Mental Health in FIRST

Hi everyone!

My name is Jake, and I’m part of the Full Moon Robotics Robot in 3 Days team. (We’re broadcasting right now, by the way! Tune into our stream!)

In our second year of doing Ri3D, our team put a big emphasis on making sure we took care of our mental health throughout our event. As part of this, I produced a video covering mental health in FIRST in general, which I thought you all might enjoy!

Here on CD, I wanted to ask: How does your team handle mental health? FIRST can be super stressful - how do you keep cool and collected in the heat of competition? What strategies does your team employ?

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Caffeine…

For real though, I’ve been looking at trying to know when to stop myself from throwing every bit of energy I have at FIRST. Being burnt out doesn’t really help your team, and it can really get you into a negative spiral. I think the most important thing about mental health in FIRST is being able to realize when you’re pushing yourself too hard and give yourself some room to breathe.

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Shameless self plug here but I’ve done a presentation on this very topic at North Champs 2019 and Beach Blitz a few month ago. (This was a truncated presentation as we there were some schedule adjustments so I had to compress a bit)

Mental health in adolescents is my passion, and that combines with my passion for FIRST. Something that isn’t talked about enough and needs to be discussed more, so kudos to y’all for bringing up the topic.

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@P.J I love how you went more in depth to help people understand the different type of mental health issues people might encounter! Seriously appreciate anyone doing work to reduce stigma in this area! :tada:

Set a meeting schedule that is reasonable and doesn’t overtax the time of your team members and mentors and this isn’t a problem.

When a team of burnt out people show up at an event and tell me they meet for 5+ hours everyday I’m just dumbfounded. I think of it as a failure of planning and accountability. If you have true respect for your team members and their mental health as well as there familial and friend relationships you plan meetings in a way that is effective when people are there and allow them to keep the rest of there life in order, rather than working to the exclusion of the rest of their life. (Also I speak from experience having done this the wrong way in the past)

When I hear or read people bragging about the crazy amount of time they put into FIRST excluding everything else in their life that season I can’t help but think they lost the point

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A couple thoughts off the top of my head:

  • A reasonable meeting schedule is absolutely key. We’ve been gradually cutting back our number of hours over the past few years (from 40ish to 24ish per week); we’ve seen little to no drop in how much we’re able to get done, and a big improvement in team morale and rested-ness
  • Delegation and cross-training - no one should be so indispensable that it’s a huge problem if they need to skip a meeting because they’re sick or need to catch up on schoolwork
  • Encourage your machinists not to machine if they’re exhausted. Tell them at the beginning of the year, tell them at the beginning of the season, tell them every time they mention being tired. If a machinist says “I think I’m too tired to operate the mill today/any more today”, thank them & accept it gracefully. If your response is “ugh, eyeroll, fine”, they will interpret that as “never stop machining again, no matter what”
  • Personally, I hate when people say you should rest/take time to recover from illness/etc because “you’ll be more productive afterwards”. We’re not just cogs in a machine. When a student tells me they’re going to miss a meeting because they’re sick, I thank them for letting me know, and tell them I hope they feel better soon and their health is important.
  • Don’t put undue pressure on each other. As mentors, we drill into the students that we’re not super invested in how they rank at competition or perform in playoffs - we care that they’ve worked hard and learned a lot during the season and are proud of the robot they put on the field, but they should think of competition as a fun opportunity to showcase their work rather than a huge source of stress. We also emphasize to the captains that the role of a good manager is to help your team overcome obstacles, not to berate them - for example, when a subteam misses (or is on track to miss) a deadline, the president should be sitting down and calmly asking questions like “why are we behind? Do we need more manpower working on this? Is there something we don’t know how to do? Are we stuck on something that’s not working?”, not storming in and demanding to know when it’ll be done
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This is a topic that not only is huge in FIRST, but is frequently cited in the workplace as well, and even more so since COVID hit.

I thought this podcast was a great listen – burnout is only a small part of the problem, but is a big item that mentors can help manage on FRC teams to maintain a healthy environment for all participants.

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Really like the content you have and this is coming from a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I am also a mentor from 4192.

I would add a bit about hydration and fuel as ways to decrease to irritability in a team. Clean fuel like oranges and apples vs Rice Krispie Treat. (Rice Krispie fans don’t @ me!!! :slight_smile:)

I am doing a podcast with my work and if ya’ll would like to do a quick live event about “Student Stress and Well Being” through the lens of robotics competition. Might be a fun conversation to have.