Make Scouting Fun?

As a relatively new member to scouting on a 40ish member team, I’m wondering how other teams make scouting less of a bore for the students involved, specifically: how do you keep scouts focused and recording accurate data?

We have tried different things like having breaks to play sports outside and to get food; even a two-shift system with only half the scouts working at one time. We still get sheets with doodles over blanks and clearly incorrect data and I’m wondering if anyone has found a way to reduce this.

This year, 1991 started recording how many forms each person does. At the end of the season, we will be giving out a giftcard to the person who has done the most. Although this isn’t the greatest way, it still assisted in giving motivation.

We mainly showed the people doing scouting the effect the work they were doing had on our matches. Since we are using Tableau, our drive team would come to the data entry to know what the alliances were capable of and what defenses should be prioritized. We also end scouting 10 matches before the final qual match of the day, and have regular rotations. With our new shifts method for the pit, one of the expectations is to help with scouting.

honestly, I just acknowledged that most people did not enjoy scouting as much as I did. my team was of similar size to yours, so we were able to give people breaks & have them work in shifts (usually we’d have the pit crew that was on break help us if we needed). I’ve known approximately 4 people who are able to scout an entire day without rest, so most normal people ( :stuck_out_tongue: ) will need a break, preferably an hour or longer. your two shift system seems to work pretty well.

at a certain point though, you have to stop giving concessions and breaks to them. they came to the event to work for the team, not goof off the entire time and/or do poor work. Remind them that the scouts aren’t just team members who weren’t good enough to get in the pit crew: they serve a vital role collecting for you information that the team needs to make informed decisions come alliance selection

Since 2014 I think, we switched to tablet-based scouting, which lets our Strategy Division plan matches using data gathered in real-time, helping with Match Planning.

Before competition, a few of our senior guys go over a typical match to plan, going through the process and pointing out specifically every single point where a team member’s scouting is valued.
Specific examples include: “How successful is their Cheval crossing in Auto? Can we trust them to deliver, or should we ask them to go for a safer option like the Rock Wall or Rough Terrain?”, and point out that scouting data helps here.

When it gets to that Friday night where we have a pick-list meeting, we use our own scouting data to predict the results of Saturday morning’s matches and see how that impacts the rankings, then use that in turn to predict Alliance Selections and so on.

When a new team member goes to comp for the first time and sees senior guys working on the robot and asks what they can do to help, the senior members should respond by asking for high-quality scouting, because good scouting will occasionally outright win you a match.

I think that for your situation, you need to create a team culture among the senior members first where scouting is respected and highly appreciated, and that scouts are positively reinforced about the work that they do.

If you have further questions, feel free to pm me.

One of the items brought up in one of Karthik’s webinars: gambling.

Print up some play money and start taking bets amongst the scouts for various things in the upcoming match. (These should be simple win/lose propositions: Does red get 3 robots on the batter? Over/under on blue scoring 20.5 points in auto?) The scouts paying attention will be able to make more educated wagers, and thus reap whatever rewards you dangle out there.

We have a couple of things we’ve adjusted to make scouting “more fun”. First of all, we look for ways to make scouting less tedious. In weeks 1, 3, and 4, we had a section on our scouting data collection sheet that was really tedious. It was data we very rarely used so we condensed that 9 cell section into 1 cell for our week 7 event. Makes things a lot easier to watch and collect data without being annoyingly tedious.

Second thing, one of our mentors always has these boxes of cheez-its and starbursts. Every once in a while, he comes around with the boxes and feeds the team. (Last thing we need is more calories while being lazy in the stands. Haha)

Last of all, this sort of falls under the tedious category as well but we changed our equipment for a good price. Last year, we used these PDAs that were just really tiny and awful for a Scouter to collect data on. I decided this year when I took over scouting that we needed to change it. Our school this year gave every student a chromebook. We decided we would use those instead of PDAs. Now we did run into a major issue at our week 1 competition because of my lack of testing on the equipment. We had to do fully paper scouting for week 1 and that was bad but still better than the PDAs. The only money we spent was buying 7 flash drives and now the system works fairly well.

