Scoutmaster Musings - Top 10 Benefits of Small Troops

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Scoutmaster Musings

Top 10 Benefits of Small Troops
boy scout troop size The BSA says that the average Boy Scout troop size is 14 scouts. Lord Baden-Powell is attributed with stating the optimum troop size to be around 32 scouts. Depending on what other activities are available for boys in your area, I believe that number of 32 is close to optimum today. If your scouts tend to participate in half your activities and meetings, then the number could climb to about 50 scouts. More than that and the value to an individual scout from scouting diminishes rapidly and the efforts required of volunteers rises disproportionately. The picture at the right is of a 14-member troop and a 50-member troop - which one looks more fun?

Here are 10 Benefits of smaller troops (15-45 scouts) over larger ones (60+ scouts):
  1. Hunger - By being smaller, there is a desire to grow. Scouts have a reason to invite their friends to join. If it already feels crowded and 'full', scouts don't want to grow. The current scouts are also less welcoming to new scouts joining the troop because it means more crowding. More potential scouts are never asked to join.
  2. Success - With 40 scouts, the SPL has about 5 or 6 patrols to direct - a reasonable number. He can personally drive the troop to his goals. When an SPL must manage 8 or 10 patrols, the amount of time required becomes exhorbitant. His scouting competes with his schoolwork and his role becomes a job. This results in no scouts willing to take on the huge time commitment or adults taking on more of the logistics and the SPL becoming a figurehead.
  3. Mob Anonymity - Chaos thrives in larger numbers. I can get away with more bad behavior when no one can see me. I can go along with others when I'm just one of the herd. A smaller group allows the leaders to notice who is doing what, good or bad. It allows a scout to excel and be noticed, rather than do his best time after time and not be recognized in the crowd. When the SPL raises the sign, it takes a larger group longer to quiet, raising the frustration level and wasting time.
  4. Making a Difference - One scout out of 75 not pulling his weight can be absorbed by the rest and he can coast. In a group of 20, every person is important and needs to be relied upon. A larger troop meets the needs of lazy boys that want to just slide by.
  5. Time Commitment - There is a certain amount of time required of the scoutmaster to develop a relationship with a scout. It takes the scoutmaster 10 minutes to just say "HI" and shake hands with each scout if there are 50 scouts present. With more scouts, the relationships do not develop. Studies have shown that an individual can only handle a certain number of friends and acquaintances - and Facebook friends are not really friends.
  6. Camping - It is much easier to find a location for 3 vehicles and 15 people than 10 vehicles and 50 people. Leave No Trace suffers with larger numbers. Patrols tend to camp much closer together to each other and to adults in larger troops. The probability of actually experiencing any wildlife drops rapidly as a group grows.
  7. Challenge - Only one person can be first to ride the rapids or swing on a rope or shoot a gun or whatever the exciting thing is to do. With a larger group, people have to wait their turn longer and the thrill of something new evaporates as we see others doing it before us.
  8. Efficiency - The inefficiency of the patrol method becomes more obvious as a troop grows. It makes more sense to combine patrols, buy and cook food for everyone, have one adult manage the gear, and hundreds of other ways to make an outing more efficient. The leadership opportunities for scouts are reduced in proportion to the efficiency introduced by adults.
  9. Tardiness - A parent will occasionally be late picking up a scout from a meeting. If a family is late once a year, that seems like no big deal to the family. But, if every family is late once a year in a troop with 60 scouts, the scoutmaster and another adult wind up waiting after EVERY meeting. The same holds for camping departures and returns.
  10. Consistency - A scoutmaster with a handful of assistants can easily chat about challenges in the troop, intepretation of requirements, goals for the scouts, and other general directions for the troop. As more adults are involved, individuals promote their own agendas, interpretations, and values which may be contrary to the overall troop's direction. More formal meetings are required for the adults to ensure everyone agrees to the same goals. Even after a general consensus, individuals may still do their own thing in a rogue manner. In a large troop, the scoutmaster can become a manager of adults to whom he has distributed the direct scout interaction, rather than being a role model, mentor, and friend to the scouts.

What did I miss?

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Posted: 10:50 01-25-2011 559
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 Jan 25, 2011 - Caleb W.
One thing I heard on a subject like this: If the scoutmaster is a 20-boy scoutmaster, then soon there will be a 20-boy troop. If the scoutmaster is a 150-boy scoutmaster, then soon there will be a 150-boy troop. Some scoutmasters (like mine) can keep up with the 50 boys in the troop and still get to know the venturers, the girls, and the cubs. Some can only handle a few. It all depends on the scoutmaster.
Jan 25, 2011 - Scoutmaster Paul
I agree that the scoutmaster has a big impact on the troop. I'm looking past the ability of the scoutmaster to make it work and more at the value and growth for the scouts.
Jan 25, 2011 - Bryan
I replied to your post at

I disagree with a lot of your statements being a Scoutmaster of 118...see my post and please respond...

Jan 25, 2011 - Scoutmaster Paul
Congratulations on the success of your troop. I'm not saying it isn't possible to make a 118-member troop work. I'm saying three 40-member troops have more benefits for the scouts.
I would love to watch your troop in action some day to see how your guys run it. I'm sure I'd learn a lot.
Feb 17, 2011 - robert
this was spot on to how i conduct my troop. we have been,are and always will be small. it has worked well for us for the 12 years that ive been the scoutmaster. if any of them want to be in a larger troop there a couple in the area and they are free to go and try them out.ive had some leave and had some come back. its a free world.
blog on good brother!
Feb 17, 2013 - Lynn
I have to disagree with the 10 reasons why a smaller troop is better. In the 13 years our troop has grown from 15 to 128. We have a higher proportion of scouts making Eagle and they still invite friends to join who have never been in scouting. Why? We offer more choices for the scouts. We have about three events a month to choose from and we make the meetings fun. Before saying a smaller unit is better I suggest you visit some.
Feb 19, 2013 - Jesus
I think it's how you look at it. We have a very small pack of about 6 or 7 boys, my son is the only Tiger. We finshed the book early. The only think I don't like is that nobody else his age wants to join. I have tried but the parents just don't want to.
Feb 28, 2013 - MAC
Your talking about a Pack, not a troop, so there are some differences.
But hang in there. I've found that the wolf and bear years have the biggest growth in Cubs.
Apr 24, 2013 - Nils
Some very valid points.  Here is the rub.  Our troop was at 11 scouts 3.5 years ago when I took over.  We have worked hard to develop a great program.  We have fostered a fantastic relationship with our feeder pack and the kids are having a blast.  We are now at 54 Scouts with 9 Webelso II projected to crossover from our feeder pack and four from another pack.  What do I do.  I can't turn them away?  All I can do is work with my SPL a little more, give him two extra ASPLs (total of 3 now) along with2 troop guides for the new scout patrols.
Apr 24, 2013 - Scouter Paul
Nils - Spinning off another troop is always an option.  The same people that have made this single troop successful can certainly make two troops just as successful.

Can you describe how adding more ASPLs helps?  The ASPL's job is to fill in for and assist that SPL.  The SPL runs the troop activities and PLC.  Giving SPL duties to ASPLs tells me that another SPL is needed - with his own troop to run.

Your use of Troop Guides is right on - great leadership development opportunity and introduction to the troop's processes for the new guys.

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