FRC team crisis - any suggestions?

I have created an anonymous account.

Hello CD. My team is going through a membership crisis and we seriously need help. I have a huge issue with the coach and I need to know what I can do, but I don’t want to pay the price of ‘revolting.’

Background Information: Last year, both of our coaches left due to medical reasons/personal reasons. This year, our CAD coach decided to take over (no one agreed to that) and self-proclaimed himself as the lead mentor and coach of the team. I was thinking that this would be great, since this guy (I will call him Z) seemed organized and could lead our team effectively. However, he did the opposite of what I thought he would do. During the summer, he completely changed our team, removed events that we participated in and hosted, and even fired some mentors. (Is that even possible?)

Recently, he posted a syllabus for the new Robotics team school year. I found it out through a link from a mentor and read it – immediately shocked myself for the whole weekend. Coach Z created an entire meeting curriculum for when we would meet, which would be on Mondays and Thursdays. The times have been shortened, and Mondays are now pure lecture. These topics were very broad and didn’t allow anyone to have specialization, despite having subteams. Thursday meetings became optional and focused ** only ** on CAD.

What got me the most was Build Season. We would meet almost everyday, totaling to over 25 hours a week. However, Coach Z set up the schedule to be 9 hours a week. Coach Z also sucked out all the fun from Robotics, instead creating a military course in engineering. Business and media, which contained most of the sponsorship and outreach, are now gone. We no longer have any team bonding events. Even worse was that we were cutting back in costs and not going to a second Regional.

Hearing all of this made me do a double-take. This counteracted everything I have ever contributed to Robotics, and I can’t change it. We also lost a few members due to their other priorities. I’ve talked to almost all the team members and they all agree to the same thing – this is definitely NOT how we want Robotics to be.

I’ve talked to a few mentors and so far have concluded that we should talk to the administrative body of the school. (Our team is closely linked to the school, who hires the coach for the team) However, I’ve always been passionate about Robotics and I don’t want to ruin all my hard work in a week. Coach Z so far has no sentiment at all against me, and I don’t want him to all-of-a-sudden hate me forever. I confronted my parents about doing something like this and they said I was out of my mind and that if I went through with this, I’d be kicked off the team for sure. After deep consideration, I still strongly believe that if this year goes through with this schedule, we will be left with 2 members still on the team: Coach Z and his daughter, one of the current co-captains.

I wanted to ask CD for your input. Should I go through with this plan, despite my parents’ warnings, or should I just remain quiet and let what will happen, happen? I really appreciate any input, thanks.

I should also add – problems on my team have been occuring lately. After Coach Z took over, they escalated even more.

Out of curiosity, how long has the team been in existence, and how long has this particular mentor been part of it? Not trying to pry, just wondering about the chronology of events. Feel free to ballpark numbers if you want.

I’m just a young student with little experience in the world, but I know what I’d do if this happens to me.
I would quietly make a petition basically stating that you don’t like where this team is going. From the original post, it seems like such a petition would gather lots of support. Then gather a few core veterans from the team and confront Z in a group, with the petition representing those not there. Then it’s not just a single member “revolting”, it’s the entire team collectively rejecting Z’s ideas. After that you guys can have a conversation with Z, and figure out something.
I think you absolutely should not remain quiet. FIRST is for students, not for mentors. If the students disagree about how the team is run, their voices have to be heard. Heck, the opinions of the students should always be part of the decision process, especially for such a big shift like this one.

We are at least 10 years old… one of the older teams. I would have to say that our peak was around 2007-2011. This mentor and the co-captain have been here since last year.

Thanks for your input, Chak. I can say with confidence that I know exactly what all the members think; I’ve asked each one individually. I have pondered whether to create a petition or not, but I think it may not make a difference. I’ve already made one, though.

