Mac’s Message #32: The Importance of Courts of Honor

by | Apr 27, 2015

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire

Recently I witnessed a very sad incident. During the opening segment of a Sunday priesthood meeting the counselor in the bishopric got up and, stating the ward had not had a Scouting court of honor for some time, he proceeded to pass out the rank advancement and merit badges to the boys in the congregation. He told the boys to make sure they handed the pin on the advancement card to their mothers after church. There was no ceremony; no celebration; no honoring of the boys’ achievements. It was a gloomy and anticlimactic end to a lot of hard work. I doubt it motivated the boys to want to strive even harder on future merit badges or rank advancement.

Imagine a work environment where you never got formally recognized for your achievements. How long would you continue to be productive before you slowed down or quit? Wise managers know they need to recognize and reward their employees to keep them motivated. Personal recognition is good, but public appreciation has even greater power to inspire people to do more.

The main purpose of courts of honor in Scouting is to formally recognize the achievements of your boys and provide incentive for your Scouts to advance. Success breeds success. Recognized success breeds even greater success. And publically recognized success through courts of honor breeds additional striving for success.

Traditions and ceremonies are important parts of Scouting. The name “court of honor” implies formality, dignity, ceremony, and an atmosphere of honor. Courts of honor are one of the few events in LDS Scouting where ritualistic presentations appropriately add to the momentousness of the event. Your courts of honor should be special occasions rather than merely another Scouting meeting.

“Scout-aged boys appreciate tradition, brevity, and meaning. Ceremonies outside of Scouting whether religious or secular usually follow an established ritual framework that allows some personalization. When we go to commencement exercises or weddings we expect some common elements to be part of the proceedings that reflect a shared concept of what the ceremony celebrates. Courts of honor are for Scouts and must speak to them, not just their leaders or parents. The tone is one of honoring achievement formally. If Scouts are laughing up their sleeves at the florid theatrics of an overblown ceremony it may be time to rethink your program. Likewise if the court of honor is just a slog through calling names and handing out badges it is missing something” (

You should hold courts of honor often enough throughout the year to stimulate your boys to complete their merit badge and advancement work. The National Football League conducted a study on scoring in the NFL and discovered that more points are scored in the last two minutes of each half than in any other twenty-minute period. Professional fund-raisers know nearly 80% of the money raised is gathered during the last few hours of the event. Items at the end of an auction are sold at higher prices. A fervor of excitement arises as people become motivated to solicit more, give more, or get more as the end of an event approaches.

The same is true in Scouting. When the boys have the deadline of an upcoming court of honor, they feel pressure to finish incomplete requirements so they can be recognized at the upcoming ceremony. Nothing motivates a boy more to acquire his Eagle rank than an imminent eighteenth birthday.

I hope there is honor in your courts of honor. I hope your boys earned every one of their merit badges and rank advancement honorably. I hope they did their best as they were doing their duty in fulfilling all of the recognition requirements. I hope you are not just freely signing off requirements and giving out awards. I hope you are making your boys work hard for the recognition they receive. Your boys will remember most the awards they worked hardest to earn.

Additionally, I hope your courts of honor are boy led. Traditional ceremonies are a wonderful opportunity for boy leaders to show who runs the Scouting unit. Courts of honor provide boys with a unique forum to model their leadership skills in front of their parents and family. You should let your boys determine the formality of the ceremony. Provide shadow leadership, but trust the boys to know best how to honor their fellow boys for their Scouting efforts.

Let me conclude this message by fervently stressing that courts of honor also provide a unique opportunity to recognize, reinforce, reward, and celebrate the accomplishments of adult Scouting leaders and others who contribute so much to the success of the boys. Courts of honor provide a wonderful opportunity to recognize the boys for their achievements, but seldom is the adult leader acknowledged for his or her effort in helping the boys accomplish what they did. Even less often are merit badge counselors recognized or thanked for their part in a boy’s progress. Such events also provide the opportunity to identify and thank parents who helped with two-deep leadership, transporting boys, assisting with activities, funding their boy’s Scouting effort, and everything else they do to provide a quality Scouting program. I believe we often fail to recognize or thank the adults because we somehow think they don’t need it. But human beings need to know that other people appreciate what they do and how well they do it.

I encourage you to hold regular, formal courts of honor with your boys. I hope you are honoring your boys for their achievements and not just passing out merit badges and rank advancement. I hope your boys truly feel proud of what they have accomplished, because being an honorable Scout requires hard work, perseverance, and dedication.


Take a Moment to Reflect

  • Do you hold regularly-scheduled, formal, quality courts of honor?
  • Have you established traditions and rituals in your courts of honor that make them memorable and meaningful?
  • Are your boys truly earning their rank advancement and merit badge awards by fulfilling all of the requirements honorably?
  • Are your courts of honor boy led?
  • Do you recognize the contributions of adult Scouting leaders, merit badge counselors, instructors, parents, and other people who contribute to the success of your boys and your Scouting program?


Turn Your Reflection Into Action

  • What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?


“If you will give a boy a task to perform, within the range of his capabilities, and place him on his word of honor, you can rely confidently upon his accomplishing the task assigned to him” (Lord Baden Powell, quoted in “He Spoke to Us About Honor,” New Era Magazine, February 1974).


-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.