Team Load In sucks at almost every event I’ve ever attended, including those I’ve planned. I’ll admit, it’s almost always an after thought (something something just grab a few bodies and give them safety vests) and is usually meh at best, catastrophic at worse.
How can we make team load in better? What events do load in well with lessons we can learn?
I’m thinking the short answer is to have adequate staffing and a predefined plan, but would love to hear more specifics.
A major change we made at 10k this year was that trailers got unloaded fully before things got brought into the building. Once the trailer is unloaded, the vehicle leaves.
They don’t have a huge lot at Williams Arena where we have the 10k Regional, so being able to keep vehicles moving was great.
As far as signage goes, I can’t really say. At this point I’ve been to Williams Arena robotics competitions so many times, I could probably sit down right now and draw a photorealistic map, and I can’t draw.
Signs for the new folk would be nice, but there’s always a bunch of staff there, they kind of keep you on track.
Less confusion. Clear signage. A clear plan of action for those volunteers running it and empower them to make decisions in the moment that will make it smoother. Make it clear to them that smoothness or efficient unloading/loading is the goal.
I’ve never once been to an event outside of CMP that has a proper load-out plan. Get that fixed too.
One thing we’ve done recently is release the official pit map ahead of time. I think it makes things a LOT easier on teams if everyone knows exactly where they’re going before they even get to the building.
When it comes to “clear signage”, what would help there? For every event I’ve been at, you load in straight into the pits or have a volunteer directing you the extra 20 feet to get to the pits. And then once you get in the pits, the very first thing you see is a large pit map - a map that I’ve seen many teams walk right by in their attempt to ask a volunteer where to go. So, what additional signage is needed, and where should it be?
For a load-out plan, this year at our events we included a “load-out signup slip” in each team packet. Teams would submit them to pit admin on Saturday and sign up for a load-out time slot. That let them know exactly when to get their pit to the door, and when to bring the trailer up - the whole goal was to avoid congestion and waiting, so teams could enjoy as much of the playoffs as possible.
SDR this year… I can’t believe the only place they could allow load in was at a loading dock at the top of a steep driveway, with hardly any space to turn around. Otherwise 10/10 event.
Problem is that most venues that can handle the large equipment FRC teams bring are built around large freight trucks bringing that stuff in (like GRB Convention Center in Houston). So, I have no solution to offer. Just the above gripe.
Not to detract from this topic, but I think this may depend heavily on the venue and the size of the event. Any event I’ve been to with >60 teams has always been a bit chaotic regardless (to varying degrees), but smaller events like Districts I’ve almost never seen any issues.
In FIM, the events are all at high school gyms, and most high school gyms are fairly easy to access from the parking lot (with a few exceptions). Since you only have 40 teams max at basically any district event and load-in is on Thursday night, you tend to get teams filtering in at various times throughout the evening, short walks between trailers and pits (which allow teams with fewer hands to unload quicker via multiple trips), and no particularly long trailer backups as a result.
I suspect that when the venue is a larger arena, the distance between the load-in area and the pits tends to be quite a bit further, making it harder for smaller teams to unload quickly. It’s also possible the different event schedule (or simply the distance teams are traveling to the event) facilitates more backups than smaller events.
Not saying we shouldn’t always try to make things better, I’d just caution against a “one-size fits all” approach.
Maybe it’s different for other districts, but aside from the first few years we hosted our Midland district event (which I’ve been on the planning committee for) where we had a handful of volunteers directing traffic (since a lot of teams were new to the venue), in more recent years we basically just set up signs and make sure teams know where the unloading area is and they basically just take care of it themselves. This information is also communicated (along with other things like “where trailers should get parked”) via emails to participating teams that get sent out in the lead-up to the events, as well linked as on the event information page.
There isn’t really much more organization beyond that, teams wait for and opening in the line to unload their stuff, and then just have to walk it about 150ft to the doors that lead directly into the pit gym. I think the main difference is that you don’t typically see a huge line-up of trailers immediately when the pits open on Thursday night at 5pm because most teams are commuting, so they just leave when school gets out (or when their mentors get off work) and go straight to the venue with their trailers, and since they come from different distances, they arrive at different times, which leads to minimal backup. The small handful of teams that are there right at opening are typically the closest local teams and they’re able to clear the space fairly quickly. I suspect at a larger event where teams have to travel from further away, you may get more teams that drive down the night before and stay in hotels, then they have nothing to do the day of load-in aside from wait in line prior to the doors opening.
