Building just isn't a priority anymore

We have a larger team, which in my opinion could be good or bad. In our case, this isn’t a good thing right now. Our team right now has about 50 people. You would think that being in the -->Robotics<-- club you would be interested in building, or wanting to learn about the robot. This just isn’t the case anymore. I just don’t see the logic in having over 40 people making buttons, banners, flags, and posters while we have less than 10 people doing the building. This can’t happen anymore. Don’t think we just let this happen. We’re holding building seminars for when the seniors (the ones who basically built the robot this year) graduate. People on our team are making the spirit award a priority. People would rather dress up ridiculously, hold up signs, and cheer for our team while we aren’t even on yet. They’d rather do this than what they’re supposed to do. People who are in the stands (except for a select few who have different jobs that aren’t required of them just yet) are supposed to scout the teams. Do you think this gets done? Yes, we force them to scout, but are they interested? No.

When we have a sheet lined up with Autonomous, which rack they scored on, if they have a minibot or not, and other comments, which are all made in a chart, it will be filled with all zeros. When we are at competitions and we want to see which team to talk to, how are we supposed to know whos good and who isnt when these boxes are all zero? Other comments-zero? No. This can’t work anymore. People show up to the meetings, then go home. They’d rather show up and socialize with their friends that do something. Having an art department in this club isn’t a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the majority of the club, because its the robotics club, not the art club. This club was more upset that we lost the spirit award then when we were eliminated out of the quarter finals in our last competition.

Sure, we’ve tried to change the direction of the club. What do you think happens? They think we’re jerks. They don’t listen to us. They’d rather sit in the stands and draw pretty pictures of our mascot on posters. Why are you in this club if you aren’t interested? Why are there 30 people making buttons and posters, when you can go to the building seminar and learn? Why are they more interested in these things? We feel like broken records, and it just makes us more unpopular in the club. People are running for club president next year because it looks good on college applications. People who want the spirit award than first place. When I heard “Well, at least we won the spirit award at the first competition” I wanted to scream at all of them. What I wanted to say was “Well maybe if you did your job (scouting), we could of had a better chance”.

The alumni come back 1,2, even 3 years later to do the majority of the building. When one of these spirit people becomes president, the build culture would disappear. We’ve been preaching to them, and they don’t listen. At this rate, the club isn’t going to be building a decent robot for a really long time. I’m sorry. Painting Pictures doesn’t build a robot.

What they need to realize is that winning the spirit award doesn’t get you first place. Winning the spirit award doesnt get you the chairmans award. And the most important part, it doesnt get you a spot into the nationals either. They don’t want to listen though.

Can anyone give any advise as to what we should do? We’ve tried everything we could think of, and this art culture is just not changing…
If we can’t change the culture of our club now, This club is going to go down hill very fast. We need help. Can anyone please give us some advise? Our club is filling with friends, friends of friends etc. who aren’t interested in building and we’ve run out of ideas…

Before others try to tar and feather you, I’ll just say two simple things.

  1. I actually agree with you on most points and can see where you’re coming from.

  2. You gain nothing by posting this to Chief Delphi. Gather your thoughts, write a little more eloquently, and email your lead mentor. Set up a meeting with the main leaders on the team. Its an issue that you can solve, just work on it in private.

As for advice:

Show the other students how much satisfaction and pride they can gain from having a more successful robot, I really think that’s the only way to show them they need to step up their game robot-wise, and focus on what this robotics competition is really about. I’ll get some flak for this, but I’ve always wondered how students would react to cuts on the team.

I know this, and we plan on doing so. I am only doing this because I am taking a leadership role, and the way everything is working out, it’s going to be me and about 3 other people building. I’m just looking for advise, and to see if any other teams have had to deal with this, and how they solved it.

You can do what our team does, we require all people interested in joining the team (even returning members) to fill out an application. Only 30 people are accepted. This is our application sheet: WR Student app 2010-11 (2003).doc (70 KB)

WR Student app 2010-11 (2003).doc (70 KB)

WR Student app 2010-11 (2003).doc (70 KB)

Now that it is the off-season (no need for major team spirit) I would do some projects such as building a t-shirt cannon, or a “robotic go-kart” to use that as a teaching lesson. People only really get interested once they start doing things, not making buttons, trust me. Few will want to make buttons after the tested a robo-kart by racing others down the hall and nearly hitting everything in the process.

