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What do we look for in selecting a troop?

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  • What do we look for in selecting a troop?

    Okay gang, after five years in the Cub Program it's time to make the jump. Arrow of Light next February followed by bridging.

    I have not been involved with a Boy Scout unit in 12 years. I've visited three troops with my own Webelo and his den and have seen some nice things and other things I'm not crazy about.

    So let's hear from the group-
    What should we be looking for?
    What's a no-no and what's a yes-yes?

    The boy has his preference, but I want to make sure we're not overlooking a potential problem. I know we can always switch, but we'd like the first choice to be right.

    CMM

  • #2
    I'm in the same boat with you...formally visited 2 troops, and spent some time at various events with several other troops. Here's off-the-top-of-my-head observances I made at the events:

    Troop A: Event is an "Activity Pin College" of sorts, with 75 or so Webelos hosted by single Troop. Unit has been around about 35 years, outgoing SM was scout on original charter. About 20 boys, mostly younger boys. After brief greeting from new SM, the boys take over the event. I notice young patrol leaders struggle keeping some of the unruly Webelos in line. Since they don't have a feeder cub pack, they use this event as a recruitment. Committee Member gives the sales pitch; seems like they have an active schedule (MC says "every year we go to... is this why they don't have older boys?), they go to nice Council camp every year, had 7 boys eagle last year (but is this an eagle mill?) SM spends better part of day talking into bluetooth stuck in his ear. This unit is on the border of a neighboring district so wasn't really an option, but good for comparison purposes.

    Troop B: This was a planned visit to Troop Meeting. Unit is about 35 years old, has 40 or so active boys, and adult membership is active at district and council levels. After an efficient opening and rousing troop song (with genuine esprit de corps) TG wisks our Webelos 2 den off to tour troop activities. Boys of all ages are actively taking part in the evening's events, including several Eagles. For LT camp they alternate between Council camp and OOC camps, variety is nice. Our boys enjoyed the meeting as much as the Troop's boys seemed to. Funny part: at game time SPL had a little trouble getting all the boys attention. One of our parents, seeing boy-led chaos for the first time asks "So are we going to visit other troops?" Overall, leadership at all levels is pretty solid. The only question I have (in hindsight of course) is how much HA activities the boys do. PLC hadn't finalized years scheduele yet, so I'll need to contact activities coordinator for a list to see what's on tap.

    Troop C: Planned visit to Troop meeting. Unit is about 30+ years old, with 25ish active boys. Good group of older scouts, well behaved and eager younger scouts, and grouchy middle scouts. Committee is meeting in next room and PLC had just presented the years schedule to the adults. I get a copy: lots of variety, and lots of BIKING. These guys like biking...a lot. Camp at Presidio, bike across Golden Gate; camp at Red Rock, go biking in desert...etc etc. Unit has been to Philmont twice in last decade, and attached VC is going next year.

    Troop D: Unit present at Webelos/Boy Scout camping event. Small Catholic unit (12 boys) mostly older scouts. Talking with SM, sounds like they do a lot of HA stuff.

    Troop E: Unit present at Webelos/Boy Scout camping event. KofC unit, 2nd largest troop in district (30ish boys). Nice gear. Bright boys. They eat well. SM says they car camp 8 or so times a year, backpack camp several times, and go to council camp annually.

    For the record, my son chose troop B long before we started visiting. They were hosting a Webelos/Boy Scout camping event and made a good first impression. That, and his buddy from Day Camp is going to that troop. The other parents in my den tell me their boys want to stay with their friends, so I think they're hoping I've guided my son in the right direction.

    Comment


    • #3
      The troop that appeals to you as an adult is probably not the "right" troop. The scout is the one that has to live with the other boys. Meeting visits are all well and good but as you approach crossover a little closer going on a weekend camping trip with the top two or three choices is a good idea. Sometimes one sees different things when away from the meeting place. Avoid at all costs the troops where the scoutmaster or other adult is in charge at all times.

      Comment


      • #4
        High Adventure is a big Wow factor when seletcing troops. Remember that most HA require the boy to be 13.5 or 14 years old. That means your son will be in the troop for a couple of years before he even thinks about attending a HA. Not every troop can send an entire crew each year to HA. Many troops just send a few boys with the council trip, assuming your council sponsors a HA trip.

