eight were with us for the entire year and two for the past six months (these two participated fully for the months they were Tigers). All did their best (with varying results) to participate fully and with good cheer. All the parents did their best (with varying results) to bring their boys regularly and support the program. And I, likewise, did my best to lead the den and provide a fun, engaging program in a safe environment. At year’s end, I awarded the Tiger badge to all ten, even though, in one instance, one of the full-year Tigers didn’t make it to one of the required adventures and his family circumstances did not afford opportunity for him to make up that last adventure.

After the awards ceremony, one of the parents asked me why every boy was given the Tiger badge, even when several showed up less or made less effort, or joined later on.

I explained to him that each boy has his own unique level of ability, self-control, attention span, interest, and backing from his parents, just as each family has its own unique level of participation in other organizations and activities as well. Some families have both parents at home and often both of those parents support Scouting. Other families have different circumstances, sometimes even where one parent embraces Scouting but the other parent won’t bring the boy to meetings when that parent has custody. Also, each leader—like myself—has his or her own unique collection of experiences, training, maturity, resources, interest, and supportive or critical spouses or partners. And certainly everyone has different levels of available time and money.

If, for example, a boy signs up for a sports team but misses half the games and doesn’t ever hustle, he still gets the participation trophy at the end of the year. Cub Scouting gives boys so much more than a participation trophy, even if all the boys at all levels of skill and effort all receive the Tiger badge.

In Boy Scouts, if you don’t earn First Class by age 12, you can earn it later. In Cub Scouts, when your Tiger year is over you either get your Tiger badge or you never can or will. Plus, Boy Scouting is a “Be Prepared” culture with moveable thresholds between ranks, while Cub Scouting is a “Do Your Best” culture with fixed start- and end-dates for each program year.

Tiger badges, like Eagle rank, college degrees, and licenses to practice medicine, are earned by different individuals as a result of different levels of knowledge, effort and integrity. The value of your credentials can not exceed the value of your character. The value of your Tiger badge does not increase if other boys had left that night crying because they hadn’t received one.

So, finally, my question: Can you give me a reputable resource—preferably published by the BSA—that I can quote from, that explains how the BSA intends for us to apply “Do Your Best” in the context of boys earning the completion badge (Tiger, in this case) for a given program year of Cub Scouting? (Name Withheld, Tidewater Council, TX)

The citation you’re seeking can be found on pages 5-6 of the BSA’s TIGER HANDBOOK. It should be pointed out, however, that the concept of “Do Your Best” doesn’t go away somehow after Cub Scouting ends and Boy Scouting begins. This is actually a thread through the entire Scouting program from the beginning onward.
Frankly, I’m not certain your Eagle, academic degree, licenses examples actually hold water. When one doesn’t complete all requirements for Eagle and its preceding ranks and necessary merit badges by your 18th birthday and guess what—you’re not an Eagle Scout. Fail to pass the minimum standard for all required and elective college courses and guess what—no degree. Fail the written or on-road test and you don’t get a driver’s license. Miss the bar on a pole vault and that height isn’t recorded. Swing at a pitched ball, miss it three times, and you take the bench; you don’t get to go to first base just because you “did your best” to hit it.

As for treating Cub Scout badges like “participation” awards, consider this: You said in your letter that you received the Cub Scout Leader Award and wear it proudly. Would you wear it just as proudly, if at all, if you knew that others failed to complete the requirements for it, either in training, tenure, or performance?

Children of both sexes at Tiger age are a lot more perceptive and smart than we often give them credit for, and among other aspects they recognize and value success. Yes, by making the Tiger badges recognitions of participation and not achievement, you’ve possibly eliminated, as you put it, “boys going home crying.” You’re mistaken.

Boys—better than we often realize or acknowledge—know full well who among them the achievers are and who aren’t. So what makes you comfortable with the idea that a boy who has indeed done everything expected of him to earn the Tiger badge is okay with the notion that someone who’s fallen short (for whatever reason or circumstance) gets the same badge as he and his parents worked to earn? What you’re actually communicating is actually that “Do Your Best” doesn’t matter—you’ll get the badge anyway.

Here’s a true (and brief) story about achievement versus participation…

A small private school had for decades held a science fair from all grades from Kindergarten through 12th, with each entry judged and First Place, Second Place, and Third Place awards for the top three entries in each grade level. For decades, participation by the students was virtually 100%, year after year.

But then, a group of parents decided amongst themselves that this was unfair and—to “avoid tears,” or so they thought—they petitioned the school’s teachers, administration, and board of trustees to forego awards and announce to all students that, instead, the science fair would be providing “Participant” ribbons to all entrants.

The result was this: Student entries in that year’s science fair instantly dropped to less than 20%. Why? Simple. The students themselves realized and responded to the plain fact that merely getting something for just “showing up” had no intrinsic value or importance by failing to recognize creativity or excellence. In short, when “Do Your Best” no longer mattered, the students simply walked away.

End of story.

Happy Scouting!


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. 490 – 6/9/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]


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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