FAHA: How to convince a team that FIRST is more than winning

Thanks to the original poster for re-starting FAHA with such a great topic. The following FIRST-a-holic believes that his/her FIRST team should strive to a new level of engineering while the rest of the team believes in doing enough to win. What do you think? Is the team right, or should the original poster continue to push his/her views?


I come from a very small to be third year team, with only 7-9 regular members, one teacher, and barely enough money to pay for the kit and one regional. This year, we were a little overambitious, and had both a weak ramp and a weak arm, when a little more effort into one or the other would have made a decent scoring or rampbot, and did less than great at our regional. 

For our offseason event, we agreed to get rid of the ramp, and put a lot of effort into creating a completely new, more effective manipulator. Unfortunatly, due to spring sports, about half the team was unable to attend meetings regularly.

At the event, a programming glitch with the arm caused it to be inneffective for this match. We were forced to play defense (with a largely unmodified kitbot with 2 CIMs+Banebots,) but due to strong alliance partners, we pulled out a close win. The problems started when the drive team, who had not been there during the arm overhaul, decided that they would not use the arm. There exact words were "But it's so much more fun to just ram things"

Through good alliance luck (In EVERY match, we had a scorer in the top ten and a decent hybrid that was primarily a ramp, don't ask me how) we seeded in the top 8, despite mediocre defence and nothing else. We were declined few times before each of our picks (at this tournament, if you declined in the first round, you could still be picked in the second,) and pulled together an alliance similar to the ones we had had all day, and made it to the semifinals. 

This finish secured us a new sponsor, which will give us a machine shop, plus ~$10,000 for expenses beyond the entry fee. The problem is that much of our team believes that what we did last year is the way to go. So the team voted today that, no matter what the game is, we will build a box on wheels.

I am a supporter of the kitbot, but would be shocked if FIRST gave us parts to snap together a functional competition robot in days. Effectivly, my team is planning to do this, since the robot has already been designed, and everything needed comes pre-made out of the red and blue totes. Also, shouldn't a team strive to do more than they did last year? How can I convince my team to build more than a box on wheels, even though it may not seed well?

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This season, 1618 fielded what was effectively a box on wheels. Not on purpose, mind you, it just happened that way. We made 8th alliance captain at Palmetto, in no small part thanks to that same luck your team had. (Being allied with 1251 three times, Metal-In-Motion twice, and appearances with 34 and 1102 all helped things a bit.)

However, we got lucky. Even though we were a particularly good box on wheels, it is particularly rare for a box on wheels to get picked. I remember 1028 getting picked as the #1 alliance’s second pick in 2006 at Palmetto, but that’s about it. If your regional is particularly small, you may get lucky and get picked by being one of the last robots standing–but having some reliable method of scoring is simply the more likely method of getting picked.

You can always take your robot with a poor manipulator and use it as a box on wheels–but that box on wheels won’t do you any good if your alliance partners need a robot with even a modest degree of offense. Even the higher-end defensive robots of 2006, such as 195 and 1902, had means of scoring.

The problem is that much of our team believes that what we did last year is the way to go. So the team voted today that, no matter what the game is, we will build a box on wheels.

I observed one year that a lot of teams had good concepts but poor execution, and ended up with a strictly defensive “boxbot” that was actually pretty effective at what it did. I joked to our lead mentor that we might as well decide in advance to build a simple and robust tank instead of reaching for a more ambitious goal and ending up with a complicated and fragile tank. Everyone who heard it understood both the logic behind the sentiment and the fact that it was a joke.

I believe that when the game is announced, at least some of your more vocal members will try to convince the rest of the team to reconsider the decision. One thing I pointed out when our team was voting on our design directions might apply here: it’s a whole lot more fun to go out and at least try to score points than it is to just get in other people’s way.

Don’t try to change people’s minds just by telling them why you think they’re wrong. My suggestion is to find a way to get people excited about building a capable robot, and let them realize on their own that the vote to build a box on wheels should be undone. Focus on the inspiration, and the actions should follow.

It seems that the members of your team simply need to be reminded what FIRST is. Ask them where they see inspiration in a boxbot? Ask them how they can be recognized for science and technology when they have not thought of, designed, or fabricated something new that can contribute to the world of engineering?

You may win a competition with a lucky alliance, but the true satisfaction comes when you are honored with an award that recognizes your design or application of a certain element of your robot. Don’t be afraid to show your passion for engineering. They have clearly been caught up in the fantasy of winning…bring them back down to earth and help them see what is really important.

My advice is from experience.

Last year our team chose to build a unique double forklift design. Why did we do this? the answer is because it was more challenging and would stand out in the crowd. three years ago, during “triple play” our team was one of only 2 teams to cap the center goal during autonomous. Here we chose to focus on autonomous because it was more challenging and unique.

two years ago we chose to do the most common design. it turned out that because of the lack of a challenge we did not push ourselves to do better and as a result our robot’s quality suffered. that year was not much fun during competition. We ended up doing horrible and we were not picked by any team.

In the years we chose the more difficult and unique road we ended up having more fun and had better robots.

I think that if you tell your team this story and reinforce the pro’s of challenging yourself you will find some of them may be convinced. And if your team chooses to push itself and go the unique road your team will do significantly better than if it choses not to challenge itself and not to push itself to improve.

Try this with your team and good luck!