Boy Scout Retention

"The more responsibility the Scoutmaster gives his Patrol Leaders, the more they will respond."

Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Founder of Scouting

  Webelos Troop Visitation  

To receive the Arrow of Light, a Webelo must, with his Den, visit at least one Boy Scout Troop meeting, and one Boy Scout oriented- outdoor activity. This visit is one of his gateways to Boy Scouting. Granted, he may have been on an event or two, but the visitation is a critical time in the retention process. Here are some ideas to help:

1. Remember that there is no second chance at a first impression. If the Webelo Scout does not have a good experience, why should he come back? Make sure there is lots of activity.

2. Parents want and need lots of information about the Troop. Provide a brochure listing contact persons, events, what is expected of the Scouts, and what is expected of the parents.

3. Scoutmasters need to spend some time with the Webelo parents and leaders who visit with their boys. They need to spend time explaining the differences between Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and answering questions 

4. Remember the "WOW" factor.  Webelos are looking for fun units that are busy doing things and no one is bored. Program, program, program!

5. If Webelos are welcomed by the older Scouts, it makes a huge impression. Scoutmasters need to talk with the older Scouts to emphasize welcoming and including the Webelos.

6. Den Chiefs should stay with the Webelos during the meeting, if it is their Den.

7. Make the meeting an honest representation of a typical meeting. Don’t present something that you are not.

  The Transition 

We are half way through the ten areas in a Scout’s life where retention is critical. This lands us into an important area, the transition from Webelos into Boy Scouting. Nationally, more than 70% of our new Boy Scouts come directly from the Webelos Program.

The National Council has developed a Webelo to Scout Plan which, when followed, can help keep the boys in the program. Here is a brief overview of the Plan:

Every graduating Webelos Scout deserves the opportunity to continue his Scouting experience as a member of a Boy Scout Troop. No Webelos Scout should start his fifth grade year without a clear path that leads directly to a specific Boy Scout Troop.  The Webelos-to-Scout Plan offers a clear path into Boy Scouting for every Webelos Scout by linking his Webelos Den (as a Webelos Patrol) to a specific Boy Scout Troop.  The Webelos Patrol, formerly referred to as the Pack's 2nd year Webelos Den continues to be registered with the Cub Pack and continues to attend monthly Pack Meetings.  The Webelos Patrol would continue to be led by the Webelos Den Leader, but would be assisted by a Webelos Patrol Assistant Scoutmaster from the Troop.  Weekly Webelos Den Meetings would now be replaced by weekly Boy Scout Troop meetings with the Webelos Patrol acting like a regular patrol in the Troop under the leadership of the Den Leader and Webelos Patrol Assistant Scoutmaster.  The new Webelos Patrol would be included in many, if not all, of the Boy Scout Troop's monthly activities.

The new Webelos Patrol would continue in this fashion until the February Blue and Gold Banquet at which time the Webelos Scout receives his Arrow of Light. A formal Crossover Ceremony welcomes him and his complete Patrol into the Scout Troop.  The key factor in this plan is the establishment of a working partnership between the Webelos Den and the Scout Troop long before the Webelos Scout is ready to cross-over.  Since summer camp is a vital part of the Boy Scout experience, especially with the new Scout, the plan provides for an early graduation (January or February) and complete transition from the Pack into the Troop, allowing enough time for the new Scout to prepare for summer camp.  The Webelos Den Leader works with the Scoutmaster and Webelos Patrol Assistant Scoutmaster to implement the Webelos Patrol concept.  The Leader conducts weekly Den/Patrol meetings with the Troop using the advancement program outlined.  The Leader also plans and conducts an impressive graduation ceremony as they move from Webelos Den to New Scout Patrol. 

The Scoutmaster directs the establishment of a working, cooperative link between the Troop and Pack. He appoints a Webelos Den Chief and encourages use of Webelos-to-Scout Plan. The Scoutmaster also appoints and directs the Webelos Patrol Assistant Scoutmaster early in the program. The Webelos Patrol Assistant Scoutmaster serves as the link between the Troop and the Webelos Patrol. With the Webelos Den Leader, the Assistant conducts the advancement program at weekly Troop meetings and helps promote the Arrow of Light Award. This leader also assists in preparing the Webelos Patrol for participation in outdoor activities and other events with the Troop.

Webelos To Scout Crossover and Other Rites of Passage 

Rites of passage are critical for an adolescent boy. They have a need for transition from one life stage to another. This has been ritualized and acknowledged by civilizations for thousands of years.  When a boy is not provided with rites of passage to make each of his transitions through adolescence, he will create rites of passage on his own. He might start smoking and figures he is now grown up. He may seek out a gang and do things to be part of the group.

There are several rites of passage within Scouting that are vital to a boy: Webelos Crossovers, camp ceremonies, Order of the Arrow, Blue and Golds, and Court of Honors. These must be well done and lift up the accomplishments of the boy.

