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

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.

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  1. Robert Mortensen says:

    Great post Mac. We really need to step up our game in helping young men plan and execute quality Courts of Honor. Thankfully, I’ve witnessed two of the best Courts of Honor I have ever seen just in the last three years.

    In some of the training I’ve received in the last couple of years, there was discussion about presenting merit badges and rank advancements immediately upon completion and then re-recognizing the boy’s accomplishment at the following Court of Honor. I like the idea of immediate reward for the boy’s sake, but this procedure also seems to take away some of the motivation to regularly hold Courts of Honor. Thoughts?

    1. Mac says:

      There is great value in immediate feedback and immediate recognition, but it can be informal. When I received the Silver Beaver Award I was notified almost two months before the awards banquet. I was told I was now a silver beaver recipient, but I would not be formally recognized until the banquet. I can’t imagine how unimpressive it would have been to receive the award without the formal recognition. The letter I received two months earlier was my immediate recognition. The banquet was the formal recognition.

      I believe what we do for Eagle rank is a model for informal versus formal and immediate versus non-immediate recognition. The boy becomes an Eagle immediately after the board of review (as with all ranks), but he is not formally recognized until his Eagle court of honor. The young man is congratulated and hailed immediately after the board of review. But the formal court of honor is the true recognition of his achievement. I think this process works well for all rank advancements. But that is just my opinion.

  2. Scott Cooley says:

    I really like this article. I agree that a Court of Honor is an important step in their growth. Getting publicly acknowledged for their effort is awesome. In our troop we do the recognition in a 2-step process. We provide immediate recognition to the boys earning rank advancements and merit badges during our weekly meetings, in front of their peers. That way they can immediately show off what they have earned. At the Court of Honor we combine all of the cards for the awards they have received, plus any new awards coming from the last minute push, and get their ceremonial recognition at this time. The boys bring their mothers up for the presentation of the Mother’s Pin and everything.

    I’ve seen it done only at Courts of Honor in the past and my main concern is that there seems to be less effort during the off months, especially for the rank advancements involving time. If a boy’s six-month tenure as a Star Scout ends 1-month after a Court of Honor I think he should get the immediate recognition within the Troop after his board of review, and begin working right then on his tenure towards Eagle.

  3. Ryan says:

    Mac, this may be your “model for… immediate versus non-immediate recognition” but it’s not BSA’s. From the 2015 Guide to Advancement:
    When the board of review has approved his advancement,
    the Scout deserves recognition as soon as possible. This
    should be done at a ceremony at the next unit meeting.
    His achievement may be recognized again later, during
    a formal court of honor.

    The Sea Scout section of the Guide provides more inforamtion:
    As in any other BSA program, it is important that Sea Scouts receive prompt recognition; thus it may be a good idea to present awards informally first at a ship meeting and then again (more formally) at the next bridge of honor.

  4. Mike says:

    Spot on! I have seen that the lack of regular timely courts of honor with appropriate ceremony and tradition have diluted the boy’s motivation for advancement. Even worse, parents not understanding the importance of an Eagle COH recognition in front of the troop and the boy’s peers (not helping coordinate a family schedule so nothing happens at all, pulling it out of state/out of country, holding it just for family/small group, delaying so it can be held at next location, combination with group parties celebrating other events) has contributed to a huge decrease in numbers of boys finishing their Eagle requirements in our units. A sad situation that a new unit committee is trying to rectify and recover from.

  5. JD says:

    This is great advise, especially to those who may not understand. Keep up the great work, Mac.

  6. Marla Thomas says:

    Just a thought . . . Instant recognition should happen and is important because of the mobility of many of our scouting families. Some families move quite often or are “just passing through” or “visiting” and they just might not be in “your” unit for the next Court of Honor. It is important for the youth to get support and “a pat on the back” from their peers who they were involved with as they worked on the accomplishment. Also, one or two months from a youth’s perspective seems like a lot longer period of time to them than it does from an adult’s perspective.
    This is why a good functioning “scout committee” in a ward is so important. It should be a resource to assist in lifting the responsibilities of the Young Men’s leaders who are directly working with the youth (who may, also, be struggling as young family patriarchs and transitioning in job responsibilities). If the advancement committee member(s) are functioning efficiently the awards should be obtained on a regular basis (at least monthly) so that there can be instant recognition, so that the youth records are current, so that it is easier to have advancement accurate and recorded for the more formal Courts of Honor (where parents, friends, young women, ward members, merit badge counselors, other teachers and leaders are personally invited, in addition to, regular bulletin and podium announcements).
    (Did you all see that Court of Honor should be scheduled and coordinated with the Young Women’s leaders so that the Young Women and the scout moms serving in Young Women’s are able to attend? The young women are interested sisters, friends and peers of these young men. They can be motivators and supporters of their accomplishments; but, only if they are aware of what is happening for the guys. So, please don’t shut the girls out by scheduling when they cannot attend.)
    Prayerful coordination and communication works wonders!
    Instant recognition is usually done at the unit level with the youth and their immediate leaders. This is the time of allocades and congratulations for an accomplishment among direct peers. It is usually done informally or semi-formally. It is just very important that these instant recognition advancements get recorded properly!
    There is more purpose to a Court of Honor than just advancement recognition. It can be a time to bring all levels of the Young Men’s program together (Boy Scout, Varsity Team & Venturing Crew) so that the younger scouts can see what there is to look forward to in the more advanced programs and so that the older scouts can observe the younger scouts successes and create an environment for the older youth (and the parents, leaders and other interested adults) to recognize those achievements and accomplishments of the younger ones both in the group setting and after the meeting on individual basis.
    Courts of Honor every three to four months is, also, a time to present the program calendar for both the short-term and long-term future months to the families and to the congregation. This will lend support and coordination among everyone. This is the time to publish the forseeible yearly calendar that is both stable and fluid at the same time. Imagine having a calendar for the next year at each Court of Honor! Of course, the most recent coming three months would be more stable and defined with boy-led details and plans while the final nine months would be more sketchy and subject to change. But, future Court of Honor dates, the week of Scout Camp and district camporee along with merit badge clinics opportunities would be listed. Varsity Team program emphasis along with the planned team and Venturing Crew high adventure trips would be listed. Youth level and adult level youth protection presentations would be listed. The Program Planning Meeting and Scout Committee meeting dates would be listed. Both youth and adult leader training dates for the unit level would be listed. Aaronic Priesthood meeting dates and youth activities of both the stake and ward would be listed. Basically, a snapshot of the coming year would be available to everyone for planning purposes.
    Since my personality is of an administrative nature I have saved the best of the purpose of a Court of Honor for last. A Court of Honor is a time for the youth to “show off”; but, not only their rank advancements or accomplishments. It is a time for them to “show off” themselves. It is a time’for them to “show off” what they have done in the past for their camp outs and adventures and what they plan to be doing in the future months. The young men can utilize all sorts of methods to present what they have been doing and what they will be doing through various mediums like skits, drama role playing, ceremonies, slides, pictures, decorations, posters, demonstrations, stories, talks/reports, etc. This should be the part of the Court of Honor that is exciting and inspiring and created with fun by and for the young men!
    And to top off the Court of Honor night . . . delicious goodies (from a dutch oven, reflective oven or a solar stove or any other method) could be served. But, only if that’s what the young men want to do. (Who ever heard of young men who don’t like to show off their skills?)
    Give them a little positive attention . . . let them live a good life through positive interaction and example . . . let them lead . . . let them be creative and have some fun!

    1. Mac says:

      Some excellent thoughts Marla — as always! Thank you for your wonderful insights!

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