You Know You Might Be A Scoutmaster If …

I’m scoring well below 50% on this test, but I do have several hits. Here they are:

  • You hoard tent stakes.
  • You cannot walk by a piece of trash without picking it up. (ever since I was a Scout …)
  • You carry a duffle bag size first-aid kit in your car. (meatloaf size, really)
  • You know all the words to “Little Bunny Foo-Foo”, but can’t remember where you left your briefcase. (I know where my briefcase is, but I misplace plenty of stuff)
  • You always cook enough food for twelve. (but this comes from growing up around Cajuns; if you are cooking something good, why wouldn’t you invite all your friends? Adults don’t cook for Scouts anyway, so this is a bogus one.)
  • You open letters with a pocket knife. (only when the sterling letter opener isn’t handy; I was raised in the south)
  • You know 365 one pot meals. (maybe only 30 or so)
  • You really do use those emergency sewing kits. (but they never have buttonhole twist, and sewing buttons back on is #1)

On a more serious note, I finally found the job description for Scoutmaster. It isn’t in the BSA Scoutmaster Handbook (a real Dilbert Moment); it’s in the Troop Committee training materials. It isn’t even in The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook. For the uninitiated, the Troop Committee hires the Scoutmaster. The Dilbertness is for the hiring manager to know the job description and never tell the new hire. Geez. Hello Bob Mazzuca, put this on page one of the Scoutmaster Handbook.

So, here is the job description. I’ve tweaked it for our troop, changing Patrol Leaders Council (PLC) to “Greenbar” and adding notes about Scoutmaster conferences.

Scoutmaster (excerpted from BSA Troop Committee Guidebook, 1990):

  • Train and guide boy leaders
  • Work with other responsible adults to bring Scouting to boys
  • Use the methods of Scouting to achieve the aims of Scouting
  • Meet regularly with Greenbar for training and coordination in planning troop activities
  • Attend all troop meetings or, when necessary, arrange for a qualified adult substitute
  • Attend all troop committee meetings
  • Conduct periodic parents’ sessions to share the program and encourage parent participation and cooperation
  • Take part in annual membership inventory and uniform inspection, charter review meeting, and charter presentation
  • Conduct Scoutmaster conferences for all rank advancements (in T-14, for Scout, First Class, and Eagle ranks, others are by patrol liaison ASMs)
  • Provide a systematic recruiting plan for new members and see that they are promptly registered
  • Delegate responsibility to other adults and groups (assistants, troop committee) so that they have a real part in troop operations
  • Supervise troop elections for the Order of the Arrow
  • Make it possible for each Scout to experience at least 10 days and nights of camping each year
  • Participate in council and district events
  • Build a strong program by using proven methods presented in Scouting literature
  • Conduct all activities under qualified leadership, safe conditions, and the policies of the chartered organization and the BSA

Kinda big for a volunteer, spare time position, eh? The only saving bit is that you are required to delegate.

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One Sign of a Boy-Led Troop

Last night we brought the newsletter home from the troop meeting. My son sat down to read it and skipped right past the Scoutmaster Minute (my column) to read the SPL’s column. That’s exactly right, the SPL leads the troop. In fact, my column was about adults supporting the PLC’s decision to have more day outings.

The SPL column also gave a quick overview of troop leadership. I like this part:

I, the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL), actually run the troop, not the adults; they just make sure we don’t make any bad decisions.

That is on the money, except that I’m OK with a certain level of bad decisions. That’s how you learn. I only step in to head off terrible decisions and I haven’t seen any of those yet.

A Buddy, The Eleventh Essential

Scoutmaster Minute for Troop 14, March 27, 2007

You’ve probably heard about the Scout who was lost in the woods in North Carolina recently. He did a pretty good job of taking care of himself, getting water, keeping warm, but he could have done better. What are some of the things you can think of?

[Scouts answered with “stay in camp”, “don’t split up the troop leaving one adult and one Scout in camp”, “take food”.]

Those are good ideas. He did have some Pringles, which helped — those have a lot of calories.

Here is one thing that would have helped [pull a whistle out of my pocket], a whistle, one of the Ten Essentials1. A whistle makes you much easier to find. That would have helped the 200 people who spent four days looking for him.

There is another essential thing, and that is a buddy. We all learn the buddy system for Tenderfoot, because it is so important. He should have had a buddy when he left camp. When you have a buddy, you can make better decisions.

But the buddy system failed at an earlier point. He left camp to go home because his friends weren’t on the trip. He needed a buddy before he left the parking lot. He needed a buddy at the beginning of the trip.

