How do you deal with 60+ new members joining the team?

Every year during the first meeting we have for new members, a large number of people show up. Usually after the first meeting, a large number of them don’t show up anymore but this year we actually had an increase in the number of people who showed up after the first meeting.

My question is, how do you deal with such a large number of new people wanting to join?

Firstly, it depends on the amount of veteran students you have. Our team has undergone a big expansion over the last 3 years, more than doubling in size (almost tripling) to near 80 students. Between attrition and graduations along with the increasing popularity of the team, we were over 50% rookie students for each of the last 3 years. If 60 students isn’t more than 30% (which would mean you team is HUGE) then it’s not as much of a problem.

It’s difficult, for sure. The veteran students have to step up and start training the new students on how to use equipment, how to be safe in the shop, and just in general how build season and competitions go.

Things you can do to try to reduce the number of students who are there “just to hang out” is have a time requirement, grade requirement, selective application process, team fee, or something else that will only keep the interested students. I recommend using these things with caution, because someone has to manage the “who passes the bar” process and you can’t always define the “best” FRC students through those means.

Be even more careful of this because, team productivity aside, it’s liable to exclude those students who can potentially benefit the most from FRC.

I’ve always been extremely wary of minimum-grade requirements for extracurriculars, since as far as I can tell their primary function is to create awful feedback loops for disadvantaged students.

I know there are a few teams in my area who use FTC as a sort of JV team - it’s cheaper, while still giving the students the skills they need on the FRC team. That then leads into either tryouts or “graduation” into the FRC team at some point. Personally, I’m not a big fan of tryouts for FRC, but I can understand why an extremely large team would feel the need to go that route. There is a point where a team can be too big - you can only fit so many students around the robot or in the pit!

And to your post title… if we had 60+ new members join the team in a given year, that would represent almost 25% of the student body of our school! As it is with 20-25 students on the roster every year, we have a rather high percentage of the student body being involved compared to most teams

We had huge growth a few years ago and jumped from around 40 students up to 70. Knowing that we would struggle to provide a good experience for that many people, we decided to raise our expectations of students to weed out the slackers. We added a minimum number of volunteering hours, including a certain number at our FLL tournaments. We started tracking attendance better and trying to put numbers behind who wasn’t attending. We decided that we can’t kick someone off of the team for attendance issues unless we have data to back up our stance. None of the changes were insane, and all of the requirements were still levels of magnitude lower than the participation from the more dedicated members.

We started hosting a mock kick-off in the fall to walk new members through the initial brainstorming process and introduce everyone. We have also hosted a few rookie teams at these events.

This season we’ll be hosting a “Sub-Team Fair” for the first time. Instead of students blindly picking a subteam, they’ll spend, for example, half an hour soldering and crimping at the Electrical station, then rotate on through the other teams. Hopefully more kids can get on a subteam that they enjoy, which should prevent them from losing interest and quitting.

Another problem that we’ve had is veterans doing the work during the build season instead of teaching rookies, so this year we’re stepping up our pre-season training as well. Instead of having 20 veterans and 20 rookies on the build team, we can, hopefully, have 40 students with the skill level of veterans.

We looked for new mentors and found some. We also stressed parent involvement, and have had great results. Because of the increased mentorship, we created a new technical subteam, R&D, to take some of the load off of mechanical and create a group dedicated to robot carts, tracking and leading prototyping during the early build season, battery carts, pit design, the practice field, and, recently, drivetrain prototyping. We expanded non-technical, jumping from “non-technical” to Business, Media, and Awards & Outreach, which has had great success creating new events for students to fill their volunteering requirement and found more funding to make our expansion possible.

This past season we went from 70 members down to around 55, a more manageable number. Some preliminary results from this year’s recruitment, which focused heavily on the non-technical side of the team, are looking like we might have a big team again this season, but I think that we’re more ready than ever to handle it.

We’re still working out our system and trying to find what works best for us.

We are trying to cope with our rapid expansion in a number of ways while we look for better, more permanent solutions.

Fall meetings are held multiple times a week, but members not on team leadership only have to show up to one meeting. This gives us more manageable meetings of around 30-40 people instead of meetings with 70-80. The drawbacks come from repeat meetings for members that have already been at one meeting, but there’s always something to do besides just meet for the lecture/activity for a fall meeting so we can find something for them to do.

We are instituting team dues for the first time in the team’s known history. It’s not a barrier to entry for anyone financially because we can cover in-need students, but it will make people decide if they want to be a part of the team or the team to be a part of their resume.

Our winter meetings will have a meta-structure to it where Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday shop sessions will probably be limited to a certain number of students. This allows us to help maximize student engagement and passively encourage students to find a balance between the team and their schoolwork.

