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Unread 08-06-2018, 10:58 AM
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Recommendations on how to become a better strategist and Scout Master

So my team this year compete at 4 events this year we we're finalist at 2 events, we won a event, and we placed decently at worlds good enough to get us into the quarterfinals of worlds. But... I feel like I didn't do a very good job in position since I take responsibility for losing 2 of our events due to our second pick not being the best of the available pool, and while we did win one event I felt like I was a bit reckless with how I picked because I didn't feel confident if we could pull it off with our selection. Following that at worlds I feel like I could of been a better strategist since I stayed silent both times when our 3rd alliance member wanted to run there strategy and nothing else.

Another issue that pops up is the fact that it was hard for me to consistently scout since I had difficulties maintain a consistent amount scouts but also collecting the data.

In the end of the season I felt like of all the members of the team I was the least helpful when it came to helping the team. It was just frustrating that I couldn't consistently do my job well.

So what I'm asking is what practices/concepts/ideas/strategies should I use to become better strategies/scout master.

(I'll literally take any advice even if it a weird method, I'll put it to work during off-season events)
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Unread 08-06-2018, 11:25 AM
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Re: Recommendations on how to become a better strategist and Scout Master

The best way to get better is practice. I'm going to break this up into three sections, based on what you said.

Strategy
Practice developing game strategies, and then see how the game actually played out. Pick a previous game you didn't know much about. Watch the game animation and read the rules, then develop your strategy. Do your best to figure out what types of robots you could expect on your alliance at each level of competition. Once you have all that, go and watch some match video. Watch quals and playoffs from a regional your team traditionally attends. Watch some matches from champs. How does your strategy stack up? How do your predictions of robot designs match up? What did you miss? Repeat this for a different game each week this fall and you'll be well prepared to develop a strategy when kickoff happens.

Scouting
Develop a comprehensive scouting system. Something where you put data in and it gives you what you need to know. Excel spreadsheets can work well, especially if you use complex formulas or macro's. And then work with the rest of your team leadership to create a proper event schedule. Everyone on the team should be scheduled for the entire event. They should know when they need to be in the stands scouting, when they need to be in the pit helping to work on the robot or presenting to judges and spectators, and when they have time to wander around and look at other teams. And then once you have that schedule, hold them to it! Communication at the event is key, having everyone's cell numbers (and charged cell phones!) is a must.

Also, make sure everyone understands why you're scouting. What is the benefit? Does the data only get used for alliance selection? Can you integrate the data into your drive team to help inform match performance during quals? Make everyone feel that scouting is not just meaningful, but critical to the success of the team.

Talking with other teams
There's a fine line to walk between being a pushover and being rude. Read some books on leadership, get some practice giving presentations and talking in front of a group. Learn what subconscious body language means (Seriously... this will tell you so much about how others are feeling about a conversation and help you interact with them better).

When talking with other teams before a match, all of this comes into play - you need to present your strategy, you need to convince the others to follow your lead, you need to be able to respond to them in a way that lets them know you heard them and are trying to work their opinions in. No FRC alliance is a dictatorship, yet when you get to the playoffs you do have an alliance captain that should be providing leadership. Leaders listen, respond, and make decisions, and it's important not to forget any of those steps. You need to try to make everyone feel like they've been heard, even if they chosen strategy isn't what they want. This is especially difficult during quals, as there is no alliance captain. Everyone shares the goal of winning the match and earning ranking points... but they all differ in wanting to show themselves off as best they can, win or lose. And that difference can be hard to overcome.
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Unread 08-06-2018, 11:45 AM
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Re: Recommendations on how to become a better strategist and Scout Master

I'm gonna assume you've seen both Karthik's Effective FIRST Strategies talk and the Simbot Seminar Series Scouting & Match Strategy talk. If not, watch them, know them, love them, marry them.

Secondly, not everything is up to you. There are three teams on every alliance in playoffs, and 8 alliances. You control one seat (sometimes) of 24. Your metrics are going to vary and sometimes the "best pick" is only the best pick you didn't make in hindsight. The past is over, but you can learn from your mistakes. That's why it's the present.

Thirdly, development of scouting systems and metrics are difficult but generally are laid out in the offseason with practice done for the "past" season's game, or one that you know well enough to do so.

Finally... don't be afraid to ask questions. The best "head scouts" and strat mentors in FRC are still around on CD or online, and generally are more than willing to answer questions. Some questions are dumb in hindsight (my CD post history, for example.), and some questions are essential to having a team's eureka moment.

Good luck!
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Unread 08-06-2018, 11:46 AM
Kevin Leonard Kevin Leonard is offline
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Re: Recommendations on how to become a better strategist and Scout Master

I think a big thing I'm hearing is that you were the sole person making decisions. No individual should be responsible for all of the strategy/scouting for a team.

You need multiple minds working on the problems. Whether that's your scouting lead and drive coach collaborating, you need multiple brains working.

And then when you pick a team, you need to let them contribute to the discussion. They've seen different things than you have and might have some other ideas in mind.

I find the best picks come from a discussion/debate between people coming to a consensus (and heck, that works for engineering decisions too).

Occasionally you can't come to a consensus and one person needs to make an executive decision, but that comes after the discussion.

