Getting Mentors out of Comfort zone

I have just completed my second year as the School Sponsor for a 10+ year FRC team. We have mentors and engineers that have been with the team since its inception, long after their own kids have graduated and moved on. They are simply great people.

I need advice on getting our mentors out of a rut without alienating them. Instead of designing a robot based on the game, we design a robot around the drive train design we have been using for years.

I think it boils down to the engineers know we can build a solid 70-80 percentile robot, and they have little interest in taking a risk that could fail. The students really pressed the engineers hard this year to try new things, but with very limited success.

I thought spending the money and making an off season robot to try new things and give my underclassmen a chance for more hands on before next year would be a good thing, but my engineers simply can’t/won’t commit.

Is this a case of the mentors just being burnt-out? Please advise.

My first question would be have you won at all or recently?

Winning breeds success… without winning … stale will likely set in. This is hard…its hard and losing stinks.

So how have you done…has the team been successful?

I find it intoxicating… but we are just second year… so from my perspective that winning is sort of what it takes as sort of a "payoff’ . Because its a ton of work my brains completely fried as Mentor strategist/scout and being all FRC expert for past five weeks and six before that! But its so highly rewarding when the team does amazing things (and you get recognized by others) beating legacy teams. We have not really tasted “defeat” yet. Both our years are by any metric…unabashedly successful. So for us as mentors in different disciplines its very exciting still. Because we do good (by design) and can dominate as a team of kids and mentors each year.

WE are going to institute a year round program… build each year to keep the kids involved in bettering themselves… we as a group desperately want to succeed as a new team and show our part of the county what it takes!

We don’t want to be seen as a “also-ran” second year team rather up with peers in top-25 rankings talked about each week.

We stay strong because that is what it takes to get to the next level…or its not your best.

I’m going to steal a quote from a new mentor friend on another team…

**“Good enough is the enemy of anything great!” ** …post that on the wall. Get the intoxicating excitement back!

Coming from a strategist perspective every robot every year has to be customized to the game that year. That is why in part we are “so far” successful (we build our bot in a parents garage no fancy workshop). Doesn’t mean you don’t test options but once game comes out you build a bot to succeed at the “killer strategy” as an alliance member …to win it all. “Effective” is our goal…every year otherwise its a waste of time isn’t it? These kids need mentors invested in the outcomes…and to succeed (or fail) as a team.

I did not work this year on mentoring during the robot build period. (I put myself on a different project). As a legacy team, looking at on my own, what makes the elite teams (both legacy and newer), win so bloody often. And researching that, and parsing the game rules, and the progression of changes throughout the season.

I will impart a bit of knowledge though. My team received a shoutout from “I’m Looking Forward” before the East AZ Regional (our first event), that went something like this…“The originators and 1st adopters of WCD Team 60, finally go mecanum.” (I did not go back and copy the quote, close enough though). We were a no change from WCD team recent and past years, though we did go from chains finally to belts last year. This year, our first at mecanum…Who knows what the future holds…

I have witnessed the following over the last few years (including my own child who is now almost finished his first year of college), for 3 years at least, the core robot designing and building students have wanted to try mecanum, but never actually tried it off season, though they always stated they wanted to REPEATEDLY. They just never did the work without mentor prodding. They mainly talked about it…A LOT! (I mean constantly).

So, the mentor input at design/build time was always…You have not tested, don’t risk it now, and pushing power (except locking wheels in X), is not what you like to do in the defensive pushing necessary games. So they did not go there…Don’t fix what isn’t actually broke kind of a thing. They didn’t make the change year after year.

Then along comes “Recycle rush” (No Bumpers are necessary, no pushing or bashing (the competition at least)…And, the perfect game for fine sweet mecanum wheeled driving, strafing, turning in tight quarters, etc., except on and around those more difficult slick scoring platforms at least, is going to be better they think, and finer much slower deliberate smoother driving control is really good in the game around stacks and those platforms, HP Stations (Tote Chute!), over much faster ultra-feet per second in previous years, and that Landfill…Yeah that too…Then, mecanum is so widely adopted by early adopters, that coding libriaries have been fully released by now, thanks to great teams that have much more experience using it by now, so switching now is absolute right timing, even if during design/build season w/ no off season work/testing).