I’m quite frustrated that all these big changes were made without consent of anyone, not even the mentors. It sounds very tyrannic. I’m currently gathering the leads of subteams to come up with a better solution to learning robot concepts than creating lectures for every meeting until Build Season and after Build Season. What I’ve thought of so far is to assign each subteam a task that pertains to that subteam’s specialties. (i.e. Programming is assigned a coding task with an arduino ide) Coach Z’s idea makes everyone learn the same thing and gets a basic feel on all the subteams: build, programming, electronics, etc. The problem is, no one will know how to work a specific subteam well enough to troubleshoot.

Keep in mind that Coach Z might be reducing the amount of time the team spends together so that they can pay more attention to it personally. Their intentions are probably good, and solo mentoring is very hard, so don’t try to attack them but definitely bring up the possibility of allowing the students to be more responsible for parts of the team.

If this doesn’t work: who runs the club on paper? Who’s most connected to the school / part of the faculty? Go to them, get things fixed, and if you have to create constitution that doesn’t allow for things like this to happen.

Sorry you’re having problems with Coach Z.

Thanks for your input, Connor. Time constraints are OK with me, since most likely, they will end up being extended anyways. However, what is really catching me is that we are being lectured rather than having a hands-on experience, like we usually did. Coach Z is focusing much more on CAD and actual engineering concepts rather than team bonding and community outreach/sponsorship than usual. Besides all the things I listed in my original post, there are some other things that Coach Z has done that we approve at all.

Here’s my advice: first call a meeting with all current mentors and the school administration (minus coach Z.) Explain the situation, and how you feel the new direction is negatively affecting the team. Decide how you would like to re-organize, whether by choosing a new coach or having the mentors work together to make team decisions. Once you’re all on the same page, have a meeting with everyone including coach Z and let the school administration explain the team’s concerns and the new organization. The fact of the matter is, one mentor (who hasn’t been around very long) should not be able to “decide” that he is in charge of the whole thing. If the majority of the team disagrees with him, then the team can choose to make a change.

This would be an incredibly BAD idea. Secret and exclusionary meetings lead to mistrust and strife. There are concerns that you may not aware of as a student. Coach Z may be working with restrictions: mentor time, budget, etc,. OPEN communicate that does not seek to place blame or make him/her the bad guy is the best way to start this discussion.

You need to take two steps back, and take a deep breath. The only thing constant in this world is change. How you handle will do more to define you than coach Z.

Unmet expectations result in anger and frustration.

Identify the specific ways you do not like the new direction this mentor is taking the team, develop your reasons for why you do not like them and think they will have a negative effect on the team, and then discuss with your parents and some trusted members the best way to communicate that to your team, including your new mentor (coach Z).

It’s always hard to discuss conflict with an adult as a high school student. I hope you can embrace it as an amazing learning experience.

Best of luck working with your team to keep your team going.

-Mike

PS. I think I know which team this is, if you want help, feel free to PM me.

I would first say that you should think about this from the perspective of the coach: he probably wasn’t anticipating being in a situation like this following last year, so he likely had no time to consult the old mentors on what he should do. In terms of the budget, I’m not sure if the school runs that, but losing the sponsors and such was probably just as disappointing to him. Money problems happen, so if you have to cut back for a year, then so be it.

You said he had shown no animosity towards you, so you and a couple other members/mentors he trusts should approach him about the situation.

Add on: your parents should be ashamed of themselves for telling you to not take an action on an issue that seems important to you. Literally, the worst thing you could do is not do anything.

My bit of advice is similar to the others above. Gather your thoughts and specific reasons you don’t like the new direction of the team. But do NOT go and “confront” Coach Z with that list. Instead ask for a time that he can meet with yourself and one or two other concerned parties and ask him WHY he has made these changes. He may have time constraint reasons or other obligations. Or he may not be familiar with effective ways to lead a team.