We face current issues with mentor bandwidth (we have four dedicated coaches and a number of parent mentors, but availability is sort of a whirlwind) that make it difficult to add programs that help engage newer students like an FTC/VRC/JV FRC division. It’s also difficult for our current space to handle large numbers of students. Working in the school provides us with a comfortable level of security and predictability, but working out of ~1100 sq feet of shared space makes it difficult to properly involve all team members at once.

It’s great to have such high involvement, but it’s important that you look for long term solutions to a size problem while plotting out short term plans.

For context, we currently have around 20 veteran members and 1 mentor. Also because of our board, we aren’t allowed to decide who joins the team.

We had this happen to us the year I joined 781. Here’s a thread about it.

Having two meetings in a row with high attendance doesn’t necessarily mean much until the students stick around for any fall training/ activities that occur. This is usually when the high attrition rate occurs.

As for how to handle that large amount of students, it depends on four things: team infrastructure, team support to students, resources/facilities, and student interest.

  1. how does your team’s leadership look like? Do you guys have veteran students with defined roles or does everyone do a bit of everything? With these many students, you’ll have a lot of work that needs to be handed out, and this will mean more people to hand that work out and make sure to teach new students how to accomplish their task.
  2. How does your team support its students? Do your students have to pay for shirts/accommodations/transportation or is everything sponsored? Without extra sponsorship, I’d imagine that most of your students will likely need to pay to cover the costs of them being on the team. If this is not an option due to policies, financial support would need to be offered to deserving students.
  3. Can your current facilities handle this large amount of students? Can everyone work in the shop at the same time without bumping elbows? While I can’t imagine that much can be done about this on short notice if this is a problem, look in the area and/or ask the school whether it is possible for you guys to upgrading, citing the increasing student interest.
  4. Does your team know what are the interests of these students? When 781 tripled in size four years ago, our administrative section saw the largest increase in students; do you have students interested in this business/ media side of FRC? This will give more roles for your students, although this may be an issue if your students all just want to build a robot. If this is the case, look into creating a VEX team (I have been out of touch with FIRST lately, but if my memory serves correctly, FTC is still not available in Canada).

Let me know if you have any questions via PM, I know the response I gave is rather vague without having a bit more information. I might also be able to help you guys out over the year in terms of mentorship, if required.

My advice would be to do what my own team is trying to do right now (we doubled our team size this year and only have one additional mentor).

Parallelize, parallelize, parallelize. We are currently working to ensure we have a flatter leadership structure wherein different mentors, and different key students, fully own different portions of the team. Trying to have a couple people at the top getting involved in every aspect of the team can quickly become impossible as a team scales.

The real question though, is how to execute this. I’ll explain what we are doing in two parts:

Students

  • We are holding required “leadership seminars” for students who will be holding leadership positions on the team. At these we are focusing on accountability as a leader and how to actually be a leader (from “How to win friends and influence people”). Letting students fully own projects / aspects of projects will be needed for our larger team.
  • We created an “Elders Council” made up of mentors and select students to make “strategic decisions requiring expediency”. That covers decisions where we think students should have input, but don’t want to slough through a conversation with the whole team.

Mentors

  • We no longer have an overriding lesson plan that addresses each sub-team. The different aspects have been handed off fully to mentors leading those groups, meaning that those mentors plan every aspect of their sub-team’s training. Sometimes they are even holding additional meetings for individual sub-teams.
  • We have a week to week lesson plan that covers general activities that are useful for a FIRST team. Teamwork / leadership activities that revolve around building or some other aspect of FIRST, build challenges that require mechanical, electrical, and programming aspects, etc.
  • We are having more frequent mentor meetings (~15 min following a meeting) to discuss any goings-on with the team that we may have missed.
  • We also started a parent booster club in order to take some of the load off of mentors. We had to have one of our mentors as the president of the booster club though, as none of our parents wanted to step up.

All good info.

This year we have about 60 veterans and 45 rookies. Most veterans are assigned a rookie, that rookie sticks with the veteran until the build season starts, so they learn how to do things and stay engaged.

Pi-Tech is where we teach the rookies (and some veterans) the skills they will need during build season. Basically we just have them design and build a robot…

We just had our first all-call for robotics - and we had nearly 30 new faces in the seats. We only have 24 returning members. I know that some have gone through ‘cuts’ or build JV teams, but we are entering our 3rd season and I don’t think that we could handle that many kids (we don’t have the resources or the mentors) and cutting kids would bring in bad publicity for our program that is funded only through sponsors.

I would like to hear some more creative ways to keep kids involved.

THanks!

We have had some large growth in our team recently, not nearly the amount some people are talking about but enough that we became concerned. A few things we tried to do to curb this is to raise the participation fee (we have a system in place to waive the fee due to financial hardships),slowly increasing the amount of minimum requirements and we introduced an essay as part of the application process. We don’t turn anyone down due to the essay but it was a good deterrent to only get people who really wanted to be on the team. It worked alright and we’ve slowly managed to stabilize the size of our team, especially now that our last small graduating class (5 members) has gone.

