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Thoughts about training.

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While I admit to having not looked at the latest membership numbers. I tend to think that we are not doing as well as we once did.

Trends are strange things and maybe what's happening in the area where I live? Isn't the same as what's happening in the area where you live.

Here where I live the truth is that Scouting is on the way out.

Units are failing and closing, Districts are being merged because there aren't enough units that merit there being a District.

A council that counted members in thousands will in the not so distant future be counting members in the hundreds.

Seems to me that somewhere along the way we lost our way.

While maybe if people were leaving the area or it was true that total number of available kids had gone down, this might not be so bad? But to the best of my knowledge this isn't the case.

I've been wondering where or if we went wrong?


There is a lot of talk about improving the way our kids are educated and the answer seems to be that we need to come up with better teachers.

With this in mind, I can't help but wonder if what's happening in Scouting might be stopped if we had better trained leaders?


Again here in the area where I live we don't seem to have a problem having parents sign on as leaders.

The problem as I see it is that many of these parents only hang around till their kid makes Eagle Scout and then they are gone.

Troops have placed their Scouts on the fast track to Eagle and before you know it both the parent and the Scout are gone.

The quality of the program offered is so tied into advancement and at times is lacking people who lack the basic skills to pass on what is needed that we end up with some kind of boring extra school activity. One where the Scout is happy when it's over and done with and the parent is happy to return to things being what they once were.


For the longest time I have been very much against mandatory training.

My thinking being that the word mandatory isn't a good fit within a volunteer organization.

I do think that there has to be a way that we can get the adults who sign on to want to acquire the skills needed to be able to present a program that will retain the Scouts who join.

The training's we offer must be able to ensure that when someone has completed them they leave with the skills not having just attended.

I know this is a very tall order.

There are things that leaders can't learn at training's. But I'd hope that any and everyone would master the basic skills and be competent to be able to teach them at a high standard.



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Problem now seems to be that National has decided that ALL training except for BALOO & IOLS/OWLS for basic Leader Training can be taken on-line. They also have Roundtable on-line so most new leaders seem to think they can learn Scouting on-line.


I see the not-so-distant National putting virtual camping on-line so some youths that can't make it to a campground can still get advanced (including Eagle).


Sad to say, worse to observe. I love the SCOUTING principle with active Patrols, friendly service, ... Not the new computerized Business Scouts.


My $0.02



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Eamonn, you raise some good points, and some of the same issues I've seen. I am the guy that does the JTE paperwork. In all its tediousness. The unit is penalized for untrained leaders.


I've been coping with a few untrained leaders, and wondering how to deal with it. I can't force them to take training. But what I can do is keep new parents as Scout Parents until such time as they get the required training to be an ASM or CM.


If they want to wear the uniform, get trained, and we'll oblige.


I wonder what the % is of scouters that stay in the program after their son/s leave? That would be an interesting factoid.

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I don't believe the decline in membership will be fixed with anything that BSA currently finds themselves able to do simply because we are, for the most part, traditionalists, and we view change as defeat.


Training will not fix the problem.


There are two problems: Marketing & Socialization


For any sales attempt, the things you need to succeed are








Unfortunately, BSA has lost their brand. BSA is no longer the builder of future soldiers. BSA is now a church program that goes outside. Ask a lot of kids and they will say it is what nerds do. You have to change the brand reputation to attract them. Apple has their brand, and it is strong. BSA has their brand, and it is poisoned.


In marketing, some would say that once a brand is as badly damaged as BSA's among the target audience, you have no choice but to rebrand at that point. BSA may not be recoverable.


BSA uses the uniform and badges to symbolize the brand.


Those are given in exchange for membership and accomplishments.


If the brand is damaged, then what BSA offers to youth is compromised and unlikely to be accepted in exchange.


It gets even more complicated when you consider the demographics of the current members pretty much define the brand. Put all of the tough guy ads out there you want, it will be useless if you walk into a scout hut and there's not a single kid who is tough.


It is also entirely possible that scouting simply cannot survive any longer because the idea of national patriotism, religious belief, and the moral righteousness of hard physical labor are dying concepts in American culture as a whole. You can't sell castor oil any longer, and scouting may simply no longer be relevant to all but a niche market in the future.



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While I think training will help some, I really think that Scouting needs to get back to the basics. Focus needs to be on the outdoors and skills that will make them independent and and prepared.


Unfortunately no matter how much training, no matter the quality of the training and trainers, if a new SM wants to turn his troop into a MB factory, he will do so.(This message has been edited by Eagle92)

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Yeah, I'm not so sure, BSA24. I feel like Scouting's brand has always been associated with nerdiness. In my estimation that cannot be the primary problem, but your estimation is obviously different.


Now, back to focusing on Eamonn's main point.


Just to put a little bit of variety into the discussion...


Around here units seem to be pretty successful. We have more units being created on a regular basis, and many of the existing ones have grown to be fairly large. Our districts are being split because there are too many units in a district.


I do hear folks talk about how "in the old days" there would be a Scoutmaster who would hold the position for thirty years and would be the guy that everyone in town knew as the Scoutmaster. I don't have any way to know if that's less true now or not. I do agree that most of our leaders are current parents and I don't see any likelihood that's going to change any time soon.


Training might help, if we knew what training really made a difference. I don't know that the BSA really has a very good idea on how to do this better. I'd love to see training that actually focused on making sure that you knew the material. For example, I can't figure out what the point of IOLS is right now. What are they trying to make sure that I know?


If I were going to focus on changing things,

- I think I'd change the uniform to be for formal ceremonies only. By and large our kids are not big fans of the uniform and I don't think it really helps attract or keep kids.

- I think I'd tighten up the requirements so that there was more of a sense of accomplishment and more respect for someone who had earned something. I'm not really sure how to deal with the fact that the BSA really wants to make it possible for all boys to do these activities - I doubt we're going to see much real increase in any requirements.

- I would make training mandatory, but it would have to be available on-line or else really, really frequently available. I would focus the training on the items that are most responsible for successful troops.

- I don't know for sure what the items are that make for a successful troop, but I would do some serious in-depth studies to see what I could learn. No one from council or national has ever asked me, even in the form of some simple on-line questionnaire, how we do things in our troop. I would also ask some real statisticians for opinions on this topic, so that we don't end up with a huge stream of correlation-equals-causation errors.

- I'd simplify the Cub Scout program and make it more fun and less Chinese menu.

- I would switch to local option on the gay issue - it's going to happen sooner or later and right now it just makes the whole program a football.

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I've been in four councils in five years (military guy)...the common denominator I've seen is lack of respect towards the trainees.


The old timers love rambling on and on, the tedious syllabi, establishing the pecking order over and over (I'm Mr./Ms. Super Experienced, and you're not), your time is my time and I've got all the time in the world, and worst of all: the toxic spirit of "Trainee, your previous experience as a parent, scout, crafstman, professional, college grad means nothing...I, Mr./Ms. Multiple Knot and WB Bead Wearer, have all the answers."


Thankfully, it's not like that everywhere. I went to some training in my newest council that was really spot on on. But the Good Olde Boys Who Have Nothing But Time On Their Hands still abound.



- Cut the training time down to the bare minimum. Folks are busy.

- Cut out the Admiring of BSA Minutia stuff. Give folks what they need, the nuts and bolts.

- Treat trainees with respect...they may be new to the BSA, but they aren't new to life. Condescending attitudes and the very appearance of us/them will turn folks off.

- Get some new blood in the training cadre. Old timers are good but folks will sit up and listen when an articulate, knowledgeable young person speaks.


Easier said than done? Yep. Seems to me that training cadres are loathe to include new people, like young people, Eagle Scouts ("smarty pants know it alls!") and non-WBers/SBers/etc.


Training is often like a private club, created for it's own amusement, and full of itself because they dispense their version of BSA to newcomers. But if the newcomers think it's a bunch of crap, it doesn't matter what the trainers think. Word gets out and people stay away in droves.

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Look at the market.....


Boys are fat and out of shape


Most homes are air conditioned


Boys need to shower 2 or 3 times a day


No or very little responsibility around the home


Many boys refuse to be uncomfortable in the outdoors, they hate bugs and dirt.


Virtual friendships are more important than physical friendships


Video games are the most important thing in their lives


Facebook and social media are incredibly important to some youth.



I agree with the premise that we need better trained leaders, Most leaders currently are not life long outdoors men or even been in the military...of course military training isn't what it once was......so the quality of the BSA's program suffers.

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When I took ITOLS recently, it was very similar to Desertrat's observation:

"But if the newcomers think training is a bunch of crap, it doesn't matter what the trainers think. Word gets out and people stay away in droves."


The trainers were having their time together. The pontification level was high. The learning level was low. How low? We touched a hatchet once, to pass it around a circle of seated trainees, saying "Thank-you" before releasing it to the next person.

How good do you feel about setting those folks loose to teach your kids knife, axe, and saw skills at the troop level?


The volunteer training coordinator is a good fellow. He wants to do well. But he's afraid to alienate the good old boys.


Chain reaction:

1- Training is crap.

2- Word gets out and people stay away.

3- Training gets distilled to online lessons, to cover the BSA backside.

4- Skills deteriorate and knowledge base is diluted.

5- Outings and adventure drops off because leaders lack the skill to lead boys in the woods.

6- Adventure brand is diluted

7- BSA tries to become more like a computer game, because that's what they think will keep boys paying dues.


Suggestion: BSA should quit trying to compete with screen time. Scouting should be the antithesis of screen time! Don't pretend to sneak up on someone in 'World of Warcraft'; do slink around the woods playing an actual game of capture the flag.

BSA is not going into the wild as much as we need to in order to be the reality version of adventure.


Outdoor Skills training for adults that can be passed on to our youth could start the revitalization.


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My council (Dan Beard Council) seems to be doing quite well. But the Greater Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky area has always been strong in Scouting. The Council to our South, the Blue Grass Council, is struggling mightly, and leaders I've talked to from BGC continue to tell horror stories.


Overall it depends on the area. I think Scouting as a general trend is becoming more suburbanized. Parents are only sticking around for the time their kids are in the program, and to be honest, that's what can reasonably be expected for most parents. The 10-20-30 year Scoutmaster is a rare, endangered breed indeed.

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Personally, I wish they would put all of the basic Boy Scout leadership training online. I took IOLS about two years ago, and it was the biggest waste of time for me. I know the basics. I learned nothing new. I'm a committee member, so all of my training was online, but I decided to take the IOLS as a first step to possibly becoming an ASM in the future. I have been putting off the Boy Scout Leader training, because I really don't want to waste a day on it. I am planning to take a Wilderness First Aid class, because I'm sure I will learn something in it.

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This idea of a Brand? Is kinda new for me.

Up until a couple of years back when the CSE used the term in a speech, I'd never heard it or thought about it.

Some years back I was tasked with asking some very wealthy people to donate very large sums of money.

One problem that I ran into was that I took it for granted that everyone knew what the BSA did and was all about. This just wasn't so.

A good many of the people I met with really had no idea. They kinda sorta knew about Scouts doing good turns and that they went camping. Other than that they knew nothing.

I tend to think that before a Brand can be damaged that people have to know what it is.

While maybe us who are active and have been around for a while might be able to look back and say that things are not what they once were.

I'm not so sure how much the parent of a Lad who is wanting to join a unit really knows or doesn't know?

As for the product?

I don't like the idea of the youth being a product.

So I'll go with the idea that the program offered to the youth is the product.

Much as we might want to moan and groan about how much National, the Council or the District does or doesn't do, at the end of the day what is offered lies in the hands of the adults in charge of the unit at the local level.

My point is that if we can find a way to ensure that these guys have the skills to pass on to their Scouts, what is offered (The Product?) Is far better.

I used to think that in order to attract more youth we needed National to spend a lot of money on ads and the like.

I now think that because Scouts and Scouting is so very local marketing has to be done at the local level.

This means that we are very much in a catch 22 situation.

Success breeds success.

I watched a Pack over the years. It had been around for a long time. Year in and year out it had about 20 or so youth members. Then a new leader came along, rebooted the program. Parents seen what was happening and along with wanting their kid to join, they also signed up. Within five years the membership was over 100 Cub Scouts.

Sadly the Leader moved on and the decline set in. It took a while but three CM's later the pack fell apart.

The demand was set by the parents who seen that their kid was if he joined going to get something good out of this Pack.

As for price?

This is a hard one.

There will always be some who for what ever reasons will say that Scouts and Scouting is too expensive.

I really do believe that parents will pay for what they see as being a quality program.

My son wanted and was selected to go on the Philmont OA trail crew. It was a very good deal. But he needed two more pair of Scout shorts. The shorts were then $38.00 a pair.

I can afford $76.00. But I have to admit that it irked me to pay that much when I knew that I might be able to buy shorts of the same or better quality for half the price.

