frustrated FRC mentor needs advice

I’m a new FRC mentor to a small team. For some background, I have been involved in FIRST (FTC / FLL) for several years as a volunteer coach, judge, and referee. My teams have been fortunate enough to make it to the FIRST Championship a couple of times due to the hard work of the kids as well as their organization and willingness to learn. I love FIRST, and I love that the kids on my teams do great things besides building robots, too.

I have carefully observed the last couple of FRC games before finally taking the plunge this year to help out a team that has been largely unsuccessful on the field but that has some great kids and a nice coach who also teaches a tech class at the school that is partially also for learning about FRC (basically, a robotics class, although it is called something else) . They don’t have any other mentors, and the coach seemed in a little bit over his head even though the team is a few years old.

Budget is not an issue with this team, but organization is. After having spent a build season with them, I am struggling with how to help them when the other adult seems to drop the ball on just about every responsibility that he has. We are exact opposites. I am busy putting together schedules (or helping kids learn how to do so), showing them how to use tools, talking about the strategy involved in the game, and otherwise trying to stimulate their brains. He basically doesn’t do anything at all, and is frequently playing games on his phone with the kids are doing something that may or may not be related to the robot or preparing for the competition. I’ve tried so many times to draw him in to the discussion, but I just get a “yes, that’s what I thought of, too”.

Anyway, a few examples of what I am dealing with:

He put off ordering the parts for 3 weeks after kickoff. Half of the stuff we needed was out of stock by that time.

The kids have never learned CAD, programing, game strategy. There are several seniors who have been on the team for years, and they don’t know how to use as much as a wrench.

At his request, I put together a schedule for the season, with target deadline dates for different parts of the robot, etc. I worked closely with some of the students on this, and by the end they were doing it themselves. This is what I do with my FTC team, and they really buy into it and hold themselves accountable. The result? He says “Oh, that timeline unrealistic, anyway.”

The last three years, the team has shown up at the competition with a partially built robot and relied on other teams to help them get going. I can see why.

About half the kids are motivated and think that FIRST is cool. They deserve better than this, and I intend to help them. Others are just there for an easy grade, don’t allow themselves to be engaged, and are brought along to competition even though they just socialize or play on their phone the entire time. I intend to help them as well, as best as I can. They need something to be excited about. The team has never won anything - not that it’s about winning - but they’ve also never fielded a competitive robot. There has been a big learning void.

Probably the biggest issue I have is that the workspace is always a mess. There are tripping hazards, sharp objects, etc. I spend half the time cleaning up, and I have finally got some of the kids to help with this. However, he is a hoarder and gets annoyed when we put things away because then he “can’t find anything.” I think the place is not safe, and then people tell me it is 100 times better than last year. There are also so many lost / misplaced parts that I am sure we have re-purchased things we already have in stock.

Again, the teacher is a nice guy, and does other things well, but managing an FRC team does not seem to be his area of expertise.

We identified some parts that we need to finish the robot two weeks ago, and they have still not been ordered. They are kind of critical. Our competition is a little over a week away, so we are probably toast. I am sad because the kids are so elated about getting a working robot by themselves, without having another team build it at competition for them. But there are still some parts missing.

Anyway, this is partly me venting, but also a cry for help. I hate worrying about this and it is stressing me out. I feel like a failure for not being able to get this person to see the light. It was an interesting experiment, but I’m not cut out for it. But I don’t want to let down the kids. I can’t let down the kids.

Has anyone else experienced a similar situation, and what did you do?

Have you two sat down and talked about how hard you are actually going to try? For some people FRC is an introduction into STEM and just a way to open someones eyes to a world they might not know exist. To other it is a lifestyle that makes crossfit look casual. I feel like the two personalities here have different levels of investment in FRC.

Yes, and he serves on FIRST organizational committees and seems pretty invested (team does a lot of outreach, too), which is one reason I thought it was a good fit. So that’s another reason I am so confused. I tend to put it all away when the season is over, and on certain days during the season, too (family to raise and all that). I can’t do FIRST without a break. But when I am there I am all in. Time is our most precious resource.

When the going gets too tough, you can always give up. Sometimes perseverance is just another word for inflexibility.

Who does he respect and listen to? If he respects expertise, find engineers to drop in and explain the deficiencies. If he respects colleagues, arrange for them to drop in and talk with him. If he respects random advice online, then we might be able to arrange for some appropriate advice or resources. If he wants specific evidence, maybe have the student leaders put together an analysis of where your team’s performance suffers because of logistical problems—and of course work with them to get your point across, since presumably they’re more receptive.

