Volunteer Training for the 21st Century

New BSA training—highlighted by a single, leadership-focused Wood Badge—provides Scouters with both timely program-specific skills and a broader knowledge and appreciation of the total Scouting program.

Wood Badge, traditionally the pinnacle of volunteer training for Boy Scout and Cub Scout leaders, has a new form. Wood Badge for the 21st Century—a single, more contemporary, training program for Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Venturing, council, and district leaders, and professionals—replaces both the Boy Scout Leader Wood Badge and Cub Scout Trainer Wood Badge programs.

The new course offers more emphasis on leadership and “people” skills, less focus on Scoutcraft or Cub Scout training skills. Skills developed from the new Wood Badge training will help a volunteer leader do a better job in any BSA program or at any level of involvement.

Following successful testing at pilot sessions across the country, the new course is now the standard form of Wood Badge training. (Until January 1, 2002, however, local councils may still offer the previous Boy Scout version.)


At a BSA Southern Region pilot course, staff and participants were nearly unanimous in praising the new Wood Badge curriculum and presentation. They also enthusiastically endorsed the change that enables all Scouters to participate in the same course.

“This course is head and shoulders above the one I went through in 1993,” said Venturing Crew Advisor Thomas L. Roberts of Buford, Ga., one of a half dozen participants who had attended a previous Wood Badge course. “The focus on leadership really gets down to what we do in Scouting.”

Wood Badge veterans will be pleased that many of the trappings of the former Wood Badge course are preserved in the new. For example, the kudu horn, a long, twisted horn from an African antelope, was blown frequently, just as it has been since the custom was introduced in England more than 80 years ago by Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, the founder of the worldwide Scouting movement.

The 44 participants were assigned to traditional Wood Badge patrols—Beaver, Bobwhite, Eagle, Fox, Owl, Bear, and Buffalo—and by the end of the week nearly everyone had developed an intense attachment to his group.

At the Southern Region pilot course, as the participants hiked from place to place, the patrols sang the catchy ditty, “Back to Gilwell,” commemorating the legendary birthplace of Wood Badge near London.

And, as always, the participants fretted about their “ticket,” their commitment to Scouting they must complete after the course as the final step in earning their Wood Badge beads.


There were plenty of differences, too. The most striking was the inclusion of Cub Scouters and Venturing crew leaders in the same course with Boy Scout leaders.

“To me, that inclusiveness is the most significant difference in the new Wood Badge,” said Bion D. Jones, the Scoutmaster, or course director, of the Southern Region pilot course.

“I like everything that brings leaders together so that they understand that no matter where you serve in Scouting, all leaders have a common goal, and that’s to get youth involved and give them the best program you can and feel comfortable passing them along from program to program.”

Jones is vice president for program in the Atlanta Area Council and has been a staff member for 14 Wood Badge courses since he earned his Boy Scout Wood Badge beads in 1983. He has also earned Cub Scout Trainer Wood Badge beads.


The Atlanta Area Council hosted the Southern Region pilot course. For the first three days, the Wood Badgers were in classroom settings at the conference center of the state’s Future Farmers and Future Homemakers of America. For the last three days, participants moved to patrol campsites at the council’s Bert Adams Scout Reservation.

However, the delivery format is flexible and designed to meet the needs of a council, said Wayne Pitts, the course’s senior patrol leader. “The Wood Badge experience is evolutionary, evolving all the time,” he pointed out. And Pitts should know, having earned his beads in 1968, when, he said, the course was essentially practicing the Boy Scout requirements for First Class rank.

“Leadership training wasn’t a big part of Wood Badge then,” said Pitts, who now serves as the Southern Region’s Area 2 Wood Badge coordinator. In the closing session, Bion Jones told the participants that the new course has been criticized for not giving more attention to Scoutcraft skills.

“If somebody tells you your Wood Badge isn’t a ‘real’ Wood Badge, they are not very well informed,” he reassured them. “My personal feeling, having been associated with the old course for 14 years, is that this is a much better course. Long-term, it will serve Scouting’s needs much better than the one we’ve had since the last big revisions in 1974.”


Such teaching aids as VCRs, laptop computers, and projectors were used for lessons at both the FFA/FHA center and in a big classroom tarp at the Scout reservation. But the course could be given without them, Wayne Pitts pointed out. “They’re nice to have,” he said, “but you could do it with flip charts.”

For some learning sessions, no teaching aids were required. On the first night, for example, there was a patrol learning session featuring the Who Me Game, which required patrol members to tell the group their feelings about their surroundings and personal attitudes. The questions were on cards that the players drew; if they felt a question was too personal, they could decline to answer it and draw another.

Bobwhite Patrol member Roy-Keith Smith, a Webelos den leader from St. Augustine, Fla., said it was one of the more interesting exercises the patrol had been through.

“It made us open up our internal feelings to each other after having been acquainted one day,” he said. “We found out that we were basically compatible people.”


Several other patrol games were played during the week. The most elaborate was a rocket building-and-flying test, which followed troop learning sessions on “High Performance Teams,” “Communicating,” “Team Development” and “Project Management.” Each patrol was given a two-liter soft-drink bottle, scissors, knife, cardboard, duct tape, safety pins, and ruler and then instructed to make a model rocket to be launched by an air pressure blast.