My point is, if you want to convince him to change (and honestly, I think that has to be your goal at this point), you are going to fully understand what he is thinking and feeling. Going above his head to the school administration as was mentioned should be one of your LAST resorts. That is definitely a way to turn him against you. Rather than “tattle tailing”, try to have a mature conversation with him. I know that’s not an easy thing, especially between a teenager and an adult. If you want any help with how to set that up, feel free to PM me.

Just remember that he is almost certainly doing what he thinks is best for the team. You both have the same goal, you just need him to come around to your plan for getting there.

One thing that I’ve missed in this entire discussion is any mention of actually communicating with Z and learning more about the changes and his reasons/motivations.

A simple email or face to face discussion that starts with: “I’m very happy that even with the loss of our previous lead mentors, the team will continue with new leadership. I appreciate that you are willing to step up to the plate! I saw the new schedule for this year and I see that it is very different compared to previous years. I’m curious to discuss why some things are changing so that I can better understand your point of view on things and would like to contribute in any way I can to help make sure this team stays healthy, vibrant and continues to serve students long into the future.”

Notice the lack of negativity in the above? Maybe Z made the schedule like that because he’s ‘in over his head’ and doesn’t think he has the bandwidth or the expertise to continue certain aspects of the team in the same way as before. From what is in this thread, we don’t know what’s in Z’s head beyond one schedule he posted. Communication is key here. Maybe you and the other students need to proactively recruit other new mentors who are willing to take on the tasks that Z has not addressed.

It is possible that Z’s plan is better (perhaps in some ways, but maybe not all) and you should go into conversations with an open mind and be willing to be convinced that your preconceived notions on some issues may be wrong or there are two options, neither of which is ‘wrong.’ Because if Z comes to the same discussion feeling he just needs to get you to come around to his plan, it won’t end well. If you expect him to be willing to change, you need to be willing to change also. Teams change, and they aren’t always run the same way year after year. Sometimes change turns out well, some time change turns out to be a learning experience.

I’m with John. You should absolutely do something and talk to him(the ‘not doing anything’ advice is terrible), but don’t go into it with the mindset of “he’s ruining the team, everything he has done needs to be reversed.” As bad as the decision may look to you (and in the story that you’ve told), Z is a person who I’m sure is acting in what he believes to be the team’s best interest. Clearly, you disagree with his opinion here, so I think it would be good to sit down with him and a few other trusted veterans/mentors just to put everyone’s cards on the table.

Go into it with an open mind - I don’t think he’s doing these things with the intent of ruining the team.

Also, don’t start with big actions behind his back - this will only make the situation more adversarial and harder to work through as a team.

It is possible that Z’s plan is better (perhaps in some ways, but maybe not all) and you should go into conversations with an open mind and be willing to be convinced that your preconceived notions on some issues may be wrong or there are two options, neither of which is ‘wrong.’ Because if Z comes to the same discussion feeling he just needs to get you to come around to his plan, it won’t end well. If you expect him to be willing to change, you need to be willing to change also. Teams change, and they aren’t always run the same way year after year. Sometimes change turns out well, some time change turns out to be a learning experience.

“Fit is a funny thing. Many objects can fit together, if they are compliant enough. If you expect two rigid objects to fit, even the most subtle differences will interfere.” - Discussion with my boss a few days about about suitability for a new role

Generally in FRC, we already have a lot of similarities to fall back on that help us “fit” together. As a mentor, I recognize that most other mentors are people that are passionate about technology, student education, volunteerism, etc. We might have differences in opinion on the best way to run a team, inspire students, educate students, spend money, etc… but we are more alike than different.

So, I’m not to try to cast you or Coach Z as right or wrong in the matter, but from a practical point of speaking… I echo the sentiments about keeping an open mind regarding the new mentor’s priorities while clearly communicating what elements of the schedule/priority change affect your personal enjoyment of the program.