In the off-chance there is a backup, we might have a volunteer that runs out and helps direct traffic (and prompts people to move their trailers when they’re done), and sometimes host teams may send students out to help teams unload quicker, but in recent years this has rarely been needed.
For load-out, teams basically pack up and leave as they get eliminated, and at a small event where more than half of the teams are either in the playoffs or waiting as backups, this makes the load-out process fairly gradual throughout Saturday afternoon.
I agree with many of the points above. FIM events are typically easy to load in.
However, the real keys are:
Clearly communicate where the load in door is, and the direction of traffic for load in. Many days before the event. And with signs and volunteers at the event.
If possible DO NOT have 2 way traffic. Have one lane for parking and one lane for driving out. Volunteers need to make sure no one tries to unload in the driving lane. (Because then no one can get out)
Have teams completely unload right next to their trailers before moving their stuff inside. A staging area can work wonderfully, otherwise keep your stuff tightly packed in one area while still allowing room for others to get by.
DO NOT BLOCK THE RAMPS!!! I had to send one of my students to search for a team trailer driver once because they parked right in front of the only ramp to get in at the curb. 90% of our stuff is heavy and on wheels. We couldn’t even unload (and several other teams couldn’t either) until he was found and moved his vehicle. (He was trying to find his team in the venue. They hadn’t even unloaded yet. It took 30min to find him and bring him back. PLEASE don’t be this person)
Have volunteers directing traffic, and a way to call for teams who’s trailers are ready to unload. Can we have am MC or pit announcer announce when a teams trailer is ready to pull up? I’m usually the only one with the trailer. That means when I get to the curb, if my team isn’t waiting, I have to go find them. Bad idea. (We try to call but reception is notoriously bad)
We could have announcements like queuing, but for trailers. Announce who is coming up. Have a volunteer at the entrance checking trailers in with a radio to call to the pit, who can then announce who is pulling into a spot. They can announce it and the team can come running out to unload.
Teams should try to hitch at lunch on the last day. Maybe this is just me, but I HATE missing playoffs because I have to go hitch the trailer. Even when it’s not us playing, I really do want to watch the matches, and it take way too long to hitch and pack up. (Even worse if there’s a line to pack up) I started trying to remember to hitch, and take unnecessary stuff to the trailer, at lunch. It shortens my lunch, but also shortens the time for load out. And I’ll keep an eye on the line (after we’re done) and wait until it’s not too crowded to pack the trailer.
There may be school rules that prohibit mentors driving students - I know there are for us. We can take a bus as a team, but students are not allowed to ride in mentor’s personal vehicles, which means they can’t travel with the trailer, and have to arrive separately.
Actually it’s usually because the team meets at the school and leaves a bit before me. I hitch up the night before (got to pull up to the loading dock to load anyway) and just take the trailer home and to work the next day. I leave directly from work to go to the venue. (But I do have a back seat in my truck for when we need it. It just doesn’t usually work out that way)
*FIM usually loads on Thursday nights (or the night before the first day of matches) so we wait until I, and other mentors, get off of work to go set up.
To derail my own thread, which is a tangent of another thread, for just a moment:
Careful there…Lots of bureaucratic rules are annoying (and often times ineffectual) but rules like this (not allowing teachers to drive students to school functions) are there for a reason. Teachers are probably not insured to drive students, there are protection concerns in place when one adult is in an enclosed space with a small number of students, etc. Bureaucracy often sucks, but it’s in place for a good reason.
I haven’t noticed any issues with load in at our events. For Granite State I’ve found that the load in path is a bit long, but on the other hand, load in is through the auto body shop. Being able to unload indoors for a late February/early March event in NH is nice. I also haven’t found load out bad either as it does tend to be a trickle out as mentioned above. As I recall Seacoast last year wasn’t all that bad, perhaps a little chaotic, but I don’t think we had any particular difficulties. I won’t comment on North Shore because it’s at our high school and we basically just roll our carts down to the entry doors.
Never had too many issues at load in at either FLR or SBLPI regionals. We usually get to the venue bright and early, so we’re one of the first on line to get in the building. The worst was last year when SBPLI had to stop everyone as they were entering to check vaccination status or test results. Other than that, the only issues have been a lack of direction, but after years of doing it we know what to do for each event.
Load-in at all FMA events I’ve been to (including dcmp) has felt really nice from a team member perspective. For district events, the one-way loops schools have helped direct traffic and pits often had doors directly to outside. At district championships, it was a bit more complicated, but the path from load-in to pits was short and clearly visible.