Is it ever time to say, ‘Sorry, our troop’s full’?

Quality trumps quantity when it comes to Scouting. A well-run unit of 15 to 20 boys or girls beats a dysfunctional unit of 80 to 100 Scouts every time. (Many larger troops thrive, but only through careful planning and strong leadership.)

What happens when your unit reaches that magic number where adding any more Scouts means a drop in program quality — overcrowded meeting space, leaders stretched too thin or other growing pains?

Do you turn Scouts away, sending them to another nearby unit? Or do you squeeze them in?

That question was posted to a Scout message board earlier this week: 

Our troop has grown in recent years, and we’re outgrowing our meeting space. We’re looking at options: one that I have not brought up with other leaders would be to restrict membership. I hate to turn anyone away. It’s against my nature. I’d love for every young man to have a great time in Scouts. But it’s also important to maintain a quality program and I fear that growing too large, our troop program will suffer.

I was wondering if any troop had limitations or restrictions on who could join, and if so, what impact that had on the troop? And if so, how was putting limits on who could join perceived in your district by other troops and packs?



What do you think?

Have you experienced the need to limit membership? If so, what did you do? And what’s the magic number for unit size anyway? Let’s discuss this in the comments.

Related post

Should you compete against other units for Scouts? If so, how?

(Thanks to my first Scoutmaster, Patrick Adams, for the blog post idea)

28 thoughts on “Is it ever time to say, ‘Sorry, our troop’s full’?

  1. We never say no to someone, but when our troop is bumping up against limiting factors, we just scale back the recruiting efforts for a year or so. When you only have a new Scout class of 5-6, normal attrition gets the troop size down after a relatively short time period.

  2. As a den leader and committee chair, I have always preferred quality over quantity. We only have limited physical space for den and pack meetings, and parents have complained about crowding, inability to hear, etc. Recently we have referred new boys to nearby packs if we are too large. The boys don’t lose out on any of the scouting experience, and most of the packs near us have half the number that we do, so they benefit as well. When the cubmaster has a hard time projecting his voice over 100+ people in a room (our average # at pack meetings), when meeting space hinders the boys having fun, we have to consider refering boys.

  3. This is an issue that should be brought up with your Unit Commissioner. In many cases a well functioning troop gets a disproportionate amount of local boys. This usually means that other units are not functioning as well as should be and need a Unit Commissioners assistance. Or, there are not enough units to adequately serve the community, in which case the District Commissioners should be working to find new Charter Organizations to start additional units. Perhaps that means some of the leaders and scouts in your unit need to break off to help in this process?

    • While I do agree that your unit commissioner should be made aware of this situation, I disagree with your recommendation that the “district commissioner” should be looking into starting another unit. That function is more properly vested in the district committee and not the commissioner. Growing units is a function for the district committee. Jim Costello, Assistant Council Commissioner, Southern Shores FSC 783, Ann Arbor, MI

  4. Sounds like an excellent opportunity to start a new unit and for the leader of the new unit to earn his William D. Boyce Award.

  5. I think it’s an interesting topic as we have units in our council with 10-100 boys. I cannot imagine running a troop with a 100 boys! It certainly depends on the resources of the troop for what that magic number is but for our troop, we decided this year when we got to 33 boys to not recruit outside of the Scouting community (i.e. we chose not to participate in the local school round-ups though we still encourage our boys to bring their friends). We simply decided that based on our current leadership availability, we don’t have the resources it takes to successfully integrate a large number of boys who have never been a part of Scouts into our troop. We certainly aren’t turning anyone away and we are still working with our Cub feeder pack and will host a Webelos Open House in January but until we get additional leaders fully trained and up to speed, we just don’t feel like we can serve the boys adequately. We also don’t feel bad because there are other options nearby with 2 troops that are smaller than ours.

  6. This becomes a tricky situation. On principle, I would never turn a boy away. However, I would take the time to check with the nearest troops, and packs to see if they have openings.

    The size can become an issue, but I think that a well managed organization can scale very well.

    You do need to account for other resources though that may be out of your control such as meeting space, gym space, etc.

    I wish that I could say that more parents would step up to be leaders, but this is not the reality currently. I do like Mr. Pendleton’s remarks. However, remarkable leaders are just that … remarkable.

  7. We have one unit in town (city actually of 140,000 people) that has over 120 Scouts and a very large Pack that bridges 20-25 boys to the Troop every year. They limit boys from outside the Charter Org from joining the Troop but not the Pack. If they join the Pack they can bridge to the Troop regardless of where they go to church.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to deal with the logistics of a troop that large. There are a limited number of places they can camp. Canoe Trips and Backpacking are nearly impossible to do at a troop level for them. They go to summer camp with 75 Scouts and probably 25 Scouters. They go to the same out of council summer camp every year because they can handle the sheer size of that Troop.

