Debating withdrawing from our final competition

I’m in a bit of a dilemma about whether we should attend our final FTC competition of the season.

The event is from 7:30am - 6:45pm next Sunday, and takes place at a school an hour away from us.

  • Five of my 13 students have told me they aren’t coming. Only two have turned in their permission slips. 6 are undecided. Only 5 came to practice on Thursday.
  • Next week is the last week of school before winter break - this weekend some of our students will already be on vacations that were booked before they joined the team
  • A 13+ hour day is crazy long for 13 year olds, and frankly I’m not exactly looking forward to it myself
  • We ranked 12/16 teams in our league at the end of our last competition, and because the league is cumulative, the kids feel our odds of actually making it to the playoffs are very slim (and I tend to agree, though I always put a positive face on around them)
  • We are also unlikely to win any awards - none of the kids wanted to make an engineering portfolio or presentation, which I believe is required to be eligible
  • We have to take a bus there, so it’s not trivial to leave early if we don’t make it to playoffs

In short, the team does not seem very motivated to go, and while I’d like them to finish out the season on principle, I understand where they’re coming from.

To pile on one more thing, I’ve had the flu all weekend, and I’m not sure if I’ll be back to work by Tuesday to have a discussion with the team about it. Thursday would be pretty late to decide, since we need to book a bus, plan lunch and dinner, etc.

I’m assuming you want advice so…

Talk to students/parents/mentors and see what they think, then make a decision. Events are the most fun part of the season so most students in my experience want to go. Not a decision anyone but you and your team can make.

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That’s super rough. I make bad decisions when I’m sick. Can you try to avoid making a unilateral decision until you’re feeling better?

Do you have any other adults in your team program or school that you can ping today and talk about it before you get in front of the students?

Way too much feedback to digest while still sick

There’s a lot going on here.

What is the inspiration or benefit you’re looking for in participating in FTC as a Program?
What is the inspiration of participating in this specific weekend event?
What are your students signing up for when they sign up for this program? What will keep them coming back next year?

I’ve taken my students to plenty of FRC competitions where we’ve been completely blown out on the field. I’ve coached them to look for “how do we do better every match”, to look for what they admire in other teams, what they’ll do differently next time, and padded the schedule with stops at the beach and enough food to keep us going. It’s still brutal.

I’ve also taken our students to visit competitions that we were not competing in. Not having a crushing technical failure to get out from under while absorbing what other teams do is a completely different environment for learning and observation.

Do you keep any of these students next year?
Those are the students you’lll want to focus on serving well with a pivot plan here.
You mentioned two that already have permission slips in - can you get a lighter-weight plan together that gets them and a couple others to comp?
Is the event livestreamed? Maybe it’s a good Sunday to watch Playoffs from the lab as a team?

Is that a task for the 13-year-olds, for you, for Team Parents, or for everyone present at practice on Thursday?

This might be a learning to bring into next year.

My experience is 13-year-olds can be capable of executing meal plans when given a process to follow, with some supervision/feedback and expectation of Learning Experiences Occurring. If they don’t have a process to follow, it’s worth having an adult working directly with them. If that adult is me and I’m also coaching technical prep at the same meeting, then technical prep doesn’t happen - I’ve met coaches who can do both, and I admire them, but I am not one of them.

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At the end of the day, it’s about the student. If they aren’t going to show up then what is the point of going?

We’ve pulled out of an offseason before due to lack of interest. Sounds disappointing that they want out of a in-season competition. Probably with the holidays and such coming up, it’s hard for parents and people are starting to check out for the coming up break

Just let them know what they are giving up by deciding not to go

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That sucks because if they don’t go, that’s effort/money wasted. But if you do go and no one shows up or not even a full team shows up, then while you might be able to compete, it’s not fun to lose all the time either.

Can you poll the students with “I want to take you, but you all aren’t showing me you want to go. I’m going to cancel the buses/registration unless you all let me know you want to go and I get permission forms.” ? As a mentor I like trying to leave it up to students, but at some point you do have to make the call if it’s not happening. And morale does seem low, but there’s still a week which is enough time to arrange to go if they spark the interest.

