"I'm not that smart"

Our team had a booth set up at our 4H fair, trying to get attention from kids who might want to join. Some of us were driving around the '06 and '08 robot, and the other half were building a new, vex type robot just for the fun of it.
Well, a few boys seemed pretty interested, they were watching us drive and build, and when I asked him if he was interested in joining the team, he said “I’m not that smart.”
That’s not the first time I’ve had that response, I’ve been getting it a lot lately. Does anyone else have this problem, and more importantly, how do we dispell the myth that* FIRST *and the robotics teams in general are only for the genius and the tech geek?

Usually I give them an example. I point at one of the kids that are just goofing off and tell them, “He’s not that smart either”. Joking, of course, but it makes them realize that we are still kids too.


I told him that not many people come on to our robotics team knowing what they’re doing, and we train people to learn the skills that we use to build the bot. As long as you show an interest, you can become a part of the team and join whatever subteam you want to, and we’ll get you the skills necessary.[/quote]

This is a really good question to ask. How is one suppose to reply to this? “You don’t need to be smart.” doesn’t really do the program justice.

Yeah, we always try to show them Samir. =)

Obviously you don’t want to respond with “you don’t have to be smart” because as AndyB stated, it doesn’t give the program the justice it deserves & it comes off like you are agreeing that they aren’t smart without even knowing them. Not the best way to start things off with anyone.

I’m curious about the ages of the boys who gave that response to you. Answers may vary depending on how old the person is who says that to you, but the following will work for anyone I’m sure.

All you need to do in these situations is to turn it around on them & give the hope that even folks who don’t think they are smart can succeed in the program, & that everyone has potential for turning themselves into one of the “smart ones” if they just want to step up & take that challenge upon themselves with some help from joining a team of course.

A lot of the time in FIRST it’s not what you have when you enter the program, but what you gain from being in it.

The problem when people say they aren’t that smart is that usually they mean they don’t have enough knowledge, or that they aren’t good at specific things.

I try to start off by saying that when I started that I didn’t know very much about robotics either.

Our team tries to explain that we will go through and teach incoming members all of the basics they need to succeed and that there are many different positions and needs on the team other than just building robots. Every member will make contributions in what they enjoy doing and are good at doing. We are a team that needs lots of people who are different and not just the “genius and nerd.”

At least thats how it works in theory. Our team doesn’t have many non-tech people.

There is a difference between aptitude and knowledge.

On a seperate note, what would you do if someone who really wasn’t smart was thinking about joining? I don’t mean someone who is average in school, I mean someone who say is having serious trouble understanding remedial classes in school?

In what was does it not give the program justice? By starting with that, you’ve almost left no way to reply.

I must’ve offended a lot of people in my time, 'cause I’ve heard this line and given more or less the same answer every time; you don’t have to be smart, and you’ll get out what you put in. I can even think of some members who joined, and ended up being extremely valuable members.

We kind of have that situation. There is a kid on our team with a mental disability(it’s mild) but we still find things for him to do. He deburs and rivets and some other stuff. He enjoys it, and he’s still putting something in for the team, so no one minds really.

I like the word, potential.

Teenagers and adults all discover hidden potential, hidden talents, hidden reserves, hidden interests when given the opportunity. To discover them on a FIRST team can lead to scholarships, applying to schools one never thought about or only dreamed about, exploring new career options, innovations, ideas. To be a member on a FIRST team opens many doors to the world around us and to the world within us. That is too much to say during recruitment, obviously, but it is something to think about when talking with these young people who have self-doubts. You can say, ‘come to a few meetings and see what you think’. It would be fun to have a business card for moments like this that says, try it - you’ll like it. That nudges the person to think in a can-do fashion. Glass 1/2 full.

Obviously, I come from the ‘leave no leaf unturned, no potential member behind’ school. :slight_smile:

A lot of people outside FIRST, for the most part, think along the lines of smart=knowledge=experience=intelligence=ability=…

Thats not true. Its not how much knowledge you have, its how much you want to learn. Its how much time you are willing to spend learning X Y and Z. Thats what is important. The senior who comes in knowing everything about programming, and just writes the code he already knows how to write doesn’t gain nearly as much as the freshman who goes in knowing next to nothing about robots and emerges in four years knowing a heck of a lot about robots, and even more about leadership, teamwork, and the term is overused, but gracious professionalism.

