So my team has a small collection of juniors and seniors who are all very close and absolutely OBSESSED with FRC. We’re the members who were still working on the robot until 11pm before Rumble and are just so passionate and never stop working on FRC stuff.
Our newer members haven’t exactly caught the bug in the same way. Yes, they usually come to meetings, but at Rumble, while anyone not on drive was screaming during our matches, a lot spent Rumble on their phones. A lot aren’t active on the Discord and spend meetings goofing off and aren’t focused. How do we get new members to become more passionate about the grunt work of robotics? Does anyone else have this issue?
What I have done with electrical freshman is get them in the robot right away and teach them all about the electrical sub team. Just getting all those new members to feel at home in the team by getting them work is what I find best.
I’m willing to bet that basically every team deals with this at some level. There will always be some students who are more committed to the team than others. Some students have priorities other than robotics, and realizing that is the first step towards engaging with those students and making the program a good experience for them.
In the case of younger or new students, I’ve found that they generally don’t “get it” until they’ve been to an event. Once students have been exposed to the excitement of a real competition, a light goes on and it becomes a lot easier to get them hooked.
In the case of students that have been around for a while and aren’t “hooked”, they likely have priorities other than robotics, and FRC will never be their obsession. It’s important to provide these students with opportunities that suit their interests. Characterizing this as “grunt work” isn’t going to help your cause.
Trying to convince a Junior/Senior to spend all of their robotics time sorting bolts isn’t going to get them excited about the program. There’s a great chance, however, that that student has an interest in something that would be beneficial to your team. Maybe they really enjoy machining, or making logos/marketing materials, maybe they are really into the social aspect of robotics and would serve as a great ambassador for your team while talking to other teams… Engaging with these students where their interests lie will enable you to convert their efforts into value for your team, taking some of the workload off of your core members who will then have more time for those other tasks.
Not everybody will get to the point where they’re obsessed with FRC… and that’s perfectly ok. However, everybody can contribute to an FRC team in some meaningful way.
My first point is going to be about team dynamics. With so little to go on, we can’t really know how your team works. From this small description, however, You may be falling into a “trap”. You have older students that are really passionate, and younger students that aren’t as engaged. While it’s always unintentionally, when hearing about this type of team dynamic, it always makes me wonder if the older, passionate individuals are subconsciously excluding the newer students. I don’t mean tossing them out of the shop… But take a look at how the team operates. Are the older students asking the younger students for input? Is there a difference in the type of work that the students do? Are the older students just taking initiative to “do what’s needed” while the younger students don’t know what’s needed?
I always recommend pairing students up at meetings. Older, more experienced members get paired up with younger students. The older students are expected to be teaching the younger students as they work side by side. We actively work to engage creative and critical thinking skills at every meeting, and keep everyone busy enough that no one has time to spend on their phones (the only time I see a phone out at a meeting is when students are coordinating rides home with their parents, and that rarely!).
My advice for you goes along with this - use your experienced members energy and passion to fuel the younger students. Pull them in, work side by side. Have discussions and get to know each other. Find out what each others passions are outside of the team, and use those to fuel passion within the team if you can (movie special affects can be a great source for this - a lot of engineering goes into making those happen, there’s a lot to explore just by asking “how did they do that?”).
When going to events, make sure everyone has a “job”, and rotate those jobs. Asking a newer student to sit in the stands and scout the whole time while the more experienced students are in the pit fixing the robot isn’t very inspiring or engaging. While those older students can likely fix the robot quicker and do a better job with it, getting some newer students mixed in there will give them valuable experience and be more engaging. Getting people up and moving around gives them less time to sit there and play on their phones.
I could write a lot about this, but the TL;DR is to make sure that your new students feel valuable.
Give them things to do that are clearly helpful, and thank them for their help. Let them get their hands on the robot whenever possible. Here’s a few examples of easier things to have new students do that still “feel like real work.”
Have them grab new batteries out of the charger and then show them how to swap a battery in a robot. Bonus points: teach them how a battery beak works.
Put them on field reset during driver practice.
Need something taken apart to rescue some hardware out of it? Give it to a rookie. You should also be very clear about what parts you want to keep, and give them the correct tools.