First, THANK YOU!! Being a FIRST mentor is tough enough as it is. It generally takes time away from your family, you generally will spend much of your own money on hardware, you work with kids that have little, if any, skills… But if you can teach one kid a year some basic skills and get them excited about engineering, you’ve done our country an enormous service. So, thank you!

In terms of your immediate problem, you need an alliance. I believe all FRC teams need at least 3 engineers (one EE, one ME, one CS). It makes it easier to divide and conquer. Also, they can serve as multiple voices saying the same thing to the teacher (peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing). Finally, they can be a group of friends you can vent with and enjoy a “yeast enriched beverage” after a tough night. Talk to friends and see if you can get some help.

Do you have any local FRC teams? Again, you need an alliance. If so, work with them. I am a mentor for 3824 and we always open our space up for 3 teams (an alliance…, funny how that word comes back) to work together. We share tools, hardware and expertise. We typically try to adopt a rookie team every year. That’s the toughest year, which it sounds like you live yearly.

Sometimes you have to use tough love. What you are doing is important. Emphasize to the kids that housekeeping is a safety issue. If they don’t take ownership, you they need to consider a different field. They’ll never be a successful engineer. They HAVE to be responsible. Whenever a student uses a tool, they HAVE to put it up as soon as they are done. Fifteen minutes before you break up for the night, call stop work and make all the kids clean up their workspace. Put one kid in charge of tools. These are critical life skills for an engineer.

So, THANK YOU!! Stay strong, get some help and if you can’t succeed with this team, consider helping another. A well oiled FRC team is a thing to behold!

Seems you are someone needs to take the lead…I would not rely on the teacher in our case the teacher or rep from the school basically goes to events not build days.

The team needs a stronger nucleus of adults that demonstrate to the kids organization. Then several kids need to be invested in doing most of the ordering etc its their bot and they should be invested in ordering the parts they need…an adult can look the list over and add as needed.

You have a budget so use it. Get tools and organizers like toolboxes or carts. get donations from tool places like Harbor Freight.

Find another team that has done this and meet with them as a group…see how they do it.

We are a small second year team and really do this out of a garage, little in the way of school support as other teams obviously have (that’s getting better with success). 5 or 6 adult mentors who all have a different skill sets (Electrical, Mecahnical, Strategy and Research, Finance and Fundraising, Coding) , ONE of them is the LEAD mentor who lets us use his garage. We all work on our little piece and pitch in more or less as different stages…kids do the work with our guidance. At any one time there may only be 2 or 3 mentors around even on build days and on planning days maybe one.

An invested group of kids. With 4 to 5 leaders in that group.

As a starting team keep it simple build the simplest robot that does one thing well. Then add next season. Last year we built a goalie bot because it was easy…had success. Now our robot is much more complex to better compete…and do most things well.

Forget CAD (for now) and draw something out on paper… build a working drive base then figure out ONE thing it should do well. Our goalie bot last year could totally block low goal frustrating many teams (even an unnamed powerhouse where we waste a minute of their time of them trying to force the ball in have scars and paint from that…they never scored that ball) its was simple but effective at that one task. We could block a bit of the High goal too and blocked shots…that’s it KISS we were unique on purpose as a starting that was we were totally clueless.

Its a challenge we had mainly new kids this year as the seniors aged out…we did not have a drive-able base until week 4. Since we chose to go more complex and push our boundaries…its a challenge every year.

Treat it as a first year team and start form the ground up and lay new groundwork. Build a simple effective bot that does one thing well and then add next season more complexity. This year it might be a pusher bot for instance can only score single objects by pushing. But can push anything including noodles (unique)…and train a noodle thrower.

Thanks for being a mentor! Its can be great.

Thank you for trying to organize this team! It sounds like you need to bring in additional mentors to help. We now have FIRST Senior Mentors located all over the country who can help recruit others for the team ( You may find it helpful to have technical mentors as well as non-technical mentors (NEMs). NEMO (Non-Engineering Mentor Organization) has a lot of white papers compiled by FIRST mentors in our resources section of our website that you may find useful in organizing the team. You can’t build a house without a blueprint and a foundation - and you can’t build a FIRST team without the same. It could be that this mentor is willing to take a back role and let others step up and do the actual work that is needed to get the team organized and on its way to becoming more successful in providing a great FIRST experience for its students!

