Choosing Drivers for the Long Haul

So, I know there have been posts regarding how to choose drivers. I know that some people have commented on how they choose drivers based on their participation and professionalism.

However, for teams that have the same drivers for three-four years, how do you narrow someone down for that role?

You’re essentially taking a couple of freshmen and giving them the controls. It’s not to say that they won’t do well, but I find it’s impossible to tell who is going to be able to handle that kind of pressure.

On the opposite end of that tone, how would you explain this to sophomores/juniors/seniors who may feel that the driving role ought to go to them?

  • Sunny G.

My high school team (Team 558) have always believed in picking the best drivers, regardless of what grade they are in. We’ve had Juniors and Seniors drive, but we also have had Sophomores and even Freshman be our main driver. You have to give them tons of practice to see who’s even capable of being up to the task. From there, if you attend any offseason events, you should rotate several drivers in that you think have a chance to be your driver the following season. If they can handle even that sort of pressure of an offseason, you can build them up for Regional Competitions.

As for the upperclassman who believe they “deserve” the role, that’s really not always the case. Some people are just not made out to be a driver. I can tell you with certainty that I was not a driver and had no intention of doing it even as a senior, so when the job went to a freshman I was neither frustrated or upset. I enjoyed my role and did everything I could to help the team succeed.

Some kids just have a knack for driving. Sometimes you see it right away, sometimes you don’t. You just have to give them every opportunity to prove themselves and not let something like age influence your decision. You should always give your team the best chance to succeed.

Going into my 4th year of driving, hopefully I can answer some of your questions.

Team RUSH has a 2 driver system, one for the chassis and one for the upper part of the robot. When I joined as a freshman we had a senior on the team who was the driver of the upper part of the robot who had driven for a few year. We had try outs where students drove a track we set up in an empty classroom with a robot base and I happened to have had the best time and technique on the course.

The senior had driven the robot before and was able to teach me the ins and outs of driving.

As for older students saying they deserve it more, no one ever brought it up because it was based on time on a course. We all had an equal chance.

As for if you should go with a freshman over upperclassman there are pros and cons for each. Freshman can in theory become better over 4 years than a senior can become over 1 year, but you don’t the student as well and if they are the type of student you want driving (professional, good with pressure, devoted). With upperclassman you will know these students but they will only have the experience of 1 or 2 years.

If you have any more questions about my years as a driver, feel free to PM me.

I think this page on 2056’s website is pertinant.

177 has a combination of written test on the rules and skill (Which is determined by going through training and then time trials). We rotate pairs during training and time trials to determine who works best together, then pick the best backup for each role. (Communication is key in chosing).
Experience also plays a huge role in the decision, because experienced drivers can usually handle the stress of gameplay better and know what to expect. (Also due to the fact that the coach knows what the driver is like after a few events). So this may be why you see a lot of teams using similar drivers over multiple years.
Hope this helps!

I muscled my way into a spot on the drive team during my first year on the team (Rebound Rumble, I was a junior). Basically, it worked out that before one match, I established the strategy with our partners and didn’t have time to explain it to the drive team, so I took the operator spot and kept it for the rest of the season.

That was not the right way to select a drive team member.

For Ultimate Ascent, from the beginning of the season everyone was promised the chance to try out for the drive team. Crunch time came, and partial drive team tryouts happened. It was painfully obvious that certain other students on the team desperately wanted to drive the robot. Their entire existence as contributing members of the team was built on a foundation consisting of little more than “I want to drive the robot, and if I work hard then I will get to drive the robot.” I was in an extremely awkward position as co-captain of the team. The position was mine. It was essentially decided that I was going to be the operator, and the tryouts for operator would not happen. The matter was put to a team vote and I voted to have tryouts, and lost.

That was also not the right way to select a drive team.

My first year, we had a freshman on the team who left the school at the end of that year in part because he did not get a spot on the drive team. Granted, one could very easily claim that leaving over a spot on the drive team is a very petty thing to do, but that’s not the point. Everyone who listened (and everyone who didn’t, for that matter) knew that he wanted to drive, and he never got the chance.

