The New-Leader Guide: Tips to Get You Started Down the Scouting Trail

All over America, students are trying to navigate new hallways, remember their locker combinations and find the lunchroom. As a new Scouter, you know how they feel.

Don’t worry; we know how you feel, too. We at Scouting magazine have been where you are and understand how intimidating the job can be, so we created this handy guide to help you through the first months of your Scouting career. Half of the tips stem from our own experience; the other half come from Scouters across the country who responded to survey questions on our Facebook page. We appreciate their input and look forward to the day that you, too, start sharing your wisdom with Scouting’s next crop of rookie leaders.

  • Go on a Mission. The BSA is a sprawling organization with lots going on. If your head is spinning, remember we have a simple (but profoundly important) goal: “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is 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.”
  • Start Your Journey. Journey to Excellence is the BSA’s performance recognition program for units, districts and councils. By reviewing the specific goals for your type of unit, you’ll know what defines success. After visiting scouting.org/jte, ask your unit leader or commissioner about your unit’s progress toward Bronze, Silver or Gold status.
  • Tap Here to Start. My.Scouting (my.scouting.org) is the entry point on the BSA website for all sorts of web-based activities, including training, service-hour reporting and registration for national events. By adding your member ID to your profile, you’ll get credit for online training.
  • Shop Like a Boss. The Scout Shop is your destination for books, uniforms, outdoor gear and more. Visit a location in your local council service area — probably at your council’s main office or shop online at scoutshop.org
  • You Are Here. As a volunteer, you can earn all sorts of awards. Most of these are represented by those knots you see on veteran leaders’ uniforms. Find out which awards are available for your position and start tracking your progress. Learn more in the Guide to Awards and Insignia (go.scoutingmagazine.org/insigniaguide) and on the Awards Central web page (go.scoutingmagazine.org/awards).
  • Go to Roundtable. Here’s where you’ll find a bunch of Scouters who’ve been in your shoes and are eager to help you succeed. Some of the best discussions happen during downtime before and after the formal meeting. Check with your unit leader or council service center for dates and locations.
  • Catch Up on Some Reading. Read the appropriate youth and adult handbooks that relate to your position. If you’re a Wolf den leader, get the Cub Scout Wolf Handbook and Cub Scouts Leader Handbook. If you’re an assistant Scoutmaster, get The Boy Scout Handbook and Troop Leader Guidebook. If you’re a Venturing Advisor, get the Handbook for Venturers and the Venturing Advisor Guidebook. If you’re a … well, you get the idea. Pick up your copies at the Scout Shop or online.
  • And Read Some More. For veteran Scouters, two must-read resources are the Guide to Safe Scouting (scouting.org/health-and-safety) and the Guide to Advancement (scouting.org/guide-to-advancement). These two resources cover everything from A (the Able rank in Sea Scouts) to Z (tips for avoiding the Zika virus).
  • Scout Your Commute. CubCast and ScoutCast, the BSA’s official podcasts, dive deep into topics like engaging parents or managing screen time. Visit podcast.scouting.org to listen, download or review the archives.
  • Get Social. The BSA and Scouting magazine are on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. If you use one or more of those platforms, look us up.
  • Find What Clicks. Scouting information abounds online. Our website, scoutingmagazine.org, collects decades of stories and tips. Our daily blog, blog.scoutingmagazine.org, keeps you up to speed. Ask people in your unit or district for other discussion groups, blogs and podcasts they like.
  • Get Trained. Every Scout deserves a trained leader. As a registered leader, you’ve already completed Youth Protection Training (our child-abuse prevention and detection course at scouting.org/youthprotection). Next, complete the basic-training course(s) for your position. Visit scouting.org/training to learn what your position requires.
  • Know, Then Sew. Set a good example for your Scouts by sewing your patches in the proper places. Review with the Guide to Awards and Insignia (go.scoutingmagazine.org/insigniaguide).
  • Get Your Mail. Boys’ Life magazine content is a core curriculum of pack and troop programs, and the jokes are always good for a laugh during your Cubmaster’s/Scoutmaster’s minute. For a quick game, create a scavenger hunt in which Scouts look for specific words or pictures in the current issue. Get a yearly subscription at boyslife.org/subscribe
  • Elevate Your Training. Each of the BSA’s four national high-adventure bases offers training for adult volunteers:

    Philmont Training Center (New Mexico)

    Northern Tier Training Center (Minnesota)

    John D. Tickle National Training and Leadership Center at the Summit Bechtel Reserve (West Virginia)

    Sea Base Conference and Retreat Center (Florida)

  • Find Direction. What do you want to accomplish during this Scouting year? Write down your goals and paste them in your leader book to help you stay on track.

