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How the Boy Scouts Work


Scout Leaders
Boy Scout and Girl Scout salute the American flag, circa 1960s.
Boy Scout and Girl Scout salute the American flag, circa 1960s.
H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

Scouting leaders receive extensive training through the Boy Scouts. Leader training is comprised of two different parts. New Leader Essentials is a 90-minute program that's required for all new leaders, regardless of where or how they plan to volunteer. All leaders who are new to Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturing receive this training. New Leader Essentials provides the volunteer with information about the history of scouting, its purpose, Boy Scout values, aims and goals of the program.

Once the new volunteer has completed the New Leader Essentials training, he participates in Leader Specific Training. This training teaches the new leaders specific skills that are important in the area in which they plan to volunteer. Leader Specific Training is often a multiple day program. Many times, new volunteers receive their New Leader Essentials training at the beginning of a Leader Specific Training workshop. While some leader specific training occurs over the course of a weekend retreat, other more intensive training is available at places like the Philmont High Adventure Camp, and can last one week. The programs at Philmont are invitation only, and the Scoutmaster must make arrangements through his council.

There are four parts that make up Leader Specific Training. Three parts get into the operations and procedures within a troop, and the fourth part covers outdoor leadership skills. The outdoor skills section is broken into three parts: Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class. The volunteer leader will learn how to: 

  • navigate with a map or compass
  • identify plants and animals
  • cook outdoors, using fire preparation techniques
  • select a campsite
  • pack and hike 

The outdoor skills training is self-paced, and volunteers with outdoor experience can complete the program quicker than those with none.

A fully-trained Scoutmaster has completed orientation, New Leader Essentials and all four sections of Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster Leader Assistant Training. Once the leader has successfully completed this training, he can move on to Wood Badge for the 21st Century. The Wood Badge emphasizes leadership, listening, communicating, team development and problem solving, and it focuses less on outdoor skills.

Once the Scoutmaster has received training, he can continue to develop by completing self-paced learning through continuing education courses that are available on the Boy Scout Web site.

The Boy Scouts of America has taken child abuse concerns very seriously and has a strict program in place to screen volunteers and train boys about the dangers of abuse and how they can avoid it. In the late 1980s, the Boy Scouts developed the Youth Protection Program. As part of this program all volunteers must undergo background checks before they can become involved with the children. Every year, each Boy Scout troop receives training in the 3 Rs. The 3 R program teaches boys to: recognize situations where they may be at risk for abuse, understand that they have the right to resist abuse, and know that they must report any attempts of abuse.

The Boy Scouts also has a variety of rules in place to keep the boys safe from abuse, and leaders safe from unjust accusations. This includes two-deep leadership, which means that there must be two leaders present at all meetings. One-on-one contact is not permitted at any time. The boys' privacy is always respected during outings, and the boys don't share accommodations with leaders during trips. These rules are in place not only to protect the boys from abuse, but to protect the Boy Scouts from lawsuits.

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