Do you think your team will fold by 2022?

Very unscientific poll, but curious about the current state of things. Results are anonymous.

  • My team is likely to fold before 2022
  • There is a small possibility my team folds before 2022
  • It’s very unlikely my team folds before 2022

0 voters

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This poll is pretty binary (by design), but while I’m nearly certain we’ll stay alive beyond the 2021 season, the real question is what capability we will be operating at in 2022. Most of my effort on the team right now is towards keeping a “low but steady” amount of momentum going so that the maximum number of people will be participating in the 2022 season. IMO, people’s priorities right now should be:

  1. Maintain engagement (What percentage of the team participates in activities?)
  2. Watch the budget (If you stopped getting sponsors today, could you run 1.5 seasons? How much more can you bring in, and how much less can you spend?)
  3. Keep everyone in-practice (What will your team be capable of in 16 months?)

Needs an option for “depends on who wins the election.”


I anticipate the poll will skew towards unlikely to fold compared to the actual results since the only people on CD currently are the people that are likely to put in far more effort to keep their team alive. The teams I’m worried about are generally not on CD. But I’m curious anyway.


Oh definitely! We were gonna die out regardless if Covid was present. If Covid was not, we’d 100% have already ended. The last thing the team was told after the HQ announcement was 2021 to be the hopeful season, as a chance at redemption. Judging by robots in the 2016 - 2020 era, 2020 was our best robot, and one that could have been in the semi finals if not finalists.


Yes, the analysis that showed the distribution of team representation on CD confirms this issue. But we have to worry if a large proportion of the higher performing teams are threatened.


Our largest threat, luckily, remains mentor attrition. I’d feel better if we had a school sponsored mentor position, that could take over the role for our head mentor which is largely admistrative whenever they are wanting to step down. Many area teams seem to have mentors who get school stipends. We’ve lost a couple teacher-mentors who took stipends with other clubs.


Student and mentor engagement is going to be important and the thing that worries me right now. Once people drop off and find other stuff to do (at least the mentors) it’ll be hard to get them back.

With so many events getting cancelled last year I’m hoping a lot of teams have more cash than normal so that the fundraising gap to get to 2022 is smaller to close since sponsorship money is going to be hard to come by. Travel is by far our biggest expense so we’re starting this season with like 3x more cash than normal in the bank (2/3 of our normal budget) since our big events didn’t happen last season. I’m hoping that we’re conservative with cash this year, fundraise as hard as we can, and maybe enter 2022 fully funded to buy us some time to figure out the new normal and how to raise money during a recessionary period. I know not every team has independent budgets and money management from their schools/districts but I’m hopeful my team’s situation is somewhat common.

I’m not as concerned about funding right now as I am about another season off leading to teachers being burnt out (due to being forced to teach in person + virtually), newer mentors getting disengaged, and very enthusiastic students losing enthusiasm because we may not even be able to meet with them in person. We have quite a robust group of mentors, but teams with 1-3 mentors - big oof. If there is a 2021 season, I expect a lot of teams dropping or deferring to 2022.


Our team has high level of interaction, but as the years have gone on we’ve began having team leads and most of our team leads will be graduating this year. This scares me, because what if no one steps up? We can’t get one of our big money sources this year either.

Does getting into the fetal position on the floor and saying “I wish things were normal” over and over count as folding or not? Asking for a friend.


Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

Instead of doing summer activities, we are making polycarb barriers on the router for the entire district, and maybe more for fundraising

At the end of the day FIRST Robotics (at least our team) has very little about robotics, and more to do with teaching students how to engineer, do business, etc


Taking the raw numbers, factoring in a Chief Delphi effect and then just plain guessing…I’d figure a 20-25% drop in teams if there is a chance to play in 2021. A bit better if this can be announced in the next month or two. Worse if uncertainty lingers on. If there are no large events in spring 2021 it will be much worse. That would whittle FRC down to a hard core group of perhaps 60% of the pool. From there who knows. Uncertain economic outlook+international discord+infectious disease+a serious hit to our educational system from the shutdown. Darn near a perfect storm regards FRC. But I figure 50% of teams have deep enough roots to survive a worst case scenario, although some of those might go to the dormant / restart mode too.

The gap created by COVID creates an easy opportunity to leave a team or (maybe more so) retire from mentoring. If I were looking for the easiest exit opportunity, this is it.

I’m worried that there will be little to no return on investment (ROI) on registering this year either because our school policy changes in such a way that prevents us from meeting/competing or because events themselves are too restricted. I’m not sure its worth the cost if only 5-10 of our ~40 students can go. I’m hesitant to spend that kind of potentially low-ROI money if I’m not confident that we can find more.

Speaking of students, I’m worried that our upperclassmen won’t be able to inspire and teach the underclassmen in the same ways they could before. I’m worried about how this affects Brain Drain, student retention, and team cohesion.

