Competition Roles for Students

I’ve coached FRC for many years, but this is my first year with FTC. I’m the lead mentor for an all-8th-grade rookie team, none of whom have ever done robotics before, and I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do with them at our upcoming league event. I have 12 students total.

  • 3 can be on the drive team
  • A few more can be in the pit
  • A few more can go around and look at/talk to other teams, but I’m concerned this won’t hold their interest for that long. There are only about a dozen teams scheduled to attend, and most of my students are pretty shy and “don’t know what they don’t know” too much to ask lots of in-depth questions
  • Do people scout at league events? There are only going to be about a dozen teams, we’re supposed to each get 6 matches, and there’s no playoffs or judging so I’m not sure how valuable scouting would be.

Matches don’t start until after lunch, so I’m a little worried it will be a long boring morning for a lot of them. I saw the similar topic from 2018 but didn’t see any helpful answers for our particular situation.


If nothing else, “scouting” with proper structure will probably benefit these new students by learning about all the other robots and ideas they compete with. So many teams struggle with locking themselves into a specific approach to strategic design and team structure, when there are so many more ideas they don’t even know to compare and contrast to. Encourage your students to do their research and compare between the morning “pit scouting” and afternoon “match scouting” which teams’ performance held up to their observations and expectations.

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Encourage students to speak with other teams. They can learn different ways of accomplishing the same goal, see new mechanisms and components, and – most importantly – perhaps make a few new friends.

Definitely. But they can’t talk to 11 teams (5 of whom are also rookies) for 7 hours…

We attended our first FTC League Meet on 10/22. We brought ~30ish students across 5 FTC teams, and yes some of them were bored for part or all of the time. Our true number of students per team is closer to 10-12 like yours, but there were schedule conflicts for many students that Saturday.

  • I think one of our 5 teams tried scouting, but I’d be shocked if the data is used for anything. It is good practice though for later meets/ league championship. In FTC, depending on the venue setup, it can be very hard for observers to even see the field well enough to scout. We were in a flat gym.
  • I think your best bet is to have students actively rotating through the pit and drive team if that’s not already set. The only way they will get experience is if they’re given the opportunity. This doesn’t apply to you, but we have all high schoolers and a mixture of returning and new students. Experience students were expected to be more hands off, so we can build up skilled students for FRC.
  • I didn’t have much luck getting our students to talk with other teams outside of strategy with alliance partners before a match. It really only happened when I took a student or two over to another pit myself to look at something specific. I was busy most of the time with volunteer duties.
  • Find your most spirited students and entrust them with keeping everyone engaged and excited! It’s hard to push excitement from the adult side. We had 5 teams aiming for high junction scoring robots since kickoff but ended up with 5 push bots scoring on the ground junction with no driver practice at our first meet, but I think most of the students still had a good time and are energized to perform better at future meets.

Ok, bold idea:
Our goal is to get them “hooked” in a sense. If they have a good first comp, it will set the stage for whether a comp is exciting or not.

What about having the couple in the pit/driving for the two matches with the intent that those students then teach/coach the other students on the team in doing the roles they just did. Sure it’s not going to be top notch coaching, but it will keep everyone engaged and empower the ones that lead the whole shindig.

Another option is to bring a half/entire field with you. If you have the space (most venues don’t care all that much), you can put it up. Sure it’s extra work, but you have the extra bodies. You can constantly have kids drive practicing, learning, teaching, etc. Foster that constant growth.

I would still suggest a mentor drive coaches though, stressful things can happen that we can deal with a lot better than a new student can. Sometimes better not to risk a really rough experience the first go about.

Oh, also: Let the kids figure out somewhat. Tell them what the comp is about ahead of time, then let them make some guesses at what we need:

Do we need a research group that is taking photos of other team and learning as much as possible? Who wants to do that?

Who’s in charge of making sure we are all hydrated?

Do we want to have the absolutely kick butt loudest cheer squad around? (duh) (also, make them a little cheer binder and bring them pom poms, kids go nuts for pom poms, heck, I go nuts for pom poms) (Face paint goes a long way into keeping kids spirited and busy) (ack, can I just come and be the leader of your cheer squad, I’m now super excited for this comp)

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Ya well duh. The other teams are in the same boat. I did not suggest this was the only thing, but killing an hour at a time with activities can add up. That’s one. Now it’s your turn…

I didn’t do FTC but I can share some experience from when I did Vex robotics. Our school divided into teams of 4 and we had about 6 teams at each event.

Remeber these key things: 8th graders are most definitely in one of the most intense part of the “awkward teen” phase, and are trying to compete in a very complex topic they know very little about. I’m guessing a potential root of the problem could be they are arraid to talk about something they don’t understand very well to people who can know way more than they do. It’s a scary prospect to talk to someone and possible sound dumb. Also, since it’s everyone’s rookie year, they don’t really understand how these events work. You can prepare them all you can, but the first event is still really scary.

That said, if they are interested into continuing on into FRC, try to give them a little bit of a soft landing into the world of crazy high school nerds building big metal death machines (possible rock band name?). Try to at least introduce the concept of scouting to them, even if it isn’t super critical to FTC. As far as the team members not really knowing much about robotics, try to guide them to resources for them to learn. Try introducing critical concepts like the engineering design process and the general flow of robot construction. After they find what parts they are interested in, then you can start introducing topic-specific lessons to people so they are learning what they are interested in, and not being forced to sit through boring lessons about things they don’t care about.

FTC is basically a gateway to FRC. My take on this is to teach your team the best practices to prepare them for FRC. Maybe give the students papers with questions to ask and a spot to record their answers. Also, your team could discuss the teams they recorded information on, discussing the possible strengths and weaknesses of the robots as an alliance member and opposing alliance to better prepare for the matches.

Emphasis on new friends! robotics is a lot of fun, and while many care mostly about frc, ftc can be a lot of fun too and at a minimum a good stepping stone. Making those friends and talking to other teams will 1. Allow them to better connect with the robotics community possibly causing 2. encouragement to improve their robot or learn more about robotics, but they’ll also 3. learn things just by talking because I’m sure other students will want to show a cool thing they did or just natural conversation will help them grow. A lot of the time I feel like people get caught in solely the robot, but a lot of other good connections can be made even if you don’t necessarily fit a strong mechanical or technical role.

Thanks everyone for your suggestions! In the end only ten of our students were able to attend the competition, and I split them into three groups to rotate through pit crew, talking to other teams, and observing matches. We didn’t really stick to the rotations, each group finished interviewing the 14 other teams in much less than the allotted 2-2.5 hours so they had a lot of down time. I think they were probably a little bored at times, but I didn’t hear any complaining and they didn’t get themselves into trouble so :woman_shrugging:

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