Drive Team Chemistry

Hello all,

Seeing as the official season has come to a close I would like to bring up the age old topic that is the “drive team”. I’ve read through a thousand and one threads regarding selection of drive team and they all mention that there needs to be good chemistry, they need to want it, competitiveness, competence, etc.

For the most part our team has always had outstanding drivers, yet as the team’s 4th year comes to an end we found ourselves lacking in this department due to our senior drive team members graduating last season. This is where the problem starts, with the selection of a basically all new drive team this season, we found ourselves faced with multiple challenges concerning driving that we were ill-equipped to face. We would love to hear any advice on the following “issues”.

Number one: Our drive team members have absolutely no chemistry together, they do not dislike each other, but for the most part are not friends. They simply seem to be on separate wavelengths, making communication more difficult.

Number two: The drivers are uncomfortable around the drive coach. This goes back to the lack of chemistry, the main driver often does not feel confident in the drive coach’s decisions, but the operator who is fairly meek, becomes torn between two people telling her different things, this led to quite a few mishaps during the season.

Number three: For champs we switched out drive coach due to the issue present in number two. We found ourselves without anyone seemingly qualified to coach that will be around for several years. Personally I believe that having a drive coach is essential for communication and not having someone who can stay and learn from year to year is detrimental.

Number four: The operator is not seemingly competitive and becomes stressed easily affecting her overall performance. She also needs quite a bit of reinforcement and directions during matches. The main driver who is not the “directing” type does not pair evenly with the operator or the drive coach, leading to a lot of miscommunication.

Number five: When there are no other seemingly “qualified” members among the team for driver, but the current drive team chemistry does not work, is it better to choose the next best option or to continue with the current drivers. Assuming that practice has not started.

Those are the main issues that have seemed to permeate the drive team throughout the season. I would like to point out that this is in no way a personal jab at the driver’s abilities or competency, as I believe anyone can get better with enough practice, but more an inquiry on how to improve drive team chemistry for next season.

Completely open to all constructive answers, including those that consist of “replace the entire drive team” as long as a proper explanation is given.


I think the biggest thing I can tell you is practice practice practice. I was a former driver and drive coach, I have driven and coached with drivers that I wasn’t very close to. The things that really helped our drive team was practice. With enough practice we started getting the chemistry element of our drive team down. Another key thing to increasing the chemistry of a drive team is communication. Our team likes to make the coach direct communication between both of our drivers. As long as there is good communication between your drivers they will be on the same page and you will see better chemistry as a result. So don’t give up on your drivers yet, get them to practice and work on communication as a unit.

I was on the drive team for the three years I was a student on the team (2010-2012). Hopefully I can provide some insight and guidance that may help.

Obviously, practice is very important. The drive team should be practicing as soon as there is a robot complete enough to drive, and they should not stop practicing until the season is over. The 148 drive team practices about five days a week and for several hours each of those days, assuming the robot is not undergoing major modifications. This kind of practice will usually develop chemistry over time, but it’s not an issue that can just be solved with hard work. Some people just aren’t cut out for being a member of the drive team.

You’ve got to be confident, and you’ve got to be able to keep your cool out on the field if you want to be successful out there. As a driver, it was impossible for me to avoid being stressed right before a match, but I wouldn’t let anyone else see that. Staying focused and having a calm demeanor can help keep the emotions of the other drive team members in check and boost everyone’s confidence in the process. You’ll find that the best drivers are completely in the zone during a match. The stress from before is gone, the crowd is gone, and the announcer is gone. All that remains is your robot in front of you, your fellow driver at your side, and your coach giving you instructions from behind. You’ll also find that the best drivers don’t need much instruction during the match at all, potentially allowing your drive coach to step back and better coordinate the efforts of the entire alliance. You’ve got to be able to think quickly, you’ve got to trust in your drive coach’s decisions, and you’ve got to be willing to invest the time to improve your driving skill. These are all crucial attributes for a driver to have. You’ve just got to hunt for the students on your team that fit all of these criteria. Another very important thing to consider- your drive team somewhat acts as the face of your organization. They may be the only members of your team that the other teams interact with. Make sure your drivers are well behaved and respectful to those other teams.