You mentioned that budget is not an issue. Do you have any sense that your concerns are shared by the source(s) of funding? Do those who contribute believe that their investment is being well stewarded?

You replied that you have talked; did you communicate what is important to you and why you believe it is important? Have you asked the teacher to express the same?

Before you decide to disengage, try to form a partnership. Identify skill gaps and recruit other adults to help fill those gaps. Perhaps another teacher needs to be brought into the mix who can complement (fill gaps).

This is a very unfortunate situation, but it doesn’t have to be. You mentioned there being a grade for this class? So what is this teacher doing to make them earn it? Have you presented the idea to him of watching online tutorials in class, or out of class for homework? -How to use a drill(press), saws, mallets, etc. Pretty much if a team is going to use a shop, or any tools at all, that’s where it needs to start.

If not, I highly recommend checking out this link of videos provided by MIT.
-I joined a Robotics lab this past semester at my University, and the first thing they said was to “Watch these and understand them well.”

  1. They provide knowledge
  2. More importantly, knowldge provides safety.

As for the next thing: it being a class - Do you see an influx of the same students year after year, or is it a fresh start again and again. (Since you’re new, you won’t be able to answer that question, but keep it in mind as you head into the future.)
-The reason I ask this is because any class where recent members do not return will be more likely to be born onto weak legs, so to speak. If you do have students that return again and again, whether it be out of passion, or the search for an easy grade, make sure they can share any previously gained knowledge with the team. It’s always better to reach a common ground with other students before you have mentors pushing knowledge towards you, which can be intimidating.

Essentially, you as a mentor should be making sure that no matter what these kids learn, they are proud of it. They should go around to their friends saying hey, did you know this worked this way, or look at this video, and such.

I know it’s hard being the mentor in this situation not physically titled a teacher, but let me remind you, that’s exactly what you are. So that’s my two cents. Good luck changing the world.

Sounds overwhelming, i would only do 3 things.

1 GET MORE MENTORS ,from any field design oriented, (carpenters, machinist, plumbers and etc) are all hugely underutilized mentors that can solve problems.

2 DO MORE FIRST i really think the single best thing you can do for a team in your shoes is go to as many off season as possible.

3 Do a Premortem and Postmortem for everything

Thanks for the support and feedback - it really means a lot. I’ll try to answer what people have asked so far.

So, the big picture is that there are younger kids lined up to bring a constant stream of enthusiastic FIRSTers into this FRC program over the next few years. (current FLLers and middle-school FTCers). This is the first year we’ve graduated younger kids from the program I’ve been involved with for years into FRC (they started FIRST in 4th-5th grade and are finally moving to high school). The future, from that perspective, is bright.

The school administration sees this, and wants those kids at their school. So this year, they have made the investment to ensure we have the resources available that we need. I mentioned that budget isn’t an issue - I guess what I should have said is that a basic budget isn’t the issue. Funds aren’t unlimited, but enough for us to do what we need to do to build a robot and attend one event. We are working on a real business plan, as well as pulling in more mentors with the expertise we need and time to give (I am a non-engineering mentor, aside from programming). Coach is excited about this part, and has contributed there in some ways.

On the safety and room organization issues - I can talk about it until I am blue in the face, but many of the kids take the lead of the coach and just leave stuff out. I nearly stepped on a roboRio one day. Others take my lead. It’s about a 50/50 split.

The younger core of kids - the freshman, who do have a strong work ethic - are frustrated by all this, too. They are also lowest on the social pecking order, but I think they are earning the respect of some of the older kids because they know more than the kids who have been around a few years (having done FTC/FLL at a high level).

Grades for their class are things like a quiz on the rules, which they can retake if they fail. It’s not much of a class. I will pass along those suggestions for tutorials.

Late in the season, I was able to get a couple of other potential mentors to show up and help with some things, as well as running our design by a couple of other FRC mentors who were able to give us feedback on if what we were trying to build was stupid or not. :smiley: I am hoping that I can get some of them to keep coming back.

What I am afraid of is that the new kids will get frustrated (they already are), the new recruits will hear about the bad experience and not join, sponsors will wonder why the robot doesn’t work, and the whole thing will fall apart.

I’ll keep my happy-cheery face on for the kids. They are mostly enjoying it. The ones who have been around are proud of their robot and the newbies are learning about FRC, even though it isn’t the same quality of experience they’ve had in the past. I think we can turn this thing around, but then there are days when it seems like a losing battle, so I really appreciate the support.