    We’re a medium sized Troop with 28 Scouts. Ideally, I’d like to get to 30-35 with 5-8 new Scouts a year. Our attrition rate is very low, during my 3 year tenure as Scoutmaster we lost 3 Scouts to transfers/moves and one left Scouting in his first year.. We had 2 Scouts age out without earning Eagle. I wouldn’t turn down the 36th Scout but at some point we’d probably have to look at easing up on recruiting if that happy day ever comes. With our size we can go to a variety of summer camps and going backpacking isn’t an issue. It doesn’t take an armada of canoes and canoe trailers for us to do a float trip. We also picked up several Scouts from that other Troop, they love the smaller size and more varied outings our size affords us.

  8. A number of Scoutmasters seem to have this issue when they do not have a supporting number of assistants, or the trust in them to carry out what he/she is content with or requires within the troop. They seem to forget that the boys run the troop and not the adults….given that, the boys will always adapt to that circumstance if given the opportunity, if a split patrol meeting in two separate nights work with attending assistants make this work, so be it…there is never a confined space to holding an outdoor troop meeting, if weather permits, or, how is it said – be prepared!
    Turning boys away should never be an excuse when other options are available…

  9. My old troop grew from 5 (me being the charter boy) to 55. We maintained 55 for many years. Our sponsoring org had more room as well to hold over 100 boys. This all depends on the participation of your parents, the training and commitment of the adult leaders, the functionality of the unit committee, and the boys in the unit. You can do a lot of activities with that number of boys. We never turned away a boy. We did have other scouts come from other troops for a while for training. This was agreed upon between the two troops since it was a smaller struggling troop that needed to have training for the boys and the adults. It kind of was a fine line between two troops diverging and mentoring a new troop. Either way, our troop and theirs troop grew more. This was a good thing! We sent older boys over to help them out as well as had joint events. At times it was hard to tell what boys were in what troop.
    We happened to have both numbers and good quality. If the focus is on serving the boys, then a troop of any size is a success.

  10. This is a great discussion. Thanks to everyone for sharing ideas. Our Troop Committee recently voted to limit the size of our boys’ Troop to 35 Scouts, which I seem to recall reading somewhere that Baden-Powell regarded as the “ideal” Troop size. When that limit is breached, we may no longer accept members from outside our Parish, unless they be brothers of Scouts already in our Troop. Limiting Troop membership to members of our Church that charters our Troop obviously greatly slows growth. I proposed the Troop size limit to our Committee for some very basic reasons. Scouts come to our Troop because the Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader know the name of every Scout, where he goes to school, what his extracurricular activities are, and where he worships. The Scoutmaster also knows by sight the names of all the parents, what they do for a living, and what their special concerns are. We believe that such a system greatly enhances the Troop leaders’ ability to promote the principles in the Scout Oath and Law, as well as ensuring that no Scout gets left behind or remains anonymous. It works for us.

  11. We hit a limit of about 40 scouts in the first troop I served as Scoutmaster. The troop had been sliding along in real trouble for a number of years and had just barely managed to re-charter. We ended up with all new leadership and all new scouts as well. (A story for another occasion.) Our young all Eagle Scout adult leadership enthusiastically began calling and visiting local Packs and very soon we had “our own” pack, plus two “independent” packs feeding us. Our solution was simple enough, we approached the chartering partner of one of the packs feeding us about starting a troop. After about 24 months of planning two of our Committee Members, one Assistant Scoutmaster and two of our Eagle Scouts (basically two families in our Troop) transferred over to become the founding Scoutmaster and Troop Committee, with the two Eagles at age 16 or 17 becoming Junior Assistant Scoutmasters. Scouts in our troop who had been cubs in that pack were offered the opportunity to transfer to the new troop, but none chose to do so. The new troop was founded June 1 with a group of Webelos that would have otherwise crossed over to our troop. (This was 1994, when we tranditionally crossed over Webelos at the end of the Pack’s program year). Seems to have worked well enough. 18 years later my old troop is running well with about 25, the new troop is 18 years old and still meeting as a troop of about 15. A SECOND new troop was formed the same way after I moved away in 1996 and it now has about 15 members. I’m back in town and now affiliated with a reasonably new pack in the same general area of town . . . two of those three troops regularly recruit from us. The key is to not force anyone, and to keep a good relationship between the old unit and the new.

  12. My son joined a troop with 54 other crossovers 4 years ago. My son just completed his final Eagle Board. The troop was overwhelmed by the high volume of crossovers, but it gave us the opportunity to get the older scouts involved, and to get more participation by parents. Our troop is one of the largest troops in the council now. As a result of getting more parental involvement we have all Eagle required Merit badges covered “In-house”, our 1st year program has undergone significant scrutiny and revision to be a very robust asset, and we have a group of adults who target those scouts that are not progressing as quickly to encourage those scouts. Large troops are more chaotic, but it allows the older boys an opportunity to step up!!!