On the issue of the drive coach… consistency is key. Your drive coach should be the same person for the whole year, and that person should be able to coach for many years. This is the reason 148 has mentor drive coaches. They are able to stick around longer than students, and the experience gained from all of those years enables them to be the best at what they do. I’d also wager that students accept instructions from a mentor better than from one of their peers. Pick a worthy drive coach, and stick with that person. If you picked the right drivers, they will adapt to the coach and get along with them. (Mentor drive coaches work best for our team, but they may not be best for your team. All teams are different. Adjust accordingly.)

Now, on to the question of whether or not you should switch drive team members. You absolutely should switch out the drive team members if they don’t meet the criteria I’ve listed above. If chemistry is the only thing lacking though, give them some more time to practice. Communication is important as well, but with enough practice, your drivers should be so in sync that they know exactly what to do at all times, minimal words needed. If after all of this practice you still aren’t seeing improvements, maybe there’s just a lack of skill that can’t be remedied. Since I joined 148, there has never been a driver that hasn’t driven for the remainder of their years as a student on the team. Hopefully a coach like Paul Copioli, who has swapped out drive teams in the past, will drop in here to give more insight into the matter if you find that you need to make some changes.

Our team had some similar issues with our drive team, so much that we shifted around our drive team numerous times trying to make things work (it didn’t help that we had members who had to work/couldnt make it/etc). The best thing I would say to do is, when holding drive team tryouts, don’t just look for the best in each individual role, look for the pair that is the best together. A team could have the best operator and best driver in the entire world but if they don’t work together well there’s no point.

When there are no other qualified members, I feel it would be better to have a compatible drive team with little experience than to have an incompatible drive team with experience. Especially if practice hasn’t started, because then those inexperienced kids can get experience.

Firstly I have had the pleasure of being in several very good drive teams, and working with many more. I have been in the position of operator, driver, and coach throughout my FIRST career.

Firstly, attitudes on the drive team are what I consider to be the key factor with what makes a drive team work so well, and that starts with the coach. The coach on our team is not only in charge of what our drive team does on the field, but what it does off the field as well. He/she makes sure the drivers get food, makes sure we get to where we need to be on time, etc. This individual is the backbone of the drive team to me. Teams that have good drive coaches are the most pleasurable to work with, and perform better on the field, even if the drivers are average. They leave a good impression of your team, even if your performance in the match wasn’t stellar. Who are you looking for? A responsible, calm under pressure person. Then you look at their skill at being an actual coach.

Skills are easy to improve. Attitudes are not.

This goes for all the rest of the drive team. The entire drive team needs to have trust in the coach. Select the coach with the best attitude with the willingness to learn, and choose students who respect that coach.

Practicing will help fix this. Do things together that isn’t robotics related.

We set a standard that the coach’s word on the field is the law. If a driver repeatedly failed to listen on the field, I doubt they would be driver much longer on our team. Drive team should be informed of the match plan, and be able to discuss it before the match, but on the field there is no time for discussion. The coach is watching the whole field. The drivers are not. The coach has the most info available to them, so they make the calls on the field.

Addressed earlier.

Again attitudes are everything. Choose drivers who want to drive and do well while remaining calm. Skill will come with practice. The operator may just seem non-competitive or perhaps rightfully stressed? Carefully evaluate before you remove someone from the drive team as it may effect the people involved greatly.

Again attitudes over skill. Skill will come later if the driver has the right attitude. 4476’s current driver played a practice match in 2014 where he couldn’t drive in a straight line, let alone score. After a summer of practicing before the 2015 season. He was a well above average driver, and is already eager to improve this skills further. Attitude is (almost) everything.

I have been on the drive team as primary driver for two years and had the privilege of being able to watch 3 years of of our teams previous drive teams work together. One thing i have noticed is that some years are better than others.

I have noticed a couple of key elements that contribute to a very professional and competent drive team.