NASA designers need not feel threatened by the result. All the model rockets went up end over end and crashlanded.

The Fox Patrol’s model won the contest with a combined time in the air for two flights of 9.45 seconds, although not without challenge. The Bobwhites claimed, “We wuz robbed!” because their rocket spent 18 minutes off the ground—stuck 40 feet up in the branches of a white oak tree. The Wood Badge troop considered all aspects of leadership in learning sessions with such titles as “Leading Change,” “Problem Solving,”” Valuing People and Leveraging Diversity,” “Managing Conflict,” and “Coaching and Mentoring.”

The course’s climactic moment came on the last day when Scoutmaster Bion Jones discoursed on “Leaving a Legacy.” Multimedia elements included clips of inspirational moments from such movies as “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” in which Richard Dreyfuss plays an aspiring composer who spends his life as a high school music teacher, and from a John Prine song called “Hello in There,” sung by Bette Midler.

These elements were woven into the inspiring call for Scouters to learn to lead—and in the process leave a legacy in the lives of young people.

Robert W. Peterson is a Scouting magazine contributing editor.


The dramatic changes in Wood Badge are only part of the revisions in BSA training for volunteer Scouters. Below are the steps that now make up the training process, or training continuum, for leaders.

FAST START. This training, which introduces new volunteers to Scouting, will continue for all leaders.

BASIC LEADER TRAINING. This replaces previous basic training for Cub Scouters, Boy Scouters, and Venturing leaders and is comprised of several parts:

  • New Leader Essentials is a training session for all volunteers. It covers the overall mission, vision, values, methods, and age appropriateness of the programs of the Boy Scouts of America.
  • Leader Specific Training consists of separate courses for Tiger Cub den leaders, Cub Scout den leaders, Webelos den leaders, Cubmasters, Scoutmasters, Varsity Coaches, Venturing Advisors, and committee members for all units.
  • Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills is the new outdoor skills training for Scoutmasters and assistants. It is also appropriate for Webelos Scout leaders, Varsity Coaches, and Venturing Advisors.

WOOD BADGE. This is now one course for all leaders. To attend, leaders must be trained according to the standards of their specific Scouting positions.

SUPPLEMENTAL TRAINING. This is continuous learning designed for the different programs. It may be Boy Scout advanced camping skills, a Cub Scout pow wow, a Venturing powder horn, or other type of training.


Below are some quotes from the various sessions at the Southern Region Wood Badge pilot course:

“When you establish a goal that you want to achieve, be specific—no generalities or ambiguities. Don’t use weasel words”

—Staff member Don Prince, Acworth, Ga., on “Mission and Vision”

“The aims and purposes and ideals of Scouting need to be a thread through everything we do and especially our campfires.”

—Staff member Diane M. Cannon, Houston, Tex., on planning campfires

“Most police officers become officers to make a difference. After arresting the same kids year after year and telling the same kids night after night to get off the same street corner, you realize you’re not making much of a difference. When you see the kind of influence you have on them in Scouting and when they come up and tug on your shirt and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Ted, remember me? You taught me how to fish.’ When they remember you a year from now, or 20 years from now, you know you’re making a difference in that kid’s life.”

—Ted Johnson, Scouting professional, former Augusta., Ga., police officer

“My impression of the new Wood Badge program is that it’s taking us into the corporate world of leadership training, and yet in many ways we as Scouters have been doing what’s being adopted in the corporate world for a longer period of time…Outside of this program, I don’t know of any other organization that teaches leadership, except in the corporate world. That’s one of the reasons that Scouts who attain the rank of Eagle Scout are recognized in the corporate environment as already having been a leader.”

—Staff member Dorothy R. Brown, Tampa, Fla.

“For a long time, Cub Scout leaders thought their program was a separate identity; so did the Boy Scouts and the Venturers. But we’re all parts of the Boy Scouts of America, and I think this melding of everybody in Scout leader Wood Badge is a very positive thing, so that we all realize we are one family.”

—Staff member Carolyn Ann Hertzel, Elberta, Ala.

“I’m a teacher with a school superintendent’s license, and as good as my administrative training was at the University of Kentucky, the best leadership training I’ve had was in Boy Scouting. In terms of practicality and actually leading people and in clearness of purpose, I think the Boy Scout programs are the best.”

—Scoutmaster Paul Rominger, St. Simons, Ga.

“I’ve had similar courses in leadership training, communications, team building, decision making, problem solving—some of the same things we’re doing here, although it looks like these are the latest. It’s just a fantastic course.”

—Venturing crew Advisor Mark Graydon, Columbus, Ga., police officer

“I got my Wood Badge beads some time in the 1980s, and I’m very enthusiastic about the new Wood Badge because I think it’s going to help the boys transition into the next program. Bringing the Cub Scout leaders, Boy Scout leaders, and Venturing leaders together is a fantastic way of training because we’ll be able to retain leaders longer that way.”

—Troop committee member Faith Rogers, Petal, Miss.

1 Comment

  1. I have been involved with Scouting for about 4 years now and have not really had the opportunity to develop leadership skills/style. I want to do Woodbadge but I just need to get off and do it. This article is a definite eye opener. Thanks

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