With that said start these projects with the intentions of specific people working on specific things. If they don’t do them, tell others that may have been uninterested in the past that you need their help to get the project done. If they know they are helping it will increase their want to build.

That is about all I can think of, hope this helps::rtm::

I understand how you feel. Two weeks through build season, the majority of our freshmen on the team aren’t working in their departments (CAD, programming, build, etc.).

I would definitely take Akash’s advice, and I would also put the students on probation. Let them know that if their lack of interest continues, they’ll be off the team.

Even though our team is quite different than yours in the fact that your team is about 204 times the size of ours, we have had 1 singular set of rules that has not changed from the beginning of our team back in 2005. That rule is that no matter what part of the team you are on, that to travel to our home regional, Florida, you had to put in at minimum 25 hours, to go to our travel competition it was 50 hours and to go to CMP(and thats only if we made it) 90 hours. And throughout the 5 years that I have competed on this team(4 as a student +1 as a mentor) I have seen students come through and do the bare minimum and ive seen kids go over 200+ hours. I myself as a student probably put close to 1000 hours into our team’s build seasons. But as the more hours you need to travel, the more involved each student becomes and the more they learn about each part of the team and the interest in each sub-team grows, until you dont have to beg these kids to be a part of the whole team; they beg to make the team bigger and better.

As many others have said, I would definitely recommend implementing some sort of minimum requirements for people to be a member of the team.

Try to work with what you have. Maybe work with some of the students who are into spirit and have them transition into a PR/awards role. We have had some of our more creative members make a team yearbook/portfolio to show the judges. It was filled with useful information about our team and it also looked fantastic. Perhaps you have someone interested in drawing who you might be able to get involved in the design process. Remember that there is also animation, web design, and other tasks for the more creative/artistic students on the team. Don’t dismiss them simply because they can’t/don’t want to actually build the robot.

When 25 travels to other regionals outside of New Jersey, a list of all the responsibilities is made and then the list is populated with members to fill them. This helps to make sure that everyone is there with a purpose.

I would also recommend checking out this recent thread about team attitude. Some of the posts in there might be useful to you.

As you move forward, remember that spirit isn’t all bad. You just need to find the right balance. You don’t want to make FIRST unfun for those students who really want to be a part of it.

To add to my post: I was in a similar position to you a few years back. A bunch of new students joined the team and wanted to focus entirely on the team image, including spirit. I was incredibly resistant to this initially. I was a programmer and PR person and nearly all my time at competitions was spent in the pits. What happened in the stands outside of scouting was unimportant to me. I didn’t understand why we needed people to focus on making the team look good. I thought it was a waste.

In the end, I let them do as they pleased. And you know what? I love where the team is now. I feel as if we have become more complete now that we embrace some of the things we used to dismiss.

I was always very appreciative of those who worked hard to make our team look good.

Sometimes the build team would feel that they were “doing all the work”, but strangely they never complained when we won website awards, sportsmanship awards, safety pins (never quite got the safety award), or when the presentation material on our robot helped us to win design awards. The build team was very happy to show up at the dinner when we received the City of Vancouver “Youth Group of the Year Award”, thanks to the work of a number of team members who never touched a wrench! Sometimes it took a bit of work to reign in the egos of the build team and remind them that FRC is about a lot more than just building a robot or playing a game, but usually not.

My experience has been that what people get out of FRC, like most things in life, is very much related to what they put in to it.


we sometimes have a similar problem. typically though, the people who are not that interested don’t put in the late hours ( we work way way late on saturday ) and they loose interest after a while. another thing to do is to simply ask people who are there to socialize to leave. we have a scapegoat in that our work area is relatively small, so we tell them we need them out of the way.

A group of, say 16 humble, hardworking, knowledgeable kids and 4 good mentors make a very good build team. In fact, our build lead and I are eyeing the kids on the team we need to participate where on build, and who we need on support.

Some people on your team just aren’t fit for building. That’s not just tolerable, that’s encouraged by FIRST. In fact, I’ve been recruiting kids in my school who have no desire to touch the robot. Our team needs videographers, animators, creative writers, and even kids just trying to satisfy a volunteer hour requirement.

I’m not saying to let this perceived problem persist, but embrace the members who can’t tell a CIMple Box to a SuperShifter. There are plenty of online resources that help you figure out what kind of balance of responsibility your team needs.