The first would be that the best drive teams do not always have the best drivers when they are first chosen. When picking a drive team i would pick dedication and perseverance any day over the fastest time around an obstacle course. drive team members need to be extremely dedicated. Arguably the most dedicated members of the team, willing to spend hours every day driving the robot, and repeating drills over and over. They need to be perfectionists, understanding that they are never done. Even if they’ve become “good” at driving, there is always more they can work on. They should never need to be asked to practice, or to do a drill again, or pestered to practice more. They need to want to do it themselves, and get angry and hold others accountable when for some reason they can’t practice, or something is preventing them from practicing.
Good reflexes, good decision-making, the knowledge of what can break and when it’s all right to push your robot that extra step. Look for people who will back up to get a ball instead of turning around to pick it up, then turn around again to score it. Look for people who understand things will break, and that in some matches you may need to keep going even if it gets worse (elimination matches or sometimes high-priority matches) and some matches where it’s alright to stop and be careful for the duration. Also, make sure they’re aggressive enough to not back away from hitting something for a point, but not overly aggressive to get penalties or to hit things just to hit things. It’s a balance that is hard to find and realize sometimes.

The second thing that i have noticed is that there has to be one person on the drive team that is the leader. A person who is willing to take responsibility for the others and is willing to take the flak for a bad match or poor performance. this person will grow to become the drive team captain. This is not a spot that should be assigned, but it is something that will just happen in a good drive team.
Having one person that is the drive captain gets rid of allot of problems. If you have a very skilled but meek driver this driver will no longer be worried about messing up but will be able to focus on driving and not the consequences of a small or large mistake.
There have been a few times when i have seen Key drive team members tell other students and mentors on the team to come to them first with any complaints or problems with the drive team. Unfortunately this was right after a mentor had just chewed out a freshman secondary drive and sent them off sobbing. Behavior like this should be completely unacceptable on a FIRST team.

The last thing is certainly more of a personal preference than anything. I feel that you should not switch out drive team members at a regional because you think they are not driving good enough. This is just always put a added pressure on the drive team that really is not needed. Of course an exception to this would be if a drive team member was doing something against team policy for all students.

Well that is my thoughts on drive team. I could be way off my rocker but take from it what you want.

P.S. Here is a paper that i have. I did not write it . It is just a bunch of stuff off of Chief Delfi that i sort of compiled.

drive team.docx (139 KB)

drive team.docx (139 KB)

The drive coach should be making big picture decisions like overall strategy or where to place a stack and pointing stuff out that the driver doesn’t see and talking to other teams to tell them how to get the ball to you. If you want things to work without too much argueing they shouldn’t literally be dictating movements and stuff. Giving your driver some independence will work wonders for you. However if they’re defiant then kick them out of there.

I’ve had three operators over the years and the way you make it work is to make sure that your operator takes orders from the driver and no one else. The driver tells them when to shoot, when to deploy the pickup, when to move the stacker and so on. Not the coach.

As the operator of our robot for the past two years, I find that chemistry is very key.

Last year, my first year driving, and this year, the drive coach held tryouts for drivers using previous year’s robots. Instead of having us drive separately, he told us to pair up with someone we work best with, and then choose who would drive and who would operate. This helped us to make sure that we could communicate properly, and have good chemistry between us. Anyone who wanted to try got to choose 2 partners, to tryout 2 times. There was then a final team that worked well and still got the job done.

Trust is a huge part of drive team as well. I completely trusted my drive coach in both years i have driven. I know that he knows the game and strategy etc. In order for a drive team to work cohesively, trust has to be shared between everyone on it. The drive coach has to trust the drivers will listen, because he has a better view of the bigger picture. And the drivers have to trust the coach for the same reason. The driver and operator have to trust each other as well, or there will be even worse issues, which is going back to the chemistry bit.

As for the emotional operator, I understand how she feels. But, in order to be a successful drive team, you have to be able to realize that mistakes happen, and it’s not always your fault. Drive team members have to be strong and be there for each other, instead of against each other. No blame should be pointed towards anyone by anyone. So try to choose drive team members that aren’t going to let mishaps shape their driving.

You hit the nail on the head with these. Primary/secondary Driver/operator, whatever you want to call them must work well together, and trust, trust is very important. if a driver cant listen to a coach and trust what he is saying, and a coach cant trust a driver to do what is right in a situation, a drive team will fall apart.