We’re in the same boat. We’re usually a 15-person team, with an average of 4 people at any build meeting, but we had our first meeting today and had a total turnout of 31 people, four of whom were veterans.

We’re considering dividing up the meetings by days of the week so that not everyone will have to show up every day, but everyone can still do significant work on the robot. Our robots in the past have tended to be too simple to necessitate more than four people at a time working on it. We’re planning to use more advanced construction methods as well this year to compensate for the extra free person-hours. In addition, this will probably be the first year where we’ll have a dedicated “Media and business” team for those who are so inclined. We may even have some awards submissions.

(Also, don’t forget that by week 2, 25-50% of the team will have decided that it’s too hard and will “leave” until week 6.)

Fixed that for you. (Back in the olden days of Nationals at Disney World, this was a bit of an issue for some teams–apparently, some folks joined just to get out of school and go to Disney for a few days–but I also seem to remember hearing that quite a few of such folks were hooked and didn’t leave the school/shop for several weeks!)

In all seriousness, your job right now is to both retain and “weed”. You want to retain as many students as possible, while weeding out the ones that are actually bad apples (NOT NECESSARILY the ones that are only in this for the college application!).

To that end, you have free labor, use it. Put in some shop organization time, some practice building time, encourage students to work hard at something productive while they’re there (and clean up after they’re done). I define something productive as “prototyping random robot system” and/or “shop organization/cleaning”, but you may have other definitions, like “website construction” and “outreach activities so we have this same problem next year”.

This has the side effect of giving a well-trained team when Kickoff rolls around and you actually build, but it primarily gives everybody a chance to see the time commitment and leave on their own, or become so engaged in the team that they’re a contributing member of the team, all before build season. College application only? See if they regret not joining earlier. Here for the free food? Now’s the time to teach TANSTAAFL and get them roped in to work–only if they want to work, of course, but “no work, no food” can work wonders.

Now, of course, if there are kids that are going to cause “drama”, you’ll also have a chance to see that and have the mentors take them to a corner of the build room for a little chat about stuff like this new-to-them idea of gracious professionalism and other such matters. Hopefully they get the general idea and stick around without the “drama”. (Rather than the alternate chat of “here’s the front door”…)

Does anyone have experience with the VEX Robotics Classroom kits (see here)? Could this be an option for developing a “JV” squad?

If there is 6 teams, could this be a great endeavor?

I am really pulling at straws here folks. We have a great team model already and this could strain our FRC team. We are trying to put our team on another level and I would hate to cut students that have potential.

We have had some success and we desire to become a great team in our state. However, I am really concerned about watering down our talent.

We had VEX classroom sets like those (without the field elements) back when we had a robotics class that we used to teach the students the basics of mechanical design. They worked very well for us, and the students from that class went on to become the leaders of our FRC team today. I would definitely recommend the classroom kits for their educational value alone, though I can’t comment on the VRC as a whole, since my school hasn’t yet decided to enter.

We use FTC as offseason training, but seniors who have been in FIRST long enough are allowed to use this time for side projects.

I think one of the most important things to do is to keep the new people engaged as much as possible. Here are some suggestions that have worked well for us:

  • Start each meeting with a round of Ninja or something similar.
  • See if your sponsors would be willing to offer field trips for your team.
  • Take the team to an offseason competition. It’s great for team bonding, and, even though they didn’t build the robot, the rookies will get a glimpse of what a FIRST competition looks like.

We are in the same boat this year. We really pushed to get more exposure at our 2nd high school last year. The result is a massive influx of new members. Last year we peaked at about 60 and finished the year around 45. This year we are about 80. Really like the thoughts and things that other teams have mentioned in this thread. For our past couple meetings we’ve done team building games and things to get to know everyone. 2 of our veteran students led these and did an outstanding job.

Starting next week we are having new students go though a series of training seminars. We split the 40-50 newbies into 4 groups that will spend time at different stations (2 mechanical, 1 electrical, and 1 outreach). This will last for the next 4 weeks. Hope is to give everyone some a foundation of the basic things that we do. At each station the group will take part in a project building something so that we are still accomplishing tasks and they get hands on experience.

Meanwhile the veterans not hosting the trainings will be working on a variety of other projects. Space is arguably our biggest obstacle. Our shop can’t hold everyone in our shop (off campus location) so we are sending some students to one of our high schools that is nearby. Definitely going to be a challenge

LAZER TAG!
But seriously its hard to get my team to drop the roles they have and make room for more people after a solid year of getting to be closely knit. Let more people participate so start simple have them be involved with something where making new friends is natural. The main thing is that if you think of the team where one person is a ring and you want all the rings to be more closely knit you adding rings to the outside is less effective at bonding then adding them to the heart of the team.

Man, I wish we had 60+ new students join in one given year. Our team used to have a massive influx of new students year in and out but the program as of the last 4 - 5 years, we’ve lost more to graduation and such than we’ve gained.