Share your tips for building a Scout-led troop

Becoming a Scout-led troop is the goal of most Scout leaders. But what does a Scout-led troop look like, and — better yet — how do you get there?

That’s exactly what we’re looking to reveal in an upcoming Scouting magazine story, which means we need your help.

If the leadership in your troop has been successful at building a Scout-led troop, we want to hear from you. We’re especially interested in hearing from troops that have recently moved from adult-led to Scout-led, and we’d love to get the perspective of some successful senior patrol leaders, too.

Send an email to with your name and contact information, as well as a brief description of your troop. Your advice might appear in an upcoming issue of Scouting.

Thanks for your feedback.

Illustration by George Angelini

10 thoughts on “Share your tips for building a Scout-led troop

  1. Demonstrate preparedness. Be prepared to save yourself from their poor planning. Be an expert but never be “the expert” take the Community college class on land navigation, a NOLS Wilderness First Responder course; become a dutch oven dessert gourmet. If you do that you’ll stress less about the rest.

    Train ’em, trust ’em and let ’em lead. Especially when they make mistakes and fail! Make them lead “with out a net”, only exception is PERMANENT health and safety issues. Let them make themselves sick by soaping the entire pot, inside and out, before cooking over an open fire; or not washing their hands before prepping meals; setting up a tent in a depression, etc. it’s how permanent memories are formed, it’s how cause and effect are related. It is also the source of the “best” stories that will be passed on for years after the individual boys have moved on ;-). Save them from chopping of an appendage, their own or others. I have a pin on my right pocket flap that reads “Have you asked you Patrol Leader?” I don’t even speak I just point, without breaking eye contact. (Shamelessly stolen from our 2010 National Scout Jamoboree Alaska contingent Troop 744 scoutmaster, Wayne Watson)

    Only speak with the Senior Patrol leader, quitely, off to the side and ask only questions: “Won’t the food taste funny if there is soap inside the pot?”; “Do you remember the reason *the book* mentions cleaning your hands before prepping meals?”; “If it rains tonight, is that the best place for that tent?” “How can we keep people from accidentally getting too close to the kid with the axe?” “Do you remember how to baton a hatchet to make kindling?” etc. Then let him figure out how to fix or fail. Unless it’s to praise someone/patrol/troop.

    *it’s the book, not you that is on the hook to defend a position, or be challenged.

  2. I feel there are two kinds of Scout-led troops…one is where the Scouts actually run everything, make decisions, plan outings and meetings, etc. The other kind is where a usually well-meaning adult leader is there watching over a shoulder, mentioning things in an ear, suggesting better ways of doing things.

    So it behooves the adult leader — ask yourself, “is what I am doing in any way undermining a youth leader?”

    That being said, how do you go from adult-led to Scout-led? The hard way. As Ivan says above, “Train ’em, trust ’em, let ’em lead.” You have to step aside and let them make decisions, without being undermined. They may have to fail at something before things start looking better. It usually isn’t pretty. You can best serve the situation by running interference with well-meaning parents (who don’t necessarily understand what’s going on).

  3. It starts at the prospective Scout’s first visit with the troop. Get the parents aside to explain the Scouting while you buddy up the prospective scout with a scout in a patrol to work with him. Then let buddy and other scouts in the patrol work with, teaching the skills.

    Eventually he will pass along his knowledge and skills along to another new scout, giving him more responsibility. Eventually he’ll be a PL, needing mentoring and guidance from the SPL, ASPL, and other older scouts who have, “been there, done that.” The PL’s responsibility for the successes, and failures, of the patrol will gain him valuable experience. Having Troop Leader Training, or whatever they are calling it nowadays, is an important step to allowing him the knowledge to do the job,. But I think it’s more important to have an older Scout liek the SPL, ASPL, or another with expereince mentor the PL.

    Eventually that PL will move on to troop level responsibilities: Instructor, QM, Troop Guide, ASPL, SPL, etc. Having them work with the younger Scouts gives them a sense of ownership for the success of the troop. It also allows them to give back to the troop. NYLT is a great experience, BUT the adults in the troop MUST allow the youth to use the knowledge, and skills they learned to program the troop.

