Club vs Team Approach

Hi All:
I’m conflicted between a club vs a team approach to running an FRC team.
By club, I mean no tryouts, easy to join, right after school and focused on education. By team, I mean dues and build hours are required. Week night and weekend meetings. Plus the focus is on constructing a robot.

During the Fall we get a ton of students and run more like a club.
We get a low turnout on the weekends. It doesn’t matter if its a general build day, a workshop or an outreach event.

In the winter we morph into more of a team and lose a large number of students, but the students that remain are more committed to attending meetings and building a robot.

Does aiming to be a team and being more restrictive from the beginning help you compete and be able to deliver a more technical student education?

I would like to learn if other teams have had these issues, how they improved and how they would rate themselves on a club / team dimension.

Dave

Why are these mutually exclusive?

I’m sure you’ll get lots of answers here, but your first step is probably to ask the current members what they want. We asked our (then club) what they wanted and it was almost a unanimous decision to become a “team”. Have a frank conversation about the differences and the benefits of becoming a team and then maybe take a vote. Ultimately, it is up to the groups leadership, but getting a feel for the room can be very useful.

We changed this year to become a “team” and I think it has minimal but positive results. People realized from day one what was “required” of them which prevented a lot of Freshman from joining activities that would usually prevent them from coming. Overall we have had a better turn out then ever bringing about 15 people to our last competition despite the fact that a large amount of our members had to be at a football game (band members).

I feel like even just saying team instead of club has a positive effect.

2706 is a new community team, and with no specific school backing, we have to focus on our end goal (building an FRC robot good enough to compete in regionals) while also juggling the start-from-zero aspect. We have to temper our expectations with practical realities like expending time trying to find meeting spaces, build spaces, fundraising like mad. The nice thing is that we are open to students from ALL local schools.

We call ourselves a team and we do charge a team fee to cover basic expenses. Sometimes parents will ask us “can Billy join your robotics club?” and we say “sure, Billy can join the robotics team”. (Emphasis added here but NOT when we talk to the parents.) We are going to have an all-hands meeting soon where we will talk about what’s going to happen during build season and competition season. We have a lot of hockey kids in my area so hopefully people will see that we’re not dissimilar in terms of expectations of commitment and time. Since we’re not at a school students will need to be driven to meeting/build spaces so we will definitely need parental commitment.

We are not (yet?) stipulating mandatory attendance requirements. Come when you can. But we do make it clear “you get out what you put in” and that when it comes time to choose team leaders and select people for competition teams, selection will naturally favour those who have been around, who have demonstrated skill and knowledge, who know the software, know the robot, know the tools, and are known and trusted by teammates.

Just curious, what would the focus be on, if not constructing a robot?

We really do seem to attract the same type of students that are attracted to Marching Band don’t we? We have a decent chunk of band students on our team too, and let’s just say that we aren’t the band director’s favorite people in the world because of it.

Just taking a friendly shot in the dark here… :wink:

The focus could be on inspiring students and on changing/inspiring the community around the team.

Some people (but not all) are silly enough to suggest that in FRC the robots are only a part of the “means” and that they aren’t the “end”.

Others have different motivations.

YMMV.

Blake

Our band director thinks we are going to “make a mistake and blow up the school” whats funny is 90% of our members who do band don’t actually want to be there. Its usually just their parents pushing them to do it since they have done it since they were young.

Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding if you’re joking/being sarcastic. Care to elaborate on what you mean?

Towards OP: Personally, I think a large part of what FRC is is having the robot be the “means”. In my FRC experience, my team was a “team” due to team hours being counted and dues being paid, but it had relaxed atmosphere where the robot wasn’t the main issue. The two definitions you gave don’t have to be mutually exclusive, as others have pointed out.

We straddle the line a bit. We’re open to anyone being involved, and we’re perfectly fine with someone that can only show up once a week. However, we have a ton of incentives to encourage increased participation (like travel requirements, lettering requirements), and almost all of our students work towards those incentives. Usually our fall program is attended less than build season, only because students are busy doing other activities (theater, cross country, soccer, and volleyball are some of the big ones, it seems).

We have dealt with this issue for years, and I think we’ve finally optimized it for our group.

We have an open fall, in which our “varsity” students (the veterans, especially those that have lettered the previous year) do specific training events (such as retasking the previous year’s robot) and serve as mentors for the new students, the “JV” squad. JV participates in BEST robotics as an intro to the six week build, the design process, etc. There are no tests for incoming students, and everyone who shows interest is accepted as part of the group, though the “team” is yet to be established.

After BEST is finished (end of October), all students are brought together and given the expectations for participating as part of the “team”:

  • daily meetings, including Saturdays
  • specific skill training sessions
  • fundraising
  • participation fee
  • participation in a serious off-season build
  • training in FRC history

The students who stick around become the “varsity” team, and have the opportunity to letter.

