Advancement Done Right

IMGP7176Although the various methods of scouting are equally important and equally vital to a balanced and well run program, some capture more attention than others.

The Patrol Leadership Council has an opportunity to work with the adult leaders and the Troop’s Advancement Committee Member to discover “best fit” ways to encourage individual scouts to pursue advancement through rank requirements and merit badge unit studies.

BSA says this about advancement at their web page:

Boy Scouting provides a series of surmountable obstacles and steps in overcoming them through the advancement method. The Boy Scout plans his advancement and progresses at his own pace as he meets each challenge. The Boy Scout is rewarded for each achievement, which helps him gain self-confidence. The steps in the advancement system help a Boy Scout grow in self-reliance and in the ability to help others.

Note the call-out about each scout planning his own advancement and progressing at his own pace to meet each challenge.  If the scout is responsible for planning and executing his own advancement path, what is the troops real role in the method of scouting called “advancement?”  What does a “strong advancement program” look like?

092Based on years of observing other troops in action, I think it means making opportunities for each scout to become engaged in the process is very important.  Showing the obvious and less-obvious benefits to advancement help scouts begin to see why it’s an integral part of the program.  Advancement, done right, fosters personal growth and provides healthy interactions with adults who are experts in their field (Merit Badge Counselors).  Further, the planning and logistics of scheduling interviews with MBCs helps develop life-long skills that will translate to college and/or career.

All troops must be careful that a “strong advancement program” can be defined in a lot of ways depending on the audience.  To parents who are eager for their sons to become Eagle Scouts as quickly as possible to benefit college and career placement, a “strong advancement program” may look like a stereotypical merit badge mill – churning out one or two badges per month and a dozen at summer camp.  The downside to this approach is that much of the planning is done for the individual scout and they lose out on the very processes that enable the personal growth and development of self-reliance, self-initiation.  Further, pushing an artificial schedule violates the tenent of allowing the boy to progress at his own pace. It can be emotionally crushing to individual scouts when their patrol completes a badge, but he is left to finish on his own time with no further assistance.  Some boys will respond assertively, but others may languish and become disenfranchised from the program.

Go, go, go!To the adults and the PLC of some units, a “strong advancement program” could mean a streamlined path to meeting planning — simply focusing on teaching skills and bringing in MBCs for quick sign-offs — as an alternative to providing thoughtful team/patrol competitions, time spent sharing wisdom from the wild, planning service projects (to aid the community in a genuine spirit of selflessness, not simply check off another “required” activity).

Other scouters have challenged me on this topic, asking “what difference does it make?”  That’s a great question!  It is easy to see the differences during a week at summer camp – various troops line up for morning colors and present very different levels of constrained chaos.  Some require adults to get things in order, others have only moments of confusion before patrol leaders and their SPL get everyone settled and ready.  Summer camp is one place where the evidence of a year’s preparation is put under a spotlight.

B-P did say; “You can only get discipline in the mass by discipline in the individual.” Since advancement ought to inspire discipline within the individual, not the group, there’s a strong test for evidence of how each unit approaches this part of the program.

Is this morning chaos at camp due specifically to differences in “advancement programs” — no, not entirely, but as we talk to the scouters from these troops over the week, we find tell-tale indicators that do differentiate the units.  Often, the troops that are “adult led” or have a strict schedule of completing advancement as part of the weekly troop meeting (group participation instead of individual skill mastery) have a hard time at camp since the individuals have not been prepared to function on their own (they are now hardwired to act as groups).

This translates (unfortunately) into a “herding cats” exercise at the flag post and throughout the week of camp activities.  We see patrols moving from nature hut to rifle range “en masse” and working as a team to complete worksheets at the picnic table back at the campsite.  Johnny doesn’t understand questions 4 thru 6?  No worries, his buddies will fill those out for him to get signed off – even if they don’t explain it to him so that he actually learns about environmental sciences or rifle safety.