We have a 30+member team, and I think our scouts all truly enjoy scouting. We haven’t really done much (directly) to develop this aspect of the team culture, but the entire team does acknowledge the importance of having good information for the end goal of winning matches and having a winning alliance.

This year, we tried reformatting our scouting meeting, which gave more students a voice, and we got very positive feedback. We broke the ‘yes’ list into 4 groups of 6. Scouting sub-groups split off to analyze and rank the six teams. They also recorded their arguments for ranking the six teams in that order. Once they were ranked, we brought the groups back together to put them into a larger sort (and we still had their initial arguments on hand). It generated a lot of meaningful discussion, and we ended up with great third bots! We are all very proud of our scouts!!!

Good luck and have a great season :slight_smile:

From my experience, the more scouts are involved in picklisting decisions, the more they enjoy scouting! I also highlight, whenever I can, the importance of good scouting, especially when my team makes a good, data-backed decision, or another alliance pulls off an upset win thanks to good scouting.

I also run Fantasy FRC competitions on 1257, and offer prizes (usually pizza) to the winners to get them to start thinking about teams. It rewards the students who have been doing their scouting (and the ever-important pre-scouting). I have students pick three teams before the competition (with a serpentine draft) and then award points based on the District System, with bonus points for correctly predicting team-ups.

I think that your team culture will have a lot to do with it. When I was on a student on 2085, there was always a stigma surrounding scouting, that only team members who had nothing else to do ‘had’ to scout. It made scouting a chore, and therefore people always held some resentment to it.

On 1678, because we pick our travel team we have students who are there to scout, and that is their job. I think it’s important that the students know that the data they take is very important. Both for our alliance selection and match strategy, we rely on it heavily. When students feel that their job is both appreciated and very important I think they will try harder at it. People will care more about what they’re doing if they know it’s important.

This explains our situation, but for us it wasn’t that people had nothing better to do than scout, but that they couldn’t do anything but scout.

I’m quite interested in hearing a response from a smaller team and how they manage to make scouting entertaining. For our small team, we have a scarcity of people; consequently, people are divided into the pit crew and the stands crew with almost no breaks. In the stands, six people are necessary at all times and unfortunately we don’t have enough people for a full 2-set rotation.

We’re still using a paper scouting system.

On Team 2834, scouting team uses data collected and displayed on tableau and propose strategy for next match, coaches approve strategy and scouting lead/coaches tell drive team what to do in the next match. Then drive coach and scouting lead go to alliance partners and propose strategy and reach consensus. During match, drive team just executes plan agreed by all alliance partners.

As you can see, the most important job on our team is scouting team. They drive all our match decisions and certainly alliance selection. We also use tablets to gather data which is more fun. Our scout team is very motivated. I have never heard of any of them deliberately turning in blank data. Maybe because they knew how obsessed I am with data.

If you don’t have more than 6 students, then you should use other scouting system rather than assigning one students per robot. Everybody needs a break regardless of whether they are motivated or not.

We had to take a different approach at our second regional because of small team burnout at the first. The principles were different, following a KISS approach and also recognizing some data was already available to all teams at very little time/resources cost. It really was about being more efficient and avoiding the very tedious data entry load on the handful of students in the stands.

Our stands scouting became mostly qualitative, we only had 3 sheets (each with all the teams) with 2 to write down good things and 1 for bad things robots did in matches. This limited it to 2-3 students needing to watch each match. These comments were compiled into scouting reports for the driver. It certainly wasn’t the best system, but it allowed for students to have breaks, do more pit scouting, and they didn’t burn out.

For quantitative scouting for a small team (or big team) learning how to gather and analyze data being made available through the FIRST API (or even potentially scouting databases from larger teams) is very promising. Start simple, then branch out. First, download Tableau and get the tabular ranking data from the event, and make some plots. Learn how to sort/filter this data. There is a lot more you can do here, especially when you can also gather match data. Of course, this data is based upon alliances rather than teams, which means it is less accurate than the scouting databases. However, it is much more fun to learn and implement something in this way, and is less reliant on having people recording data in the stands.