Things that I look for in drivers (and remember from my own driver experiance) are as follows:

Drive Coach
The drive coach should have a near-perfect understanding of the game and the meta-game. Knowing which decisions will get you more points and which decisions will impress the top teams are key elements for a DC. They should also know the limits of their robot and drive team. For example, if their robot can take totes from the landfill, but the drive team only has experiance loading from the HP, the DC should go for the safer and more reliable option.

Off the field the Drive Coach should be someone who’s fun to be around. One of the most important aspects of the DC is being able to keep the drive team energized, calm, and as stress-free as possible.

The drive coach should be strategic in thinking, but cool and decisive in acting.

The driver should also know the limits of the robot. Knowing which areas their robot excels in and where they struggle are key aspects. Lining up a shot or where to place a gamepiece should be second nature to them. For example, when I drove in 2012 I would line up in the same spot every time. After a while, the line-ups became second nature, and people began to compliment us on our camera-tracking program (which we didn’t have). The coach tells the driver a generic task (pick up totes from the landfill), and the driver should know every detail of how to do so.

As for chemistry, the driver should be bold and steadfast. That innertube? That’s mine, I’m not going to let anyone stop me. Those totes? Our totes. While being bold, the driver should be very confident of their coach. As a driver, I focused only on what my robot was doing. I worked to perfect the little details of my driving while my DC gave me a plan. The DC trusts the driver has perfect control of the robot, and the driver trusts the DC has perfect teamwork with their partners.

As the driver knows the ins and outs of how the robot handles, the manipulator should know the fine details of how to control the scoring mechanisms. Picking up an innertube or how to stack totes should be down to muscle memory.

From my experiance of driving, the best manipulators were the ones you didn’t notice. As I moved the robot around the field, it felt like all the other mechanisms were autonomous. Right as I lined up a shot in 2010 and 2012, the robot fired. As I approached the bridge, it would lower automatically.

As for personality, a shy person is ideal. They’re fine with others making the decisions and will do their best without the need to be told to.

Final Thoughts
I would like to thank my drive coach and manipulators for being as outstanding as they were. You helped make me a better person, and in return, help my FTC students do the same.

When making decisions for my FTC drive team, I keep all these points in mind. If a student has drive experiance from last year, I’ll push them more towards being the drive coach. I’ll try to make sure we have a younger student on so they can gain experiance for next year.

A drive team should feel natural being together. They should all have trust in each other that they’ll do their job to the best of their abilities. And most of all, they should have fun and enjoy this amazing experiance.

The most important thing to remember is that, going on to the field, each member of drive team should know exactly what they are going to be doing every match. I don’t mean that as in knowing the match strategy, though they should, I mean in terms of what types of calls they will be making and what things they are going to be saying. This will depend on your drive team dynamic but talk to your drive team and come up with a system. For instance, our coach stands behind us but on the side closer to where our human player is and makes strategic calls, relays instructions to the human player, and gives our driver/operator updates on what was happening elsewhere on the field. Our driver handles the doings of the robot. This means that he moves the robot around the field and tells the operator exactly what to do. If the driver says lift then the operator should lift 100% of the time. There need to be some ground rules. If your coach makes the strategic decisions, the rest of drive team should listen no matter what.

Remember: It doesn’t matter if your drive coach makes the wrong call 50% of the time because disagreement among drive team is the wrong call 100% of the time

Hi! I’m the freshman co-pilot from MARS 2614, which makes it sound like I don’t have a lot of experience on the subject. But id like to offer some advice anyways, as I’ve seen multiple drive teams throughout my family’s FRC career.

I think the biggest element of drive team chemistry is between the driver and the co-pilot (or operator for some teams) and not between those two and the back coach. On our team, the back coach is in charge of managing our alliance strategy and doesn’t completely focus on our own robot. This is a relatively new trend on our team, and it has only been since last year when our co-pilot had virtually nothing to do and everything was driver controlled. This year, the co-pilot is in charge of managing the lift system but also telling the driver where to go or what to do.

The back coach - while important - is more necessary to relaying back to the co-pilot what other teams are doing and what to watch out for. In turn, the co pilot relays this to the driver. This may seem inefficient, but it works extremely well on our team.