  • Become an Alum. You don’t have to be an Eagle Scout to join our alumni group, Scouting Alumni and Friends (scoutingalumni.org). Anyone who is a fan of Scouting qualifies, and there are two tiers: free and $35. Why sign up? Discounts, access to the latest BSA news and — our favorite — free bugle-call ringtones.
  • If you don’t know NOAC from NESA, bookmark the Language of Scouting website (go.scoutingmagazine.org/los). You’ll never be at a loss when veteran Scouters start tossing jargon around. A note to veteran Scouters: Try to limit your use of obscure acronyms so new Scouters feel welcome.
  • Embrace the Adventure. The Scouting program is available to more youth, parents and families than ever before, making this an exciting time to be a Scout leader.
  • Plant Your Flag. Have you visited beascout.org? This useful unit locator uses mapping technology to help prospective Scouts find you. Although some veterans don’t realize it, you can customize your unit’s “pin” with contact info, your unit website and a logo. Learn how and be a hero in your unit.
  • All in the Timing. Get all your Scouting dates on your family calendar and fix any conflicts. Nothing’s worse than having to cancel a den meeting on your wedding anniversary (except, that is, not canceling a den meeting on your wedding anniversary).


Meet and Greet

STEP 1: Seek out your chartered organization representative, the volunteer who oversees Scouting at your chartered organization (the school, community group or religious institution that sponsors your unit). Ask how Scouting aligns with the organization’s mission and what your unit can do to help. This is especially important if you’re the unit leader (Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Advisor or Skipper) or committee chair.

STEP 2: Meet your district executive and unit commissioner. The district executive is the professional Scouter who oversees Scouting in your community; the commissioner is an experienced volunteer charged with supporting your unit. Their goal is to make your unit successful, and they have access to lots of useful resources.

STEP 3: Find a mentor in your district who holds (or recently held) the same position as you. Discuss any challenges you’re facing, and then visit one of your mentor’s meetings to see him or her in action.


Ideas from Your Fellow Scouters

Working With Parents and Other Adults

  • Encourage parents to be leaders, not parents. — Ramsay Ellis
  • Once you are trained and feel comfortable, find and train the next person. Then you always have a backup. — Adam Wehrman
  • You can’t be a lone ranger. Your effectiveness will suffer, as will your program. — George Nolley
  • Always find a job (however small) for parents who offer to help for the first time. — Lisa Rampage Joerin

Working With Scouts

  • If the Scouts aren’t listening, be calm enough to put your Scout sign up and wait — for as long as it takes. They will catch on fast, and putting up a Scout sign will become magical! — Shelly Joyce
  • Give the Scouts a chance to taste success. They will find out it suits them. — Ray Ferguson
  • Stand back and let the Scouts do it. Just don’t let them set each other on fire! — Keith Hastedt
  • Before your Scouts care how much you know, they must know how much you care. — Mark Walters

Measuring Success

  • Patches, pins and medals are great, but I measure our success by the size of a Scout’s smile. — Steve Williams
  • Always do what’s in the best interest of the Scouts. It’s not about you; it’s about them. — David St. Louis
  • Just when you think you aren’t getting through, you find out you are! And there is nothing like it! — Michelle Gala
  • Enjoy the times you make their eyes light up. Makes everything else worth it. — Greg Heisler

Creating a Great Program

  • Your Scouts want and need to do stuff. They don’t just want you to talk to them about stuff. Learned this one the hard way. — Thomas Becker
  • Always try the activity/craft yourself before trying to do it with the Scouts. Dream catchers are a lot trickier than you might think. — Beverly W. LeVine
  • Always have a Plan B. And a Plan C. And a Plan D doesn’t hurt. — Michele Shelly Kierman-Karver
  • In all that you do, make time for fun. — Kevin Martin
  • Both work and play will build strong bonds between Scouts; encourage both and have fun! — Jeff Long

Improving Yourself

  • Never stop asking questions. Take every opportunity to learn to be a leader. Don’t be afraid to go outside your own council for training. — Mickey K. Thompson
  • Listen to the advice of others, but don’t be afraid to find your own path. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to Scouting. — Adam Lemcke
  • Get trained. Then get a mentor. — Jay Lash
  • Learn the Scout Oath and Law. Live the Scout Oath and Law. — Joe Wolsey

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Maintain absolutely rigid flexibility. — Keith Bobbitt
  • Your children will stay motivated if you get involved. They will get out what you put in. — Mike Shay
  • Your pack is only as strong as your dens. Your troop is only as strong as your campouts/activities. — Kevin Wellborn
  • Always be the leader who says, “Of course I have duct tape!” — Lyn Bair

3 Comments

  1. Yikes… although the above information is good, it’s much too much information. Think of a brand new parent going to the sign-up meeting for the first time and, somewhat reluctantly, says “OK I’ll help.” All they really want to know is how to run their next meeting. If I were to forward this link to that newly acquired parent volunteer, they would probably drop out of Scouting feeling that they are totally inadequate. Why? Because there’s a voluminous amount of information and this is overload. A super trim down Version on conducting their first den meeting is all that’s needed then having follow up links for other incidentals like patches the district executive so on and so on and so on with “stay tuned” for additional tips to come in future weeks.

  2. Totally agree w the above comment. Prefer a slimmed down resource or even link off this site, geared towards new parents holding their fist few meetings.

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