FAHA: Disappointment in a Team's Lifecycle

This FIRSTer, like many others, is having a difficult time coping with the transformation of the old team. Watching from the sidelines, this FIRSTer questions whether the new path the team is taking is truly what is best. I know that this is an issue that has arisen on more than just this FIRSTer’s mind, as I have personally discussed it with others from other teams. Please share your thoughts, comments, concerns.

Ten years ago I started on my team as a high school freshman. I wasnt as involved as I wanted only periodically attending meetings and I did not attend the regional. Back then it was very much a student designed student build machine, from the tech ed room at our school. The next year some machinists from our sponsor became involved, we worked together, we traveled to their site, they traveled to ours, and we ended up doing extremely well that year. As the years progressed our sponsors did more and more and left out us kids a lot more. The team was doing very well winning a lot of awards and doing well at the regionals, championships and dominating offseason. In 2004 after some health issues sidelined our advisor (at that point I was an alumnus) our team barely held itself together, a lot of the kids didnt like the amount of work the sponsors put in and wanted to be more involved. We held a meeting and resolved our issues. More and more as the years progressed I started to see the team change, gone was the team that was awestruck to be competing at the same level of chiefdelphi and Beatty. In came a team expecting to just walk into a competition and be handed trophies. Gone were the meetings where we got our work done, and still had a lot of fun, it became more and more about winning and less about the experience. Now when the team doesnt do well its because someone like a ref or even all of FIRST was out to get them. They lack all dignity and tact and just expect to be the winners because they are <insert their team number here>. It is never constructive criticism directed towards them, its always bashing and teams hate them because they have to play that much harder to beat them, instead of just lying over and losing in fear of the team. I find myself ashamed to associate myself with them, they were my team but more and more I dont want to admit it. This letter isnt meant to point out and accuse them of anything, but more of a hope that they read this, and remember what it was like when they competed in FIRST for the right reasons, not competing to win, with a facade of gracious professionalism.
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I know of teams like this, and it breaks my heart.

While having a nice robot is kinds fun, how much fun can it be when you just show up in week 3 and assemble a bunch of near-perfect parts, then watch the drive team practice, practice, practice. Like the false ideas of self-esteem foisted upon kids by some schools (and parents), they have lost sight of the fact that only hard work builds self-esteem. Becoming a champion with no work destroys self-esteem, and teaches an actively harmful lesson.

What to do about it depends on your tenacity.

You can give up on the team, explain why to all of them, and go support some other team - I’m sure there are others in the vicinity who can benefit from your knowledge, experience and energy. Carry a candle in your heart for them, but leave them be.

You can work to change the team back closer to what they should be. remember that it’s your vision of the team, not necessarily the coach’s, sponsor’s, parent’s or even student’s. You won’t be successful without the support of at least some of these groups. Remember, some sponsors feel that a winning team shows their company in the best light, and that supplying a perfect winbot to the team is a good thing.

If I had to do this, I’d probably make a powerpoint showing the issue and solution*, and have everyone sit through it (surprise!). Being a 10 year vet, you can probably use that pull to bring everyone together for a ‘meeting’ without telling the topic of discussion. Speak about the big elephant in the room, and let the chips fall where they may.

An alternative would be to convince the coaches, one at a time if need be, privately. I personally would not be able to do this well, so it wouldn’t be my choice, but perhaps your situation and skillset are different.

Good luck, sleep well knowing that you ‘get it’.


*That’s the engineer in me, everything can be boiled down to a problem statement and solution proposal. Life is seldom so black & white.


I would guess that this happens more often than anyone thinks. If you take a look at the teams that have split into two or more teams, internal strife could be a cause. If you think that the team is suffering, it likely is. A real honest and controlled discussion is warranted. It might be the kind of thing a few younger mentors talk over first with the sponsor and then open it to interested parties on the team. It should not be a bash fest but people should know that they need to bring concerns and solutions to the meeting. I think all teams go through these issues as sponsors see a need to do well, student involvement falls off, or a large number of students graduate and leave only younger students. Teams need to keep thinking about the impact on the students. I don’t say this thinking we do it better than anyone. I say this because we struggle with our methods and solutions as any team should. I also don’t believe there is any one right way to run a team. Ours seems to work pretty well with students working alongside mentors. I also know of some great teams that are truly student run and some that are mentor driven. We should weigh all factors when considering the team. Are the students having fun, learning new things, considering college after high school, and feel like they are part of a team? Do they know more today than when they joined, have they met new people, did they expand their horizons and do they take some responsibility? When we can answer yes to these questions, then we are doing OK. If we can do all this and still do well in competition then even better. When we stop asking ourselves the hard questions, whether as team leaders or in life, then we are failing.