If physical organization is an issue, maybe try doing a 5S on one section. For instance, my former team really needed it on the electronics for several years. The mentor who controlled the wiring and electronics had is squirreled in a way that made sense to him only and he had no interest in helping anyone else figure it out.

Pick one area (electronics, motors, raw metal, wrenches) and work with the students to 5S that area. Part of the upside of 5S ( is that there is no longer the excuse of “I can’t find it” because everything is mapped, labeled, and illustrated. When properly done, someone who has no idea what you are talking about should be told to get an item and they should be able to find their way to it without much extra assistance (for instance - “Get me a CIM motor, please”).

If you PM me your state, I can probably point you to some other resources that may help.

Welcome to FRC. :ahh:

Random 5S Resources:

Budget is not an issue but organization is…
That does not bode well, if a chunk of money goes missing and you don’t have the organization to find it you could be in trouble. When you are casual about something you can get away with sloppy organization but if all this is true (and I’m not saying you are making this up) then it is very important that before human nature kicks in and someone makes a mistake you get organization up to par. If that high level of organization is in place for your budget and financial areas then just move that standard into other areas.

As mentioned above, one of the first things you need is manpower. With out a good crew of mentors, there is simply too much work during an FRC build season to survive.

Start planning this spring for next year… As soon as you have a crew of mentors, sit down and talk about club organization - everything from mentor and student responsibilities to a decision-making model.

If the budget is not an issue, your kids should all learn how to build a base with a couple of different drive systems in the pre-season. You can then pre-order all the parts you need for either in November so that you have them on hand when the season starts.

This can get you started… I can tell you as a full-time teacher and the advisor for a fairly competitive club, the hours are insane. You and the advisor will need help.

One thing that we have on 3467 is a simple “ten commandments” list that all team members are expected to follow. I believe that your team can benefit from a base set of guidelines and then build off of that. Last year was 3467’s first time in our four years of being a team that we had a “Team Handbook” which went into the nitty-gritty of how students are to behave, communicate, and clean, which helped us in terms of team leadership & etc.

I. Do Unto Others….Demonstrate Gracious
Professionalism to your teammates, your mentors,
and your competitors.
II. Better safe than run over by a renegade robot.
i.e. When working on the robot
electrical, the power gets shut off. When working on it
mechanically, all electronics are covered with a jacket
or blanket. If people are within 2-3feet of the robot, it
must be disabled.
III. Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.
In other words, lend a hand in teaching, building,
serving, designing or cleaning.
IV. Life is short; show initiative. When in doubt, find out
what’s next on the list!
V. Diversify: in addition to building, have meaningful
participation in outreach or fundraising events each
VI. Communicate. Stay informed daily. Respond
VII. I document; therefore, I am.
VIII. Keep it clean—the shop, the robot design, your
behavior, your mouth.
IX. Show up in mind and body. Be on time.
X. When building, think outside the box; when
following team rules, think inside the framework.
Actions have consequences—make them good!

I will echo the need for more mentors. Students come and go, funding waxes and wanes, facilities grow and shrink, but mentors can be forever. They are what anchor a team and allow it to be successful.

Specifically, a team needs mentors with the same attitude and objectives for the program. Nothing creates friction like disparate attitudes and objectives.

Talk to the senior mentor for for your area. She or he maybe able to help you fine other mentors. Also she or he maybe able to help with advising the coach. If you are near by I would be willing as a regular mentor to come and help in any way that would be a benefit.

Mary, I have seen very similar things and would love to share experience with you. If you have time and would like to do so, [email protected]. I can’t type worth a darn or I’d start typing here. :grinning:


My take is that some people are really process-oriented and well-organized, and some people are not. Being in the former and not the latter, I also get frustrated by disorganization and poor planning.

If you can get the teacher to admit that organization is not his strong point, you can then take concrete steps towards lasting improvement.

I had written a lot more, but to cut to the chase: Get a few more adults to help. Parents are a great resource - one as purchasing agent, at least, so things happen. Anyone, even a day a week.

Don’t let the event go by without impressing on any kid who might return next year: Fielding a robot like this is an embarrassment, they should feel badly, but you can explain to them how to do a lot better next year, if they want to.

Then, staring September, meet 6 to 8 times to roll out the new program and get kids to buy in.

But it all starts with the teacher admitting there’s a problem. If you can’t make that happen, see the post above from T^2 about cutting your losses and finding a different team.