So, the students finally won the design battle this year (even without off season testing), as there were no real CONS to mention anymore. They got up and running early, and it drives straight w/ just a little code tinkering making it fully their own.

Their design and late adoption has worked so far…2 events, 2 Finalist Awards in 2 competition weeks (not to mention 2 Engineering Awards among others, including “The BIG ONE” EI, that comes w/ huge perks! And all done w/ an all brandy new robot driver team (though both drivers were, from what I understand prior extreme gamers too, and have driven our practice bots many times, at many team functions, both on/off season. Just their first year for both actually behind the glass, and our HP is a carry over from the 2 previous years, he’s just matured a bit as it normally goes, and he get’s even better every match he’s behind the glass too).

The big switches that can be made in original competition robot drivetrain choices can hurt or help your team, and those can be/are HUGE TEAM DECISIONS. It can and will make or break your competition year.

So far for us, it was an easy choice w/ better results, and fairly smooth sailing, currently sitting 51st in OPR w/ a couple weeks to go after facing very top end competition…But, it could have easily been a choice plunging the whole Team the other way (we just have the right drivers for the job too)…They weighed the risks together, and reap the rewards, and shine together.

How & IF you get that job done, needs to be discussed as a team together…Or not. Each team and how they accomplish things is left solely up to the individual teams. (Press the box, stress the box, climb outside the box, climb back into the box and look out…Just don’t tear up and dispose of the box…You might find you just need that box someday…Or a part of it at least!)

Good luck to you on any and all resolutions in that regard. I can only share what worked for our team. (I was never a part of that discussion this year). Or in the past actually…I only witnessed it from afar. So far, I really like our results. So Far…Plenty left to go…

We made a big change this year to go with a wood robot. It was made possible because our build space has a laser cutter. What made the change happen was that a few people on the team decided it was worth pursuing, and one student in particular spent a hundred hours of his own time in December, designing and building three iterations of a wood drive base to learn the techniques and show that it would work.

The result was that by the time that build season rolled around, we were ready to hit the ground running with a new method of building.

It did take a few hundred dollars to pay for parts, but the team decided that it could afford that to expand our capabilities.

so I gotta ask…why are your mentors making decisions for the team? I know that there are a lot of models out there on how teams can be run, but I guess our team has always been focused on letting the students design, vote on, and build the robot.

that said, sure - if we had an engineer who would come and mentor our team I bet they would want to have more input than a shop teacher, a former WWF wrestler, and the school librarian (our current mentors) do…possibly the team would win more?

I still wouldn’t want the mentors making all the design decisions…just doesn’t seem like students have the same degree of involvement when that happens.

Thanks for the replies so far, but without getting into specifics how do we get the mentors to open up to more ideas when they won’t entertain any?

If the students end up successfully prototyping a new to us drive train or other design feature this off-season, and the mentors dismiss it out of hand again next year, it will crush the students. Especially, since the mentors are not able to work on it in the off-season.

This thread isn’t asking how successful your team is or has been, it is asking for help getting mentors to try new things.

I’m a fairly new mentor myself, but I don’t have much to add unfortunately. (Or fortunately, depending on how you look at it. A large amount of solid advice has already been given.)

All I have to say is that you should try and ensure that your mentors really understand what the goal of FIRST is. It’s about learning, it’s about STEM Education.

Students aren’t learning anything by doing the same thing time and time again.

Also, as former lead strategist, I recommend having a student be in charge of a team of students who analyze the rules immediately. This team should then brief the group who is charge of initial robot design, and together these two groups - A group who has a strategic understanding of the rules, and a group who has a fine grasp on successful design strategy - should develop the plan for the initial phase of the six week build season.

This method allows for a bunch of learning opportunities that are realistic for job opportunities, such as goal oriented design, and leadership.

Best of luck.

I believe I hear some frustration with how your team is mentor-driven? Do you have strong student leadership who might set up a meeting to talk with the mentors about changing this?

I think if you can set up an avenue ahead of next season where you give more design access to students that will help, but it’s imperative that you work on defining what your mentor roles are. Perhaps the mentors need to see more prototyping or at least a decent CAD diagram of students’ designs? Ask them what it is going to take for them to give you more creative control, so that students can take more ownership of the projects.

I know FIRST has no strict guidelines for how much control mentors should have over build and design and it would be impossible to enforce this even if they did, so it’s up to each team to set those limits. If your mentors won’t listen, as a 3rd party to mediate.

