FAHA: How to Make Things Enjoyable Again

Our latest FAHA centers around a team struggling to keep the magic of FIRST alive.


I am a senior on my team, one of a few who have been on the team since their freshman year. My first year on the team, we did OK, however did not seed or be picked for alliances, and although everyone was a bit upset, there wasn't any question that nearly everyone had a blast during the build season and the competition.

We have been remarkably successful for the past two years, doing very well in competition and progressing into the eliminations. Many don't realize it but this was by luck far more than anything else.

Naturally, the luck passed, and we haven't performed as well since. This is where the awkwardness begins. Most of the present team members have only seen success, and there are only a few who remember the fun time we had just by participating when how we did didn't seem to matter. This is amplified by the fact that none of the original mentors are closely involved day-to-day with the team anymore and most of the new ones don't have any past FIRST experience and also seem to hold wild success as an absolute expectation.

Not many people are enjoying the team anymore. Most are upset that we aren't winning- the rest (just a small bunch) are alienated by the incredible
seriousness that has become since that "most" apparently believes that the lack of success is a problem.

Realistically, I don't think the team is going to do well again anytime soon , and really, that shouldn't be (IMO) what drives the feel-good of the team anyhow.

Obviously the small group that wants the good times back is looked upon somewhat negatively (hence the alienation) since I guess it's apparent that we don't see it worthwhile to give up everything to win. Some of us (myself included) are quite honestly thinking of just leaving the team, but given our experience and leadership roles it seems selfish and we don't want to put the team in a worse place than it already is.

So, have you or your team been through this?
What did you do?
Do you think its possible to change the attitudes of those who aren't happy and are hell-bent on improvement when we don't win?
What do you think it would be best for us (personally) to do?
and any other advice or comfort you could give.

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I’m going to say that it’s time for the team to take some time off. Not a regular competition season, mind you, not yet–that’s for if the following idea doesn’t work.

But, find your nearest off-season competition and go there to volunteer as a team. There’s no possible way to win the event then, so anybody who thinks winning is necessary to have fun or enjoy the event is going to walk in thinking that there is no way to have fun and enjoy the event.

What they should find is that the event is fun, even though they cannot win due to not competing. That’s when you talk to them and give the “it’s not all about winning” talk. They should take it much better after volunteering at an offseason (and, as another plus, there won’t be as much complaining about the volunteers!).

No offseason in the area? No problem, find an FLL, FTC, or VRC event near you, or have the team volunteer at the closest regular-season event that isn’t your home regional next year.

Failing that, take a year completely off from official FRC competition. Instead, take the six weeks and build a robot that does something else, or build one for use in offseasons. Test out new and crazy drive systems, elevating devices, manipulators of various stripes, all that sort of thing. (For that matter, if you’re still reading this, you might want to get to work doing something like this anyway…) One, it’ll help you later. Two, it’ll help show the fun you can have when you’ve all had one too many Mountain Dews at some time after 10 PM, the robot isn’t working yet, and ship isn’t for another week, but you just have to finish this one thing and the code for it is still compiling.

I don’t really have all the answers, but personally, while I do think it’s rather important to get your team on the track to being satisfied and happy with a less than perfect season, at the same time I think having everyone on your team striving for improvement is something that 90% of team leaders would kill for.

Do you think its possible to change the attitudes of those who aren’t happy and are hell-bent on improvement when we don’t win?

Aren’t happy? I don’t know how to help you with that. Someone wiser than me will answer that. Hell bent on improvement? If there’s anything that will make your team successful again, it’s a team full of students who constantly analyze every aspect of competition.

I hope you find a solution as your team’s happiness should not be tied to success, but make sure you’re not throwing out an attitude that could take your team places.

EricH has a good idea, go to an event and help out.

I’d like to suggest that you try to mentor a VRC, FTC, FLL team. I’m always inspired by what comes out of the younger roboteers. Maybe their inspiration will rub off

Do you think its possible to change the attitudes of those who aren’t happy and are hell-bent on improvement when we don’t win?

