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older scouts dropping the ball

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Quick background on me since I'm not a frequent poster. My son crossed over into this Troop about 18 months ago, about 6 months ago I agreed to take over as Scoutmaster, I am officially taking the position at our next court of honor (end of this month). I've gone through Woodbadge, but haven't completed my tickets yet.


I have a small group of 15 year olds who revived a nearly dead troop when they crossed over from Webelos. For the first few years, they did everything. Now they are burned out, and I understand that. But they are dropping the ball with a really motivated group of 11-13 year olds. This past weekend, we had a camporee that the older boys had signed up for, but didn't attend. One dad made his son go to the church parking lot to tell me that he wasn't going, the others just didn't show up. They also have run for and held leadership positions, including SPL, and dropped the ball on their responsibilities the last few terms. The newly elected SPL was supposed to be in their patrol for this camporee (he's 12), and he was the only one to show up. The other boys (including grubmaster) were no shows. He was mad, and also wondering why if the cool older kids are blowing off Scouts he even ran for SPL. I think if he could have undid the election from a few nights earlier, he would have.


All of this is happening in the middle of Webelos recruitment. We have dens coming to our Troop meetings the next 2 weeks, and then Webelos Woods the following weekend. We have 4 Troops in our town, so it's a big deal to have a decent showing or these Webelos will just join a different Troop.


Most of these 15 year olds only need the personal management merit badge and to finish an Eagle project to get their Eagle Scout rank. I have been working with them on the merit badge. We are supposed to have a meeting about the merit badge tomorrow night an hour before the Troop meeting. I am planning on telling them I am dropping the ball on them at the last minute on this badge, just like they did to their younger Scouts. If they want to me to continue, they need to bring their A game the next few weeks, and make it right with the Scout who showed up at the camp out with no food. If they aren't willing to do that, they should probably find a different merit badge counselor and a different Troop to finish out their Eagle, because right now they are hurting our Troop more than they are helping it.


I will run this by 3 of the 4 dads tonight. If they aren't going to back me up I won't do it. However, I think they are madder at their sons than I am. One of them is the son of the outgoing Scoutmaster.





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thoughts - seperate the two, (backing out on their commitments and the MB work) and (Scout master role and MB counsellor role).


A natural consequense of not living up to their stated committment to attend the camporee and the expected commitment to their troop would be that they are not demonstrating living to the scout law. Have conferences with them individually to listen to each boy's view of how they preceive that they are living up to the scout law when they are not supporting their troop, not supporting the new boys, and backing out on their commitments. Express your disappointment, and, if they are motivated by Eagle, that you will need to see a change in attitude and effort before the troop will recognize that they have met the scout spirit requirement.


When you take off the SM hat and put on the MB counsellor hat, don't mention any of the above. continue to have real but reasonable expectatins for their MB work. If you are scheduling the time to meet on the MB, stop doing so. Tell them that all future MB meetings must be scheduled by them, with a specified lead time (several days in advance in consideration of your time; not a " hey Mr Travis, can we meet right now?)

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Sounds like you're trying to create a boy led troop from scratch. In my experience (twice now) it takes 5 years to turn a unit around. (And it only takes about 5 months to undo years of work.)


"If they want to me to continue, they need to bring their A game the next few weeks,"

That only gets you a few weeks of A game, then they'll be back to the same old.

They need to take ownership of the program, maybe it survives, maybe not.


Do they want more boys to join? If so show them how to do recruiting and let them run the Webelos Woods.

Do they want to earn the MB? Let them come to you when they're ready.


For PORs I like the suggestion made here that each scout writes his own job description and signs it. Then you get to make them stick to it.


Oh, and when the grubmaster doesn't bring the food I always have a big container of instant oatmeal handy. Be Prepared!



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Miss Shield: Now, don't you feel terrible? Don't you feel remorse for what you have done? Well, that's all I'm going to say about poor Flick.


Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Adults loved to say things like that but kids knew better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.


I think a lot of kids take these little chats like that. They know all they have to do is sit and listen your blather for a few minutes and no real consequences will come to them.