I can’t speak for all engineering mentors, but I like math. If a student either brought me some math showing they had done performance analysis on a design with favorable results or asked for my help doing the math, I would generally be more inclined to positively consider the idea. I also like CAD models, working prototypes, and analysis work that shows the student has considered both the positive points and the potential disadvantages and failure points.

If this were my team, I would directly ask the technical mentors what it would take for them to open up to a new idea. You may need to be fairly tactful, but I would definitely mention your fears that another rejection might crush the students.

Another thing to consider is that a lot of engineers get burned by a specific design feature at some point and tend to develop strong biases against designs that resemble them. I have had a lot of bad experiences with leaky, heavy, and ill-chosen pneumatics with long part lead times (on FRC robots) and with daisy-chained signaling architectures (in my day job). Designs with either of those features are generally a much harder sell when pitching an idea to me. Is it possible the design that was pitched hit somebody’s pet peeve?

Ask your mentors what their concerns are about different ideas or drive trains.

Maybe they are concerned about not spending too much money on raw materials, or perhaps they might be worried that it will be difficult to manufacture something with your team’s resources. Or perhaps they actually are doing what they do because that’s what they’ve always done and no one has nudged them.

Once you know where there thoughts are, you can work to address any particular concerns they have. This process works between students and students, mentors and students, and mentors and mentors.

Honestly, the student leadership needs to step up together and talk to the mentors about it. You need to make it obvious the effect that this mindset is having on the students.

Most of the challenge is how you present this, don’t be too confrontational but also make yourself clear and make it clear that the feeling is universal across the students. Work together with the mentors to improve instead of just bringing it up and expecting change.

Try to be as self-sufficient with the off season robot as possible. Have basic CAD before you bring it up with the mentors. Complete the CAD before you actually need to make anything (need mentor supervision). You don’t need mentors present while CADing and it shows your initiative and determination. Also, don’t go overboard with your offseason bot. All you need to do is try something new. It really doesn’t even need to be FRC scale.

Raise funds for the off season robot with the same determination and preparedness.

If you show enough initiative, the mentors will feel guilty about ever holding you back.

Equivalently, don’t make dumb mistakes that the mentors could have easily helped out with. You’re determined and prepared, not careless.

And it paid off BIG once already…David Forbes was being much too modest there, so I’ll toot “The Bit Buckets” horn a bit. While our (60), stepping out and doing something new and different this year (outside of our usual comfort zone), has certainly helped our team to be successful (so far), this year, it has also made their year better after 2 events also, doing something quite different too. They (4183/3144/4146), actually beat us in the Finals that first event Week 4 (Avg. Playoff scores of 132.33/ to our 115.33).

We just improved both our QPA (81.42 QPA, Rank 2, Alliance Seeding 1, Alliance pick #1/F), to our 2nd event (108.17 QPA, Rank 3, Alliance Captain Seeding 2/F), and a PA improvement of (120.43 Week 4, to 142.33 Week 5…Now look back again…(Our 142.33 PA Week 5, beats 132.33 Week 4, but on that day, and in that arena, they won that W banner and deservedly so).

Our second event, our team went even further to rise to the task at hand. OPR increased (from 49.21 after 1 event, to 68.37 after 2 events on back-to-back weekends). And we picked up a very surprising REI Award too!

After Week 4, Rank 74/and after 2 events/After Week 5 to Rank 51) w/ a second event Avg. Playoff score of 142.33, facing even higher cream of the very crop (148/997/5012), 148 is 3rd/987 is 7th, World ranked OPR’s, type competition right now. (Still a couple of weeks to go yet, then the Championships!)

So, there you have it, sometimes taking bigger chances can reap much higher rewards. The easy solution is right there in your question, possibly some more off season support, and possibly a few more $$$'s & more time investment (I know how tough that decision is, but money & time, should be motivation enough to cause changes and more risky behavior)…Proving possibly (like that very brave Bit Buckets student putting in over 100 December hrs. & 3 different new itterations, to get his own team to just simply try something different. (He bought in BIG. They certainly had to). And it paid off too.

And, that is what FIRST is really all about. My hat is certainly off to that young man! and the team. David, please tell him so for me, OK?), That something new, can often be something much better. It’s often hard to (get people to), make the risky moves to attempt to mess w/ real success though.

