FAHA: Blinded by Awards

It is not uncommon for teams to lose focus on the real message of FIRST. It is even harder when you want to institute the correct changes but you cannot. What words can you offer this FIRST-A-HOLIC to bring his/her team back on track?

So what do you do when a team gets blinded by awards and forgets the true meaning of FIRST? When the sole motivation for students to do anything other than build the robot is the Chairman’s Award? And what if the mentors, rather than realizing that there is a problem, are the ones fueling it?

I’m not trying to say that we don’t appreciate the mentors; we would never have gotten where we are without them, and they aren’t driven by the awards consciously. Neither am I trying to say that awards aren’t a worthwhile goal to strive for. They are. But ten years from now, I’m sure I’ll remember what we did to win that award and the ecstatic looks on the faces of the ten-year-olds the FLL team I mentor rather than the reason why I mentored in the first place: to win Chairman’s.

Last year, the push towards the Chairman’s Award was geniune: the students were interested and largely lead the effort to write the essays and plan the presentation. We were sure we’d win. But didn’t. This year, the mentors seem to want the award even more than we do, and though striving for it has gotten our team a long ways, I think the award is blinding everyone from the message of FIRST: to inspire students.

The students on leadership feel like we have to strictly follow a team organizational chart the mentors have made (in part to make our team look more structured in the eyes of the judges) and if we try to point out flaws between the plan in theory and the plan in practice, we’re told to give it a chance. I feel like we’ve been giving it a chance for the past year, and it’s still not working.

I feel like if we don’t stop the problem now, the younger students are going to be burned out and not understand FIRST at all.

I can see how striving for an award can make the team a better by giving it direction, but I feel like we’ve gone past the limit. Any suggestions?

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