        On the other hand, my troop rotates over a 3 year period. Each year they try to send a crew to Philmont, Northern Tier, or Sea Base. The younger scouts expect to attend one or more of the HA bases during their scout career.

        I am not dismissing HA, but look at the regular program because that is where the scout spends most of his time. Are the events planned so that the scouts have the opportunity to earn advancement? Not every scout will attend every event and therefore will miss the presentation of certain skills. Are the boys actively leading the troop or are they merely carrying out adult orders?

        How much did they talk about summer camp? Our troop dicusses with visitors that it is vitally important that crossover scouts attend summer camp the first year. It is the first time for many of the boys to ever be away from their parents for an entire week. Our troop generally goes out of council for summer camp. We have only repeated summer camps 1 in 7 years.

        How does the troop prepare the new scouts to be ready for summer camp? Our troop camps once every month. Outdoor skills and T-1st class skills are presented at patrol meetings and campouts. We hope to get the boys by Feb/March so they can have a couple of campouts under their belt before they leave home for a week. Even so, Wednesday at summer camp is a tough one for many of the first years.

        Summer camp is about being away from home/parents but it is also about forming a bond with the other scouts in the patrol and troop. Without the parents to fall back on, they have to rely on each other. They have common experiences, spend nights talking in their tents, meeting challenges and having fun as a group. During summer camp, they truely become a patrol. Sure the advancement is good but for the first timers, it is alot about becoming a "Scout".

        Is the schedule setup in advance? We have the calendar set, meaning we choose the speicfic dates events will ocurr and publish that. Patrols are assigned their 2 or 3 weekends they are responsible for planning. 3-4 months before the weekend the patrol begins choosing an activity/location and follows up until it is ready to go. Updates are announced at monthly PLC meetings and reviewed during patrol meetings. So the troop knows When we are going but not Where we are going until sometimes a month before hand. Scouts are shown the way to plan, but sometimes don't follow thru. A less than stellar weekend reflects on the patrol and the rest of the troop knows who didn't do their jobs. Planing gets better after the less succesful trips.

        Look around for trained stripes on the adult uniforms. For SM and ASM that means they have attended Youth Protection, Essentials, IOLS, and Scoutmaster specific. If you are not seeing the trained stripes, then either they don't wear them or they are not trained. At our new parent orientation, it was announced that a troop our size (40-50) should have at least 3 Woodbadge trained leaders. If the troop leadership feels adults should attend Woodbadge, then that shows a commitment to ongoing training. Yes, our troop pays for all adult training. This most recent Woodbadge, the course director was from our troop committee. If the leaders are not attending training, then the program may may not be following the correct path.

        Uniforming. Lot of discussion about uniforming of which most is about size, fit, finish, quality, suitability, etc. The general consenus is that a troop that is fully uniformed, is usually more likely to be following the program. Those troops that are partial uniform, tend to be partially doing everything else as well.

        Comment


        • #5
          CubmasterMike-Let your boy chose and change your handle to ASMMike. Get involved and make sure the program runs as designed. Remember your son is the Scout and he may want to be with his friends, so let him and have fun!

          Comment


          • #6
            Things to look for:

            Troop Meeting...

            Is the SPL running the meeting, or are the adults?

            Are youth doing the training, or are the adults?

            Are youth looking either happy or at least task oriented, or are they bored?

            PLC:

            Is the SPL leading it, or the SM?

            Is there input and cross talk from the PLs and the Troop warrant officers (QM, Scribe, etc), or is it one talk, all listen?

            Campouts:

            Do patrols have their own areas, set their own tentage, and cook for themselves, or is it a common kitchen?

            Are the Scouts generally doing something that looks either like an activity, a game, or work, or is there a lot of grab-A## going on?

            COmmittee:

            Is it businesslike, with reports and cross-talk, getting done and getting gone, or is there a lot of "Why isn't Johnny...?"

            Is the SM given appropriate deference as the principal program officer, or are folks playing "stump the chump" with him?

            BONUS POINTS: Does the SPL report on activities of the program?