Winning is “the kind of rut” we all wish we could be in sometimes. I never heard anyone complain much about their own “winning record”, just the other guys. Well, except the term, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” LOL. (That was directed at me personally, in the early 80’s by a friend & competitor, that I bought many a dinner for after many racing events). Full disclosure, sometimes he even paid back the favor.

It was my first real season handicap drag racing (dial in bracket racing, and not dabbling in it, really competing almost full time while working full time too), and I had 28 races under my belt half way through the season (every single 1 of them was a 2nd place finish, all in a nicely arranged row, as I had yet to really learn the secret to simply “remain calm when in the final round at the tree”, and was letting the knowledge of “I’m cashing another check” tomorrow, get & gain me internal personal financial relief (racing is expensive as a hobby also)…The guy that made that foolish statement to me at the time slip booth, (I had just defeated and kept from the $$$$'s…AGAIN).

I laughed and stated…"I’ll take 2nd. everytime, if you’ll give it to me like you just did…EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY TIME. (I know…That wasn’t quite “Gracious Professionalism.” (On either of our parts).

I never actually won a race that whole bloody season…But, I still made more money, having fun & racing that season…(and finished 2nd almost every race that year -the only other 2 losses, were semi-final red lights by thousanths), than I did at my real job actually working for a living. Uncle Sam was happy, and so was I…Sort of…

The very next year I learned how to turn those 2nd’s. into lots of wins and became an NHRA Firestone/Centerline Divisional Champion (and track Champ at 5 different tracks the very same season in 84’). Success breeds success, cautions breed cautions. (And, lots of wrecks and losses to would be winners). Yeah, I mixed 2 different auto sports in there. But it is truth.

There is no “Right Way” to run a team in FIRST, there are many successful ways, and there are many unsuccessful ways, and tons of teams smack dab right in the middle. And then there is YOUR SPECIFIC WAY. (Whatever way that may be)…Everyone has an opinion. And they are all different, and we all have the freedom to chose our way, and most still want it to be another way.

But, the smart ones, they attempt to please their “hands on sponsors” if they have them (even though FIRST isn’t just about the robots).

Because,…Without great Team Sponsor people like you, we don’t get to even build robots (never mind compete at high levels w/ them as teams)…Or, later they may just find themselves out begging hat in hand for Sponsor $$$'s. It’s also an expensive game & proposition, and I’m positive you already know all that.:smiley:

People just don’t like change normally (any group of people)…Pushing them to push the envelope is a HUGE JOB w/ HUGE RISKS INVOLVED. But, I think you are up to the task already. IF they take the chance, and results go sour though, just stand on the highest stool around (safely), and say to the group…Ooop’s, now I understand, lets go backward. Or, (I understand), now lets move forward. But, lets do something different again, together!

(I personally don’t envy your particular position. But, I’d sure like to try it sometime). Sponsoring a FIRST team simply has to be rewarding (and frustrating too, all at the same time), no matter the results.

I am not belittling your problem at all (and agree w/ your “No Team, no names” approach to getting much input here and advice on CD). So please understand when I say this, our Team Founder (a Legacy team, though not a very first year FIRSTer), and he has been our Industry & Lead Mentor for, year in, year out without fail (alone and with help), and his employer Our Platinum Level Sponsor, more than 19 years now…Would just LOVE to have the problem you personally currently have of “Our Engineers” just don’t like change. (It is the “Our Engineers” part), he would love as a temporary change to have that issue once in a while, as he’s the “go to guy” w/ the student team members, in all robots and robot design usually.

In the past few years, if he was out of town, sometimes the team (students mainly), would not make much real build progress until he returned, then back on track they’d go. This year I now understand, they just did it, even though he was out of town on work for a part of the build season. They wanted it a lil’ different, they bought in FULLY and just did it, and they got their wish, and the success that follows.

Added: Quoted from above (This thread isn’t asking how successful your team is or has been, it is asking for help getting mentors to try new things).

Sry Advice,

Most of what I wrote in multiple posts above, and below wasn’t really advice directed at you…Just sharing what recently worked for our team. Maybe the great volunteer Mentors will read it and think…Does this possibly apply to our team?

If you do not think your 10+ year FIRST Engineer Mentors are reading CD…You are only really fooling yourself. I know they are, they know they are, and most of the very recent experience I conveyed above, was really aimed at them. They should change because it isn’t about only robots, it is about Students & STEM Education…And FIRST Robot Competitions.