I think this situation really emphasizes what is difficult about running an FRC team and highlights individual team’s weaknesses.

The pro is that in figuring out how to proceed, we’re coming up with new ideas and considering options we would have dismissed before. While I love FRC, this situation has me thinking about how other programs could fit better with the resources we have. If we don’t register for 2021, we could instead invest that money in team resources: kits to help with training; tools and tool accessories; spinning up robotics teams in different programs for our students who don’t want the time commitment of FRC…

I think there is a slim chance that we fold by 2022 but I don’t think we would leave all of competitive robotics - if we fold as an FRC team it’d be because we decided to go with a competition that doesn’t require so many resources.


This topic has been on my mind for weeks. We have had many great students quit the team. Add the student decline to the loss of talent via graduation and we have a real issue brewing. It gets more interesting, without students meeting, it make recruiting a far more difficult task. Who really wants to be on a virtual robotics team? All the great parts of FIRST are slipping away. If we can get a solid 2021 season, I think 3250 will survive. Without an actual goal of competition, the whole program no longer validates the effort for our students. Without a solid year of growth, our team (like many) will lose all of our talent and not be able to grow enough younger students to fill the void. This is what it looks like to lose a decade of hard work! I think many teams are in the same situation. Teams who are structured with heavy mentor participation will not be in as much trouble. Student driven teams will literally lose a substantial amount knowledge and legacy. I personally want to leave FIRST on my own terms via retirement (in 20 years). The current situation may be too great to overcome.


This was also a concern for us. We lost our whole drive team going into 2020, and had to scramble to try and teach a new one on short notice. Something similar is happening with the student leadership this year, and i havent heard a word since march about what the plans are for that.

The school district announced that theyre online only for the foreseeable future, so its probably the least of the worries right now honestly.

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I think my former team, 3rd created in Brazil will fold, the team never had good administration, and in the last year’s it got worse, the school has been declining too, with only a class for the first year of highschool

One major concern we had at the most recent mentor meeting is if students who do not get to compete in 2021 will still be eligible for scholarships.

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Absolutely this.

This right here is what COVID took away from all of us that do FIRST. And this applies to not only students, but mentors, volunteers, parents, and our school.


I think I’m starting to look… bigger picture. I think that COVID has stressed a deeper definition of sustainability than always being in the black or not making CO2.

To me, the impacts are less about “how do I get money” and more “how do I get stuff done”. If you can figure out the second one, in most circumstances, the first one follows suit. In my experience, the key to the second isn’t having resources so much as it is knowing how to use what you do have to your ends, and being allowed to use it.

I’m not going to go into technical issues related to this specific pandemic. They’re less interesting to me than systemic dependency. And this is my first time writing this all out so I haven’t even internalized and done all this yet.

Regarding FIRST writ large… perhaps there is a sustainability issue, but it’s very much structural- if FIRST HQ goes over, it’s over. Applying the Luke Smith Rule (look, I very much share his tech philosophy), “If I’m faced with a choice, I will always pick the choice that makes me less dependent on the system”. Perhaps this crossroads is a choice you can make for the better.

  1. Work outside of your school district, or outside of <insert any other organization you’re a part of that you don’t control>
  2. Develop systems that allow for your goals to be met without FIRST or VEX specifically existing. This doesn’t mean you have to function fully outside of a larger ecosystem, just that you need to be org-agnostic; ready to walk and go to something else that better serves your needs. Are you a FIRST team, or a robotics team that competes in FIRST competitions?
  3. If you seek competition, develop it locally (BunnyBots would be an interesting model to really sink into)
  4. Recognize that if your goal is vocational† inspir-edu-cation, there’s other routes than robots. Rockets are cool, and so are racecars. Internships are great; I’m wrapping up a great summer working with some highschool grads / current college students, (which has been an even better way to mentor, in many ways).

In summary, this shouldn’t be something you’d ever be thinking about:

Some specific advises, because at the end of the day I care more about the individuals that make up teams:
A. To students individually: you can get a solid job/internship in high school if you have some decent cards and play them right. Any exposure to fields you’re interested in is better than none.
B. To mass-schooled (public, private, parochial, college, uni) students: take a gap year. Despite Harvard’s seething, the homeschoolers have you beat. Take this time to learn their advantage. (Many of our interns extended to co-ops since COVID… definitely the smart call)
C. To mentors: Reach out to those you can impact personally. When communication is hard, individual focus is best.
D. To parents: Points A and B. A little responsibility never gave anyone less meaning in life.

† I’m beginning to bemoan saying STEM, STEAM, tech, or whatever new meme you kids have. Vocation is a good word to describe what we really care about- giving people a chance to find ways they can use their skills to fulfill a calling.