2021-2022 School Year?

Have any other teams suffered from recruitment and retention this year? This year we went from a team of ~20 students to a team of ~6 and two of those members will be graduating this year. We probably won’t have enough team members to be able to have a meeting, let alone a competition.

Are we able to exist as a FIRST team if we’re not able to compete? We would love to be able to take a break from competing and use that time to go back to the basics so we can rebuild our team and the foundations. Any other team in the same boat and have any solutions/ideas?

Sorry if the questions are banal, but we have a new-ish coaching staff and know just enough to get in trouble!

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There’s no particular prohibition on taking a year off. Anybody from FRC23 want to comment? (23 took quite a few years off, and only does FRC when they feel like it.)

Also, you don’t have to take an actual year off. Make the rounds of the offseasons with a robot (including borrowing another team’s robot if necessary) and have fun.

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Honestly best of both worlds, assuming you have offseasons near you.

This one becomes a bit harder if there’s only 0-2 offseasons in your local area though.

You will “lose” (read: you won’t exist in any official capacity on the books for that year) your number, but the number doesn’t go away and if you decide to come back you’ll be treated like you would a veteran team and will get the number back. There’s nothing stopping you though from attending offseason events.

The team decided to not compete this year. Virtual did not appeal to them and they correctly guessed there’d be no in person events. Like many teams we were unable to meet for much of the school year but finally got the OK to meet in person in February. Basically the entire existing team has been turning up for once a week meetings since then. We’ve been training in new members from what looks like a very strong recruiting class. So we are planning on going from our usual 20-22 size team up to 30. It does help that we have moved into the school from a previous off site HQ, and now are much more visible.
TW

Why does your team want to take a break from competing? If you have 4 returning students and can recruit some new members for 21-22, you will be ahead of rookie teams in terms of experience. At some point, your own team started with zero returning members in its first year of existence. Even if you could just put together a team of 8, with 4 new members, you would certainly have enough to put a robot together and have a drive team.

The best way to rebuild your team is to grow the capabilities of the students and coaches/mentors you have by participating in upcoming seasons. Making it super-simple and building an Everybot with whatever the kit drive base is going to be in 21-22 would be a great way to re-ignite the team.

If your team has no teacher/coach/mentor help at all and you have no sources of funding, your team may have issues too great to participate in the upcoming season. However, if it’s just that you are down to 4 returning student members, go get some more next year and start back up like a rookie+ team.

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I tend to agree with @paulonis, I think competitions are a great way incentive for new students to stay. If you are looking to rebuild the basics, I would check out The Compass Alliance Pathways. I just re-read through them last night, and it was a great reminder of the basics we have yet to master

I mean, we hover in the 6-12 students range every year, so starting with four doesn’t seem so bad from where I’m sitting. You can be competitive at least on the field with a team that small. (It’s hard to be competitive for awards when there’s no one available to stay in the pits and talk to judges because they’re in queue or on the field, but we’re almost always high mid-tier or low high-tier at FLR every year with a team that small.)

Your numbers are very similar to my own. Had 20 kids last year, about 7 graduated under lockdown, and of the remaining kids only about 5 show up to our in-person meetings to work. Taking a year off to “rebuild” has been a looming temptation for me as well.

However, I personally know a team that took a year off to “focus on training and preparation” after their rookie year didn’t go as well as the teacher-mentor (who was not particularly engineering- or robotics-minded) wanted [the team was scattered and struggled, and their robot was wonky, but they got rookie all star and went to champs!]. The team ended up disbanding, and the students started forming a community team because they wanted to compete.

IF your team decides to take a year off from official FIR$T Event$ to save some money and stress, please keep some on-field competitions in the mix.

It’s worth evaluating every year whether to compete or not. It’s a question of resources - both funding and the number of people involved. Obviously if the funding isn’t there, you can’t register… but if the people aren’t there, then it’s not worth spending the money. Many years, this is a very easy decision to make. Other years, it becomes more difficult.

