Inspiring Rookies

Currently I am leading a small team to work on a subsystem of a robot. However, I tend to struggle to get rookies to work on the robot. I give specific directions and delegations to people, but there would be one veteran working while the others are just sitting around watching. Whenever I see people goofing off and playing on their phone, I tell them to get back to work. However, I’m kind of hesitant to tell them to stop. I’m really passive and sometimes act too “shy” to reprimand them. On the other hand, I’m super comfortable working and communicating with veterans. They are always excited to come up with new design concepts and are very enthusiastic about robotics. I don’t think this is really a surprise, but I ask myself a lot “How do you transition from a rookie to a veteran?” and “How do you get rookies inspired and enthusiastic?”

I think rookies lose focus partially because I “order” them around; they don’t see themselves contributing a significant portion while their work really is appreciated. I tell them to do a task, but they never really feel accomplished doing it. When I was a rookie, I almost left the team since it seemed to me that I didn’t have much to do. I decided to stay to see what the competition was like. My opinion on robotics completely shifted because I worked with a senior programmer debugging a lot of issues (Partially the reason why I had nothing to do was because I waited a long time to test my code, which was near competition date). Everyone was so enthusiastic, I even went to talk to some other teams about some nerdy stuff. Maybe why I changed the instant I went to the competition was because I felt accomplished helping the team debug the code. It was also because of all the new friends I made, and I felt very welcome to being part of the team.
I want to try to incorporate rookies into the community that I felt when attending the competition and how exciting it can be to work together as a team on a problem. However, I feel like I fail to that end since I lack confidence to interact with rookies and getting them excited.

Some rookies or veterans only do robotics because it looks good on their college applications. They tend to only do the minimum necessary to look good, then completely drop the team once they got accepted into a certain college. Some of these people are even toxic towards people who do robotics and make me and others feel much less enthusiastic about robotics.

I guess I’m asking if there is a way to get a rookie involved without being forceful, but because they really want to do it? Is there a way to make them genuinely interested, where they build a robot not for college, not for parents, but because they think its really cool or because of the community? I know a lot of it is based on the rookie themselves, but I think there is some way a team could influence their opinion and really drive some sort of enthusiasm.

I think some portions of this post is sort of demeaning to rookies and I really don’t mean to spread negativity towards rookies. I want to see other people’s responses and maybe try to apply it to how I could try to get rookies more engaged and more excited.

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If your rookies are simply unmotivated, veterans can be a huge help here. Students sometimes respect older or more experienced students more than they do mentors. Encourage your veterans to actively get rookies involved in what they’re doing. If you have enough veterans, you might try pairing veterans with rookies to work alongside them and train them. Working 1 on 1 alongside a more experienced student who is guiding you through the process is one of the best ways to learn a new technical skill.

If your rookies are intimidated by their lack of knowledge, pairing them with veterans is still a great idea, but you might also provide some more structured training to a group of students. Our lead mechanical mentor provided several CAD training sessions over winter break, and as someone who had never touched CAD, it helped me feel much more capable.

Once you’ve gotten to competition, the hardest part of your work, keeping them excited, might be over. Until then, hype it up!! Watch some videos from past seasons. Enlist the returning students to get everyone excited.

Also don’t forget that it’s not your fault if a student isn’t engaged. Being a rookie on an FRC team is hard. The learning curve is veeeerrrry steep. Just helping them to feel like they are capable of contributing and adding value to the team will do a lot. Best of luck!!

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Will be following this thread…

I will say that the best days of the pre-season was taking apart the old robot. That’s very easy and fun for anyone to do and I think it did help pick up the energy a bit for the season’s start.

One way that you get someone from just following orders to operating independently is to follow something I’ve seen called an apprenticeship cycle: The first time, you do it and explain what you’re doing, and they just watch. Then, they do it, and you provide active guidance. Then, they do it, and you’re just watching and helping if asked or if major errors are made. Then, you start over with a higher-order task.