So in selecting drivers for the long term, all the bad vibes I just shared need to be avoided. As of this time, the only way I’ve seen teams effectively deal with it firsthand is to hold complete, fair driver tryouts and/or pass the reins at off season events to rookie drivers and see what happens. It’s important that everyone on the team understands the process, and that the process is maintained.

I think one of the most important skills you should be looking for in a long term driver is one that can see the play before it actually happens. A person that can anticipate the other robots moves. A good driver can see if he is gonna be defended and where, even before it happens, so then he can move around that robot. This also works in offense.

Hope that helps :slight_smile:

As a drive coach, some traits I look for in students is A. the ability to keep cool under pressure & B. the ability to follow my directions without a question or second guessing. Being able to represent our team, sponsors, and school districts along with being a team leader are also important. Another very key ingredient is that both your driver, operator, drive coach, and human player can all work together and know what the other is doing. Other areas like driver skill, knowledge of rules, defensive maneuvers, anticipation of the game, etc you can teach.

After an off-season of work combined with a few weeks of build season a drive coach should know who their candidates are just by observing how they work and take direction. Tryouts are good when there are many candidates, but students should be instructed that the drive team is determined by many factors that have been under observation since when they walked in the door.

Maybe one day we will pick a drive team “for the long haul” but our best drive team was two juniors who stepped in halfway through a season with no prior experience and since have won two events, gone 44-14 (18-2 at their first event), and were IRI semi-finalists. Very proud of them! :slight_smile:

I got on the drive team my freshman year (Breakaway). At first I was just a sub and worked with the strategy portion of the drive team. After our first event, our human player decided he didn’t want to do the job because the game didn’t seem to put much emphasis on physical skill as it did in Lunacy the year previously. That is where I stepped in as human player. Although I had really wanted to be base driver, I took the role as human player as a learning experience. Being on the field at a tournament is very different from being on the field at home. I got to learn how to strategize with teams and deal with competition stress. This pushed me to train myself how to drive after the season ended. The experience I had gained that season and the summer after it allowed me to be the most adapt at driving, giving me the role as base driver my sophomore year. The same has held true each year since. The people with the experience each year have driven the robot and for the most part no one else on our team has shown interest in driving.

TLDR Basically the people that want it more and have passed our written test get the job and typically hold the position until they graduate.

Ultimate Ascent was my first year driving, and I was sophomore (I was 14 at the time). I tried out earlier in the Rebound Rumble offseason, but wasn’t selected (depth perception too hard, just kidding). At the time of driver tryouts, I never expected to be chosen at all, so I had already been brainstorming ideas for scouting and memorizing team names and numbers.

The topic that gets brought up again and again seems to be whether the drivers can handle the pressure or not. In my opinion, I feel like that’s something that can be overcome, whereas driving ability just kind of gets picked up as the season goes, watching other teams, getting comfortable with the robot, etc. As I put the robot out on the field for the first time at Lone Star, it really shook my nerves to see teams like 118, 148, and 1477 on the other side of the field. When one of their mentors came to ask me a question about our bot while I was setting up for autonomous, I actually froze and wasn’t sure what to say. It ended up taking the whole on-season before I became comfortable enough to keep cool in any situation, but of course that’s too late (although we did perform well at IRI and TRR). Yes it took a whole season but I can respond to many situations more collectedly now.

In the end I think both long-haul and short-term drive teams have their advantages and disadvantages. If there’s a way to simulate the pressure in a closed environment, that would probably help a lot during tryouts, too bad there isn’t really any way other than to experience it first-hand.

During my FRC years, I was in pretty much the same situation as moogboy. In my first year of FRC (also Rebound Rumble), I was muscled into talking to all the other teams that came to strategize with us. I passed this information onto our drivers religiously. I desperately wanted to drive, but as there was a pair of friends who drove last year and had more experience, they got first dibs on driving. They were chosen last year because no one else really wanted to drive. We didn’t have actual tryouts that year, but those of us that really wanted to drive got to drive for one match, and see if anything spectacular happened. In the end, it was narrowed down to me or last year’s driver. Therefore, it was put to a vote by the mentors. I lost by one vote.

