Eric Dorre’s family has a bit of a problem, but it’s a good problem to have.
They’re moving to Mercer Island, Wash., and they want to find the right troop for their son Magnus.
“We are spoiled for choice, with three troops within a few minutes of our new home,” Eric Dorre writes. “The curse of choice is not knowing the cultures of these troops and which might be the right fit.”
They can start by asking each troop’s Scoutmaster a few essential questions. But what should they ask? I polled our Facebook audience and came up with this list below.
Note: This list isn’t just for families selecting a troop. It works the other way, too.
Scoutmasters and assistant Scoutmasters should review the list to see which questions prospective members might ask. Don’t have an answer for each question? Now’s the time to Be Prepared.
Questions to ask when selecting a Scout troop
- Does my child feel comfortable in this troop?
- When does the troop meet?
- Where does the troop meet?
- How often do you go camping?
- What are some of your troop’s core/signature events?
- Is the troop youth-led?
- Does your troop participate in high-adventure trips?
- What other activities are your Scouts involved in?
- How are activities funded?
- Are service projects a priority?
- At what pace do Scouts advance in rank?
- Has the troop achieved Journey to Excellence bronze, silver or gold status?
- Are youth and adult leaders trained?
- How big is the troop?
- How are Scouts with special needs welcomed?
- Is caffeine available?
Why these questions? A closer look
1. Does my child feel comfortable in this troop?
This is the first and most important question. What vibe did your Scout get when checking out the troop? If possible, it’s smart to visit a few different troops to find the one with the best fit.
“When visiting the troops, we stepped back to allow our son to make the final decision about which group of boys he wanted to hang out with,” says Rebecca H.
2. When does the troop meet?
Check your family schedule. Does the troop meet on a night when your Scout absolutely can’t attend?
That might be a deal-breaker.
3. Where does the troop meet?
Plug the address into Google Maps and see how long it’ll take to drive to the meeting site from your house.
“I kept it within 30 minutes driving,” says Todd K.
4. How often do you go camping?
“Once a month” is a great answer!
5. What are some of your troop’s core/signature events?
Find out if the troop has a favorite place it returns to each year or is planning some sort of epic trip.
6. Is the troop youth-led?
One way to find out might be to ask a Scout where they go with questions. If they answer “my patrol leader,” that’s a good sign.
“Witnessing a meeting and how it’s run can tell a lot,” says Reed T.
7. Does your troop participate in high-adventure trips?
Jacob C. says this question is important because “high adventure is a big help in keeping the older youth around to lead and teach the younger Scouts. It’s also a great recruiting tool for new Scouts.”
8. What other activities are your Scouts involved in?
Scouts are busier than ever these days — with school, sports and other non-Scouting activities all pulling on their time. The best troops encourage this. With a little planning and support from Mom or Dad, young people can make time for everything.
“Is it an all or nothing troop?” Janet H. asks. “Can my son show up late due to sports?”
9. How are activities funded?
Is it “fundraising or the ‘bank of Mom and Dad?’” asks Michele K.
Troops that plan one or two quality money-earning projects per year enjoy more Scouting fun for less money out of pocket.
10. Are service projects a priority?
Scouts are supposed to “help other people at all times.” How often does the troop participate in projects that give back to the community?
11. At what pace do Scouts advance in rank?
“Ask a few Scouts when they last advanced in rank,” says Dave S.
If a Scout wants to advance in rank toward Eagle Scout, how will the troop support his or her journey?
This will tell you something, but not everything. Advancement is an important part of Scouting, but advancement alone doesn’t determine the success of a troop.
For proof, look at the Journey to Excellence scorecard, where advancement is just one of 11 categories that determine troop quality. Speaking of …
12. Has the troop achieved Journey to Excellence bronze, silver or gold status?
Journey to Excellence, or JTE, is the BSA’s tool for helping units track the quality of their program.
Participation is optional, but troops that use the JTE scorecard are taking an active step toward improving the ways they serve Scouts.
13. Are youth and adult leaders trained?
Have a number of youth leaders completed their council’s National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) course?
Have any adult leaders taken their council’s Wood Badge training?
Trained leaders — both youth and adult — are signs of a quality troop.
14. How big is the troop?
There are large troops, medium-sized troops and small troops. Determining which one is the best fit for your Scout is a family decision.
“We didn’t want a troop too large that our sons got lost in the chaos and not too small where the workload was heavy for adult volunteers,” says Tracy B.
15. How are Scouts with special needs welcomed?
If your Scout has special needs, you might want to ask whether the troop has experience working with all kinds of Scouts.
If the troop hasn’t yet had this opportunity, don’t worry! There are plenty of resources available to help everyone involved.
16. Is caffeine available?
Tammy P.’s question might be the most important one of all: “Is there coffee on the campouts? If not, then you might have to find another troop.”
How can someone find a troop in the first place?
Using BeAScout.org, families like the Dorres can search for packs, troops, crews or ships near them.
They can find contact information, request more information or even apply online in most cases.
What if there’s just one troop around?
Some families might have just one troop within reasonable driving distance.
That makes your decision easy!
In that case, parents should sign up their Scout and sign on as leaders.
If there’s anything they wished was different about the way their new troop is run, they can make that change from the inside.
What other questions do you ask?
Let’s keep this conversation going in the comments. Share the questions you get asked, like to ask — or wish you had asked.