  13. Never turn a boy away – please, find another way. I wanted to be a Cub Scout as a child and my Dad called and they were “full” – not taking any more boys. I missed out on what could have been a great journey for me and never got to Scouts until my oldest son was eligible to join as a 1st grader (now about to be Star). I became a Den Leader, Awards Chair, Cubmaster, ASM, Committe Member, etc… We grew my pack from 75 to 108 boys in two years and made accomodations. It wasn’t perfect, but it became better than what it used to be as we involved and developed new parents and leaders. Make it work – somehow. Space a problem? Then split pack meetings into two sections – Webs and Bears and below, as an example…but keep the kids involved, especially when there are few other choices, but even if there are other options. Our pack grew due to program, the kids didn’t want to be in a different pack. My oldest son’s troop has over 100 boys as well, and tehy all have a blast. If necessary force a stronger unit – require every boy to have at least one parent volunteer for a specific role in the unit and contribute a minimum number of hours. What you end up with is the most dedicated families and Scouts that are left, so the unit gets stronger. Parents are ore involved, then usually want more ownership – a stronger unit!

    Please do not turn anyone down – find a way. I wish someone had done that for me.

  14. There definitely is a point where a unit is too big to be managed adequately by the leadership. The number is partially a function of the logistical resources available and partially the number, expertise and experience of the leadership, both youth and adult. For some units that’s 25, for others it’s much higher, and the number can change from year to year as the leadership changes. I would never want to turn away a Scout, but if expanding the Troop means the quality of the program goes down, then at some point you have to limit the size of the unit to be fair to the Scouts that are already in it.

    This is an opportunity for the local DE and DC to work together with the District’s Membership Committee to get a new unit started. Of course, the big problem will be to find adults who will step up to leadership rather than expect to simply put their kid into a unit without having to participate themselves.

    When I was Cubmaster we held recruitment nights. At one night we had 8 families bring in their sons. They would have made a Wolf Den. After talking about the program everyone seemed enthusiastic. So I handed out applications, and asked who would be the Den leaders. I got quizzical looks. I had already described the Den leaders’ job. I said that the Den needed a leader and that this was generally done by the parents. One of the parents said that they thought that their sons could join the existing Wolf den. I told them that those Dens already had 10 Scouts in them and that an 18 Scout Wolf den was unmanagable. The whole group walked out the door rather than any of them stepping up to become Den leaders. Should I have let them join anyway? No. Either those Scouts would have gotten a terrible program or the Den leaders would have burned out and then none of them would have gotten any program. A unit *can* be too big.

    • You make the assumption that if those parents didn’t volunteer to be leaders that night, they would never volunteer to be leaders. Our pack had a huge recruiting night in September. The Tiger Den was 17 boys and one Den Mother when the night ended. She was trying to keep a good face on about it, but she was not excited. Fast forward to our November meeting. Three more mom’s showed up in Den Leader outfits. All are now working together to run the Tiger Den. It doesn’t get much better than that, and as the outgoing cub master, I know the future of the pack is secure.

  15. The answer is yes and no. If you have enough Den leaders who are committed and Committee member, you can have as big a Pack as you want. It can be too big when it come to camping and other events. As the Cubmaster of a Pack of 110 Scouts, we have trouble finding places to camp that can handle over 200 people (parents, siblings, and scouts). Sometimes we have to split the group such as the airport tour, this is a sheduling nightmare, but the kids love it.

  16. I haven’t run into a troop that says it’s full because of too many members. However, I recently spoke with a Scoutmaster who requires volunteers to have a boy in his troop before an adult can join. I talked this over with my wife, but she said she’s not going to have a child just so I can join a troop!

  17. I haven’t encountered a troop that turns away prospects because it’s too full, but I did run into a troop recently that requires adult volunteers to have children, i.e., a boy in the troop. I talked this over with my wife, but she’s adamant she’s not going to have a child just so I can join a troop.

  18. When your unit gets too big, it’s time to start a new unit. Your DE will be your friend forever.

    In Cub Scouts, large packs can be manageable (and fun), but you have to have the adult leadership.

    In Boy Scouts, large troops work against the boys being able to realistically lead, and they can take away opportunities for boys to hold troop leadership positions.

    How big is too big, though? Consider that in most troops you’ll never get 100% participation. You need enough Scouts who actually participate to make meetings and outings effective. It could take 60 boys registered so you can have 30-40 on a campout. (Leave patrol arrangements up to the boys, of course.)

    If you have the “problem” of too many boys interested in Scouting, you are truly fortunate!

  19. If there are other troops in the area, talk to those scoutmasters and refer new boys there if you have to. Please don’t turn any scout away!