In retrospect, I would rather be emphasizing and teaching the higher level skills of using some programming (API/JSON) to get data, to visualize and analyze it (Tableau, Excel, etc), and strategy to the team. Some of this needs to be done even before build season (using previous years data). The students with aptitude for this I think will quickly learn the gaps and limitations, and will be more likely to put in efforts to improve it. Maybe by additional programming or by changing what is being emphasized in qualitative scouting, and having students with a little less aptitude for the data crunching doing that part of scouting.

While it is certain that students will be motivated by scouting if it is effective (and the robot is doing well), it is also is motivating to learn something and have some say in how it is done.

This is something that 3506 has done with our online wagering system. While we don’t have scouts bet against each other, but betting against the system, I can still advocate personally that people use it very often. It’s a great incentive even for people who aren’t scheduled to be scouting at the moment to pay attention to the matches and which robots are likely to win or do well.

Our teams scouting works such that everyone takes turns gathering quantitative data (plus a few comments per match) and then volunteers who feel they have gathered enough qualitative data from the stands + the drive team and coach meet on Saturday night and pool our data (we do have a watch list, in case of any drastic improvements on Sunday). Ever since we implemented this system, I have noticed many more people volunteering for these meetings or at least pulling aside people known to always attend the scouting meetings and giving them their opinion about a specific team.

While paper systems have an appeal in their reliability (I couldn’t count the amount of times our wagering system was brought down, and people almost rioted, on my two hands :slight_smile: ), we have found that a well implemented, easy to use and visually appealing dual scouting/wagering system has done wonders for involvement in scouting, and interest in volunteering for scouting meetings.

Sorry if this is pushing the whole paper/electronic debate (read: simmering embers ready to ignite at any time in every Chief Delphi reader who has heard of the issue), but a electronic system seems to also inspire longer comments. When you can write as much as you want, without any limitation on length, people seem to use it. Another plus is we can actually READ all of the data, unlike if the comments where written by hand. Also, we require names at the beginning of every submission and thus have a very easy way to check exactly who submitted what, and it is much easier to hold people responsible.
(This year we have had to call out a person who, in their comments, said they “were distracted during autonomous”, so they just " guessed" that 900 went under the low bar that match)

I can’t garuntee this will work at any given commit, but here is the repository our programmers keep the code for their scouting system in (warning, it’s angular, php, and MySQL, so if you want to run it in on your local machine you need a *amp stack)

KISS…

Students that want to contribute and are not drivers or engineers= good scouts
Sell the importance of scouting
Mentor needs to lead, scouts need to do the grunt work with the mentor
Meetings to collaborate pick lists.

I am bored by many teams that seem to have pre-done scout sheets… who wants to count every defense? I sure don’t.

What i tell my scouts to concentrate on are upcomming opponenets and upcoming partners + any stand out performers.

We track HG/LG…since we are a breacher we don’t care about breaching. We can do it if needed.

Keep it simple let them keep track the way we want but every scout should be developing a TOP 20 list and able to give relevant intel to drive team.

My scouts love the way we do it…and it makes a huge difference. In essence scout what you lack and find ways to win games.

I love this question, instead of just another “what system do you use” thread. The approach that we’ve taken on 148 to answer this question follows two major tenets.

Make scouting (and strategy, and picking) a priority not just for scouts, but for the team as a whole.

If you establish a culture where everyone on the team understands the importance of scout data, then scouts themselves are more inclined to take ownership and develop a passion for their work. Some examples…

  • During the off-season, much like mechanical subteams practice drivetrain CAD and such, we brainstorm and test new scouting systems (tablets? paper? laptops? scantrons?).
  • When discussing robot strategy immediately after kickoff, “what does a winning alliance look like” comes up before “what does a winning robot look like”.
  • During events, Friday night data (top scorers, top autons, etc) are shared with the entire team so they can get a feel for what it is that we’ve been doing all day in the stands.
  • Exceptional picks, “dark horse” 3rd partners, etc are celebrated with a prominence similar to an outstanding driver performance.