I like your approach, Travis. But instead of just standing them up, have a job for them. Clean out the equipment room, repack the tents, scrub all the toilets, inventory the tooth picks. You roll up your sleeves and do the work with them (it would be a nice touch if the SPL did so, too.) That gives you a chance to both demonstrate servant leadership as well as talking about.


But then tell them you won't devote anymore time toward their merit badges until they start to act like the senior Scouts they are supposed to be. I think that would be a good month or two. Remind them that if they want to find another counselor they'll have to run it by their Scoutmaster.


You start setting the tone for your tenure as SM NOW>




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Tomorrow isn't the last meeting for the Merit Badge, is it? Keep the "find a new MBC and Troop" in your quiver and don't show it - for now - and if all of the folks coming to tonights MBC meeting were committed to go to the camporee and didn't attend, then have a group SM session, rather than individual - that way everyone gets the same meassage - you don't have to repeat yourself and risk saying one thing to Billy and another thing to Johnny. Take the time out of tomorrows MB meeting - 15 minutes or so - just tell them straight up what the consequences were for the camporee (defintiely toss in some guilt, bit at the grubmaster, and at the rest for failing to be there to mentor their new SPL) and could be for the Troop's future - make sure to let them know they are looked up to by the younger Scouts (by all means, repeat what the 12 year old SPL said with emphasis on the "Cool, Older Scouts"), that one of the reasons you're taking on SM is the opportunity to help them turn the next batch of 11-13 year olds into them (it is one of the reasons). By all means let them know you're disappointed, but you also want to help them take the next steps needed for Eagle Scout but need them to start bringing their A-game again - that they may no longer be able to commit to everything because of new commitments outside Scouting but that they need to honor those commitments they do make - that it sets the right example for the younger Scouts that they may soon be asking to commit to time for their Eagle Scout projects. You might even want to take a little time to ask them their opnions on what could be done better for them - it's not unusual for 15 year olds to start getting bored with the program if it's the same old same old everytime - now might be a good time to suggest that they think about putting together a couple of senior scout only trips that might be a bit more adventurous. And make sure you get a commitment from the grub master at least (if not the others) to apologize to the SPL for leaving him in the lurch with a promise that it won't happen again.


Then move on to personal management.

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Nice to hear your progress.


These 15 year olds, you should have them as part of your self-assessment. Maybe not right away, but in a few months.


So, you may want to throw a little humility in the mix. "Guys, I am just starting out as SM. You're my most experienced scouts. I won't have any idea if I'm doing a good job if you aren't out in the field to evaluate me. I need you to stick with us, especially during this Webeblos cross-over stuff. That may sound like I'm asking a lot of you, but if you do, how can I make it up to you?"


Think in terms of rewarding trips just for the 14+ crowd. Whitewater, caving, climbing. Or just a "leadership patrol" weekend to themselves.


Then, tell them they let their SPL down. They owe him an apology.


Leave the MB separate. Just tell them that as part of the course, from here on out you expect them to contact you and arrange an appointment for any requirements to be reviewed.


I think that would be a plan the boys' dads can get behind.

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A couple of points:


I am only using the merit badge because it is a convenient way for me to get those boys together to drop the hammer on them. Otherwise, it will be weeks before I can get them all together, and I don't have that kind of time. The bigger issue is that they are going to need me as Scoutmaster to sign off on Scout Spirit, and them actually doing something with their POR beyond accepting a position to fill a check box. At this point I'm not inclined to do so.


At this point I actually do only care if they give me a few weeks. I want them to help for recruitment. After that, I don't care as much. I have a young but good group without them. But they are going to kill our new class of Scouts if they don't step it up for the next few weeks. Frankly if they weren't there that would be better, I think they are going to be there and providing negative leadership to our younger Scouts and the Webelos. And it isn't fair to the younger boys for me to step back and let the older ones kill the program.