            Finally, do the youth say they are having fun, or do they say "I need to be Eagle by my 13th birthday so I can ..."

            In general, more front end of a question you answer yes to, the more likely the Troop is operating well. The more you answered yes to the back part of a question, the more likely the Troop is probably not where I'd send my boy, were I doing this over again.

            Comment


            • #7
              Looking at a troop just a couple times probably will not tell you anything. Even going camping with them once a twice may not tell you much either.

              A troop meeting or a campout may look out of control to adults, but the scouts could have everything in complete control.

              What are you looking for in a troop?
              One that your son will make Eagle?
              One where your son may make Eagle?
              One where your son will be tested and grow?

              If a troop is not having patrol time during a meeting or the patrols are not cooking for themselves I would not even look any further at this troop.
              If they do merit badges with all scouts at a meeting without giving other scouts that do not want to work on the badge something else to do I would skip this troop. I think it is okay to get scouts started on a merit badge at a meeting an overview if you will, but if they complete the merit badges at the troop it would not be the troop for me.

              If they do not do High Adventures I would not join that troop, once the boys get to be 13 they need some more adventures.

              Does the troop have a Troop Leadership training every year?

              Do the troop meetings have a written agenda? and the campouts?
              Are the meeting fun with some work also?

              I do not believe a Webelos II has enough knowledge to pick a good troop without help from his Den Leader.

              And if you are planning on joining the troop you need to be comfortable with it also.

              There is no perfect troop out there, join the one that best fits your and your sons needs.

              Comment


              • #8
                Yah, what local1400 said, eh?

                Your son has to live with da troop and its kids, not you. It'll never work if it's not somethin' that's a good fit for him that he buys into. Havin' his friends there helps, but he should "like" the older boys and the SM/ASM's and the "feel" after a visit or two.

                All da rest is really negotiable. Most of us like to see certain things in terms of various methods (youth leadership, patrol method, uniform, advancement, outdoors, etc.). But the reality is every troop is good at some of those and not as good at others. The real magic of Scoutin' happens in the relationships kids develop with adults and older boys (and peers and eventually younger boys).

                Avoid the glitz. Let your son choose based on where he feels at home (and secondarily what he cares about in terms of da methods). Make sure you can live with his choice and be a supportive parent, not a complainer.

                Presto, you're done!

                Beavah

                Comment


                • #9
                  I think this gives a good insight in what to look for in a troop:

                  It is taken from BSA Publication No. 18-251, 1995 Printing entitled Are You Delivering The Promise.:

                  http://usscouts.org/cubscouts/goodtroop.asp

                  There is a good discussion on this forum called Some Common Traits of Successful Troops from early this year

                  http://www.scouter.com/forums/viewThread.asp?threadID=164321#id_164515

                  This is a spin off from Bob Whites postings Common traits of successful troops

                  http://www.scouter.com/forums/viewThread.asp?threadID=14781#id_14781

                  Not all agree on his points but I think they are good starting point on what to look for and it will be almost impossible to find a troop that does all of these.

                  I think that Troop 195 has a pretty good parents guide for WEBELOS to Scout Transition:

                  http://www.westford.com/troop195/web2scout.pdf

                  I hadnt seen this before but there seems to be more of an agreement this Bob White list and is just as important Common traits of failing troops

                  http://www.scouter.com/forums/viewThread.asp?threadID=14783

                  Just as his list for successful troops isnt always the case I think that if you see something on these lists it should be a Red Flag to ask more questions about and you have to decide if it is something you can live with.

                  If I had seen either of these lists before crossing over I would have never selected the troop I did.

                  From my experience I would suggest that you and some of the other adults attend a committee meeting (or two) for the troops you plan to visit.
                  I think this really shows more how the troop is run that just attending a Troop meeting.
                  The first troop we were with didnt have committee meetings as the SM made all the decisions in the Troop.
                  The second troop turned out to be a WEBELOS III Troop and all decisions were made by the committee.
                  Neither of these units were boy-run and attending a committee meeting (or that they didnt have any) would have made this pretty clear.
                  You can also see how well the adults work together and see if the troop has a common vision which is just as important as the youth getting along.