Rookies tend to not to have the vocabulary or toolset of a senior technical team member, so I try to latch on to when they’re on the verge of an insight so I can send them zooming down the rabbit hole, rather than shutting them down with my superior knowledge.

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Pair them up. Put a rookie and a veteran together, and let them work on whatever is needed. The rookie learns from the veteran, the veteran gets some experience mentoring the rookie, and everyone gets included. Being in a one-on-one situation is better for drawing out ideas and getting someone contributing than being in a larger group, generally speaking.

By pairing them up, you can go from thinking you have to “reprimand” the rookie (never do that, btw… in 16 years of mentoring I can only really think of one case where we had to even come close to reprimanding a student) to getting to be their advocate. When you see a veteran “doing” while a rookie next to them plays on their phone, you get to tell the veteran, who you’re more comfortable with anyways, that they should be letting the rookie do more and helping to guide them through the process.

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One of the biggest things I’ve been trying to focus on this year is making sure everyone’s ideas are heard. Conversations about design can get overtaken by veterans/mentors, and it can be overwhelming or intimidating for rookies. Some students have no problem jumping right into the conversation, but others need a bit of a nudge in the right direction.

At our meeting today, we discussed the rules of the game and restrictions for robot build, and then started discussing ideas. Some students were outspoken with their ideas, while others mostly just listened. While we had a brief break before we started something else, I sat with some of those students to pick their brains. Turns out they did have ideas, but were too shy/nervous to put them out there. Just taking the time to talk through their idea gave them a visible boost in confidence.

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I will add to this that if you need to incentivize the veteran, point out to them that you often learn more in teaching what you know to someone else than you do by trying to learn it from someone else. The pairing is not a one-way knowledge transfer :slight_smile:

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If you have official team/subteam captains, emphasize to them that their role is to get the rookies trained and engaged. When you interview captain candidates, ask them lots of questions about how they plan to keep rookies engaged. What skills do you think the subteam needs to grow in next year? How many new members does your subteam need to recruit next year to stay healthy? What activities will you lead in the fall to get new subteam members up to speed? What will you do if (when) you ask a new member of your subteam to do something, and they don’t do it? etc. These kinds of questions get your captains in the mindset that their primary responsibility is to keep their subteam engaged and learning. Then check in with your captains frequently to see how they think that’s going, and give them advice as they need it.

I also recommend a strong off-season program. I have seen a very strong correlation between rigor of off-season projects and rookie engagement in the spring. The amount of time and effort I had to give ran out before we started to see even slightly diminishing returns. Doing little semi-random projects in the fall like CADing fidget spinners and powerpoint presentations about eletronics got us nowhere. Designing and building mini-robots in the fall lead to almost every new member being engaged nearly all the time in the spring.

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Second year team captain here, so I have been responsible for transitioning two sets of rookie members onto our team. Here are my big takeaways:

-If you give them a leadership role, they will run with it. Giving them a title and assigning them as the point person for a project makes them feel important and valued, and they’ll have a greater sense of responsibility. Some examples could include Human Player (especially if you are looking to transition a rookie into driver/operator in the future) or “subgroup sublead” (ex. Answering to the subgroup lead, they could be the “Wheel Lead” in charge of finding the best wheels or rollers to use)

-Hands on learning makes it stick - the learning part, and the excitement! Have them disassemble an old chassis and re-assemble it, build a new robot cart or field elements, or be the primary constructors of your teams mock-up drivebase robot for the season if your team makes one for software testing

-Include them in everything, no matter how small. Trip to the hardware store? Take a couple rookies. Visiting another team? Take your rookies. If they’re invited, they’ll feel valued, and they’ll get a learning experience out of it.

-Probably too late for OP, but for others reading, if you have the opportunity to sign up for an off-season competition in the summer or fall where your rookies can attend, DO IT. They’ll get early exposure to the intoxicating and fascinating comp experience, and it will leave them longing for more! My team went to New England Robotics Derby in October, and 7 of our rookies attended and were amazed!

Best of luck!

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