What if the money is there but the people aren’t? Well, you can possibly use the money more effectively to help rebuild your program by taking a year off from FRC. You could drop down and participate in FTC, which has both smaller budgets and smaller student numbers needed to be successful. That gives you a competition to strive towards as you work to grow back towards FRC. What do you do with the extra money? Maybe save it for a rainy day. Maybe invest it in a larger capital purchase (like a CNC router, if you don’t already have one!). That’s the great part about having extra money in a year - you have lots of options!

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My team is in a similar boat. We had a tough recruiting year for the 2019-20 year, a lot of graduations in 2020 and with our district being fully virtual since the initial lockdown it’s been very difficult for us to retain students. We’re usually a team of 15-30 but this year, we have around 6 students. We’re a team that’s qualified for Champs 4 of the last 5 times it’s happened, this is a once in a century challenge that’s affecting everyone.

Obviously the 2021-22 season will be an enormous challenge but we’re taking this off time and the chance to essentially start from scratch as an opportunity. Over the offseason, we’ll be refreshing our recruiting plans and fall training plans to engage and retain students to come back strong next year.

I would strongly caution you about taking a year off to regroup in 2022. As long as you have a few students and mentors and the funds to get you through the season, recalibrate your competitive goals (maybe wanting to win a regional gets changed to wanting to play in the playoffs) and have the best season you have.

There’s a reason FIRST includes a competition and that’s because it’s inspiring and that’s a major factor that keeps students engaged. I’m worried that by going another year without competing, it will be even harder to recruit and retain students. If you need assistance figuring out funding issues or figuring out a recruitment plan, feel free to DM me, reach out to your FIRST Senior Mentor or post on this forum, the FIRST community is here to help you!

Best of luck for this season and next!

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I think the fundamental question is what you hope to gain by taking a year off (and what exactly a year off means to you). If a “year off” means no activity for a year, you will lose a lot of momentum and almost certainly be in a worse position when you come back. Currently you have a couple returning students & mentors, some kind of workspace, a few sponsors; if you take a year fully off you may come back to find all that has evaporated and you’re starting from square one (students & mentors gravitate toward other local teams or just other hobbies in general, the school allocates your workspace to another extracurricular, etc) Is it going to be easier to revive your team after a dormant year, or harder? You may find taking a year off is a transition towards the team shutting down permanently.

On the other hand, if a “year off” (as some have proposed) to you means not registering for the season to save $ and the stress of tight build season deadlines, but still meeting regularly, learning & having fun, going to off-seasons, tinkering with last year’s bot, etc, it could be a good move for a team that’s feeling a little burned out or facing other challenges.

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Our team is struggling with motivation at the moment, both with the students and mentors (especially myself). This COVID year has really put a strain on everything at the two schools that support our team. It hasn’t helped that the two schools have decided that the students from our schools can’t comingle, and it seems that getting many of our team members motivated for virtual gatherings has been a struggle. We did two out of the three challenges this year, but it was really hard to meet deadlines. For the last decade our team size has had about 25 - 35 active students on it, but this year it seems more like 8. It’s a little unnerving to think about the upcoming season, but with some of your responses I’m starting to garner a little bit of hope. Thank you all!

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I’ve also found wrangling students for virtual meetings exhausting; 8 virtual hours per week has been nearly as draining as the normal 20-30 in-person hours per week. Not sure where you’re located, but if things are starting to improve COVID-wise, maybe the best thing to do is to take 4-5 months off to recuperate and meet back up in the fall when you’ll hopefully be able to do something in person. Even if you’re ending this season with a very small team, you may find a lot of your 2019-2020 students come back once it’s in person again.

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I completely understand your desire to take a year off from competition.
I would suggest that you take the year to build basic skills in your young team.
I also like the suggestion of working with a nearby FRC team…possibly borrowing a robot for off-season events.

Every team I have been in contact with, including our own, is in the exact same boat.

Tomorrow after submittals are done, I am reaching out to our area team leaders too meet and strategize how to move forward.

We have built good relationships with our neighboring teams. We are committed to resurrect our team and help others do the same.

A full on recruitment program is what we are looking at.

Plus new programmer training, mechanical training and workshops.

Everyone feels the same as you do.

I don’t think taking a year off will help.

I’m for staying in the fight and confronting this obstacle.

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