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this, since I’m one of my teams mentors that does that, all the time. (All the other mentors do it too, but I’m the most annoying about it) Everything we do can be improved. We pick a few things each year and we focus on improving them.

Building robots is hard, it takes a lot of work. We are not the best team out there but we do work hard, we do have fun and we are proud of what we accomplish. We are not a HOF team but I’ll bet we have just as much fun as any other team. Fun is not where you find it but where you make it.

Good luck!

Whenever things get a bit crazy and our priorities get skewed, there is one thing that is guaranteed to bring us back.

Do several elementary school demos. The excitement, amazement, and pure joy that children have for seeing and learning abut the robots is overwhelming.
Your students will make connections and feel like heroes. Your coaches will remember why they started to volunteer in the first place.

Get as many people (adults and students) as you can to participate in multiple sessions with younger kids. It will inspire you and bring you back. It works for me every time! :slight_smile:

First, I think you should take solace in the fact that you’re not alone in this struggle. I’ve heard of this happening other teams, and since they’ve gotten through it, it means that there’s hope for you too. You know your team members best, so ultimately you’ll probably be able to figure out what will help them find the joy in being a part of FIRST again after inspiration from everyone’s suggestions.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Have the whole team set goals for the year at the beginning of the season, and make a plan for how to implement them. Feel free to have some more attainable goals mixed with loftier goals. Maybe you won’t win your regional, but if you can reflect on your season and realize that you met the goals you made for yourself (say, recruiting 10 new students, having a functional autonomous mode, making a team cheer and having team spirit, building your own robot frame, etc.), you can still take pride in your accomplishments together.
  • Do a demonstration. Watching the wide-eyed grins of little kids discovering your robot feels really good. Inspiring others can bring people back to remember why FIRST is such a cool organization and make them feel lucky and excited to participate in it. Planning an event as a group might also be good for team dynamics.
  • Volunteer at a competition. Since you won’t be invested in your team’s ranking, your team will be able to appreciate how much fun competitions are and just have a good time, while providing some of the huge manpower required to make events possible. How much better does it get than that?
  • Talk to other teams and make new friends! Focus on the “cooper-” part of “coopertition” and make things fun and social. Maybe you can sit with another local team at your regional and have lunch together, volunteer for a cause together, or organize a social event between your teams. Having friends on other teams makes competitions fun because you can cheer together, celebrate each other’s successes, and take part in friendly competition when you’re in matches against each other.

Feel free to send me a message if you’d like to hear about some of my more personal experiences with this issue - my team as well as some other teams I know have been through this to various extents, but the stories are a bit long and I don’t want to start putting out everyone’s dirty laundry. Talking things out with someone can sometimes help a lot. If you’re not comfortable talking to someone you don’t know, maybe you could bring it up with a trusted mentor or someone else in the FIRST community. Best of luck in your pursuits!

Try to engage your whole team in a non-FIRST related activity. When I was in HS the build team would quite often go to late movies, eat food at The Fort (or your local cheap-24hr-diner) after a build session. We also had numerous off-season get-togethers like LAN parties, so-called “man-parties” (though girls went too :rolleyes:) where we’d paint-ball, shoot potato cannons, putter around on one guy’s dirt bike, drive RC cars, etc. The team recently got together for a BBQ to watch one of the US World Cup games.

FIRSTers quite frequently have similar interests, and getting together outside of the pressures and confines of an actual FRC meeting can build friendships and cohesiveness.

As you are in a position of leadership on your team you should also try to get everyone together and write a mission statement for your team. This will help unify and direct your team because everyone will be clear about what is expected from the team as a whole.

When a team stretches and grows, sometimes it seems like the team is growing and stretching in different directions. That’s a signal that it is time to take stock of the situation and spend some time working on the innards of the team. The parts that keep things running smoothly.