    Unfortunately I have found it is useless to the troop, and extremely frustrating to Scouts, to have Scout pay to go to NYLT and learn how to effectively operate the troop, only to have the adults ignore them and take over.

    Allowing Scouts to increase their levels of responsibilities as they go through Scouting is oneof the best ways to keep a troop youth run.

    William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt said it best. “Train’ em. Trust ’em. LET THEM LEAD!.”

    On the flip side, you have to keep well meaning adults from interfering in the operations of the troop. I have seen too many new parents trying to make things ‘perfect” for their sons and the patrols, only to cause bigger problems. New adults need to remember what Baden-Powell said: ““Never do anything a boy can do.”

  4. Start with a TRAINED Scoutmaster that knows how to work with kids, and understands what makes kids tick. Then the SM can train the junior leaders and let them loose to run the show. A good Scoutmaster does very little talking during a meeting, and keeps the Scoutmasters Minute to 59 seconds or less. A good SM likes to hear the scouts voices, not their own. A good troop is run by the scouts, and that includes letting them make their mistakes. It’s better to let a boy try, and fail, rather then failing or forbidding to let the boy try.

  5. It all starts at the yearly planning Conference in August, I used to hand our PLC a blank tablet and say “Plan your year, and please make sure it is not like last year.” . . . . and they did it! By giving them total planning control, it gave them ownership in the plan, carrying out the plan, and desired Results. For 10 consecutive years, “NO two years were alike!” ~JP

  6. My son is the new SPL of his troop. I believe his is a “scout led” troop. The SPL has a tremendous influence in the culture of the troop. Some are engaged, some are not so much. Our current and past SM’s and ASM’s have embraced the “boy led” ideals and support the boys in an admirable way. NYLT, OA, and just getting out there and engaging in scouting opportunities are the best ways to become a great leader. Philmont was a turning point in my son’s attitude toward leadership and the importance of a good leader. Getting to know the other boys in the troop, older and younger, is an important factor in being a great leader. Although my son could have Eagled at 13, he recognized that this was not his immediate goal. His younger brother will join the troop in just about a year and his goal has been to insure that his brother had a great troop to join. Now, at 16, my son has spent countless hours planning and organizing fun, engaging meetings for the troop for the coming year, including the 25 new scouts we received last spring (most of whom he already knew). Relationships are the key to building a successful Scout Led Troop. Caring about the progress of others and including all the scouts, younger and older, and making them feel like they make a difference, are important to the troop. My son has made an effort to reconnect with scouts who stopped coming to meetings and inviting them to fun events. He started a “patrol competition” which will last throughout the year, measuring things like attendance, a patrol flag and yell, service, participation in events, games, and many other parameters. He has drummed up a newfound enthusiasm in the troop and attendance at troop meetings is way up from what is was 6 months ago. The boys seem more engaged and excited about upcoming events. I am convinced that my son has done a great job at including others, making them feel like they have an important role in their troop and patrol, and following up to resolve any issues that may appear.
    I can’t believe this is the same boy that I worried about when he went off to his first week long camp without a parent 5 years ago. I was sure he would sleep through breakfast, miss his classes, lose his clothing, die from not brushing his teeth :), you get the picture. Now, I am amazed by the responsible man he has become. I am so very proud of my son, but I am also convinced that Boy Scouts works. It is a great program! My husband and I are not from scouting backgrounds, but we are paying attention to our children. This program is amazing and, in retrospect, I would not have done this any differently.
    Now that my youngest is a new Webelos, I am his Den Leader and much more in tune and engaged this time around. I am also PCC for his pack. As I am now involved, there is training, and the people you meet at Roundtable are such great, solid people. How could any parent go wrong with this program? I have always thought that Scouting teaches boys all the things that you would want to teach them if you had the time. I am so thankful for the BSA. There is no other program that I know of who can teach boys to become men in such a positive and encouraging way. If your scout is engaged and active and has parental support (and yes, there have been countless times we have had to make the choice to support yet another campout, outing, high adventure experience, volunteering, another potluck, ASM needs,…) your scout will be successful to achieve the highest rank of Eagle. My son just finished his Eagle Project, and has only a few more requirements to complete. It has been a wonderful journey for him and for our family.