One thing I did last year with my team (because we couldn’t make it to a competition due to logistical nonsense) is we just held matches at our space and calculated points and gave out candy prizes. Maybe that’s an option too?

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My move would be to take the kids who are willing and able to go. At the end of the day, the kids who want to be there shouldn’t be punished for the inaction of others, especially if it’s the last event of their season.

As for you - I highly recommend asking the kids parents to attend with them at least for portions of the day. On the bright side, you’ll only need to handle a small group of kids instead of the full team, which will hopefully be less mentally exhausting.

After the event make expectations very clear with the kids and parents who plan to be involved next season.

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I agree with this. As long as you have a driver and operator (or one that can do both) you can compete.
When you get there find a couple other teams that would be willing to help. Let them know most of your student’s couldn’t be there and could you “borrow” a couple of there’s to help out. Look for teams with a lot of members. It’s likely they are splitting jobs so everyone is involved anyway. It would be simple to allocate a student to help for the day. (And will give them good opportunity to do some outreach for their own team to brag about)

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Thanks everyone for your input. Some more information:

We have a somewhat unusual set-up. Our team is funded and run by the non-profit I work for, so I have a lot of administrative support (one of my coworkers is in charge of transport, meals, etc for all our off-campus events, including this competition), but I’m the only coach/mentor. The other chaperones for competitions are usually my coworkers who don’t regularly work with the team, but know some of the students from other programs.

No, this is an all-8th grade team. We are evaluating whether we want to stick with this model next year, since it’s come with a variety of problems (detailed in another post). But the short answer is that I won’t have any of these students again next year.

For what it’s worth, I think the length of the day is the main factor - for some of our students who live farther from school, they’ll have to leave the house by 5:30am, and won’t be home until 8:30pm. And at least two students will be on vacation. Feeling that we’re unlikely to win is a distant secondary factor.

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And one more note - we didn’t get the actual date for this competition until Nov. 15 and didn’t find out the times until Dec. 6. All three of our competitions have followed this pattern of very last-minute information. So it was hard to set expectations up front of “these are the competition dates, you need to commit to being there”

My gut reaction - don’t go. The kids don’t seem super into it, and the fact that you posted this says that your primary motivator for going is principle, not desire. Sometimes these things don’t work out, and that’s okay. If you have to force a situation, it’s not going to be good.

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I’d agree in most cases, but the guilt you might feel afterwards is pretty real when it’s a kid’s last event.

@snichols is robotics available to these kids through your organization or another one next year? If yes, then maybe my suggestion would be different.

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Nearly all of them will have access to another FTC team next year at their high school.

This morning I heard from one of the “undecided” parents, who says her student will be coming but not on the bus, so that they can leave when he starts getting tired. So now I have like 2.5 kids coming.

Oof.

I don’t envy you having to make this decision and only you know all the variables involved. Older students are probably able to appreciate a cost/benefit and personal responsibility equation probably a bit more than 12 year olds. I tend to come down on the side of supporting the kids that show up and doing what I can to keep the others invested. Your one-off team years is a complicated factor. Whether or not we’re likely to win pretty much doesn’t enter my equation, if we didn’t go to a competition because we thought we weren’t likely to win, we wouldn’t go to many competitions. If I had enough kids to field a drive team that were excited to go and had put in the time/effort, I’d have a hard time walking away from that. Some kids I’ve worked with just need someone to show up for them. But if it’s been a frog march for everyone the whole time, maybe not so much. Maybe some frank one on one talk with the parents of the ones that want to go? Ultimately you have to do what you think is right by yourself, your kids, and your program. Good luck.

Thanks everyone for your perspectives. In the end we’ve decided to cancel, primarily because I still have the flu. I’m on the mend but not 100%, and I told my boss that I might be able to come for part of the day on Sunday, but won’t be up to waking up at 4am to put in a 14 hour day. He spent a good chunk of today trying to round up another chaperone but no one was able to commit to the full day, so we’ve canceled.

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