Drive Coaching

This is going to be my first year as a mentor, on Team 3534 House of Cards, and my main job is going to be teaching students how to drive effectively and strategize with other teams.

A little background: I started doing robotics my senior year, in early September, 2015. With almost the whole team being new, we needed a new driver. We did tryouts and I showed the most potential and drove at Kettering Kick Off. Come 2016 season, I was selected as the main driver. We competed in 2 districts, placing 2nd at Kettering week 2 and placing 1st at Marysville week 5. At states we made it to the quarter finals, losing to the state champs. Then at world’s, we were the leader of the 8th alliance in the Archemedies division, losing to the division champs in the quarter finals.

There has never really been drive coaching done because there hasn’t been enough mentor power/time to focus on driving after building the bot. Now that I am a mentor, I’m looking to develop drivers and was wondering what other teams are doing in the off season. Any tips would help!

Our team’s big thing to see who has what it takes to be on Drive Team is going to an off-season competition and running rookies on Drive Team during Qualifiers. That’s what we did this past weekend at B3 and found a lot of potential!

GameSense and FIRST did a Behind The Lines episode on effective team communication in 2014. We covered some great drive coach tips with Mike Corsetto from 1678 (Einstein 4 years in a row).

You can check it out here.

Practice, practice, practice. The biggest improvement I’ve seen in our drivers over the past few years is the amount and quality of practice they have been getting.

Once they get reasonably proficient, we start practicing with a stop watch. They repeat cycles over and over, looking for small things they can do to shave fractions of a second off any individual action. We have someone log times on a white board as they go. We also take data about our success rate of individual actions so we know how effective we really are. We look for consistency over many trials. This both improves their driving, because they can see that every action they do has measurable results, and instills in them the idea that practice really has benefits.

This also helps with strategy discussions because the drivers already have tried so many different approaches to the game challenges that they can evaluate proposals from other teams. They have become more confident in their own abilities and won’t take on approaches that they know they can’t accomplish. We try not to burn bridges by overstating what we can do on the field.

A good coach can make the difference between being mediocre and being a superstar. I’ve always viewed the drivers as the people who are physically executing the strategy, but it’s up to the coach to guide them with that strategy. The drivers should be focusing on their robot only, the coach is their eyes on the rest of the field (and the clock). There are certainly different styles of coaches, varying from very talkative and direct to some that are more laid back and only direct when needed. This style should be tailored around what your drivers need out of a coach.

If you want to hear some cool opinions from 254s former drive coach, check out an interview Ty and I did with him earlier this year.

And if you have any specific questions, always feel free to ask!

There seem to be two real components to your question- “How to train drivers?” and “How can the drive coach add to this process?”

In terms of training drivers, nothing beats experience. The more time your drivers have on the sticks, the better. Getting time at home is the first step, but unless you have a real practice field that can mimic the conditions found behind the glass, drivers are also going to need some time spent on the field and around other robots. Off-season events and pre-bag scrimmages are a great places for younger drivers to get experience in a competition environment.

In terms of the role of the coach and how a coach can add to the driver’s experience, it varies from team to team and drive crew to drive crew. Each drive coach has their own style and has to find their own comfort zone with each set of drivers. Some drivers need step-by-step direction, especially as they’re still learning the robot. Other drivers only need high-level pointers towards the general strategy. Sometimes you have to work as an in-between for the main driver and secondary operator, but other times the two have a solid rapport and can communicate without coach intervention. One of the few constants is that the drive coach will be the one talking to alliance partners during the match, and relaying any important information to the drivers.

For match preparations, some teams have the coaches act as the liaison to other teams to determine match strategy. Others have scouts or drivers do the talking (or some combination of all three). That’s up to your team and how you want to conduct pre-match discussions with partners.

Here’s some advice from Karthik: Driver Qualities Selecting a drive team Drive Coach Qualities

Thanks everyone for the tips! I have a lot of information that is going to need to be sorted through. ::rtm::

Another thing I was wondering is if anyone has suggestions on specific “drills” to help teach the drivers or the drive coach for the off season? I was kind of thinking along the lines of teamwork video games/exercises or robot obstacle courses.