An unfortunately common sentiment on some teams is that students “assigned” to scouting are the “leftovers” after you’ve already determined drive team, pit crew, etc. I’m proud to say that on 148, as a result of the above, it’s almost the opposite - we have some students who sign up for scouting/strategy before applying for anything else.

**Take the mindlessness out of mindless data collection - make it your own.
**
We try to inject playfulness into otherwise monotonous data collection wherever possible. Many teams come up with their own vernacular to describe game elements - we own it. For example, in 2015 there was no field on our sheets for “Recycling Containers taken from the Step in Autonomous”. We referred to that power move as “robbing the bank”, and thus the scouting sheet had “# of banks robbed”, the pick list had “best bank robbers”, etc.

Students also decorate their own clipboards, are encouraged to put some personality into qualitative comments, etc.

Someone earlier in the thread mentioned Karthik’s betting suggestion - we love this too, and have a few “betting games” that the scouts sometimes play in the stands. Not only does it gamify match scouting, it also incentivizes students to know more about every robot on the field. It’s easy to bet on an alliance made up of three powerhouse teams, but it takes a good scout to guess how a match between two “average” alliances will play out.

This year, my team (4028) has a total of 20 students. The students are from a small school, thus our small size. We have 3 students on drive team, 4 students for pit crew, 3 students on pit scouting, leaving 10 students for stands scouting; and that is only if all of the students are able to attend the competitions. We have struggled in the past with giving the scouters in the stands enough breaks to just decompress instead of filling in match sheets all day.

One way we were able to alleviate this is have a group of parent scouters. A week before the competitions we attend, the students put together a training session for the parents on how to scout the matches. Most of the parents who volunteer are more than willing to help (since they are just sitting in the stands anyway for most of the day). The challenge is that only a few of them truly understand the game. That’s where our student scouters come to the rescue. Last year, they created an awesome training session for the parents that went over the basics of the game and gave them the tools they would need to be a good scout. It was great to see the students get involved. I found that it really helped them make sure they knew what was going on during the matches and gave the students more pride/value in scouting because they were viewed as the “experts.” If the parents had a question about how to record some data, they knew to go to a student, not a mentor (like me) which was awesome to see. :slight_smile: The parents would also ask a lot of questions that the students had not thought of before. This made the students realize that some of their scouting methods were difficult to understand, thus sparking them to streamline the scouting process.

Our parent scouters typically do not participate in our pick list strategy meeting. We have lead stand scouting students that are responsible for knowing the “field”, which means talking with all of their stand scouters (including parents) about any robots of interest that they have seen.

In the end, I would love to have enough students on the team to have plenty of scouters to rotate in and out. However, with our small 20 student team, that just isn’t possible right now. When we thought about getting the parents involved, we saw this as an opportunity to engage the student scouters and give them ownership in what they were doing for the team at competitions. It worked out well for us last year and we have continued to use it this year. Now that we are heading to Worlds, several students on the scouting team have really taken to heart the importance of scouting and have developed a good process for engaging other student scouters who are less interested; all on their own!

Its things like this that make me happy to be a mentor. I just provide the tools and support, and the students take off and create something amazing. :slight_smile:

Lots of great suggestions here. I echo the number one principle is:

Ensure the team realizes how important scouting is.

But this statement is predicated on:

Scouting IS important to my team.

So the first step is making sure that scouting data IS valued by your team. Is it just used for pick lists or do you use the data for every match? What happens to the raw data being compiled by the scouts? When does the drive team review it? Does feedback get acted upon? Is scouting seen as the “well there’s nothing else left” position or is it valued, even revered?

This year’s game offers some excellent opportunities for scouts to see their data get used and have a real impact in influencing the match score. It is easy to build a profile of what defenses each robot can and can’t cross. This is crucial data to give to the drive team in advance so they can set up the alliance defenses.

Even if your team isn’t expecting to perform well and end up in a picking position, having good scouting can still help. If you know your capabilities will mesh well with one of the picking teams, you can go sell yourself to them. If you can back up your offer to work with them with solid scouting data (that should match their own) then you’ll have an even easier sell.