Wood Badge… Ah-Ha!

Imagine sitting around the campfire.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, somebody says something so profound that it feels like all the stars have aligned and you hear angels playing harps. All the stuff you have ever heard about that particular subject, which didn’t make much sense when you first learned it, now makes total sense and you wondered why it took so long to get to this enlightened state of mind.

Don’t you love those “Ah-HA!” moments?

Now imagine having those moments of inspiration after 20+ years of scouting.  Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

While Wood Badge provides an opportunity to learn advanced leadership skills, the one commonality for all is experiencing that “Ah-HA” moment at some point in the course because it brings ideas about scouting together. For the brief time one takes the course a lot of things will come to make sense. Some ideas will stick with you for the rest of your life.  Even better, some ideas will come back perhaps years after taking the course because you ran into the very scenario covered in Wood Badge…and you were prepared!

So, now you have been asked to go to Wood Badge. Perhaps you find yourself indecisive about going, maybe feeling pulled to say “no”.  I was on the fence about going for years.

But, I beg you to consider this…

Don’t miss out on an opportunity that will improve your unit, your unit leadership and yourself (both inside and outside of scouting)!

Ask yourself the following questions. If any of these “hit home” then Wood Badge is exactly for you:

  • What are you willing to do to make your unit better?  This question is the real heart of Wood Badge.  It is one that should always be asked of a potential participant. For those who want to give their unit the very best chance of success, the scouter will do whatever it takes. If you were to spend two weekends with people who knew the secret formula on how to ensure your unit is not just surviving but thriving, wouldn’t you take that chance? Most would. Better yet, you have new friends who can continually help guide you along your scout leadership journey when those weekends are over. You will find that you have some ideas to share with them as well.
  • How much time have you already dedicated to your unit?  Do you feel like laughing or crying at this question? (What is more frustrating…pushing rope or pulling rope?) As adult leaders we spend an enormous amount of time in scouting. Some of it is quite enjoyable. But I bet sometimes you wish you could exchange it for doing something else. Sometimes we feel like we are constantly pushing scouts, pushing parents, pushing other adult leaders. There is little out there more frustrating than finding out you could have done something in half the time with twice the success if someone would have just said “hey… try this.” By strategically implementing Wood Badge course methodology in your unit, you will find yourself and your unit working a lot smarter, not harder.
  • Are your unit numbers dropping? While Wood Badge doesn’t provide the magical answer to simply inserting more youth into your program, it provides vital knowledge on how to setup a unit for success.  You will learn important steps in getting ready to attract more youth to your program. If your unit is successful it will attract others to it.
  • Do you have a hard time keeping brand new scouts in your unit?  This goes along with the question above. Your unit may hold steady for a while because everything is clicking along. But what happens when you welcome new scouts or older scouts leave and dynamics change? Wood Badge gives you some proven techniques to leverage that change, teaching you to recognize potential issues and to convert it to a positive endeavor.
  • Do you have conflict within your adult leadership over how your unit should be run?  This can ruin a unit like a plague as it weasels its way through troop meetings and campouts. Wood Badge gives a proven doctrine on how units should be run, managed and executed. It is easy to re-center leadership around it. The doctrine leaves very little to individual interpretation.  At the minimum, the “Key Three” of any unit should be Wood Badge-trained in the beginning. Wood Badged trained leaders understand what has to happen for the unit to be successful. There will be discussions of choosing the when and how but the what are agreed by all because this course has given them a proven protocol.
  • Does it seem like your patrols/units just can’t get it together? Most of the time when units fail it’s because they were set up to fail, albeit not intentionally, but because an alternative wasn’t available or known. Setting your patrols up for success is the best thing you can do as a Scoutmaster. Setting up your Den Leaders for success is the best thing you can do as a Cubmaster. Wood Badge gives you the right tools and know-how to leverage them for setting up your units for the best potential for success.
  • Do you know many adult leaders outside your unit?  Some scouters don’t care to meet other unit leaders. Let’s be honest for a minute, though. Everyone is curious about how others are doing things. You walk into the mess hall and would love to chat with others but perhaps you aren’t the most social person. Going to a Wood Badge course gets you and at least 40 other scouters together, mostly from your council, for some bonding time that nobody will forget. You are not going to be “forever-friends” with everyone at your course.  But you will make some pretty cool friends. You may find yourself looking forward to those district or council-wide events more because you know more people there.
  • Are you getting burned out on scouting?  This is something that everyone will run into over their scouting career at least a half dozen times. You may feel there are very few surprises left. You have lived with problems but the successes have outweighed them. If you are like me, then Wood Badge will be the BIGGEST surprise of your adult scouting life! No joke. I have been in Scouts for a very long time and have done countless training with scouts (Eagle, three National Camp Schools, National Leadership Seminars, OA Leadership, etc.). Wood Badge gave me clarity to what is important. It refocused my efforts and gave me more effective tools to make my unit better. It’s like someone gave me cheat codes to a game I played a thousand times.
  • Are you thinking about leaving scouting because your son or daughter is done with scouting?  That’s fair.  On the whole, if you believe that your scouting career may be over for good because your child no longer wants to be in scouting, then you may believe it’s not worth attending. But please…just keep this one thing in mind: Wood Badge is a course taught at Harvard University. It’s a business integration and advanced leadership course that people outside of scouting take to be better in their professional lives which covers team dynamics, project management, and out-of-the-box thinking. People pay thousands to take it. Wood Badge courses through the BSA vary in costs (ranging from $250 and up), but there are almost always scholarships available from the local council or wood badge alumni. Don’t let the costs scare you. There are many scouters who have the means to help others—they believe that scouting as a whole becomes better when more leaders are Wood Badge-trained. Plus, you never know… you may end up having a lot of fun in scouting even after your child leaves. Everyone needs a hobby 🙂
  • Are you brand new to scouting and don’t know where to start? Perfect!  You are lucky because you are about to have a lot of information dropped on you that will save you boat-loads of time, energy and resources. You don’t need to be a super scout who knows all of the ways to tie knots.  You have to simply absorb it and realize that it is a journey that lasts longer than the two weekends of the course. You will have acquired the right tools—as well as befriended fellow attendees who can help you to leverage those tools—to establish yourself and your unit for success.
  • Have you been in scouting for 25+ years? Perfect! How lucky are you to now know better ways of doing things? You are now awake to the fact that the game isn’t even close to being over.  You know how, when and where to leverage your new tools. You will have a new look on your scouting life and will enjoy it more than you ever thought you could.  I am so excited for you!

If you had 5 minutes to chop a tree down with an axe, wouldn’t you want to spend at least half that time making sure your axe was sharp? Isn’t it more dangerous to work with wood tools that are dull? That’s when accidents happen. Wood Badge is the sharpening stone. It is an enabler. It is something you can’t afford to turn down. So, take another look at going through the next Wood Badge course offered at your council. Your unit will thank you. Your company will thank you. And you will learn more about yourself than you realize.

Good luck out there, scouters!

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The author, Tony Zizak, is a long time scouter, Eagle Scout, and the scoutmaster of Troop 119 Ellettsville, IN. He has been to scout camps across the country and was a certified Program Director, Aquatics Director and a Scoutcraft Director. As a youth Tony received his Vigil Honor and served as a Lodge Chief for Tseyedin Lodge #65. Reach out to him for any questions you may have on this article.