If I personally led a University where Engineering Degrees were earned, I personally would give George Williams an honorary Degree in Engineering. He’s more than earned it. (He’s actually a Master Machinist, that teaches graduated and non-grad. machinists “On The Job” for a major mechanical engineering & builder firm in one of the largest machine shops I have ever actually seen (Laron, Inc. in the last few years Built the LARGEST CRANE IN THE WORLD & The HIGH ROLLER in Las Vegas, right here in our small town in Northern, AZ …Yes, it was assembled there in Las Vegas, but they built and/or manufactured it right here)…Not to ever be confused w/ “Team 987 The High Rollers” (a huge building operation in their own right). But now the largest moving ferris wheel in the world, and the newest high observing point in Las Vegas, NV). Our team visited it last week when competing there, it doesn’t stop, you just walk on while it continues moving…40 person pods.

NOT Sry, Sponsor plug(s) here;

And LARON, Inc. is our longtime Platinum Sponsor…Team 60 is lucky to have both of them (and a recently returned highly educated Mentor in Brenton also), and much other great support from a great group of other Education and Parent/Past Parent stick around type longterm Mentors.

But, George has always been the heart & heartbeat of this long at it legacy Team (He and his wife Crystal “The Longtime Quer” anf FIRST WIDOW as she refers to herself in jest often, both live and breathe FIRST).

Small town & community team (3 High Schools/and some home schooled students to make 1 Combined Team even work every year). Some years are Wins Lean, some much, much stronger…But always competitors and educators…Truly inspiring to witness at work.

“Our Design & Engineer Mentors”…Would certainly be an issue George would love to have at least once in his lifetime at this point for this team. OK, not necessarily this year per se.

He does though like to have a student designed & built robot though (that does not always happen, so he’s always ready to step in when necessary too. But, everything must be a “total team effort.” We succeed or we fail together, but every student is inspired. And every trip to the Championships must be earned, and sometimes they earned it, and don’t go because they just don’t think it is competitive enough to win. (Finances always play part & parcel in this game too).

And every one of them (the students), that shows any interest whatsoever in designing & machining parts on any machine in our teams shop (no matter where that may be this year, or next, or the year after that…See, we don’t yet own a building, or have a permanent home building, though that is in the works now, but we have much George over the years, scrounged & fixed up, & purchased machines, equipment, tools, parts, and materials…We have stuff in a conex container I never even saw before, until mucho totes were needed this year for designing and practice). They get a class A+ education in becoming a real machinist (and many other crafts too), and can, and do go to work sometimes, for local aircraft parts manufacturers machining & making high grade aircraft one off parts (while still in High School), making quite a decent wage for the work Avail. AROUND HERE. (My youngest Son, now in College did too).

He (Our Son & many, many others before and after him), will always have that highly & CAREFULLY learned HIGH VALUE Craft, and real work experience (Thank You George Williams & Brackett Aircraft…another of our Very Valuable Sponsors), to lean back on in the future, no matter where his life takes him. And We’ll never be able to thank George & Crystal, Laron, Inc., or Brackett Aircraft enough for that. Ever! (Adding in all the names would create another book long post…You know who you ALL ARE!) So, I won’t this time.

But, we sit far from any major metro areas, where we can easily attract a group of working Mechanical, Design, and/or Electrical Engineers, to our year round Team project as Mentors…Yet. (We did have 1 for our FTC Team we started 3 years ago, provided as a Volunteer also, by our also Very Valuable Chrysler Proving Ground Sponsors, but he also lived, and worked a good ways away in 2 different directions, and could not commit the time to both FTC & FRC at the same time). That was a huge triangle drive he made when he could. And we appreciate him too!

There are Pro’s and Con’s to everything, is all I’m trying to say. I think the Engineer poster input & advice you seek here on CD is going to be very valuable to you with the issue you & the students face. At least I hope so for a reasonable resolution.

A smooth tactful approach, maybe mentors only firstly, away from the rest of the team, then add slowly the entire team in a real get away from the shop type relaxed “just talk it out” type getaway day meeting.

The last thing to risk, is chasing away 10 year Engineer Volunteer Mentors. OR SPONSORS either, like yourself!

I wish you well, and will sit back now for a while.