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It has always been my understanding (perhaps incomplete or flawed) that the general intention of advancement programs in scouting was to provide “a series of surmountable obstacles and steps in overcoming them” so that the boys develop specific traits.

Traits like:

  • Character BPself reliance (they ought to be in control of their own advancement path, pace, timing),
  • initiation of action (as opposed to passivity – they ought to learn to “step up” and initiate the process and own the process as opposed to others pushing them along or directing their detailed steps), and
  • urgency of action (once started, get it done quickly – don’t let assignments drag and become stale through inaction).

The reward for each achievement completed is earned and deserved as:

  • the requirements were fulfilled,
  • the skills were mastered and
  • the self-confidence was built through the process.

The goal is to encourage the individual boy to engage in the process as it is the process that works the growth and enrichment of the lad.  A group effort inevitably diminishes the affects of the process.

Oh, the group moves forward and earns many patches, badges and other shiny trinkets along their journey, but is this “badge hunting” the goal of the advancement program or a distraction (when the goal becomes bragging rights, status, or trinket accumulation)?

Don’t get me wrong – that patch or certificate is a fair and appropriate symbol of accomplishment – not for what has been done, but for the newly built capability to serve others as indicated thru that patch. So a badge for first aid is not a trinket at all, but a statement that:

I am now prepared, at a moment’s notice, to respond and react with a measured approach to apply the skills I now possess. I will not shrink from that opportunity to serve others, nor will I laud this skill over others in pride as I should have known these things in order to fulfill my role as protector and guide to my own household – both present and future tense.

eagle oathAdvancement programs can, however, become derailed from this noble purpose and the objectives can become confused as though the earning of medals, patches and such are notches on a gunslingers pistol grip indicating conquests instead of opportunities to serve others through new skills and experiences.

Ultimately that is the telling difference between a hubristic young lad who is full of himself versus those who are better prepared to do a good turn – and are on the look out for those opportunities.


Advancement has a lot to offer each individual, but if it becomes a group exercise driven by schedules and artificial pace setting, it can fail to achieve it’s best intentions. 

Secondarily, we need to guard against the misinterpretation of the advancement program as a mercenary means to an end (i.e. “I want to be an Eagle to get into College easier, or land that corner office job” instead of to serve others per the Eagle Scout Oath).  Even B-P recognized these concerns and left us the admonishments;

  • “In Scouting, a boy is encouraged to educate himself instead of being instructed.”
  • “Scoutmasters deal with the individual boy rather than with the mass.”
  • The Scoutmaster must be alert to check badge hunting as compared to badge earning.”
  • “Teach Scouts not how to get a living, but how to live.”
  • “And then the final and chief test of the scout is the doing of a good turn to somebody every day, quietly and without boasting. This is the proof of the scout. It is practical religion, and a boy honors God best when he helps others most. A boy may wear all the scout uniforms made, all the scout badges ever manufactured, know all the woodcraft, campcraft, scoutcraft and other activities of boy scouts, and yet never be a real boy scout. To be a real boy scout means the doing of a good turn every day with the proper motive and if this be done, the boy has a right to be classed with the great scouts that have been of such service to their country.”

May I also recommend this article –…/the-mystery…/

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Meeting Recap 2/8/2016

Tripods are useful camp gadgets by themselves, but they’re also the basis of many other helpful structures. It’s amazing how the finished effort is so much greater than the simple sum of the individual parts (three walking sticks and some cordage). When a patrol of, say, six young men work together, they can accomplish things that six individuals (working alone) could not do.

CSB #1803

Tripod lashing pencil drawingHad another great club night.  After some dodgeball, we broke into small groups and the boys practiced clove hitches and lashing together tripods.

Tripods are an easy introduction into building wilderness gadgets and camping equipment from sticks, branches and some cordage brought from home.

Tripod hammockTripods can be used to construct wash racks, hammock hangers, slingshots, signal towers and camp entrance gates.