  20. Our pack has found similar problems, but our issue is not building space, but dependable leadership. We’re finding 20 new scouts for each apprehensive leader. Pack meetings are typically 60 to 80 boys, and we have 4 to 6 consistently active leaders. In this case, splitting up doesn’t make much sense, so the pack is kinda struggling. We’re open to suggestions on getting parent volunteers to step up if anyone has anything to offer…

  21. So sorry i came across this debate so late. Hello i’m Tommaso and i’m a scout leader from Italy. I’m deeply involved in the quality/quantity discussion about scout troops. Our scout associations are so different in so many ways, but as i can see, the issues are so common. I write from Rome and our scout group – i don’t know precisely if the definition matches with your “scout troop”, let’s assume it does, because it does not make a real difference in the topic- choose years ago to follow the developement of scouting way: yes, also in the quantity terms. We are now active in 3 different churches, but the denomination of the troop remains the same. Why? I think quality of our scouting comes from our training as leaders, not as the number of young people we can manage, Of course, everyone of us can understand when he has too many youngsters to organize, but i don’t think there must be a fixed number, an ideal number. The point is: i think if we can provide good scouting only to a very small number of children, because else we are not able to manage the group, maybe we should spend time in more training and leader learning. Don’t you think? I have read some comments about the need of having “full and trained new leaders” before opening a new unit. This is quite the real problem. The way we pursued as a group, and that i want to share with you, is the opening new units in different places where scouting was needed, providing leaders from the original troop in conjunction with new adults wanting to try scouting. So, old leaders from the old troops training new leaders, while running the unit, doing scouting, not waiting for the training of the adults to be completed. I don’t want to be boring in this comment, so i’d just like to know: from this brief description, what do you think about this experience? Could be a way to address the natural limit of scouting when more and more young people want to come in? Regards Tommaso

  22. Our troop has gone up and down in numbers for the last 15 years. We held at about 25-30 for many years until a new troop was started in the area (our area has also significantly grown in population). Several leaders from the new troop were friends with the den leaders in our feeder pack and took the Webelos crossovers for 2 years causing our numbers to drop as the upper scouts aged out and we had few younger scouts. Four years ago we were down to 15 scouts but have regained the crossovers and are back to 48 scouts with approx 20 crossovers each year as our pack numbers 140+ right now. (The new troop is not doing well) Our troop has had to make adjustments for the size. Our actvities are different due to size and most take a lot more planning. We are fortunate that our meeting site has plenty of room so not a problem there.

    The size has actually alowed us to expand our youth leadership opportunities, we just had to be creative. Each patrol is 6-8 scouts, each patrol leader reports to an assistant senior patrol leader (we currently have 3), who reports to the senior patrol leader. We have an entire patrol of quartermasters who manage the equipment (all troop owned) and grocery inventory. We added additional scribes and librarians and have 3 troop instructors who travel from patrol to patrol to assist in training. The Patrol Leaders Council meets for 1/2 hour after every meeting to review where we are. We hold a scout weekend in the beginning of the year where we go over leadership skills and revisit what is working and what is not. Our adult leaders also get together at least twice a year to review everything-ups and downs and revisit if needed. We are lucky to have many ASM and have assigned each one an area of expertise – advancement, head of quartermasters, head of special projects, head of commmunications,etc. We are also fortunate to have a huge group of volunteers. Our troop commitee is about 25 people and we also have split into some smaller commitees for fundraising and outdoor planning who take care of the details and report back to the main commitee each month. Does it get chaotic at times-YES and some of us are wearing many hats within the troop. Try taking a trip of 60 into Washington DC for the weekend! But we are of the mindset that no boy should be turned down because we need to get creative. We average 3-4 Eagles a year each with their own project, direction and motivation but we haven’t gotten to the large nukmbers yet. We usually do not lose more than a scout or two each year (usually to sports).

    So if you are a leader with this issue – good for you and don’t give up. The key is to spread the weight if you can. Recruit by giving someone a small job first and they will usually return for more once they get their feet wet. And communicate, communicate, communicate. All of your leaders & volunteers need to know your direction and goals for the troop – ongoing. We are a boy-led troop and it helped to explain to our scouts that each scout would only be responsible for several scouts not the whole troop. Each patrol leader for 6-8 scouts, each ASPL for 3-4 patrol leaders, the SPL for 3-4 ASPL etc so it isn’t overwhelming. So far so good.

  23. Absolutely. One of my Units has very clearly set a limit to the number of scouts, at their CO’s request. We are constantly bumping up against that limit. We are transparent and open with every visiting Webelos Scout and family about our limit and how many (if any) spots we have available. Our area has many other units to choose from and we give suggestions, as well.We have a waiting list at times and honor our commitment to contact boys when a spot opens. We are a sought-after Troop in our area, but this works very well for us and I would not change it at all.

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