I just learned something…I wonder how I get “The Arup Group” to send us a few of their best Engineers as Industry Volunteers? (They actually Engineered The High Roller, among many other huge beautiful large projects throughout the world, and they have 87 offices the world over…Surely they can spare a few great Engineers…LOL). I personally saw major pcs. being built locally (The Pods), and I finally just read the actual wiki entry about it myself a minute ago!

Please remember we’re not about the robots. Are your students being inspired? FIRST’s mission:
Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.
If your team is no longer fulfilling the mission of FIRST remind the mentors of the mission statement. Remind them that the mission includes innovation, and in order to fulfill the mission, you may have to take risks and try something new with the robot design.

My real ADVICE…“Hey FOLKS Please Listen Up…Look, I’m the Sponsor, these are the Students, You are the Engineers & Mentors (WE ALL REALLY VALUE YOU AS LONG TIME EDUCATED AND SUPER DEVOTED VOLUNTEERS)…But, THE STUDENTS, our real reason for being FIRST Mentors, want to try some different things NEXT YEAR, I’m willing to invest more, and we need to do this NOW! OK?”

That is very risky (and just may or may not work, but it’s who I am)…I bear no responsibility for any negative results of the advice though (which is why I impart experiences rather than Advise & Counsel)…But, that is how you really make people change that don’t really want to change. And, sometimes you just need to kick people really hard in the butt. Or, win them over w/ handfulls of honey. One draws flies, the other doesn’t…It flat chases people away.

Not quite “Gracious Professionalism” though, Eh? (BTW, I’m usually called in to solve problems in a different Non-Profit Organization…BECAUSE PEOPLE WON’T WILLINGLY CHANGE THEMSELVES even after direct multiple warnings).

And, at that long lost, no turn around point, after they are so far gone as a real business, they are definitely headed to bankruptcy court sooner rather than later (On Last Legs)…Their Charter to operate as an independent club is SUSPENDED, then I am appointed as an AGENT for the Umbrella Organization so they have 1 person making all decisions including whether they are salvageable, or I close up shop, and sell and settle up w/ the creditors, or even file the bankruptcy turn it over to an Attny. or Judge, and walk away after I transfer all the existing dues paying members elsewhere…I go in and make the changes for them, with or without their officers & members help.

Total, complete, and non-reversable changes, and those decisions stand, or they go down…PERIOD! All those I served as Agent in…Still exist today, I would rather work months/years to help save them, rather than days or weeks to end them (usually even after organizational years of issues w/ them). (Some are 19 month and 38 month assignments long, and they still don’t really change their hearts and minds a bit, just their actual habits)…So I work on changing their bad habits, rather than actual hearts & minds. I personally have not learned that secret either.

Understand though…They have no choices, but to go along, get along, or just leave. Many choose the “I’ll Leave” angle…But, they almost always come back soon enough…Not so, w/ highly educated mentors.

BTW, When you find the secret(s)…Please impart the wisdom. I could also use it too. Tact isn’t one of my best & greatest virtues…I live by experience, and breed off of it! No crystal ball here. Wish I could help ya…I really do. GOOD LUCK FRIEND!

That! ^

Then show them our Performance & Team Awards for the last 2 ~3 years…And our Performance & Awards this year so far…WoooHooo, CHANGE IS REALLY GOOD! Thanks kids.

You’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback in this thread so far regarding what teams have done specifically to combat this problem, and how it has worked out for them. Based on the several teams I’ve worked with over the years, here is what I would try:

Depending on the size and social culture of your mentoring group, I would plan an informal mentor get-together. This would preferably be held somewhere nobody associates with robots. Somewhere like a casual restaurant that serves adult beverages, which can help lighten the mood. Once you have everybody together, just let them all blow off some steam, talk about whatever frustrations you’ve been facing as a team. Then, once everybody has expressed anything they need to, bring up the topic you want to discuss: “I’ve noticed that when we are in the design phase, we tend to go with what we’re comfortable with. I think it might be really beneficial to the students to explore some alternative solutions next year. I know that you all can’t work on much in the off-season, but I think having a mini-design camp for the students in November or December would be great! I would personally organize it and deal with the logistics, and we can see what comes of it. The students have expressed to me that they really want to try more out of the box engineering solutions. I know some of you have been burned by this in the past, but maybe we should let the kids develop some new ideas. The whole point of what we do is to inspire and teach them…maybe we need to change things up a little bit?”

