There IS a better tool

soccerball_250As fall recruiting season nears, we’re putting together our plans to make sure every boy has an opportunity to join Scouting – scheduling Join Scouting nights, polishing our presentations and getting ready with another year of fun, adventure and enrichment.

You can tell that fall is approaching because our competition is getting their act in gear as well. All over town, I’ve noticed signs springing up announcing that youth sports leagues are forming, for kids age 3 to 17. Competing for space on street corners with the political signs, these promote a certain non-profit organization that franchises youth sports programs in towns around the country.

I won’t mention the name of the organization, but a check of their website boasts of over one million participants in towns from coast to coast, offering leagues, camps and clinics in today’s most popular sports. In a way, the organization is similar to Scouting in that kids at all skill levels are welcome, with no tryouts. Everyone plays in every game, sessions are one day a week, and trained officials are present. There’s no mandatory volunteering and, unlike us, no fundraising of any kind.

The website makes the assertion, though, that

There isn’t a better tool to teach a child the skills necessary to succeed in life than sports. Self-discipline, determination, teamwork and good sportsmanship are only a handful of the many valuable life skills learned through sports participation. … Research has shown that the number one reason kids play sports is to have fun. It is not surprising, then, that the number one reason they quit playing sports is because they stop having fun.

The problem with that statement is that there is a better tool. These qualities are the same ones that we instill in our youth participants through Scouting. And it’s true that when kids stop having fun, they lose interest and drift away, whether it’s from a sports team or Scouting.

But the major difference between sports leagues – even ones like this group’s – and Scouting is that sports teams are usually organized for a season…and then the season ends. Just when a boy is getting to know his teammates, learning how the game works and how to count on the other players, the season is over and the team disbands. It might be another few weeks or another year before they get a chance to play again, and it’ll probably be with another, different group of kids.

On the other hand, Scouting keeps going. It’s a year-round program that offers something new, different and exciting each month of the year. And the “teams” don’t come and go – a den can stick together through four or five years of Cub Scouting, and many of the same Scouts will go on to form a patrol in a Boy Scout troop. The lessons learned – cooperation, leadership, teamwork, determination – are reinforced continuously and keep developing the longer a boy stays with Scouting.

There’s one other difference that I can see as well. Earlier I mentioned that there was “no fundraising of any kind”. This leads to the inevitable question: Who is paying for all this? Sure, Scouting has its fundraisers, but the entire Scouting program revolves around maximum fun at minimum cost. For example, registration in a seven-week basketball league from one franchise organization that I checked is $149 – more than double what most Cub Scout packs charge for an entire year of program that includes outings, camping, a Pinewood Derby, a Blue & Gold Banquet, and the fun the boys have in their den and pack gatherings.

There’s something else in Scouting that you won’t find in sports – rank advancement. It’s a recognition of individual achievement; something that the boy did for himself. And it takes him down a winding road that’s more than a straight line to the goal net, for Scout advancement entails a wide variety of experiences from learning about himself and his world, being in nature, helping others and discovering what it means to be a citizen. A rank badge is much more than a participation trophy – it’s a sign that the boy did it himself and did his best.

As you plan your fall recruiting, bear in mind the competition. Know that many boys are going to be interested in sports – and that’s a good thing – but make sure they know that they will have time for Scouting, too, the promise that Scouting holds for every boy, and that we’ll be here after the season ends. And make sure we have “trained officials at every game” – if you haven’t completed all your training for your position, do it – and see that your fellow leaders get trained as well.


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