IRI - Aspirational FIRST FRC Teams

I had the pleasure of attending another IRI this weekend; this time, for the first time, as a volunteer. I was assigned to Field Reset and was afforded a perspective I had never experienced. From my position, I was able to observe every drive team. I can report that, without exception, every sponsor, parent, mentor and team member can be proud of how their representatives on the field conducted themselves.

As has been mentioned in other posts, this IRI was highly competitive. Every drive team was focused and disciplined. They were cooperative and gracious with their partners and opponents alike. It was a pleasure to witness the values of FIRST being lived by the students and mentors.

I labeled this post using the word aspirational. From Oxford Dictionaries I found that the word aspirational is an adjective which is defined as having or characterized by aspirations to achieve social prestige and material success. Applying that definition, I would say that every team there was aspirational; they all displayed the desire to achieve success. Every team competed, they gave their best in every match. Personally, that is how I define success - doing the best you can with what you’ve got; or in the case of FRC with whatever you have delivered.

I also came across another use of the word aspirational. “In consumer marketing, an aspirational brand (or product) means a large segment of its exposure audience wishes to own it, but for economical reasons cannot. An aspirational product implies certain positive characteristics to the user, but the supply appears limited due to limited production quantities.”

Applying that concept to FIRST FRC, I would say that there were quite a number of aspirational teams at IRI; that is, there were quite a few teams worthy of being emulated. It is easy to recognize an excellently designed and built robot which effectively plays the game. To be sure, there were many, many of them at IRI. What I observed goes beyond the resulting robot, or perhaps it goes to the root cause of their exceptional and excellent results.

What I saw at IRI among very many of the teams was what my brother Al from 111 (that’s an inside joke btw) often has posted and what Karthik says is imperative for highly effective FRC team. What I saw was a genuine partnership between mentors and students. There was mutual respect between the mentors and students, between the students and between the mentors. There was also a lot of trust and I could see some admiration, too.

I recently reread the Mentor Handbook available on the FIRST website, an excellent resource btw, and I would say that many of the teams I saw at IRI are living the principles laid out in that document. The guide states that part of every student’s responsibility includes developing respect for their mentors. It may seem unusual to expect that students would develop respect for mentors as opposed to mentors earning the respect of the students. But I think that the reason is that respect is the foundation of Gracious Professionalism.

Trust, admiration, those are rewards that are earned. Respect is something that we owe everybody. We can develop and show respect for any individual, without admiring them or even trusting them.

There was one other key aspect of mentoring which I saw displayed at IRI by several teams. Referring again to the Mentor Handbook, you find that an important role of a mentor is to develop leadership skills among students and other mentors. The ability to develop leadership skills is, in itself, a skill. It is also key to sustaining a healthy, high functioning team. Something which I observed early in my FIRST FRC experience was that many, if not all, of the teams which we admired most had a number of mentors who were also former students on the team. That spoke volumes to me.

So, to the planning committee I would say either you chose wisely or you got very lucky. I’m pretty sure it was the former. Well done, and thanks for affording me this wonderful opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend.