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Finding the BEST troop to join...

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It's the time of year when Webelos often complete their Arrow of Light and are ready to bridge over to a Boy Scout troop.  But WHICH troop? That's the question.

Every year, 10-year old scouts (and their parents) try to answer that question. For some, the answer comes easily and naturally. For others, anguish ensues as it seems like such a hard decision to make.

Here are a few ideas for things that I would consider if I were a parent advising a 10-year old as to what kind of troop will best fit his (or her) personality, and personal goals.

1. WHERE DOES THE SCOUT WANT TO GO?
When you visited troops in your area, some were probably friendlier, or more fun than others. Those might be good troops to consider. Fellow Webelos from the scout's pack might have already decided....so where will the scout's friends go? If the pack and troop have a formal or informal "feeder pack" mentality, that might help make the decision easier, but it is always up to the individual scout to decide: no Webelo scout is required to go to a specific troop just because the Cubmaster and Scoutmaster are friends.

2. WHICH TROOP DRESSES MOST LIKE SCOUTS?
Uniform is one of the classic "methods" of scouting, and while it is absolutely true that the appearance of an individual scout at a given time is no guarantee of his personal character or performance of a scout, it is definitely true that a unit with a tradition of adhering to uniform guidelines and encouraging scouts to wear a full uniform is a sign of a quality unit. A good scout leader is a role model, and the role models take their role seriously, modeling good behavior, regardless of whims of fancy. If the adult scouters model good uniforming standards, they probably embrace the entire scout program well and know how to model scouting values, leadership, and personal integrity. A scout unit full of haphazard uniforming does not model the full scouting program. Leaders who can't be bothered to wear a correct uniform might not be the kind of role models your son deserves. 

3. WHICH TROOP HAS THE MOST ENTHUSIASTIC SCOUTS?
It's one thing for the adults to talk up their troop, putting appropriate spin on things....but youth tend to shoot straighter and to sometimes be brutally direct. What do the SCOUTS have to say about the troop?  About the adult leaders?  About the number of activities and variety of outdoor trips?  

4. WHICH TROOP GIVES SCOUTS THE BEST OPPORTUNITIES?
Be wary of troops that don't camp at least 10 times per year, don't send a contingent to summer camp, and don't have crews going to High Adventure camps. If the troop cancels campouts more than about once every 5 years, if they don't participate in camporees, or if they only schedule "family campouts" in nearby areas, then they aren't a troop that is likely to provide enough opportunities for a scout to advance at a normal rate and to just plain have fun and grow to his or her potential. Take a look at their track record: do they have a photo gallery with at least 10 campouts this past year?  Keep in mind that some ranks require a certain number of nights camping. If the troop rarely camps, it will take a painfully long time to ever move up. Meanwhile, the Webelos who joined better troops will be rolling right along...  Does the troop go above and beyond the minimums? Do they do really cool trips? Activities in addition to camping?  Those might be the most fun troops to be in.

5. DOES THE TROOP REACH OUT?
Some troops are lazy. They just assume that Webelos will want to join them. Their scoutmaster doesn't reach out to the cubmaster. They don't participate in Cur or Webelos activities.  They don't provide Den Chiefs to packs.  They don't invite webelos to their meetings or campouts. They don't even bother to have adults attend roundtables. Then they wonder why Webelos go to other troops... 

6. SIZE MATTERS.
The size of a troop affects the kind of program they can deliver and it will affect how a new scout is likely to advance. Both big and small have advantages, and both can be "perfect" if the parents are engaged, the troop fully embraces the complete scouting program, and a young scout embraces the troop's strong points.  Small troops definitely provide better potential for scouts to succeed in positions of responsibility. Big troops definitely provide better potential for a large number of activities and deeper involvment in the full scouting program.   

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There you go folks, 6 aspects of prospective troop that you might want to look at.  Prioritize them as you see fit. Ponder their importance.  Find a great troop for your son!

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Here's a tip: Stand outside the meeting room(s) and listen.  Whom do you hear?  Scouts?  Scout Leaders? Adults?  If primarily the last, move along.  It's not a real Scout troop.

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