Tripod have a high utility for a number of reasons – they’re sturdy, lightweight, easy to assemble and can be adapted to a wide range of uses.

I like the fact that they have a parallel to verses in the Bible, too:

Ecclesiastes 4:12 – “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A Tripod Towercord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Where the tripod gets strength and balance from having three poles to support weight and keep steady, a group of three…

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Building Strong Patrols

Patrols by any other name, work just as well. Teamwork, loyalty, bonding, shared experiences, fulfilling responsibility to the others in your group all help build young men into initiators instead of passive couch potatoes.

Trail Life Troop 113

When it comes to building a strong unit with lively, engaged patrols, it’s important to remember that William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt got it right when he said “…a Troop is not divided into Patrols. A Troop is the sum total of its Patrols” Put another way, a troop doesn’t really exist to build patrols (although logistically it may appear that way at times), but instead, the groups of boys who form patrols make up a troop.

IMGP5238As adults we can guide, instruct, demonstrate and enable, but patrol spirit isn’t something built from a set of directions or poured out of a can. To be certain, our job as adults is to provide opportunities for the boys in patrols to bond over fair competitions, nominal awards, healthy recognition and surviving shared circumstances (both good and bad).

The consistent use of patrol leadership gives boys an experience in group living and…

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Paradoxical MB Development?

A recent article titled “Boy Scout Merit Badges and the Paradoxical Digital Future of Being Prepared” appeared online which made the bold statement;

So, for all the talk about getting kids away from computers, BSA isn’t committed to making digital detox its core mission. Fundamentally, the organization craves relevance.

The article takes a blunt look at the apparent paradox of an outdoor adventure program that is pouring much of it’s time and effort into being relevant in a modern world by developing new curriculum that brings the boys inside to work with technology.

Where the organization got it’s start over 100 years ago by stating;

There was once a boy who…wanted to learn to camp out, to live again the life of his hunter grandfather who knew all the tricks of winning comfort from the relentless wilderness the foster-mother so rude to those who fear her, so kind to the stout of heart. (1911 BSA Handbook)

It is now proffering “Animation,” “Digital Technology,” “Programming,” “Robotics,” “Game Design” and soon to be released “Advanced Computing,” “Biometrics,” “Computer Aided Design (CAD),” and “Multi Media” merit badge unit studies to captivate its youth members imaginations.

new desk

There is nothing wrong with enabling boys to learn relevant skills to explore potential hobbies or occupations — in fact, that’s a great aspect to most youth leadership programs.  However, is the continued development of tech-oriented curriculum a way to popularize the program at the expense of the underlying mission

…to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law?

Perhaps this is nothing more than a tempest in a teacup – the addition of popular badges doesn’t change underlying requirements for personal growth and advancement.  It merely adds options, choices and customization to the program.

On the other hand, why not add some glamor to wilderness survival, pioneering, and backpacking the way Bear Grylls does in his TV show “Man Vs. Wild”?

132One of the troop’s most favored camporee events was the “Buckskin Games” where everything was a throwback to the most basic and fun scouting skills.  Most boys were completely fascinated by the blacksmith demonstration — beating the living daylights out of glowing iron rod to fashion a coat hook had them lined up for hours waiting their turn.

We still need to know how to survive following a hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster.  These skills are far from outdated — just lose power for more than a day and most people start to go crazy.

Let us hope that the powers to be won’t merely take the easy way, but instead reinvigorate the core of the scouting movement to build character, wisdom and true scout-craft.

Go, go, go!


Can I learn more about other youth program’s advancement criteria?

Trail Life USA

Royal Rangers

Christian Service Brigade

Federation North American Explorers


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5 Tips for Buying Cheap Gear – Backpacker

Basic tips, but helpful reminders as getting a new boy started in outdoor adventuring can become very expensive quickly if everything is bought new and all at once. Staggering out purchases, leveraging “birthday gifts” from extended family and shopping in a thrifty manner can make a big difference. Many outdoor gear shops have “quietly advertised” deals for scouters when they qualify for the discounts (i.e. purchase items as a group, show up in store wearing full uniform, etc.).