                  Ill agree with the other posters that both you and your son need to be comfortable in the unit you select.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    What to look for eh?

                    This is what I told my WII parents before we started the hunt.

                    As far as a parent goes, look for the following:

                    1. Trained leaders (plural). very important, if the leaders are trained they are sold on the program and have invested in your son's future in Scouting. Make sure there are enough of them to get the job done WITHOUT YOU. Nobody should join a unit and be expected to thrust into a top job right away, assimilation takes time.
                    2. Financial solvency. Don't jump onto a sinking ship, I did this once and did not enjoy it. Your son won't enjoy it either.
                    3. Patrol Method in use. Boy Run, Boy Led. If you don't see this, RUN!. You've had a Webelos in your home for 2 years, that's quite enough time. Now get him into Scouts, not Webelos III.
                    4. Inclusive youth and adults. The culture of a troop will show itself the first time you visit. Are the adults inclusive, or do they want you to drop and run and leaving the driving to them. Are the youth inclusive of the new boys? Your son will be able to tell you from day 1 whether or not he liked the new unit. First impressions are important and will stick with a kid for a long time.
                    5. Active in the outdoors. What is the outdoor program like for this unit? How often do they camp? Do they go to Summer Camp every year? do they have any high adventure program? do they attend Camporees and other council/district events? Look for a unit that is active in all of these areas, offering a diverse program for your boy.
                    6. Active in the Council/District. Is the unit acitive in the council and or District. Do they support the DE or DD, either by being represented on the District Committee or by providing leadership to District or Council events? This is important as well. The job is easier if we all take a piece of the workload. A strong District Committee means an awesome program for the units in it.

                    most of all, does your son like the troop? Has he made any comments negatively like "Those boys were mean to us, they don't want us little kids joining the troop". Warning signs here, happenend to us, that's why we ended up in the troop we're in. My son told me he felt welcome in our troop and wanted to join it. It fit all of my other criteria, so joined it we did and never regretted the decision.

                    Visit at least 3 units, you can get a short list from your DE or UC. You can join as a full den into a patrol, or you can all go individually. Both have thier pros and cons. Good luck and happy hunting.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      >> CubmasterMike-Let your boy chose and change your handle to ASMMike.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Mike,
                        I think I know what a good Troop might look like!
                        But if I were a parent who had no Scouting experience.
                        My first big concern would be about me!! Not my son!!
                        The "When" and the "Where" would come into play.
                        I'd be looking for a Troop that met at a time when it was convenient for me.
                        I have a pal who is deeply involved in Scouting, has served as District Chair and Council Vice President. - But don't ask him to do anything on a Tuesday night!! That's his bowling night.
                        Looking at the District I'm in and where I live, a lot of the best or better Troops are at the other end of the District, hard to get too when it snows and not in the same school district. Not all schools follow the same schedule!!
                        I'm not sure I want to drive more than half an hour each way to take my son to a Boy Scout meeting.
                        If the Troop is in another school district? Chances are that his friends will be in the school he attends.

                        Sometimes I think we over think all of this!!
                        OJ choose the Troop he wanted to go too, mainly because he really liked the SM. Sadly within months of him joining the SM quit!! Troops change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
                        Parents have different reasons why they send their son's to different Troops!
                        Sometime back our District was recognizing a great old time SM. We invited people to come up and talk about Pete, one mother of twins got up and said how grateful she was to Pete as he took her two boys away once a month and her and her husband were happy to have the house to themselves.
                        Some parents don't want to hear about High Adventure!!
                        Heck if I'd known how much OJ's Scouting experiences were going to end up costing me. -Maybe back then I'd have had second thoughts!! (No not really!)
                        When OJ was looking where to go. He looked for a Troop where he knew the other Scouts. Where he thought he'd have fun and participate in new adventures. (At age 11 everything is a new adventure!) And a place where he could get away from me!!
                        The Troop you join this year might not be the same Troop in six months time. The Troop down the road might start specializing in something that your son wants to do and isn't doing in the Troop you join.
                        I'm all for playing this by ear and remembering that it is his youth, his Scouting experience, his time and while maybe right now he is at an age where he wants to do his best to please you? In time this will change and he will want to do what pleases him.
                        Eamonn.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I went through this process back in March. We ended up forming a new Troop in September, which gives an indication of how happy we were with the Troop my son chose.