We’ve tried many variations, and this seems to be the most effective. The least effective was to have a “team” and a “club” at the same time. The club students felt second class, and we had a lot of conflicts. Hope this helps some.

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Essentially there is no correct or incorrect way to this. Every FRC team has their own culture, so you and your team really need to decide what works best for you.

But my personal opinion on the matter is that it should be structured and run more like a sports team. I would only have tryouts or an application process if there is a large enough group of students coming into the program. Also one of the biggest pieces of advice I would give, is that if at all possible move your meeting times back until around 6:30 for the weekdays. This is one of my favorite things that 1678 does. It allows mentors like me to be available for most meetings, because by then most people are off of work. If you want more mentor involvement, this is one of the biggest things I would do.
Also I’ve found that when you call yourselves a team, and have certain requirements to stay on the team, it makes the commitment from the students stronger.

So really you need to find out what will work best for your specific program, but I always fall on the side of making it stand out as not just an after school club.

Sure. No problem.

One of my favorite Woody-isms is that the robot is only the campfire we gather around. I 100% believe that building a robot is not what Dean, Woody, Dave, etc.ask (but don’t insist) FRC teams to focus on year-round.

Including the word “friendly”, the winking emoticon, and the YMMV acronym in my other message were an attempt to remind the reader about that in a collegial way, while still acknowledging that FRC participants are free to do whatever makes themselves happy, so long as they pay their fees and follow the rules.

No matter what they end up calling it (team, club, bee, co-op, whatever), I hope the OP’s group finds an organizational style, that looks outward as successfully as it looks inward. Celebrations are more fun when lots of friends share them with you.

Blake.

I feel like aiming to be a team is helpful. Being more of a team focuses High School kids seeing how important robotics is to their lives and how much of a time commitment it takes to be on the robotics team. Each year, we do many things for a team that a club wouldn’t do.

First, we all have to go through a “job interview” situation. Everyone makes a resume. New members answer short answer questions. Returning members write a paper based on a prompt. Everyone then brings their resume and paper to a 10 minute “job interview” and dresses up to meet with our teacher sponsor, main mentor, and another mentor for a 3 on 1 interview.

Another thing each team member has to do is raise $600 in sponsors. We usually have a couple of months to raise our sponsors or “investors” before dues are due.

Because of these two main things, we have a fairly strict team. This year, we had around 50 kids interview for a spot on the team, we accepted around 35-40 members to the team. By the time build season rolls around, I project we will have around 25-30 members. All the members on our team tend to invest a lot of their time into robotics. Going through a job interview and raising $600 is a lot to do for just a club. It helps members take robotics more seriously.

Many times, I wish that some of our team members were more involved in the team, but then I remember our members are more involved than in many other teams. This process is sort of a pain, but it is what makes our team what it is. I love FIRST but raising $600 is hard. But if we didn’t have to do that, we would have a lot of team members that wouldn’t care and would treat our team more like a club. It helps lead to our success. I feel like this hard process is part of what made our team so successful in 2015

I hope this helped you. PM me or respond in the thread if you have any more questions about how our team works. Thanks for reading.

Being in FIRST and putting the focus on the robot is like building a robot and putting the focus on the bandsaw (or mill or lathe, or whatever you do your machining with). The robot is a tool we use to play the game, the game is a tool we use to inspire and teach.

Even when we did not have so many applicants that we could not have them all in the spaces at one time, we were definitely on the “team” side of the balance. There are three main reasons for this:

  • These days, STEM is all about working in teams. Anyone going into STEM who has not learned how to work as a team member is at a definite disadvantage.
  • Our school’s culture (and administration) is big on competition. Being a team rather than a club helps bring in new members, and definitely helps when the administration decides whether or not to support us with a parking lot for a practice area or a portable building for build space.
  • Teams become “family”, that is, learn to trust each other, far faster and usually deeper than clubs. Many of the kids we hope to inspire need to know what a family is supposed to be like. It’s rather strange to think of FRC as an alternative to joining a gang, but there are a couple of cases where we may have made that big a difference in a life.

Our first three years, we never turned anyone away from the team, but we always set expectations, and awarded positions of leadership, responsibility, and prestige to those who deliver on those expectations. Team leadership is recognized and formalized, rather than elected. We have never held a truly democratic election on anything important; consensus is preferred, but when consensus fails, leadership determines the best course of action. The only time Jesse’s decision on team leadership was overridden by the students was rather curious. The students as a strong consensus (next stage would have been pitchforks, torches, and power tools) told Jesse that Joey (his son) was definitely a team captain. He had dismissed Joey, afraid of nepotism complaints. After the intervention, all returned to “normal”.