Also, drive team chemistry can only be forged through common experience. Our team participated in two off-season events with our “beta” drive team. As our drive team was all seniors last year, we needed to train new drivers and we found this to be the best way to do it. The new drive team receives important experience in tense situations without the entire world on their heads. This creates a common experience for people that don’t necessarily know each other. I for one, didn’t know my driver at all last spring and now we are best friends!

Practice, practice, practice! This is another important factor in forging a successful drive team. The more practice they have, the more decisions they have to make, the better they are at making them. Our drive team practiced every week on Saturday, sunday, and Wednesday and we ended up as the finalists on Hopper division for the first time! (Just another great experience for us)

Finally, my suggestions for the best drivers have to be people with these qualities:

  1. Calm and Collected (good under pressure) - while people may not show it, some people can lose focus under the weight of their teams success. A driver needs to be able to make the right call 95% of the time. Nobody is perfect, but it would help a lot to get close.

  2. Nice and Not-easily Angered - I myself admit that I am quick to anger, and that is not a good quality. Drivers need to be able to handle a situation without yelling at whoever is next to them. That just causes unnecessary stress.

  3. Polite but Firm - a team driver needs to be polite to other teams, but at the same time be willing to push them around. Imagine that your team needs two cans to score well, while another team needs two cans but is less consistent. The driver needs to be able to negotiate for those cans without seeming arrogant.

  4. Know How To Make a Robot Work - this quality is my personal opinion and not necessarily the best for your team. I prefer to have members of the mechanical and CAD teams as members of the drive team. These people know the limits of the robot and will push it to the max without taking it too far.

That’s my (hopefully) helpful suggestion for you. Hope you take some of these things into account the next time you are selecting a drive team.

Sit down with your drive team and explain everything you wrote up there to them. Tell them exactly what aspects you think the drive team needs and discuss a plan to get to that point. It can be anything from more drive practice to “silly” driving goals to totally separate team building activities.

Give it a couple months, and if things still aren’t clicking then consider replacing one or two of them. If you do have to replace them have a frank conversation with the new drive team about what is expected out of a drive team and then make absolutely sure that you are able to take them to an off season event or two.

As far as selecting members of the drive team, we usually use members of the build team (not necessarily of any particular subteam) to drive, operate (we call the co-pilot the operator), and a mentor to coach. Sometimes if we have particular code/electronics/connection issues, we put a programmer at operator for a couple matches just to make sure everything is going well.

We’ve more or less had one coach for the past few years, and honestly that is what clicks our drive team together. Our coach is loud and communicative, and we have one rule behind the glass. Whatever the coach says, goes. As a driver or operator, do what the coach says, always. The coach can see the big picture better than the driver. I’ve made the mistake of not listening to the coach before to do something I thought was better, and in all of those cases I was wrong. Also, if you do what the coach says, and something goes wrong, the responsibility doesn’t fall on the driver, which can be a big stress on high schoolers sometimes.

Between the driver and operator, it is important to have them practice together, and work out a good system to communicate between each other. Your drive team performance is proportional to the amount of practice time they have together. When I was a driver (in 2011), my operator and I came up with command words for every task, and standardized what we called each function. If we wanted to pick up a tube, it was always a conversation like this: “Go to pickup position,” “Ready,” “Pickup tube,” “Done.” I never said “get ready to get the tube,” or “ok now you should grab it.” This way we always knew exactly what was happening. After 2011 I only drove sparingly, as a backup and during offseason competitions. This meant a new set of challenges, especially when at offseason events we try to get as many people as possible behind the glass. However, even so, the same strategy applied. Clear communication.

Finally, the glue that I believe holds the drive team together, is the human player. I acted as the primary human player for our team from 2012-2014, and in addition to my normal job during the game, I made sure to yell out the time left in the match in fifteen second intervals. Everyone on our alliance always knew how much time was left, and not a single coach or driver had to look up to check. That meant they could spend more time focusing on the match, and match flow when this happens is markedly better.

If you encourage these things with your current drive team, you should see improvement in performance. If you don’t like what you see still, now that it is the offseason it isn’t going to be detrimental to try switching things up behind the glass