Any of the discussions regarding going over their head, forcing someone out, building a group of people that are in agreement with your direction instead of theirs, etc. are things that are generally considered last resort in a professional setting… and certainly not before at least attempting direct communication with the person. If you go in with an honest attempt to hear Coach Z out and don’t feel like your input is heard, or don’t get a better explanation for the change in direction, then you can take a different path. Try to have that honest conversation to understand them first.

I would definitely have a discussion with Z.

What he needs to know: Because of these changes, a lot of the team members are seriously considering leaving the team. More specifically, the changes being made apparently without team input, and without reasons being given. (Note: You’re going to need to be a lot more tactful about how you state this, at least initially. I’m cutting to the chase here, which generally means I overdo it on being blunt.) Because of that, you have certain questions, if he can provide answers. See next paragraph.

What you need to learn from Z: In addition to the reasons behind the changes (one possible reason is: he just doesn’t have the time), is there anything that he doesn’t know, and needs to know? And, what help does he need? It could very well be that the cutback is because he just can’t handle it all on his own; it could also be that someone higher up his chain of command is putting pressure on him. The 1 biggest thing to ask is, what help do you need? Leading the team without help… not easy.

Now, for the rest of y’all, there is one thing that is really, really, really bothering me.

(I’m not going to go into the rest; I would regard these as having some of the most direct effect on the team, and hashing these out will improve the rest.)

Folks, I don’t know how y’all’s teams would react if someone (let’s just say you) saw a leadership vacuum at the top and filled that with no input at all–particularly if the school administration is supposed to be hiring the coach (also in the OP). I really don’t know how y’all’s teams would react if other mentors were “kicked out” (whether or not they actually left voluntarily, I’ll leave an open question here). But losing the business side of a team generally ends up losing the team a few years down the line! And if the team isn’t well-bonded before the season, let’s just say that having the “storming” phase right about Week 3 or Week 4 isn’t exactly conducive to doing well in the competition. I’m pretty sure y’all can see where I’m coming from here–if these are in fact occasioned by one person, that one person is running a severe risk of destroying the team in a few years, and probably doesn’t even realize it.

Because of those little details, I would say that rather than a one-on-one, the above discussion would need to be an “all-hands” meeting, with some parents included. For one thing, it reduces “telephone” effects. For another, everybody gets to see the reasons/effects/etc–I do include anybody on Z’s side here. And, IDEALLY, someone in a (supportive) school administration is in the background observing–not participating, just observing. (And you don’t tell them what the meeting is about ahead of time, just “we’re having a team meeting at such-and-such a time, we’d appreciate it if you were there”.)

One final note: FIRST Robotics Competition teams are, in many ways, simulations of engineering businesses. Welcome to the real world.

Thank you all for your inputs so far. I have an update from today: we are planning to meet up with Coach Z in a Robotics meeting sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Also, here are some of my thoughts:

Our team is in a serious crisis. After hearing about the new syllabus and the “curriculum” part of our team, most of the members have lost enthusiasm and have decided to focus on another activity as well as Robotics. Many potential team members have decided not to join as a result. We used to host some FIRST events, also attending several community outreach events. As soon as Coach Z took power, we quit all of them. I won’t quite believe that it was for the goodness of the team…and I also refuse to believe that it was the best choice.

Here is what I believe why Coach Z initiated some of the things he initiated. A lot of times last year, the team strayed from the mission for each meeting. Some people who had nothing to do distracted others and goofed around. Coach Z was in the CAD room, which was a little more remote from the other rooms, and always locked his door shut. Out of all the mentors, he had to be the one that we didn’t really talk to. (hermit) A big thing last year was that Rookies weren’t learning and doing as much as they could have done. In our programming section, we finished everything exactly on time and as planned, and didn’t goof around too much. Other subteams didn’t fare too well. However, I believe his solution is a bit too extreme.

That is why I believe that Coach Z is sucking out ALL the fun out of Robotics this year.

Definitely will remember to add those key points. Of course, I am not completely aware of his situation, so I want to know his story behind his actions. Thanks a lot.