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Issue 539 – August 1, 2017

Hi Andy,

I’m a kinda new (seven months) Scoutmaster. My problem is that, here we are, mid-summer, and I’m seeing our troop’s Life Scouts flounder and squander their time with no clear direction toward Eagle; so far, they’ve wasted a half-year of their Scouting lives doing little to nothing in the advancement arena. We do have a Life-to-Eagle Coach (aka “L2EC”), but he tells me only one Life Scout has reached out to him (he tends to be more reactive than proactive). Although I’ve kept in mind that, ultimately, the initiative for advancement rests with the Scouts themselves, but I’ve observed that most of them have no clue about what to do next. They obviously need our help and we’re really not serving their needs. Some of them are nearing their 16th birthdays; others are beginning to risk running out of time.

I’ve heard grousing and grumbling from their parents that their sons aren’t making any progress toward Eagle, but, thankfully, they do understand that ultimately this is their sons’ own responsibility. Nonetheless, they’re frustrated that their sons aren’t listening to them, and they’re asking us, as the troop’s adults, to provide some guidance.

I’m not the type to build an “Eagle factory,” and truly want our Scouts to do this on their own, but I recognize they need a nudge in the right direction. To be clear, I’m not advocating doing it all for them or holding their hand; I want them to have the satisfaction of knowing they did it themselves.

I’ve asked our L2EC to set up a meeting ASAP and to focus on having all our Life Scouts create a list of what each needed to complete—merit badges, service projects, tenure in positions of responsibility—along with where they are right now, so we can figure out who needs help with what. Maybe it’s contacting local organizations to identify possible projects and mapping out how to get a project approved. Maybe it’s finding a position in the troop they’d like to tackle. Whatever it is, we’d like to provide the “nudge.” But this meeting just never seems to get scheduled.

Am I wrong to be expecting our L2EC to take a more proactive role with these Scouts, like checking up on them, guiding them to making the contacts, showing them how to write a project proposal, etc.? Or should we just let them figure this stuff out on their own (which I think is the wrong way to go, but I may be mistaken)?

We currently have eight Life Scouts and nine Star Scouts right behind them. Not all will make it to Eagle; I know this. But most of them need someone to at least point them in the right direction, so that they have a chance. They just don’t seem to have the right “compass” for where to go next.

I think I may need to replace our current L2EC (even though he’s a great guy with lots of Scouting experience). I’ve been approached by two adult volunteers—one is an Assistant Scoutmaster and the other sits on the troop’s committee—so finding a replacement isn’t an issue. But helping the Scouts in our troop achieve success is! Any advice you can offer will be greatly appreciated. (Lee Murray, SM, Nevada Area Council)

As Scoutmaster, your own key responsibility is to coach, mentor, and train the troop’s youth leaders, so they can run their own troop. Yes, you’re also there to encourage and support Scout advancement, but that’s not your main job (more on this in just a moment).

Unless the Scouts in this troop have been coddled, cajoled, and carried through the prior ranks, there’s no reason for them to be floundering now, with the ultimate goal in sight.

No Eagle, Life, or even Star Scout ever wants to have to look back and remember how others dragged him across the finish line for whatever rank he ultimately ends up at. This just isn’t Scouting, and it’s certainly far afield from character-building.

With so many Scouts ready for their final or next-to-final step along the trail to Eagle, I’m a bit surprised you haven’t mentioned two key “tools”—Your troop’s advancement chair (or advancement coordinator), and Scoutmaster conferences.

The troop’s AC can (and should!) take an active (not “reactive”) role in encouraging merit badges and the other requirements needed for the next rank, and help Scouts lay out a plan for themselves, based on their commitment to advancing and the other busy aspects of their lives.

You, as Scoutmaster, can conference with any Scout, at any time—5 or 10 minutes per individual Scout should be enough, especially if you have “target” Scouts you’d like to encourage. Keep this in mind: Scoutmaster conferences aren’t just an advancement requirement; they’re available for you to do at any time (including multiple times) along the trail to Eagle!

Here’s another tool: boards of review. The BOR can absolutely include a conversation with the Scout about his plans for staying on-course and developing his preferred set of steps and their time-lines. In fact, this is one of the key purposes of these reviews!

As for parents, their best bet is to simply confirm to their sons that, no matter the rank, they love ’em and will continue to love ’em, unconditionally. (Think about the psychology of it: Isn’t “nagging”—even in its most gentle form—almost a guarantee that a boy, young man, or even adult, will resist…and stall out?)

As for the “L2ECoach” concept, how about “L2E COUNSELOR” instead? And who says a troop may have just one of these? Any ASM, committee member, or even non-registered parent who knows the advancement process can counsel a Scout on his steps toward his next rank. This is something your AC can set up. It’s unofficial, or course, but extremely valuable for some Scouts (and it’s also a great way to recruit additional committee members or even ASMs). This means you don’t have to replace your current L2EC—you just need to add to the L2EC team, with people who have other skill-sets!

Finally—and I touched on this earlier—you’re 100% correct that the rank (be it Tenderfoot, Eagle, or anywhere in-between) is ultimately the Scout’s, and it’s grounded in his own goal-setting and initiative, and no one else’s!

Dang, Andy! This is a great conversation and gives me some wonderful things to think about from differing angles. Thanks!

It’s easy to get off track sometimes, and I appreciate your suggestions. When you don’t have a dog in the fight, clarity can prevail.

I’ll keep the current L2EC in place, and keep encouraging him to check in with the Scouts. I’m also going to speak to the two others who expressed interest in this, as well as our AC, and ask them to take some time and check in with these same Scouts. Perhaps a different mentor will ignite the flame for some of them.

And I do agree: it’s ultimately the Scout’s decision. But I’ll find out their intentions in those little impromptu Scoutmaster conferences. (I seem to have lost sight of that! Thanks for the reality check.)

It’s too late for the Life scouts to have that board of review conversation, but I can do that in my mini-conferences. And I’ll make sure to speak with the AC about both the content of the higher level boards of review and advancement in general. (As I don’t sit in on boards of review, I’m not necessarily privy to those conversations.) Thanks again! This has been a big help. (Lee)

I have some more good news for you… I double-checked this in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (Topic—2015 Edition [and I doubt that it’s changed in the 2017 Edition]): “Note that boards of review may also be held for Scouts who are not advancing” (italics by GTA). This means that, for these Life Scouts who appear to have been stalled for the past seven months, your troop committee can convene a review, sit down with each Scout (individually) and ask, for instance, “How can we help you start your ‘advancement engine’ again?” This lets the Scout know he has resources available to him that he may not otherwise realize are available. But, even if he doesn’t ask for help, it lets him know the adults who serve the troop care about him and have his best interests in mind!

In addition, it’s perfectly okay for a Scoutmaster to sit in on boards of review—as an observer. In fact, it’s a very nice thing when the Scoutmaster himself or herself actually introduces the Scout to the people sitting on the review! (It’s simply that your role as Scoutmaster is silent—you observe without asking questions or otherwise speaking unless the reviewers have a question they need answered and the Scout can’t provide it—check this in your SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK.)

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Just to me at: 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. 539 – 8/1/2017 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2017]


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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