Still because it was such a good program and because he wanted to go I paid the price.

Parents are willing to pay for what they see as as being worth while.

I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean by "HIGH BARRIERS TO EXIT" - You might want to explain that one for me?



Oak Tree

I'm happy to hear that things in the area where you live are better than they are in my neck of the woods.

I have a hard time accepting that some of the Scouts I had back in England now have kids that are driving and some are soon to be Grandparents.

While I do like to think that I haven't been one to bury my head in the sand, I also have to accept that these (Both my ex-scouts and their kids.) Think differently than I did and do. They very well may see the world and things in a different light than I do?

We do need new blood, new ideas and us (Me!) Old codgers need to be able to accept that we are never going to be able to turn the clock back.

Still we need to find some common ground.

The $64,000 question has to be: What is Scouting all about? And how do we get there?

If we are willing to accept that the aims, the mission and the methods are still relevant? Then we need to look at the delivery.

If you really believe that the uniform should be for formal occasions?

Then I see no reason why you don't just go with that.

I don't care if a Lad learns to tie a bowline and knots from his i-pad or smart phone. I do care that when it comes to him repelling down a rock face that he knows how to tie it correctly and more importantly the guy who is allowing him can inspect the knot and know if it's tied right or not.

While maybe there is some challenge in learning how to tie the knot? But to my mind the real fun, the real challenge and excitement comes from doing the repelling and then saying "I did that."

The tightening up of requirements is tough.

Seems to me that we live in great fear of allowing anyone to ever fail.

This seems to be happening a lot, not just in Scouting.

Kids are allowed to move up to the next grade, even when people know that they are not ready. We don't keep score in kids games and so the list goes on.

It is hard when your faced with a Lad who is really trying to master something and he just isn't getting it. - There is a great temptation to find "Reasons" why you should or maybe even ought just sign the darn book and move on.

This then sets the standard. Which is not a good thing.

I feel very sure that the people who do this really do have the best of intentions.

Still they are short changing the Scout.

If someone has to fail surely it's better that he fails in the safe environment of a Scout Troop where he knows people care about him?

Then of course there are people signing off on requirement when if the truth be told they have no idea what they are doing. Can we really expect someone who has never used a map and a compass to teach a Scout how to?

It would be wonderful if there were a recipe for a successful Scouting unit (Pack, Troop or Crew.) -If I had one, I'd be happy to share it.

Some things that are common in a lot of successful units are.

That the adults get along and play fair. - I think that the Wood Badge course we have now does help with this.

The guy or girl at the top knows how to listen.

The adults share the skills that they have.

The adults remember that while it's OK to remember what it's like to be a kid, they are adults and need to act like adults. There are times and places for them to let their hair down.

They also need to remember that they are serving the kids in their unit, not anyone else. Not the District, not the Council. Hopefully by serving these kids they also meet the needs of the CO.

If what is offered isn't fun, isn't challenging and isn't exciting then the kids will leave.


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"Outdoor Skills training for adults that can be passed on to our youth could start the revitalization"

I like this a lot!


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I'd like to see more very focused 2-day outdoors-based training for leaders on specific topics to build on the basic OLS course, similar to the Wilderness First Aid Course which seems to be popular and is generally well regarded for imparting a very useful skill-set, with a requirement to pass to graduate. The local council could hire professional contract instructors to teach a set BSA syllabus, with the cost divided among the participants.


They should probably award a small distinctive pin or badge or patch for those skill set certifications - I noticed in the military that soldiers were much more likely to want to attend a school or class that gives you a visible badge of recognition for an passing. There's an old quote from Napoleon that a man won't trade his life for any amount of money, but will willingly risk it for a piece of ribbon. We tend to be motivated more to do things for which we're visibly recognized, and guys like badges. It's a motivator.


Some of the classes could include Rappelmaster, Rock Climbing, Wilderness Survival, Small Boat Master, Outdoor Leadership, Tracking, SAR, etc. We outsource some of this type of training already to the NRA and NAA for our shooting instructors. Rebrand the BSA as leaders in outdoor leadership training, in the way Outward Bound is.

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I too love the outdoor adventure emphasis...it's the BSA's best program, and often relegated to the back shelf.


Why? Others have already mentioned it--too many indoor-oriented adults. Conference room or campfire? Seems to me many scouters are more comfortable with the former.


There was a point in BSA history when the opposite was true.


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