                          First, you need to ask yourself what you want out of Scouting for your son. Write these thoughts down, and take them with you when you visit the Troops. Pull them out and review them during your visit, and ask yourself if you think the Troop will be able to deliver what you want.

                          How active is your son? Does he attend all Den and Pack meetings? Ask how many boys the Troop has on the roster, and then count how many are at the meeting. Ask how many attended the last campout, and be sure to check the number on the campout you visit. Do they keep track of attendance? If so, ask to see it. What is the attendance percentage of the boys in the Troop? Do they have enough attending campouts for the patrols to act as patrols, or do they have to constantly form ad hoc patrols to function? My impression is if the boys are enjoying the Troop experience, attendance will be high. If it isn't, what is the reason?

                          What are the expectations of the Troop regarding attendance, uniforming and behaviour? What are your expectations? Do they match up? Are the boys in uniform? Do they use bad language when the adults aren't around?

                          How active are the older boys? Do they run the Troop, or are they just on the rolls, waiting to earn their Eagle? Do they hold the top leadership positions? Do they go to Green Bar training? Do they go on campouts?

                          How many boys are in OA? Are they active in OA, or do they just wear the flap?

                          On the adult side, is there a method to the madness, or are the meetings just play dates? Is there a program being delivered, or is the Troop just a social camping club? The adults should understand and be able to discuss the Aims and Methods and explain how they are being implemented off the boys' radars. Do the leaders know what the Mission of the BSA is? Can they tell you without having to look it up? They don't have to quote it, but should be able to put it in their own words.
                          This shouldn't be presented as a written test or Jeopardy quiz, but if the adult leaders can't articulate how the Mission and Aims & Methods are addressed by the Troop's program, then you have to wonder if they are. Do they adult leaders have a vision for the Troop, and does it match up with the BSA Mission?

                          My final piece of advice to you is pick up a SM Handbook and read it carefully. Attend SM training as soon as you can, so you know what a Troop should look and act like.
                          Good luck to you and your son with your decision.(This message has been edited by BrentAllen)

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            "This shouldn't be presented as a written test"

                            This made me laugh as it reminded me of a recent experience. One of the Webelos dens in our district was looking at visiting troops, so they sent out a written questionnaire to all the troops. There were about 30 questions, including most everything mentioned above.

                            While I can appreciate their desire to know a lot of details about the troop, the whole thing just felt kind of wrong to me. It gave me the impression that if the den (or the majority of boys from the den) chose our troop, we'd end up with a bunch of parents who wanted to sit back and critique the program. Prospective members will often call up and ask many of the same questions verbally and I don't mind it at all, so it had to be the written test format that bugged me.

                            It made me want to send back another test for them to take, instead. "Have any of you ever gotten into an argument with your leaders? Have any arguments resulted in a complaint to council? Are you willing to help out for the first year without trying to change the way we do things?" and so on.

                            I'm with Eamonn. I think you can over-think this.
                            Sometimes youth-led is great. Sometimes it turns into chaos and poor planning and boys get discouraged and quit.
                            Sometimes focusing on awards leads to a classroom feel. Sometimes it really motivates boys.
                            Sometimes high-adventure is something to look forward to. Other times it's just a pie-in-the-sky wish that has no bearing on day-to-day life.

                            So as Beavah says, go with a troop where your son likes the feel.

                            My own preference - I'd look for some semblance of smoothly functioning adults. I wouldn't want to join a troop in the thralls of any ongoing difficulty - with finances, leadership, or whatever. But if my son liked a troop, I could live with that, as I could always just choose not to participate.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              It made me want to send back another test for them to take, instead.

                              Yah, I got a good chuckle of of this, eh?

                              Probably one of the things we could do to up the participation level and perceived "value" of Scouting is to make it more exclusive. Have a whole application process. Make the parents come for interviews and the kids write essays and ask for recommendation letters from their den leaders . Call their den-mates to ask about whether they've ever been bullied by the applicant.

                              Selection and findin' a good fit should be a two-way street, eh?

                              Beavah

                              Comment

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