I can’t fairly comment on whether or not that was the right way to select a drive team member.

For Ultimate Ascent, from the beginning of the season, everyone was promised the chance to try out for the drive team too. Crunch time came, and we never had a practical driver test. It was painfully obvious that I wanted to drive. My entire existence as a contributing member of the team was most definitely not built on a foundation consisting of little more than “I want to drive the robot, and if I work hard then I will get to drive the robot.” Sure, there was a little bit of that, but I simply wanted whatever gave us the best shot of getting into eliminations. At this point, I was co-captain and running the meetings. The other co-captain was essentially co-captain in name only. I was in a very awkward position. It was essentially decided that I would get to choose who drives and who doesn’t. I could have muscled my way into driver. However, I didn’t want any of the bad vibes felt by moogboy, nor did I want accusations of being unfair. Therefore, I handed the decision off to our teacher-advisor, assuming that there would be tryouts. However, he decided against driver tryouts. I was very disappointed, because I had been promising the entire team that they would get fair tryouts. Note that I wasn’t the only one who desperately wanted to drive. There were quite a few team members who would have loved a chance to drive. We all took a rules test, and almost everyone passed. Thus, it came down to our teacher-advisor to decide. He was new to the team for Ultimate Ascent, and talked to the mentors, who agreed that the drivers last year get to drive because they had the most experience. I was incredibly disappointed with the decision, but even more so with the process. In the end, I was the coach, which no one else wanted. I enjoyed my time as coach, but that doesn’t stop me from regretting my decisions about the drive team.

That was not the right way to select a drive team.

Therefore, I will reiterate what moogboy had to say: “So in selecting drivers for the long term, all the bad vibes I just shared need to be avoided. As of this time, the only way I’ve seen teams effectively deal with it firsthand is to hold complete, fair driver tryouts and/or pass the reins at off season events to rookie drivers and see what happens. It’s important that everyone on the team understands the process, and that the process is maintained.” I will also add this: Even though I was in the same situation as moogboy, and made the opposite decision, I don’t regret my decisions any less than he does his. There were still plenty of bad vibes on our team, a good number of which were still directed at me.

I actually read this a while ago, and it’s actually what drove this discussion in my team.

We see merit in the idea of choosing a young driveteam and letting them grow into their competitive shoes, but it’s hard to take a stance that not only goes against so many team members, but also requires that we place our faith in untested hands.

There is natural appeal to the idea of giving everyone a shot, but during crunch time, we don’t have that luxury. As such, it may be best to pick out a drive team in the weeks leading up to the 2014 FRC Season. Let the chips fall where they may, but we’ll have qualitative and quantitative data that will help our leadership make a more informed decision.

The idea of “long haul” drivers is still up in the air (in my mind), but having a try-out schedule in place will help (a little).

  • Sunny G.

Our long haul robot driver graduated last year so I’m also looking for his replacement. Fortunately our school division put extensive support into middle school Vex so I have a sizable group of interested freshman with competitive experience but its still unknown how much of that translates to FRC. Traditionally we let interested students try and drive throughout the local offseason event qualifications and then assemble a drive team for eliminations from the students that tried.

I’m not convinced I’ll find another long haul driver this year but it will give me a good idea of what my driver pool looks like.

But isn’t every student who has never been on the real field “untested hands”? No matter what year they are, the competition field is a whole new ball game, and is always “untested” until a student’s first few matches. So you are always taking a risk.

Even offseason events, while the closest approximation, are not a guarantee of performance on the real field… the stakes are much lower, the environment slightly different, the pace slightly different, the robot much better known/vetted.

I’ve seen students who I never in a million years pictured would be good under pressure/on the sticks blow away competition… I’ve seen students that were “naturally skilled” crack under the pressure of the field. It takes a unique combination of skills and chemistry to build a drive team, which in many ways is why choosing a freshman drive team may be the best way to go.