So make sure that you have a buddy. Invite one on every trip. A buddy is the eleventh essential.2


  1. Yes, I know that the BSA calls them the “Outdoor Essentials”. I usually do, too, but that would spoil the punch line.
  2. The previous Scoutmaster Minute I posted was also about buddies, but there have been other topics, including an excellent one on focus by one of our ASMs. On the other hand, we’re working on increasing attendance on outings, so I may continue to touch on buddies, friends, and word-of-mouth.

The Buddy System

Scoutmaster Minute for Troop 14, February 13, 2007

You know the buddy system, right? You learned that for Tenderfoot. Stick together in groups of two or three for safety.

Today, I heard about a group of seven buddies in Minnesota. They started Scouts together and made a promise that they would stick with it and get Eagle together. Last week, they did that.

Having a buddy for your big goals, or small ones, really helps. Right now, several of you are working on the first aid merit badge. Don’t just go to the class, go with a buddy. Work together, help each other, and make a deal that you are both going to finish the badge.

Get a buddy. Get it done.


The seven new Eagle Scouts are from Troop 224, Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Well done, Scouts.

My Preaching Schedule

I guess preaching is in my blood, like it or not. I didn’t follow my father and grandfather into the ministry, but I recently realized that I have a regular preaching schedule. Twice a month, I deliver a “Scoutmaster Minute”, a traditional homily given at the end of a Boy Scout troop meeting. We gather in a circle, and I have a minute (or two or three) to say something meaningful and memorable. My “parish” is this Scout troop, and the boys are in my care for a number of evenings and weekends each year, so I need to connect in those few minutes. My father is an excellent preacher and a student of the art, so I’m not completely ignorant. Still, knowing and doing are separate things, and I’m still learning to practice what my father preached. The ancient (and boring) formula is “tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, and tell ’em what you told ’em.” You might be able to get all that into a twenty minute sermon, but it is a bit much for a minute or three. My father’s preferred approach, learned from Reuel Howe at the Institute of Advanced Pastoral Studies (how do I remember these details?), is more work, but more rewarding — take something from scripture, something from life, and relate the two. Scouting doesn’t have Scripture, and Baden-Powell was a bit of a free-thinker and pacifist for the current crowd at BSA National, but I keep my eye out for authoritative bits of outdoor lore. I also pay extra attention to my own life and my own memories. What have I done that is an example, good or bad? What matters this week for this troop? Somehow, I picked up a few useful sermon-writing habits from my father — always carry a book, make notes, practice your stories and listen to other’s stories. Start with a rich pile of material (Gerry Weinberg’s fieldstone method), but also learn how to make a “good parts version” of that material. A great storyteller can spin a long yarn (Utah Phillips’ “Moose Turd Pie”) but I’m more comfortable with short and sweet. I’ve started posting my Scoutmaster Minutes; the first two are Steve Irwin and Take the Bruised Apple. These look very short when written down, but the second one is about a minute and a half when spoken, and felt pretty long in the meeting. Steve Irwin comes in right around thirty seconds and was very effective. I find this an interesting thing to get better at. I haven’t had a problem finding a core, some quote or experience, but my first few minutes just petered out at the end. The two that are posted are after I started working on the close. What should I work on next?

Take the Bruised Apple

Scoutmaster Minute for Troop 14, September 26, 2006

You’ve probably heard the phrase “rank has its privileges.” That means the Patrol Leader can pick the best spot for his tent, is first in line for dinner, and gets to tell people what to do, right?

A friend of mine was in the Marine Corps, and has a story about this that has a different angle.

You are an officer eating with your unit, and they bring out a bowl of apples. There is one apple per person, because this is the military. One of the apples is bruised. Which one do you pick?

According to Dave, if you pick a good apple, you are not fit to lead in the Marine Corps. When you choose that, you are giving a bad apple to one of your Marines, and that means they will not be at their best. If they are not at their best, they might die, and they are your responsibility. Not giving them enough food is like not giving them enough bullets.

We aren’t Marines, but we are leaders. When you are leading, you might find that your tent goes up last, because you are helping a Tenderfoot get his tent set up snug and dry. You might spend a lot of time on the phone, making sure your guys know what is happening. You might be last in line for food and first in line to clean the pots. You might find that your privilege is to serve, like it is my privilege to serve you.

Take the bruised apple.

Steve Irwin

Scoutmaster Minute for Troop 14, September 12, 2006

Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, died last week. People had a lot of opinions about him, but one thing that everyone agreed on was that he loved what he did. He loved wildlife and he loved being close to it.

You are lucky if you find something that you love that much, and it is really rare to be able to do it all the time.

If you can find something that you love even half as much as Steve Irwin loved wrestling crocs, and you can do it even one hour a week, do it.