I have no problem letting a patrol suffer through small amounts of crappy food when they drop the ball. But in this case the older group all got together and collectively decided to just not go. The one younger guy in the patrol (which was a provisional patrol created for this campout only) was out of the loop completely, and did everything he was supposed to do. He is one of my strongest young leaders, and I think by Sunday he was ready to quit Scouts. Now I have to worry about his bad attitude infecting others down the line.


As an aside, 2 of these Scouts have been told by their fathers that they can't get a drivers license until after they earn Eagle Scout. And I'm pretty sure that they also won't be allowed to change Troops. So I think that I am going to be able to force them to help the next few weeks. After that, I'm probably going to let them coast as long as they don't cause problems with the others. I don't think any of them need POR's to advance, and I'm going to highly suggest to the SPL that they are not given any.



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As an aside, 2 of these Scouts have been told by their fathers that they can't get a drivers license until after they earn Eagle Scout. And I'm pretty sure that they also won't be allowed to change Troops. So I think that I am going to be able to force them to help the next few weeks.


Rookie mistake. Been there, done that, got the hat, t-shirt and scars. Third option is for the kids to make you and their parents so miserable you either give in or throw them out of the troop. It's unlikely that the father is willing to hold good on his threat for ever.




Now I have to worry about his bad attitude infecting others down the line.




I'm probably going to let them coast as long as they don't cause problems with the others.



Do you see any contradiction between these two points? Whose bad attitude(s) are infecting the troop?




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I know both the fathers, and I think they are more stubborn than the 15 year olds.


I get what you are saying about the attitude, but I guess my point is that if they are only there once a month for meetings and not at campouts, then I don't have them poisoning the well every week and at every campout. I'm not naive enough to think that I can permanently fix this problem. A 15 year old with a bad attitude isn't going to change just because I try to guilt them into it. But I can try to isolate it so the infection doesn't spread.

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"Burnout" is indicative of a lot of things ... boredom, new interests and "I want to do what I want to do".


My older son loved baseball. Could have been a college or even pro player according to some. But he wanted it to be fun, not a career...so he didn't work at it 10 hours a day. But it was not my decision to make for him. He's had a blast doing it...but now he has other interests.


Sounds like the same for your boys. They are burned out, but being pushed by parents who want the Eagle for their trophy wall.


If you go in with a heavy handed, "Bring me your "A" game or hit the road." be prepared to accept the "F-game", regardless of what their Dad's say.

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If one is burning their boys out after 4 years in the program, there's something seriously wrong with their program!


I've been an active outdoorsman for 58 years, I spent the weekend enduring 40 degree temperatures in a constant rain. I might be a bit strange, but I'm a long way from burning out!



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If you have that much resistance from the 15 year olds doing the leadership job, then there is only one thing to do. Replace them. You mentioned that you have a core of 11 through 13 year olds, and a 14 year old, who are enthusiastic and doing fine. OK, You call for new elections, allowing the 13 year olds to run for the PL jobs, and let the troop select a new SPL. Tell them that you need active troop members for the leadership positions, and so need new elections.


We can not really have an active test for advancement according to the BSA, although the latest guide to advancement opens the door to this if it is reasonable. But I think it is acceptable to have an active test for troop leaders like a PL and SPL. Without them the troop and patrols do not function. If a boy just stops showing up, he needs to be replaced. But you need to tell the whole troop this up front. spell out exactly what will trigger a new leader election.


I think you really want to have the younger boys being the face of the troop at recruitment time anyway, since they are the ones you want the cub scouts to be seeing.


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Honestly, to me it sounds like you have the start of a program that keeps boys interest for a couple of years, then they hand for a while and leave. These great 11-13 year olds are going to be the same age as the 15 year olds you seem so willing to discard because they are dropping the ball.


The job of a Scoutmaster is to oversee a program that appeals to boys from 11-17. Nobody said it would be easy. The problems with your troop's program are not of your making, but by accepting the job they are your responsibility.


If you had one older boy out of six with an issue, I would say it is his problem. With multiple older boys in the same boat, I say (from of course, the non-seeing perspective of an anonymous internet forum) look at the program first. A few questions you may ask are:


*These trips they blow off, are they to the same place they have been 5 or 6 years in a row?