Some of these are generalizations

  • Freshmen/Rookies are more “moldable”… having never been part of the team, they have zero expectations or sense of entitlement to the role.
  • Freshmen/Rookies may have “no fear”… ever seen a 5 year old barreling down a mountain on skis? they are unbreakable, they don’t know how to be afraid yet. Freshmen, who have never experienced the pressure of a competition, in the pits or on the field, cannot have the same type of fear or understanding of the pressure.
  • Freshman don’t have senioritis… while many senior drivers want to go out with a bang, they also have other things to focus on. Meanwhile, Freshman may see the potential future ahead, and may be willing to work harder because they have more to lose - their future roles.
  • Freshmen know they aren’t “the cool kids on the block”… they may be more willing to take direction and do whatever they are told. In the hands of a skilled coach this can be incredibly valuable.

My favorite year with 1511 will always be their rookie year, and that was the year we handed the sticks to a set of freshmen… they were wide eyed and scared… one literally threw up before every single competition, but being so scared, they took direction incredibly well, and didn’t laugh at us when we made them put on blindfolds and direct eachother around obstacles. While not the results of 2056, they did make it to 5th place at one regional, won our third regional, and won an offseason.

It can seem hard to justify, but that’s where a strong team captain or team leader with a vision comes in. Sometimes you just have to make a decision and everyone has to live with it, and work towards the same goal. Find the right qualities that match what you are looking for, and spend the rest of the time training and building your drivers.

I tend to argue against this being a good thing. (Also, I’m having trouble juxtaposing the assertion with the latter story)

One major thing we’ve learned to look for in drivers (regardless of age) is how well they’re known to handle and respect pressure. It’s true, it makes or breaks drive teams. But I’d argue that the absence of fear, particularly when born of naivety, is anything but courage–courage is forged in the fires of fear. All the best drivers we’ve ever had were varsity athletes, and all the runners up had similar qualities and resumes (lifeguards, EMTs, Eagle Scouts, military cadets). The trend started well before we realized it should be a selection issue of its own. Sure, you might not ever be able to replicate being on an official event’s field*, but in many ways I’ve found that pressure is pressure, and grace under it is just that. So I’d advise finding people that know or are primed to learn how to handle it, rather than those that don’t yet know how to be afraid. The latter’s reactions are much less predictable than the former.

That said, this doesn’t inherently rule out rookies! Drivers from OCCRA/etc (is it 33 that’s well known for this?), cadets, athletes, even musical soloists, etc can be awesome choices.

*For what it’s worth, I’ve been in the box for 7 years with essentially every driver our team’s ever had, and almost every one of us thrives most at the “a field is a field” level. There needn’t be any substantive difference between playing at Horsham, Einstein, or Monty Madness, if you can confine yourself to the pressure of the game and play the field you’re dealt. This, again, is a technique I see in a lot of varsity athletes and other performers.

My reference here was in regards to the kids that psych themselves out so much they freeze up, or are too afraid to be aggressive with the robot because they’ve seen how hard it is to fix it. When kids learn to be afraid of messing up, they can get completely locked up.

I see fear and nerves as two different things. The story I relayed was not fear (in my eyes) it was nerves. The second that kid got behind the sticks he was amazing, he “drove it like he stole it”, and could outdrive 90% of the drivers Ive seen. He was not afraid of the robot or the matches, he just got nervous before the competitions.

I can agree with the “need to respect the pressure” statement, but I don’t think respecting the pressure means you have to be afraid. You simply have to be aware of it, understand it, and move past it.

I like the fear/nerves distinction, but I’m not sure how someone can “be aware of it, understand it, and move past it” (agreed–I called this courage) if they “don’t know how to be afraid yet”. It’s the latter statement I’d avoid in long-haul selection, or any driver/leadership selection really, because at some point they will learn about the things that some are afraid of, and it’s difficult to predict if they’ll be able to do the aware/understand/move=courage thing.