Here are some ideas from those who are retaining boys:

1. Usually, the night a Webelo Scout crosses over into Boy Scouting is the same night he receives his Arrow of Light.  The Arrow of Light is the Eagle Scout of Cub Scouting and needs to be lifted up as such.

2. When a Webelo crosses over into Boy Scouts, make it a big deal. Use a bridge, remove his blue shoulder loops on one side and replace them with green after he crosses the bridge.

3. Get Cub Scout leaders involved as well, if they are moving into Boy Scouting with their sons.  Have them also cross the bridge and remove their blue loops and replace them with green shoulder loops.

4. Write out the ceremonies and rehearse them.  Never just “wing it.”

5. Create digital videos. Borrow a projector.  This is very impressive for an Eagle Court of Honor or Arrow of Light recipients. Get photos from parents and use them to create a visual biography of the new Eagle Scout.

6. Consider Eagle Court of Honors the same evening as Troop Court of Honors. The younger scouts will be there to see one of their own become an Eagle Scout.  This can become a huge incentive for them.

7. Allow plenty of time to set up for big events.  Use a microphone and make sure someone knows how to operate it. Use a spot light if you can borrow one.

8. Get parents involved in the Court of Honors.  For every rank, invite the boys’ parents to come forward and have a small rank pin for boys to pin on their moms. This way, when they become Eagle Scouts, moms and dads will be comfortable coming forward and moms then get to pin something on their sons.  Some troops provide a pin-ribbon for mothers to display their pins. It can be worn at all Court of Honors and inspire the Scouts to work for another pin.

9. Have a Unit pot luck before the Blue and Gold or Court of Honor. This is a great time for leaders to talk with parents in a fellowship environment.

10. Create big events. Begin with an impressive flag ceremony. Use a candelabra ceremony.  Incorporate Scouts and Scouters.

11. Remember that these are formal events held in a formal environment. Invite special guests like a unit commissioner, district executive, clergy, or principal and introduce them.

  The First Troop Meeting 

Boys are, by nature, “pack animals.” Older boys do not naturally gravitate to younger boys.  They socialize with their peers. That’s just the way it is.  Troop meetings can become very cliquish where the various “packs” hang out together and tend to ignore the others. Brand new Boy Scouts can feel alienated and remain shy. Or, they will sometimes do things in order to draw attention to themselves from the older boys.  The new Boy Scouts who are athletically faster or who have a more outgoing personality will surface and draw that attention. But the others can quickly “slip through the cracks” and become frustrated from being the “low man on the totem pole.” These feelings can cause a boy to lose interest and never come back.  Every boy has a talent. The goal is to find it and develop it. Help boys explore their interests. Something else to consider, better than one-third of the new Boy Scouts we register from graduated Webelos Dens will drop out of the Boy Scout Program before they have completed one complete year of Scouting.  Of thos who drop out, most will say they left because they spent more time tying knots in the church basement during weekly Troop meetings than camping in the woods on the weekends.

Here are some ways to help keep them in:

1. Understand this is the first time since Tigers that the new Boy Scouts are feeling like the “low man.” Most of them will be in fifth grade and they are the “kings” of their elementary schools where fifth graders rule. They haven’t entered middle school yet were they quickly become the “low man” in a new school. They were also the second year Webelos who dominated their Pack.  There are some emotional changes going on and most boys don’t know how to deal with this change of status. They may choose “fight or flight.” Some may choose flight.

2. Avoid publically labeling new Boy Scouts as “the new boys” or the “new boy Patrol.” If you use a new boy Patrol, refer to it publically by its name (Panthers, Hawks, etc.)

3. Get new parents involved as leaders.

4. If you used a Den Chief, make him the Patrol Leader of the new Patrol.

5. Have a campout with just the newer scouts and some of the older, trusted boys.

6. Program, program, and program. Keep meetings moving and allow interaction for all the boys.  Dont have the boys sitting and listening to a boring lecture.


First Troop Campout And First Summer Camp 

Camping is vital to Scouting. We know that 51% of Boy Scouts drop out from Troops with five or fewer campouts a year. But, only 15% drop from Troops that camp every month.  Boy Scout camping is different from Cub Scout camping. It takes a while for the newer Boy Scouts and their parents to figure this out. A boy run, Boy Scout camping experience may not be the prettiest sight to see, but it is fulfilling the goal of developing leaders and helping boys become men of integrity.

If the first camping experiences are negative, boys will quickly leave. Here are some ideas from some camping Troops:

1. Prepare a packet about summer camp that gives as much information as possible. Include a copy of the medical form and a packing list.

2. Hold a parent information meeting during May that deals with summer camp. Distribute the information packet.  Have the Senior Patrol Leader run this meeting.