Good answer! I think this fits in with Jane’s comment on potential as well. During my time on our team, I’ve learned that some of our most dedicated members don’t necessarily do well in school. With the variety of activities and tasks needed for robot design and build and all of the team stuff that goes around it, every student seems to be able to find something they are good at. A lot of it is in the attitude, though. You have to get the students (and sometimes the mentors) past the “I can’t do that” into the “I’ll give it a try!”

I like to think that the majority of people have about the same level of intelligence. The difference between us is how much we are committed to narrow our focus. I once met a brilliant heart surgeon. He would analyze your heart function by measuring it’s volume when fully open and when fully compressed, throw in some variables based on your size (skin surface area), age, sex, etc. and be able to tell if your heart was capable of delivering the required flow at the right pressure. He was called on as an assistant in all kinds of difficult surgeries at different hospitals all over the state. But he couldn’t remember how to play, rewind and fast forward a tape machine. He had focused his vision so much that all of his attention was on hearts and nothing else. His office assistant told me he had a hard time finding his office some days.
So if everyone is about the same then the response should be “you are already smart enough, you just need to focus on something. Join the team and we will help you learn how to do that.”

There are lots of resources available on the FIRST website, and within the Regional Planning Guides (although the challenge is often finding them :wink: )

Over the years I’ve collected various “core messages” and responses from FIRST when questions like these arise.

I found this is one. Sorry I don’t know where it came from on the site, but it is “official” language.

Is scientific, technology or mathematics expertise required for students to participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition?
FIRST invites students who may not be predisposed to science, math, or technology to participate. In fact, the FRC is designed to inspire, motivate and encourage students to learn basic principles while challenging more experienced students. Since there are critical roles for students in everything from design and building , to computer animation, to fundraising and research, every student can actively participate and benefit.

I also add the words “teamwork” “professionalism” and “problem-solving”. And the word “FUN.”

Joining a FIRST team is the beginning of “smart,” not the culmination. You can walk in to the room not knowing a screwdriver from a hacksaw, and walk out knowing how to build a robot. Sometimes you just have to show them the robot and how it works, and hopefully they will see that they are smarter than they think.

I would ask back “Why do you think you aren’t smart enough?”

And I bet whatever excuse they give, you could then turn it into “Would you like to learn how to do that?” and then tell them they could by joining the team…


Kid: “I’m not that smart”
me: “Why do you think you aren’t smart enough?”
kid: “Because I don’t even know how to use a computer.”
me: “Would you like to learn how to do that?”

I’ve had this said to me before as well.

My typical response is:
"Niether was I when I started. "

I agree that encouraging responses to that statement are a great way to get an intimidated student interested in the program.

When confronted with such a reaction to your robotics team, it is crucial to remember that this is not just another set of hands in the shop you are training and it is not just another name to add to your roster. This is a person, an individual who holds a great deal of potential and brings with them a wealth of both talent and experience.

The reason I offer this warning is that a few solutions mentioned so far in this thread allude to the future - “you will get better. You will do great. You will be an excellent member of the team.” It is very possible and likely that this student’s experiences contain discouragement, possibly even ridicule, with regard to academic performance and activities. They are claiming “I am not smart enough” because they might think they are incapable of learning this material.

Give the future to them, not later, but right now.

Why wait? Really take a moment of your time to show them - teach them - an aspect of your robot. Another student could do it as well, and build a bond that will last when they join the team. Let them take the controls in their hands, or feel the drive train and see how the wheels move, and the role each motor plays. Teach them something small to demonstrate your integrity when you say that you will prove to them that they are smart enough.

Well I’m not that “smart” neither.
But it has never stopped me from sticking with the program and finding my place. Never once have I ever felt unwelcome.
When people think of smart they think of book smart. And to mostly succeed here you do need book smarts but there is a place for people who are creative, who are resourceful, who are imaginative, who are organized, who are efficient, and who are good with people. There are plenty of talents to bring to the table that will bring your team success that goes beyond book smarts.
If you are willing to put forth a sincere effort, stick to path and at the very least try then you will find a place here. I truly believe that. You just got to want to belong first and that has nothing to do with how “smart” you are.