*Are the camp-o-ree programs enjoyable, or do they have a history of being duds?

*When they do make the trips, is there fun for them in addition to responsibility, or is it three days of lead this, train newbies on that, with no time for them to stretch out on their own?


I hope I didn't come off too jerky, because that wasn't my intent. You are doing a great service stepping up and taking point of this troop. Just don't make the mistake of missing the subtle signs boys give when they feel the program isn't their cup of tea anymore. Basically, they stop playing the game when it isn't fun anymore.

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My son is on the receiving end of some of this type of "leadership" right now as a junior boy in his troop. It sucks and it KILLS younger scout's interest.


Some SM's (including my son's) approach has been to discuss with the Sr. leaders regarding living the law and oath, but also to inform them that failure to lead also means they will not receive leadership credit for that term! You cannot just "mark time" in the POR and expect it to be signed off.


I assume, maybe incorrectly, that most of these boys NEED the POR as part of their advancement? If not, then hard to use it as an incentive.


If they are not willing to lead - then hold a new election. Not next term, but NOW! I'd rather see a motivated rookie that makes mistakes than some 15-18 year old that is only doing the POR because they "have to" to complete their advancement.


This to me is one of BSA's shortcomings. I haven't really figured out HOW to remedy it, but it seems there is a LOT of "leadership" that is done to complete a POR for rank, then once the box is checked, said scout is more than happy to let the leadership slide. This servant leadership idea is a tough nut to crack. Many adults have the same attitude... in it until MY son gets what he needs out of the program, then I'm outta here. Lets do lots of fundraising, unless MY son isn't going to summer camp this year, then we don't need that, etc....


There also seems to be much confusion amongst youth leaders about the difference in being the boss and just being bossy. Pulling rank and getting to tell others what to do is NOT being a leader, regardless of what a majority of the youth (and some of the adults) seem to think.


I'd say in general, the boys are only mimicking what they observe in real life. That's a sad indictment of adult society as a whole.


The real trouble is - once you have this type of issue in your troop, its hard to kill. My son has already been overheard to state, "Once I make 1st class - then I can choose shotgun (riding in the car), and go to the front of the line at the COH potlucks...." This is what he sees, thus this is what he EXPECTS once he has achieved a certain rank in the unit. RHIP - rank has its privlesges, as the saying goes in the military.

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I think you're right, Dean.


If you follow the First Class/First Year program, that leaves six years to serve 16 months for Star, Life and Eagle. If you rely on rank requirements to fill leadership positions, you'll be disappointed.


We've worked to create a culture in which guys really want to serve as patrol leaders, senior patrol leader and ASPLs. I usually have guys wanting to serve as troop guides and den chiefs, although those who have an aptitude and interest in working with the younger boys is a bit of a specialty.


The jobs we have a more difficult time filling are Scribe and Quartermaster. They are a lot of work. The guys who take them are usually those who "need" them and are somewhat seen as "paying your dues" in order to move up into other leadership positions.


Creating a sense of duty among a bunch of older guys who dont' have it is a difficult task. I'm not sure how you do it. I think it is something which has to be built from the time Scouts crossover. Scouts learn to respect the job and those holding it when they see older guys who are there to serve them. "I'm doing it because someone did it for me" is a strong motivator.


And there has to be some pay off for the older guys in the leadership postions, too. It can't all be a chore. One of the things we've done is to create a patrol for the older guys in senior leadership positions. Most of the patrol are guys who have served multiple terms as ASPL and SPL. I try to really take care of my older Scouts and give them the respect they deserve. Part of that means they earn the ability to do their own thing, have their own patrol, and get time to be with their peers. I take a little bit of heat from some of the newer parents and ASMs who don't understand why these guys get some of the privileges they do. "So why aren't the older guys going to morning swim with the rest of the troop?" Because if you're 17, attending summer camp for the seventh year and spent most of last evening hearding cats at the shower house for me, I'm going to let you sleep in!

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