Your team is almost nothing without a good robot, but it definitely is nothing without supplementary support students that make your “club” a real “team.”

Spirit is one thing. But if there is no robot to cheer for, it’s like sending out the cheerleaders and only the cheerleaders at the football game. Guess how many teams would win if they did that? Right. It might be interesting to announce that if the robot wasn’t fully functional when it entered the crate (or bag), only a skeleton team, made up of primarily the team members who actually contributed to the build, will go to competition.

And yes, do the application process. Take a leaf out of 234’s notebook: The team is disbanded at the end of the competition season, and everyone has to reapply to be on the team the next year (mentors evaluate the applications). For you guys, it might be the lead students who do the evaluation.

Two things that you should have on the application:

  1. “Why are you doing this?” Stuff like “it looks good on my college application” shouldn’t be an automatic disqualifier, but should merit further evaluation of the student in question.
  2. “What are you interested in?” Again, stuff like “Spirit” shouldn’t be an automatic disqualifier, but if you have 50 people interested only in spirit, make sure that some of them don’t end up on the team.

I’m not a big fan of teams going too far out of their way to win the spirit award or chairman’s. I usually feel like it defeats the purpose of the Chairman’s award to make it your primary goal. I feel like teams should be doing the work for chairman’s first and writing a submission second, not tailoring team actions to win an award.
I kind of feel the same about the spirit award. It’s a fun award, but it shouldn’t be a goal to win it. You should be more worried about showing spirit than winning at it, you know what I mean?
My team won a spirit award at the Waterford District this year. We only had 10 students and four cardboard cut out numbers. Somehow we managed to win the spirit award with about 10-20 people cheering maximum. A similar situation happened at Troy district, a small team with fun imagery won the award. I think the judges are looking for students who are genuinely excited about engineering and their team. I know when my students were talking to the judges they were smiling and carefree, eager to talk about the robot. On the field my drive team wanted to do silly dances when we were announced, just for fun. I don’t think judges care too much about who’s the loudest and most noticeable any more. The nature of the award has changed, and for the better.

After all, it’s not a “cheering and looking nice” award.

We only have 13 or so students on our team, so we never tolerated no-work attitudes. It’s either you show up to shop with a good attitude or have your parents pick you up. Even just the threat of doing so is a great tool (I know I’ve come to shop lazy or grumpy several times, and this threat bore near immediate improvement)

It may help to force the students to try every position on the team; that’s what we do. It helps people discover things they love that they never would consider doing in the first place. For example, I avoided machining and CAD all I could originally, but now I love the lather, and CAD is growing on me.

If they still show interest in just spirit (Depending on the number left), do what others suggested and say they can’t attend regionals or champs. We pulled that threat with work days/work hours and it’s an effective tool as well.

Good luck.

I agree with you on a lot of points. While there should be some creative people to do the team image/chairman’s presentation/outreach stuff, that should never get so big that the robotics lives in its shadow. There can’t be team spirit without a team. I would take a few different approaches to this situation.

Our team has never been organized enough to start imposing strict attendance/application rules, and not big enough to need them; none of the students took it seriously because none of the mentors had time/inclination to enforce it. If you can do that, great, it will help weed out the people who don’t really want to do anything.

Another suggestion would be to weed out the leadership roles. Make students write a short piece on why they want to be a leader, and how they think it will help the team (emphasis on the latter). We do this for drive team applicants to weed out the serious people from the non-serious people.

A third thing could be either to run for team president/other leadership role, or step up and tell the team what the situation is. You sound like you are passionate about your team, and I’m 99% sure there are mentors who would support you on that. If some students realize that they don’t actually want to be on the team, let them leave.

Fourth, try to recruit some people who want to build. This would be the preferable option, unless people on the socializing side of things distract others and bring the whole team down. In that case, I would tell them directly that there is a problem.

Perhaps what you could do to actually involve the team members into doing something useful would be to harness their energy for community outreach to compete for the Chairman’s submission. Our team doesn’t have a lot of people that actually work on the actual robot, but most of the people are in PR, and it worked great.

Some people here find spirit as important as the robot. I understand where they are coming from. But lets try to remember something here. The cheering should be produced as a response to the robot. The robot should not be produced to create something to cheer for. Though the results look similar, I see a very important difference. I hope you find a way to get the focus back to the robot where it belongs.