So
1) don't be afraid to ask for help
2) listen to other people, especially if you disagree with them
3) sometimes the "correct" decision doesn't work. Often, especially as a low seed captain, the "correct" decision is a high variance, high risk pick. Just because a risk didn't pan out doesn't mean it was wrong. An honest evaluation of the available options after the fact discussing the decisions that were made and the reasoning behind them is important IMO to developing better decision-making and scouting skills.

EDIT: One other big thing I try to remember to point out to our rep before they head into the field - there's no time limit on picking. Take your time to make a pick. Who ceres if they play the jeopardy theme song three times over, the right pick is worth the time
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Last edited by Kevin Leonard : 08-06-2018 at 12:01 PM.
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Unread 08-06-2018, 12:40 PM
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Re: Recommendations on how to become a better strategist and Scout Master

Watch (and follow) team sports, particularly the major North American ones with lots of media coverage. There's a lot of lessons to be learned about FRC in how sports organizations operate.
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Unread 08-06-2018, 01:55 PM
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Re: Recommendations on how to become a better strategist and Scout Master

First, you can't beat yourself up over picks too much. It's easy to second guess your picks, sometimes you make the right pick and stuff just happens. I can link dozens of videos of top level robots making season ruining mistakes (this might be a fun thread if it doesn't exist already). Sometimes you just get beat by better teams, especially when you go up against the number 1 or 2 seeds. Sometimes teams just turn it on for elims. Making a pick and it not working out because of execution feels much better than making a pick and it not working out because you didn't know something and chose the wrong team.

It doesn't sound like you're from a low resource / new team (based on my guess of which team you're from). So I would recommend you benchmark the best. 1678's scouting white paper is a good place to start (we wrote a simplified version of their system this year and it was invaluable) as well as the various other presentations on scouting on CD. Data is key. You need to know when your partners are capable of executing what they claim they can do and when they are exaggerating or claiming they have a feature so you'll pick them.

Evaluating who is making the decision can be helpful too. Many teams "whiteboard pick" where the scouting leads meet in the stands and holds up the pick on a whiteboard. This takes the pressure (blame) off one person and facilitates discussion, but often means you can't discuss picks with your other partner(s) on the field, unless you get with them in the stands. In our case we use alliance selection as an honorary position where our 4 year seniors represent the team, but don't actually make the pick.

When it comes to actually making a list there are a lot of ways to go about it, my biggest take away is the more you know about every robot going into your list the better. There are a lot of things to look at beside points scored. For example this year we considered auton options, ability to get on our ramp, scoring in all the locations, defensive ability, weight / CG, and general tomfoolery. I also like to look inside every robot on our list and will occasionally do a quality veto based on how sketchy a key mechanism looks (specifically climbers last year).


Quote:
Originally Posted by SecretStudent69 View Post
(I'll literally take any advice even if it a weird method, I'll put it to work during off-season events)
I would advice against this. If you want to get better look at what successful teams are doing, not teams that don't make elims.
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Unread 08-07-2018, 06:57 PM
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Re: Recommendations on how to become a better strategist and Scout Master

In terms of second picks, especially at the district level, robot consistency is probably the most important factor. Better a weaker bot that is out there than a stronger one that isn't. Our team accomplishes this by narrowing our second pick list down to six or so teams that we think will be available for us to draft, and sending out an experienced pit member to check their robots, with a specific focus on electrical.

Another part of deciding which second pick to go with is to know what alliance composition you want to form. You can learn a lot about different combinations of robot types and strategies that work from watching high-tier events and seeing what the best teams in the world are going for. For example, for most of the season, the third robot on an alliance would just line cross then score in the vault for the whole match. Thus, most captains selected the most competent vault bot available. However, a pick I was a big fan of was 1114 and 610 selecting 6331 at Windsor. Although there were statistically more effective vault bots that could've been picked, 6331 had a switch autonomous (albeit not the most consistent). This allowed 610 and 1114 to run a combo scale autonomous capable of placing up to 3 cubes on the scale, something no other alliance could do.

In regards to the actual process, our team ran a scouting team of around 10 people this year. Having more than six people allows scouts to take breaks, which resulted in less mistakes being made in data collection. When people are rotated off of match scouting, the opportunity they have to watch matches helps them get a better grasp of the meta. A change we made to how we made our picklists this year was to sort teams into tiers rather than ranking them. This allowed us to group teams and decide as a team what we most valued. For example, we might value a group of teams that could stuff nine cubes in the vault but with no scale capabilities over mediocre scale robots. It's kind of like that Einstein quote about teaching a fish to climb a tree. If you just rank teams based on scale, the switch/vault bots that would be stronger partners will never stand a chance. This leads into what I think is the most important part of strategy. Every person contributing to the picklist should have know what features they value in robots. An interesting example of this was how different teams valued autonomous vs. teleop scale capabilities at IRI 2018. A team like 225 with a 3 cube scale auto fell to the 7th seed, while teams with weaker autos but arguably stronger teleop like 217 and 3357 were picked ahead of them.

TL;DR: Have pit members check over potential second picks. Know what you want your alliance composition to be. Have an oversized scouting team. Know what robot features you value. Group teams into tiers, and sort those tiers based on the features you value.

Like Schreiber said, read through 1678's strategy white paper. Many of the best teams in the world model what they do based on other top teams.
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