When boys cross over from a pack to a troop, they usually stay the course if they stick with it for the first year or so. There are lots of strategies for keeping them interested once they’ve crossed over.
But the most critical time in Scouting retention isn’t that first year of Boy Scouts – it’s keeping the boys (and their parents) interested while they are still Cub Scouts, particularly during the critical Webelos years.
In the last week or two I’ve talked with a few parents of Cub Scout boys who said their sons didn’t return to Scouting this year. In probing for the reason why they left, it became apparent that it wasn’t necessarily the boys, but the parents who either became bored with the sameness and lack of direction of the program, or had their sons enrolled in so many activities that they felt there just wasn’t time for Scouting any more.
The first issue can almost always be traced back to a lack of leader training and lack of parental involvement. As a trainer and training chair, I’m always biased toward thinking that training is the solution, but it’s almost always the case, in one form or another. Trained leaders are better leaders and it makes for a better experience for the boys. It also raises in the parents the confidence that the program is well-run and increases the likelihood that they will help out.
We also make it clear to leaders during position-specific training that their training experience doesn’t end there, but is only the beginning. We encourage all leaders to attend Roundtable and University of Scouting, to use Program Helps and other resources, and to return to training when their position changes. Den Leaders who simply follow through the trail book without having a structured plan are not only wasting their own time but are not providing the best program for the boys.
The second issue is overload. One of the moms I talked with said her son was so busy with year-round soccer and music lessons that there was no time left for Cub Scouts. Don’t get me wrong – music and sports both are wonderful activities for our children. They teach our kids great lessons and wonderful skills and can be the basis for a lifetime of enjoyment.
There are two things that set Scouting apart from other youth activities. Of course, instilling the values of the Scout Oath and Law come to mind. The other is a two-edged sword, however, and that is parent involvement. Scouting is a great program in which the whole family can take part, but that means it is not a drop-off program or one where the parents sit on the sidelines and watch their kids participate. Scouting works best when the parents take an active role (hence the creation of the ScoutParents movement), so the challenge becomes to involve each parent in some role that helps them to feel valued, significant and important, while making it as much fun for them as for the boys.
It’s been said that you don’t recruit boys – you recruit the parents. If boys are to stay in Scouting, it has to be fulfilling for the parents as well.