Enjoy your travels this Fall and be safe!

Trail Life Troop 113

Buying outdoor gear doesn’t have to empty your bank account. Here are some great tips on applying thrifty strategies to gear up for outdoor adventures (from

Source: 5 Tips for Buying Cheap Gear – Backpacker


Of course, there may be group discounts available from some camping supply stores for troops that are part of a non-profit organization.  It’s always worth asking about, and at worst case scenario, you may have to submit a group order — which just takes a little coordination among the families to research what gear they want and submit the individual orders together.

One example that my troop has used in the past is provided by Campmor, here in New Jersey. We even had Campmor send us a product specialist to do a gear review and how to care for demonstration during a troop meeting!  Thank you, Campmor!

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Who or what is your rock?

The Hawkeye Area Council, Boy Scouts of America posted this picture to Facebook and asked the question; “What do you think? Do you agree with this statement?”

Wood GrainMatthew 7:24-27 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

I suppose that if you do not call yourself a Christian (and it’s ok to be a good scout without being a Christian) then I suppose the Scout Law (and associated ideals) make a pretty good foundation for living this life, here on Earth. After all, most of these ideals are found (coincidentally or not) within scriptures and are good ways to practice selfless-ness and fair minded reasoning. (See also –

However, if you call yourself a Christian, I would have to wonder if this bold statement (in the well intentioned image supplied by the BSA Council) could be misunderstood in its application. Do we really believe that all you need to do is follow the Scout Law and you’re set for all of eternity? Of course, I’m over-reaching their intent, but it’s easy to lock onto “cute sayings” and hold them as a satisfactory “cliffs notes” version of the complete message when there’s much more to the story.

IMGP6935The Methods of Scouting build into an excellent program (regardless of brand name), but being a great man is more than being a great scout, and for those who make the choice to live as a Christian, that decision requires identifying our rock or foundation clearly (perspective) so that we can weather the storms, and have a base of operation enabling us to do good works out of love and care for all other people at all times (disciplined execution of our calling).

As our Lord stated in Matthew’s gospel, we need to hear His sayings, do them and then we may be likened as one who has successfully built his house on the rock to weather the storm. He further adds that those who do not hear or act on His sayings will be like a foolish man suffering a great fall when the storms come.

Who or what is your genuine rock – scouting ideals, or Christ’s complete teachings?

I know I struggle to dive into the Bible daily, and make time to understand the message. I find that its far easier to make assumptions and try to validate them with the Bible than to really listen and then act. How about you? Do you struggle to follow through daily? Are you satisfied with holding open a door for someone to walk through, or are we growing the depth of commitment in our good turns over time?

Once and done, or a commitment to a lifestyle of never being satisfied that we’ve grown and served enough?

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National Paintball Tournament & Summer Adventure

Trail Life Troop 113

Our National Paintball Tournament and Summer Adventure is coming up June 21-26 in West Virginia.

The ACE High Adventure Center in West Virginia will be home to TRAIL LIFE USA’s 2015 National Paintball Tournament and Summer Adventure. ACE has a lot to offer, from whitewater rafting to rappelling to mountain biking to a custom paintball course —  built just for TLUSA — all to offer a fun, challenging, and exciting program.

The 2015 National Paintball Tournament and Summer Adventure begins on Sunday, June 21 and runs through Friday morning, June 26 at the ACE High Adventure Center. Sunday night during the Opening Ceremony a Christian Group will conduct a Praise & Worship Time at the Festival Stage.  Trailmen are encourage to bring their bibles for daily devotionals.

Both pre- and post-tours of the area can include visiting:

  • The National New River Gorge Park and overlook
  • The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
  • Bridge Walk

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