3. Understand that the first camping experiences need to be positive, but also remember that boys do need some struggle in their lives. There is value in some struggle. If we can lead boys carefully through the pains of growing up, we can expect them to live less painful and more joyful lives in adulthood. Leaders let their boys struggle just enough. No boy is going to be harmed under the eye of a watchful leader, but he will grow a little taller as a result of the experience. Not only do boys need it, they actually want it.

4. Create and print a monthly newsletter with information about the next campout.

5. Hold a cabin campout rather than tenting for the first camping experience. Since many times the first campout for new boys is in the early spring and the weather can be so unpredictable, make it a cabin. Yucky weather can contribute to a yucky experience if you are brand new.

6. Effective Boy Scout Troops are not always the prettiest sight to behold. This is sometimes hard for new parent leaders to understand. Develop a system or code like, "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" which lets another leader know that he needs to step back and let the boys handle it.

7. Summer camp Parents’ Night can be a disaster for a first year camper. If a boy goes home midweek, he will not be back.

8. Boys hate to sit. If they aren’t busy doing something they will be into mischief. If they are busy, they won’t have time to be homesick.

9. Boys love nature. If they don’t, it’s because they have never had opportunities to love it. Get them out in the woods!

10. Allow a sense of mystery, awe, and accomplishment with the summer camp honor camper ceremonies. Keep the traditions going.

11. Poor boots make for poor campouts.

  The Middle School Years 

Now it becomes tougher to keep a boy in the program. His social world is changing and so is he. He is being heavily influenced by his peers and almost overnight he is becoming interested in girls.

Try these ideas:

1. Train and use older boys as Troop Guides.

2. Develop these Scouts into junior leaders and then let them lead. Boys appreciate input into the program.

3. Develop a fair and purposeful election process for boy leaders. Elect the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders and then guide them in making appointments.

4. Have an older Scout program.

5. Praise in public. Criticize in private.

6. Make up awards to be presented to encourage the Scouts. Ideas could be:

    - The “Almost There Award” for a boy who has worked hard but didn’t, for one reason or another, get finished in time for a Court of Honor.

    - The “Good Job Award” for a boy who went above and beyond or who kicked it up a notch.

    - The “Below Zero Hero” award for those who slept in tents in the winter where the temperature got into negative digits.

    - A special instructor award for those who teach First Class emphasis for the Troop during summer camp.

7. Keep adults trained and involved with a special adult leader only campout. Make it fun and memorable.

8. Get adults to the annual University of Scouting.

9. Promote Wood Badge training for adults.

10. Develop a program where only the older Scouts can sign off for requirements in Handbooks.

11. Develop a corps of instructors from the older boys.

12. Have the older Scouts set a uniform example.

13. It’s still about providing a quality program with quality leadership and effective communication.

14. If your Troop hasn’t done so, create a special adult Patrol. Adults enjoy the fellowship of other adults. Give the Patrol a name like the Java Patrol, the old Goat Patrol, or the old Buck Patrol.

15. Now, more than ever, the “when” language becomes critical. It’s not “if” you become an Eagle Scout, it’s “when” you become an Eagle.

16. High adventure, high adventure, high adventure.

17. Program, program, and program.

 The High School Years 

With high school comes activities like band, sports, theater, clubs, student council, dances, you name it. A boy (now a young man) needs to be involved in those extra-circular activities.  Leaders cannot fault their older Scouts for being involved in those activities. They need to be thankful that their young men are engaged in these because they are, hopefully, demonstrating leadership.

That’s our goal! If our Scouts are not leaders and young men of integrity, then we have missed the mark. This is a time where a boy is testing what he has learned and hopefully using his skills to better his team or band or club.

Here are some ways to keep these Scouts in the program:

1. High school activities make it very difficult at times to be involved. Make it clear that Scouting is a year round program. Let the boy know, “We’ll be here when you can make it.”

2. Don’t push the issue if other activities are interfering with Scouting. Don’t give the boys ultimatums or guilt trips. You will lose them if you do.

3. Right leaders do the right things so continue to get the right leaders in the right positions.

4. Use peer pressure in a positive way to keep them involved.

5. Let the older Scouts realize that they are responsible for running the troop.

6. Let them also realize they are responsible for the younger Scouts.

7. Consider a Venture Patrol. Programs for Ventures should be separate from the rest of the Troop.

8. Secure a Venture Assistant Scoutmaster who has a desire to work with older boys.

9. Make the older boy program something for the younger boys to look forward to.

10. Have an older Scout program to keep them interested and encourage them to stay. The program is planned by the boys and should include:

    - Annual and quarterly reviews.

    - Monthly and daily plans.

    - Various level planning (new, experienced, or Venture)

11. Select Junior Assistant Scoutmasters and give them responsibilities.

12. Follow up on absentees. One phone call can make a world of difference.

13. There are lots of great resources out there. Find them and use them.

14. More high adventure!

15. Use the older boys at Cub Scout Rally Night so Cubs see Boys Scouts right away. These young men can help as greeters, passing out forms, and playing games with the Cub Scouts.