  7. 4+ years ago the Troop was not a Troop, as the whole group were Webelos 2 Scouts, except for the SM’s oldest son who transferred to become the SPL. The first year was part herding cats and part collecting rainwater with a fishing net as we made the transition from cubs to scouts. In year 2 things came together as the top 2 Boy Leaders went to NYLT. The very next week you could see the tide was turning. NYLT was the snowball that helped create the Boy Led Troop evolving into a boulder. In year 3 we did some fine tuning but this time on some leaders by sending them to Wood Badge and the second wave of Scouts to NYLT. Wood Badge solved another issue as we learned the value of what the parent committee could be. Like many others who have shared ahead of me, we watch both failures and success until their is a safety issue heading down the tracks, something that could cause a loss of a valued resource.or an action that could be deemed hazing or harassment. Building from Square 1 is hard work! I credit the Scoutmaster for the Troop’s success and sticking to the plan, The man has no hair left, but saves on haircuts.

  8. Both youth and adult leaders learn from their training that troops should be led by the youth. Some troops have a hard time meeting this standard. What you need is a roadmap to success.
    Here is a step by step plan that I came up with based on my experience and from MANY other sources. I used this as a Thesis for my Doc. of Commisioner Science project. Let me know what you think.
    1. Communicate! Tell the youth leaders and the Troop Committee about the Patrol Method and why it is so important. Ask for their support and patience. Communication is important when changing the status quo.
    2. Set a date for an ILST Training Conference. Ask for help at Roundtable, someone there has done it before. Use the ILST Syllabus and power point. This is usually a 6 hour course that can be split up into 3 afternoons, one long day or over a special training camp out. Repeat this training every 6 months. Let the scouts progressively take this over.
    3. PLC. PLC. PLC. PLC meetings are needed once a month for about 30 minutes and maybe 5 min at the end of each meeting. More may be needed in the first 6 months to get the ball rolling. The PLC is at the heart of a Scout Led Troop.
    4. Conduct an Annual Planning Conference, with a survey of the scouts, tentative schedule and troop/district/school calendars. SPL and SM computer based training is available at on how to conduct an effective Annual Planning Conference.
    5. If a scout needs help, send him to the PL or SPL.
    6. If something needs to get done, call for the SPL not an individual scout. Let him delegate as he sees fit. As the famous scout leader Green “Bar” Bill used to say “Train ’em, Trust ’em and Let ’em lead.”
    7. Send one or two scouts a year to NYLT. There is some kind of magic about taking scouts out of their normal troop and teaching leadership that they can’t get with their regular buddies in the troop. NYLT is not required for the Eagle Scout rank, but few scouts make it without going to NYLT. The leadership skills they learn there help them complete their project and throughout their lives.
    8. You have to step in when safety is an issue or there are behavior problems. Safety and the wellbeing of the scouts is a scoutmaster’s first job.
    9. Keep with it, persistence is the key. It gets easier each month. You will notice a step change after the first group completes NYLT. Then support their leadership at every meeting and outing. Give the youth leaders the confidence they need to be effective leaders.
    10. Beware of good intensions. Keep adult leaders, parents and committee members focused on the goal. From the outside, some may see the Patrol Method as a leadership vacuum when they are learning and growing with each leadership opportunity.

  9. I was made Assistant Scoutmaster in my early 20s at the instance of one of the old ones who was retiring from the position. When he talked the Scoutmaster into it, he found me to give me the only advice I’d really ever need – “Your job is to keep the parents away, the Scouts are capable of figuring it out on their own.” While the answer is slightly more complicated than that, the idea behind it has served me well as Scoutmaster. It’s amazing what these Scouts can accomplish when given the time, and space to do things on their own, make mistakes, and learn from them. Every time I think there is a challenge that they can’t handle, they do it twice as well as I could have.

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