If it is at all possible, create some team building time - maybe a Saturday ‘mini-retreat’ and devote that time to the quiet inner workings of the team - the innards. Spend some time looking at what being successful means to the individuals that make up the team and what the expectations are that go with those viewpoints. I think you will find that there is a variety of perspectives, thoughts, and ideas about what success is. From there you can discuss the value of success as it applies to the team and set some short term goals to get re-established in getting everyone moving in the same direction.

Sometimes, teams (and individuals) have to take the time to get reacquainted with the bigger picture as it applies to their situation, their goals, and their communities. When teams take that time, they are strengthening their foundation and building the team that builds the robot, together.

Good luck with this,
Jane

I’ll take this at your word, but consider how much of it is fact and how much is your interpretation.

Let’s go with the devil’s advocate: Not Winning IS a problem. If that’s so, then what will it take to win?

I dunno, I don’t see how you have to give up anything to win. 1676 is a student-centered, student-designed and student-built team. Mentors are there for guidance and as teachers. It’s hard to keep our hands off the robot, and we mostly succeed.

In 2010, we brought home silver medals from Championship & gold from both regionals. In other words: We Won.

Every one of our kids will say they had a lot of fun this season. And they did. Kids have all the fun (:mad:)…

The point is, we win and have fun: We have given up nothing.

But as others have said: Building a winning robot is hard. We work 7 hours a day, 6 days a week, and then some. We don’t tolerate anything less than excellence. It takes discipline and work.

So I guess my advice, which is somewhat contrary, is this: You can have fun AND win. It’s not an either-or situation. While it’s not about the robot, winning doesn’t come easy.

I would like to thank this team for sharing this with all of us. Your team is not alone in this concern.

First of all, what constitutes a perfect season? Is it about winning?
Is it about learning? Is it about having fun?

If your team has the idea that a perfect season is putting a blue banner on the wall and loading up your trophy case with trophies… you won’t have many of those kind of seasons…

FIRST is not really about trophies and winning on the field.
It is about winning off the field…

I know that I am going to sound cliche here… but FIRST for our team is about being a TEAM… We work hard… we play hard…we prepare…we compete…we thank your supporters…

The mindset of a team has to be about this… in order to survive…
Winning on the field is about luck but it also contains preparation and relationships with other teams…

I am not talking about going over to talk to another team before alliance picking and telling them how good you are.
You should develop relationships with other teams in the off season…
Helping rookie teams… getting together with other veteran teams…

If you are part of a larger FIRST group of teams… then you have a bigger group to work with at an event… you can rejoice in their victories too.

My question would be what has FIRST done for your teammates? Are they being inspired to be all they can be? Are your alumni team members attending college?

I really think that our society has put too much emphasis on the “winning” trophy team… You WIN in FIRST by playing the game… being all you can be… gaining new experiences…

If you are concerned about dealing with the luck of the field… you are right…
but you can make some of your own luck…

First of all… concentrate on putting together a really decent drive train…
There has NEVER been a game in which a robot that was controlled well could not make things happen on the field… mobility is the key…
Work in the off season if you want … work on perfecting a drive train…
With a good drive train AND a good drive team… you can ALWAYS be valuable on the field… You can make this luck for yourself…

Work on your programming capabilities in the off season…

I have seen more teams get let down by these two things…
drive train and programming… than ANY other function on the field…

Learn to control your robot…

In doing all of this you will be building team unity… getting more involved…
doing things in the offseason…

Find other ways to build your unity…
We do numerous volunteer events as a team… they have little to do with robots but we have fun together volunteering our time… building pride in being on the team…

Fundraising is another good way to build unity… do a spaghetti dinner…

If you are worried about luck… then go for an award you DO have control over… a few awards that come to mind are: website, Kleiner Perkins…
Chairman’s award… imagery… CAD … safety…

Just remember that you aren’t a winning team because of the trophies…You are a winning team because of the people you have…

I hope this helps you a little bit…
If you have a good team and team spirit… it will get you through lots of adversity… when you get eliminated… cheer on your friends…

Best of luck
I hope to see you on the field someday…