Why They Join & Why They Stay
Michael Lee Zwiers & Michael Moores The Leader, May 1991 An 11 year old enters the
hall with his mother. The room feels large and cold as they cross toward the registration
desk where a leader in uniform sits. Two Scouts giggle and laugh behind a table at the
side. The boy eyes the displays that show picture-perfect Scouts playing and camping
outdoors. While his parent registers him, he wanders over to the side table and nervously
flips through an album, not really noticing the photos of troop activities. The two Scouts
are quiet for a moment, then resume their joking.
A week later, the boy enters the same large hall, alone this time. He feels all eyes on
him. For a moment, he wants to turn and leave, but the leader notices him and calls him
"What's your name?" the Scouter asks.
"Bill," the boy mumbles.
"Good. Welcome. You'll be in Troy's patrol," the Scouter says and waves him
toward a group of Scouts playing in the corner. Bill walks slowly toward the group,
beginning to wish he had never come.
Why did he come?
Scouting attracts a lot of members, each with his or her own reasons for joining. Some
come willingly; others have been convinced to join; a few may even be dragged in against
their will. In this article, we want to look at why young people join Scouts and what
keeps them coming back. If we understand what lures them to Scouting and give them the
opportunity to meet their needs, we are sure to keep them.
Let's look at some common reasons young people join Scouts.
Fun and Friendship: They like to have fun with friends. The
camaraderie of Scouts is one of its strongest draws. Young people can enter a friendly
environment to play sports and games as part of a team. The Scouter is like an older
brother or sister, offering friendship and security in a different way than parents and
Scouting provides an alternative to sports and other clubs that put competitive
pressure on young people. Some of your members may already have had bad experiences and
may feel they don't fit in. Scouting offers them the chance to succeed as a member of a
Their goals are guided by their interests and hobbies. After awhile, Scouting itself
may become the hobby. Whatever a young person's goals, Scouting can provide a way to meet
Independence and Responsibility: Young people want to become
adults. Scouting gives them the opportunity to take small steps towards independence. When
they join, they may be breaking away from parents for the first time, and the experience
can be fun or lonely.
As they progress in Scouting, they are ready to take larger steps by planning
activities, outings, and camps and learning from their experiences, good and not so good.
If they become patrol leaders, they become even more responsible members of the group.
Perhaps the leadership role is an important goal in itself, something through which they
gain confidence and esteem.
Family Factors: Families may influence young people's decisions to
come into Scouting. Perhaps they want a break from brothers and sisters. Maybe their
parents want a break from them and force them to join. Perhaps they come from fatherless
homes looking for father-figures. On the other hand, they may be following in the
footsteps of parents who were in Scouting.
How to Keep Them
Scouting attracts many members for many reasons, but not all of them stay. Some leave
because they aren't having fun and do not feel part of the group. Perhaps the way the
program is run does not enable them to set and achieve personal goals. They may not be
given enough opportunity to contribute meaningfully. There may be changes in family
circumstances, including moves out of the area. Friends and other activities can also lure
them away if they are not getting what they want from Scouting.
What can we do to keep our young members coming back? We can offer them fun and
friendship, give them a chance to set and reach their own goals, allow them to be
independent and responsible, and provide a complement to family life.
Fun with Friends
Fun is the ability to squeeze enjoyment out of every task, job, or challenge. To have
fun is to be happy while doing these activities. A lesson infused with fun becomes a game.
See if you can remember some of the fun, exciting, happy, and sometimes hilarious things
that have happened to you in Scouting. Were these happenings planned or spontaneous?
Now think about your last few Scouting activities. Whether you were holding a
fundraiser, doing a service project, working on badges, or teaching a skill, did you have
fun doing it? If not, lighten up. Scouting is a game, not a science. If you're not having
fun in Scouting, chances are your Scouts aren't having fun either.
Scouts need to feel accepted by their peers and by you. You can take the lead by being
a friend to every one of them.
Do you really know what your Scouts' interests and hobbies are? If not, ask. Ask
individuals, patrols, the entire troop, then give Scouts the chance to choose, set, and
Start small. Give them the time, space, and materials they need to do the job. Offer
support and encouragement. If they make mistakes, great. That means they're learning
something. Help them get up, dust themselves off, and set out towards the goal again. In
this way, you provide success rather than failure.
Independence & Responsibility
Let Scouts do things. Set a personal rule: "I will never do for them something my
Scouts can do for themselves." Judge carefully so that you don't give them more than
they're ready for. After all, you don't want to put them behind the wheel of a car before
they get their driver's license. They need to be prepared if they are to be successful.
Imagine a Scouter ordering a Scout to cook popcorn over a Coleman stove. The Scout
burns it and the leader yells at him. The Scout is held accountable, even though Scouter
didn't give him independence to select his own challenge or the information he needed to
do the job responsibly.
Accountability is not responsibility. Before your Scouts can become responsible, they
need to know what to do, decide how to do it, and carry it out to the best of their
ability. Our job as leaders is to support them through the process. We need to believe in
them so that they can be confident. We need to encourage their efforts and back them when
they run into problems with parents or peers. We don't hand Scouts independence and
responsibility; we allow them to take it from us.
Now, let's go back to Bill at his first troop meeting. The meeting is wrapping up and
the Scouts are in a horseshoe.
"Who would like to close the meeting tonight?" the leader asks.
"I will," says Troy, Bill's patrol leader. He moves to join the leaders at
"Please take off your berets for closing thoughts," he begins. "Let's
think about the fun we had tonight, playing ball tag, making our patrol boxes, and
planning for the bike hike. Let's think about the new Scouts like Bill who had a chance to
learn about Scouting and make some new friends. Oh, and remember the hike on Saturday.
It'll be a blast!"
"How was your first meeting?" asks Bill's mother as he bounds through the
back door and heads to the fridge.
"It was a blast!" he says. "Can I go hiking Saturday?"
Michael Lee Zwiers is a Service Scouter and trainer and Michael Moores a Venturer with
the 130th Duggan Company in Edmonton, Alta.
Why Kids Join Scouts
The editor of the UK Scouting magazine (David Easton) has a column called "Chips
With Everything..!". In the April '95 issue he posed this question (somewhat
rhetorically, since he provides the answer too) ...
"Why do they join..?"
"A youngster joins us because he wants to sleep in a tent ... because that's what
"He doesn't care how he puts it up and, should it fall down in the night, or he
gets wet, he'll find out why and do it differently next time - that's the education - a
result of the fun! That's the magic of Scouting!"
"Scouting is not part of the formal education system and never should be. It is
part of a non-formal educational process. In effect, it's a learning from life, from new
experiences, from challenges, from adventures, from friendship, from disappointments, from
triumphs, and, above all, from that all important desire to learn for oneself ... because
we WANT to ... not because we have to!" "That's the fun which is, I believe, the
essence and magic of Scouting!"