[Note: I originally planned on making this topic one single post. However, I feel it is important and complex enough to deserve a series of posts. So instead of one post, I will be covering this topic in three different posts. The first one is on the importance of older Scouts in a Troop. The Second is why older Scouts are not active/not joining. And the Third post will be devoted to practical solutions to increase older Scout retention/enlistment. This series is still a work-in-progress, so if you have any suggestions or comments, I would love to hear them! Just leave a comment below or on the ScoutingRediscovered Facebook page.]
I have heard many Scouters from across the country comment on how difficult it is to retain older Scouts in their Troops. By “older Scouts” I mean roughly the ages between 15-18. In addition to hearing this quite a bit, I also have first-hand experience of this in my own Troop. Although this seems to be a common issue, I haven’t read anything that really went into this issue in depth to my satisfaction.
Some Scouters might come to the conclusion that Scouting as a program is mostly appealing to only younger boys. I don’t think this is correct at all. I am a Scout who has remained very active with my Troop from 13 to 18, and I have always found Scouting as I have come to understand it very appealing to me.
As a young man, I feel that I can helpfully contribute to this discussion. Do I have a solution? Well, that depends. As you will see in this post, there are many different factors involved in this issue. There are many different reasons why older boys leave Scouting or don’t join. There are too many factors involved to claim to have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I hope that some of my observations in this post can help Scouters and Scout Leaders better understand these reasons and help them come up with solutions on a case-by-case basis.
Why are older Scouts are vital to a properly run Troop?
First, it is important to understand why having older Scouts is vital to running a real Scout Troop. In “Scouting for Boys” chapter 1 “Hints to Instructors” section, Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, intimated that the design of Scouting is such that older, more experienced Scouts pass on their knowledge and experience to younger Scouts. This is also in keeping with the notion of a Scout-led Troop. Without older Scouts, the source of constant instruction must come from the Scoutmasters only. This means the teaching and guiding part of leadership isn’t handled by the Scouts themselves.
There is another aspect to this as well. Each Troop develops a certain ‘culture’ as time goes on. What I mean is that each individual Troop has a certain group personality. A thousand little subtleties in the way the individuals conduct themselves depends upon this group attitude or spirit. This phenomenon has been recognized wherever groups of individuals have been studied. Whether you call it ‘Esprit de corps‘ or ‘group culture’, it means the same thing. In Boy Scout Troops, this culture is passed on to the younger Scouts by the older Scouts as the younger Scouts imitate how the older Scouts act.
Helping to develop and maintain a good and mature group culture should be the goal of every leader of a Scout Troop. However, when older Scouts quit upon reaching a certain age, the group culture never really has a chance to mature. Each new Scout that enters a Troop like this is entering an environment that is still not completely formed. There is no heritage that is passed along. There is no standard enforced by tradition. This makes the job of the Scoutmaster much harder as he is in the continual state of creating a team which can never reach maturity.
Perhaps I am oversimplifying this a little, but I believe this principle to be very true. I have observed the workings of it in my own Troop. I was a 16-year-old Scout in the older generation in my Troop, and most of my direct peers had already left. Suddenly, the Troop got an influx of 12 new Webelo crossovers, and I was the Senior Patrol Leader. I had to start basically from scratch in welding these newcomers and a few of the in-between Scouts into a good Troop. I had much difficulty in this as there was no established culture for the boys to fit into. It had to be created.
In addition to my own experience, I have also learned this in studies of group dynamics. Groups go through distinct stages as they grow from being newly formed into maturity. There is a particularly rough phase early on known as “storming”. This phase cannot be skipped, but once the group has past it they are well on their way to maturity. Without older Scouts, there is the danger of a Troop being perpetually stuck in the storming phase. With older Scouts, the continual transition of new Scouts into the Troop can be much easier. Now, on the other hand, this group culture can work in a bad application if the culture formed is a bad one, but this shouldn’t be the case. If it is, there are other issues that need to be dealt with which are beyond the scope of this topic.
Here are some of the reasons why I maintain that a Troop cannot be properly run without older Scouts, I’m sure there are other reasons as well. But now that it is clear that Scouting needs older Scouts, why exactly is it that older Scouts seems to be getting fewer? In the many historical Scouting photographs I’ve seen, there seems to be a very high proportion of boys who look 15+ years old. I don’t see this as much in looking at the Troops around me today. Let’s examine some of the reasons why this is the case.
[I will be continuing this series soon with Part II on why older boys become inactive/don't join. I hope you will stay tuned in! If you like what this site is about, please subscribe via email or your favorite social media and share this post with other Scouts and Scouters that you know. Thank you for reading!