My team is completely opposite. We don’t exactly have that many members, but none of them want to work on our spirit stuff. We had to have our mentors work on it, because everyone wanted to have a slice of the robot, which got realllly out of hand towards the end of the build season. We had to keep some other kids busy by doing mindless errands (like going to go pick up more reflective tape from ace hardware/etc). You should probably stress more of the competition side of FIRST.

Let’s just admit it, it’s not all about gracious professionalism.

A couple of ideas for you…

  1. Tailor & Refocus your recruiting efforts.
    If the kids that are joining just aren’t interested in the robot and no matter what you do, they won’t take an interest, then maybe your team could work a little harder on finding the kids who ARE interested in building a robot. Its often difficult to make robotics look “cool”… though it sounds like your team may have gone overboard on that… the team is “cool”, but the robot part just isnt interesting. Many teams have students that never touch the robot, and IMO thats ok. We’ve had several kids leave our team to major in graphic design or business or things like that, all of which are important to technology companies, but yes, not the focus of a Robotics Competition. So its good to have SOME students like that, but as you say, it sounds like you are overloaded with them. In my mind a 75%/25% balance would be good. There are several things you can try
    A. Talk to Tech teachers (computer classes, technology classes, math classes, science classes). See if they can recommend/encourage anyone to join.
    B. Develop a Student Application. We generally accept everyone that applies, but it gives us the chance to weed out if necessary, and also makes sure that the applicants are serious enough to fill out a couple pages of questions.
    C. Develop a Team Handbook. We have all of our students and parents sign to say that they have read the team handbook and know what is expected of them. This sometimes gets kids to consider what they are getting into.

  2. Work on your Preseason Activities
    The whole goal of FIRST is to expose kids to science and technology. They may decide once they are exposed that its not for them, and thats ok, but we’ve had several students become interested in different aspects that they never before would have considered.
    A. Do some fun/teambuilding type activities that incorporate some science/tech knowledge. Balloon Rockets, Paper Bridges, Newspaper Towers, Bottle Rockets, Egg Drop, etc… are all fun & teambuilding, but if you provide good resources, the team can learn about structures and gasses and all sorts of science/tech type stuff at the same time.
    B. Do a Mock Build Season… whether you use Legos or Vex or FTC parts, get small groups (6 or less) to build robots that compete in some sort of competition. With super small groups, everyone is forced to pitch in in some way.
    C. Have subteams that meet outside of your normal team meeting, and require that every kid that travels attends at least half of a technical subteam’s meetings. This ensures that they at least TRY something in preseason.
    D. Do a Subteam Rotation Night. We do this every year, all 10 of our subteams each have a table/location and the mentors put together short (5-10 minute) presentations/activities that show what that preseason subteam does (hint, the more hands on/visual the better!). The students rotate through every table in groups getting a “taste” of what each subteam does and get to figure out what subteams they want to join for the preseason.

  3. Force Your Build Season Subteams
    We do an application each year for Build Season Subteams and the mentors sit down and sort the kids out into groups. Each group must have 1 new student, 1 returning student and 1 student familiar with CAD. We attempt to balance the rest of the group with what the kids want to do (1st or 2nd choice subeams). And try and make the groups reasonably balanced in size. This may be a bit tougher in your situation, as you don’t want a bunch of dead wood… but with some good mentors/build kids, you might suck in a few kids that might not of helped before. A good example is that we have had kids join the controls subteam because they want to “decorate” the controls box. Then our mentors rope them into helping with wiring or designing the box, and then they get a little more hooked.

Overall I can definitely understand your frustration. There are always students that you sort of “wonder” why they joined a robotics team in the first place. Though it does sound like you recognize that its good to have fun, but with such a large team, you could do with having a stronger core of people working on the robot. Though Realistically I think even a lot of the bigger teams will tell you they probably have a solid core of 10 kids, and then however many others that “help out” but aren’t as dedicated. Really its all about balance.

Give some of these ideas a shot and see if they help amp up the interest in working on the robot, or helping the team in more technical ways.

Good luck!

Our club used to be like that, (I’m from the same team as OP) but the real problem is that all these kids focus on at competitions is yelling and screaming trying to get the spirit award. When people Should be scouting they put a bunch of fake numbers down and keep screaming. Then when we lose matches because of failed scouting they all keep smiling and cheering. It causes the rest of the team members who put hard work into a robot they want to see do well feel like they don’t matter. There needs to be a balance that isn’t there and we need to fix it.