Give them simpler drill press and belt sander level manufacturing jobs.
DON’T give all of the drill press jobs to the rookies. They need to see experienced kids doing the same level of work.
Our kickoff procedure this year is going to have a “build field elements out of cardboard and scrap wood on day 1” step to it, which is going to be a perfect rookie job. Bonus points: frantically trying to keep it all duct taped together while the drivers destroy the temporary field with a robot should be fun.
Then I realized (before reaching this post) it was really this:
Whether people get excited after their first event is strongly correlated to what they were doing there - make sure everyone has a job to do at every event! It doesn’t have to be an every-minute job, but make sure everyone is engaged at least half the time in some activity important to the team, and preferably selected to meet their interests. It could be working it the pit, going out with the drive team, wearing the mascot costume, scouting, field reset, etc. etc. If your team has so many people that any of them can spend the event on their phone, find more stuff to do!
I, myself, was an example of this. Things didnt kick off for me until i found JVN’s blog, TBA, and Chief Delphi.
During build season, i liked to take things apart. Learned a bit but not a lot. Was safety captain for event 1, and kinda got stuck in the pit for the entire 2 days. During pit, i learned more and more, was able to work on robot instead of just build season (when i had absolutely no idea what we were doing/ and why). Inspired by a student walking around with a mentor crediting the student with his idea of climbing mech, i wanted to be like him one day. Ignorant me chose to go against my mentor’s word and didnt hang out and learn about 195’s robot, i regret that mistake.
My point is, i dont think you can do a generic/default system to get people hooked. Scouting deffo has a lower rate of success imo.
Gotta find that one sweet spot on each person and once you hit it, bullseye.
One of the best ways to do this is to build something with them. Something important, something useful. Something that they can see running and doing what it’s supposed to be doing. We usually try to do some sort of upgrade to our robot each fall, before our off-season event. It’s a great chance to get the new students involved and building something for the robot, and then at the event they get to see it working on the field. It’s a sense of purpose and value that you can’t give someone, they earned it.
Regardless of how you introduce them to robotics (FRC, or the team) new members are the outsiders of the group. They must feel a sense of inclusion or they will always just stand around.
It takes gentle coaxing to get them to open up and be a part of the team. It’s the job of your returning members/student leadership to make the team more inviting. They need to remember how they felt the first few weeks of robotics. They need to pull a few at a time into group conversations. It needs to be natural and organic or it will appear to be artificial or obligatory.
We’ve discovered that many of our first year members read the posts in Slack, but don’t comment - they don’t feel qualified or knowledgeable enough to do so.
They must be included in discussions. When we were deciding which regionals to attend, we asked the newest members about things they could relate to (travel time, etc.) - we knew that they had no idea concerning the venue or culture of the regional (some are louder than others, some are more competitive, etc.).
Give them some of the sexy jobs and not sorting nuts & bolts or vacuuming the carpet.
Someone already mentioned that most of us don’t get it until we’ve been to our first competition. Then is starts to make sense.
At competition, we can get almost militant when it comes to cheering in the stands. Phones are only allowed during breaks…and, they are not allowed in the lab (except for photos or parent calls). This is something that a mentor must address and impress upon the newest members.
Anyway, you will always have those members who are happy to be “just members” and those who will eventually excel in everything FRC.
They probably won’t get that until they’ve been through a season. Take them to kickoff. Take them to events.
In the mean time, get them doing something useful.
We did a robot-in-2-days build 2 weeks ago – basically, it was a 2-CIM drivetrain. Whole bunch of freshmen learned a bunch of basic design and build skills and really enjoyed it. (And, as a side benefit, we now have some idea of where different students’ talents lie.)
No one’s ever going to be passionate about grunt work. People are passionate about doing interesting work that’s valued by their teammates, where they get to learn something cool and feel proud of what they’ve done. They tolerate grunt work when it’s what they need to do in order to make their own [designs, algorithms, website, etc] come to life.
Interesting projects and grunt work both need to be shared amongst all team members. New members will be willing to do their share of the grunt work when they see that everyone on the team does their share. They’ll be excited about coming to meetings when they know they’ll get to do something interesting at them, and not be spending the entire time cleaning the shop.