Last year and this year, we had more candidates than our spaces could hold, so we held “tryouts” to determine early who is willing to commit to the team. Our criteria are based on attitude, not aptitude, though we do get good aptitude data as a side effect which helps place team members in their respective roles. Our tryouts are intentionally sufficiently brutal that significantly more candidates “fail to complete tryouts” than are “not selected” from those who finish. Tryouts are **not **as brutal as build season; the idea is to let kids flake out earlier rather than later. These cuts helped our team form an espirit de corps much earlier than ever before. This year, it’s even higher, even earlier.

Finally, a personal note. In high school, I was a member of quite a few “clubs” and “activities” including National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, yearbook, newspaper, and more, but the extracurricular I remember most was competing in “Academic Games”. Even though we competed as individuals, the experience of training together and cheering each other on when one of us was in the “playoff rounds” made those people constitute most of those whom I would be looking for at a high school class reunion. I ended up carpooling to college (commuting to the University of New Orleans) with three AG team members who had graduated a year ahead of me. Teams matter in ways that clubs cannot.

I think it is unlikely that this is the OPs implicit alternative, although we will see if/when the OP replies.

I say it is unlikely because I have never met a team that is truly dedicated to inspiring students and changing their communities that acts like a club, maybe I just need to get out more. Every single “inspiring” team that I have met is just that, a team. For example, I highly doubt that almost any Chairman’s winning teams would self-describe as a club.

My original question was posed because the OP is describing the club vs team choice in a way that is opposite of my personal experience. In my experience, FRC “teams” that I would describe as clubs focus almost exclusively on the robot.

First off (and this goes to anyone interested) please pm me so we can discuss further how we have done things at Becker (FRC 4607 C.I.S.).

At Becker we decided early that we wanted the best and brightest students involved in our program. When we proposed FIRST to our school in the fall of 2012, they (school administration) wanted a year to discuss it. However, when we started to work with our (now) sponsors, they demanded that this opportunity happen immediately - regardless if the school was on board. The sponsors had a few other demands - but I can provide these in better detail in a PM.

So we went ahead with the idea that we would use my space (I am an Industrial Tech teacher) for this endeavor. We never thought of this as a club or a team - but as a program that will fulfill a need that Becker did not yet have. We wanted to create a program that brought in all of these great leaders to create a “team” that had many facets - facets that you could find in a lot of other programs (NHS, 4H, DECA, SuperMileage, Debate, SKILLS USA, Knowledge Bowl) but not in one area. The things that we stressed were leadership, public speaking, marketing, strategy, web design, engineering, fabrication, etc. We sought the approval for the space usage from my principal and she obliged.

When we started FRC 4607 we realized that without leaders, we would be doomed. If we just started this endeavor with robotics kids, we would be a robotics club. This was not our intent. We wanted to be relevant in Minnesota within five years. In fact, in the other coach’s office he still hangs our first year’s objective: To be in the top 50% of Minnesota FRC teams in five years.

Our next obstacle was to gain funding. The school would provide the space and nothing else - we were on our own. At the time we thought this was a program killer - little did we know that this was one of the keys to our success. When we presented our idea/team to the local industry they were amazed that the school did not jump on board - so they did. When the local industry started to climb on board, they were willing to provide money and the mentors to help us.

Three years later we are more than stable - and we are still growing. We started with 12 interested students and last season we had 51 students on our FRC team. Of those 51 students, all but 7 were apart of other organizations such as Soccer, Football, Trap, NHS, Basketball, Theater, Debate, Speech, Baseball, Yearbook, Track, LaCrosse, Tennis, Student Council, Band, Choir, and many others. All of these students understood that FRC is just a program - but one that can greatly influence who they are and what they can do after High School. In the last three years, we have graduated 38 students and all but three are now in a four year university studying a degree in the STEM spectrum. In fact, a handful started the Bison Robotics club at NDSU and are a part of the Ri3d team ‘Greenhorns’.

I think that Becker has a great model for others to follow - allow your student leaders in the school to be a part of the FRC team while at the same time allow them to compete and/or be an integral part of other programs in their school. What they gain from both entities will strengthen their identity and make your team that much stronger.

Others can judge on where FRC 4607 is/has been in terms of team placement in Minnesota… but from what I have seen my students do in the last three years, I know we are a great success.

Our team does the same thing, and it’s worked pretty well so far. This is the setup I would recommend, and it’s a great combination of the two.

Hi All:
Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful replies. I plan to share your perspectives with the students and see if our approach can be improved.

Like many who commented about their students being involved with other activities, my team is no different. They are busy filling out college applications, working on a 2yr IB degree, attending a variety of clubs as well as participating on sports teams. As such, we mostly focus on training rookies in the fall.

According to the school we are a club. In the fall, we behave just like any other after school club. Then in January the magic happens. Our meetings switch to evening times, we collect dues and require a certain amount of build hours to travel with the team.

To the comments about doing both. We are, but it may not be the best approach for us.
We typically attract 40 new students in the fall, but only a small percentage end up attending the winter meetings on a regular basis.

Since the team wants to do better in the competition, I will approach them with your comments and see if a change in our procedures are in order.

Dave