Make sure that responsibilities are adequately divided amongst mentors and students. Mentor burnout is brutal, and can make even the most cheerful and open-minded mentor a big meanie. Make their lives easier by instituting a strong team structure that lays out all tasks and jobs for each adult and student leader. If your engineers are less stressed, they’ll be more likely to listen to new ideas. If you don’t have enough people to spread the work around, try and actively recruit a few more mentors to reduce everybody’s workload.

It’s entirely possible that these ideas that the students want to try are either not possible under the current laws of physics, or will be completely unpractical. Your veteran engineers probably know this, and it’s easier to just say “no” after ten years of hearing the same thing, rather than take the time to explain it properly. Pick their brains a little bit and find out why they’re saying no, and evaluate your next steps from there.

Hope that helps!

Read most of the posts before, and maybe I’m oversimplifying, but human beings (engineers included), typically have a reason for what they are doing. You can spend your time guessing as to why they are insisting on a drive train design, or discuss it with them and understand why.

As you understandably didn’t share details on your team or what the drive train is, I could see an argument that if you are working on a solid 6WD style drivetrain, and lack sophistication in your scoring mechanisms and intake, then the right answer might be to push back on drive train iteration and focus on manipulator prototyping and practice in the offseason.

There could be a concern with the amount of money needing to be spent on offseason practice bots that might not be fruitful, and a lack of time by your mentors to spend the time to help make it successful.

I could go on for pages on what the problems could potentially be, but I recommend you approach your mentors in a non-combative way. Don’t take an attitude of “the mentors are the problem” into the conversation, but instead seek to find out why they are doing what they are doing, and work together with them to see what you can do as a team to get out of the rut.

Just to play devil’s advocate here though… sometimes it really is that “the mentors are the problem”. In environments like this there is often at least one strong-willed individual who knows everything and can do no wrong. (C’mon, you all know who I’m talking about.*)

Mentors are human; humans are imperfect. It might not be a bad idea to reinforce and emphasize that Gracious Professionalism applies to everyone, not just the students! Engineers are often in this career because they are extremely intelligent, driven, and with that sometimes comes a big ego. And it is human nature, nobody likes to think they are wrong. And with something like FRC when you become passionate about an idea or design it becomes an extension of your own identity, e.g. telling me that you don’t like my idea is seen as a personal attack on me.

At least engineers are (or should be) open to quantitative analysis (“if you can PROVE me wrong, I will accept it”) but even then, some people just have hard heads! :rolleyes:

If this is the case and one or more of your mentors seem to be unreasonably stubborn, then it may be time to have a conversation about what FIRST is about, who should be driving the decisions, letting kids make their own mistakes, etc. It’s not a fun conversation to have but it will help the mentors with their own personal development as well.

It’s not just engineers and FRC; I volunteer with another non-profit organization and deal with this all the time. And, oh yeah, at my workplace too.

*I know, I know… I’m that guy sometimes. We all do it. The trick is recognizing and acknowledging it and being intentionally open minded.

Fear of retrogressive progress towards on-field success after taking a major risk is a very understated big deal.

The biggest unforeseen (or downplayed) consequence of such a risk is lack of available weight in order to adapt to the game that is being played (i.e. metagame) rather than the game that was thought about during kickoff. Depending on which subsystem took the risk, there may be no celebration of failure because there is very little room to recover from it in order to have any modicum of success at an event. Success is defined differently for each team: some teams want a Win - others just want the robot to work as-intended so the team has something to cheer for on the field.

For example, creating a fancy drive train when the team hasn’t proven it can create a successful robot with a simple drive train is probably seen as a major risk factor. If the team doesn’t have a proven track record with the simple things, then maybe they’re struggling as-is and new engineering talent is needed? Alternatively, if the drive train itself is successful then it may inspire/propel the team to better designs in the future - which the mentors will have to deal with on their own.

This year specifically has one team with a drive train that was definitely designed for the game. This robot can be seen as a work of art because every major subsystem synergizes with the other major subsystems in some way. It also happens to be the most successful robot this year: SideSwipe. Using this robot as the ultimate of design methodologies to imitate may be how to get your mentors out of their rut, if they’re humble enough to understand there’s a problem in the first place.