Mentoring New Team

Hi Everyone! I’ve been out of FRC since 2011 and have now found myself in the hot seat. A local teacher applied for and received a NASA grant for a team. However, he’s a math teacher with little knowledge of what he’s actually taking on. We have a small team (under 10) but I think we can pull it off. The real challenge is going to be getting other mentors on board to teach students different areas of robotics, as I can only do so much. I think other areas such as funding and logistics will work themselves out. I also reached out to my old high school (a local vocational school) and they said they would help any way they could. To me this means (hopefully) machine time and maybe someone to help with some engineering.

I’m hoping I’m not over my head here. Any advice?

I’m going to do a little self promotion and suggest you check out Behind the Lines. It’s a series we do about tons of topics on making your team better. A YouTube playlist of the entire series is available here, and you can find the presentations and other resources on FIRST’s page.


While I can’t help you out much with direct advice, I do know a few of our mentors (before my time) were thrust into a similar situation. I can refer to them if it would be helpful.

Additionally, I do remember your old team and high school. We are within a half hour from there, and likely not too far from where your team is now. If you find yourself in over your head as far as technical experience, give me a shout and I’ll see what I can do for you.

Absolutely not! Honestly this is the most difficult and important aspect of a FRC team. You need a team of folks (adults) that are dedicated to this, we have a 501C3 booster club in charge of fundraising and arranging travel accommodations. As the school sponsor, I have to get all out of state travel approved by the school board at least one month in advance. Also making sure you have the correct number and the “right” chaperones is vital.

Do not assume that this will work it self out, if the right steps are not followed you can have a robot and team that can’t get to the competition. Funding is critical! That NASA start up grant is not forever, you will need to be self sustaining in 2 years.

As far as the robot, start within your students and mentors capabilities. Access what your students and mentors can honestly do and go from there. Build on the the skills you learn this year over the off season, and build a better bot next year. Rinse and repeat.

Closer than you think! Just over in Bellingham, actually. I just met the teacher tonight and will be meeting the team on Saturday when we go to a regional kickoff event. From what I’ve heard these kids are really excited for the season and ready to go!

Hi Clint,
I understand it’s an important part, however, there is money coming in and the teacher who received the grant appears to have a direction. As for accommodations, it does not appear we will need any our rookie year as both competitions are within a 30 minute drive. This will save us thousands. As for approvals, we’ll take care of it. I just had to file my background check forms tonight.

Awesome, I just didn’t want it biting your team in the rear at the last minute.

Here’s a little presentation one of my teammates and I did at Capital City Classic this year: In here we talk a lot about the various tips and tricks and give advice on how to be successful in your rookie season. Feel free to PM if you (or anyone else reading this) have any questions!

In that case, I’m sure it will be little trouble at all to extend a hand if you need it :smiley:

I’ll make sure to stop by your pit at Rhode Island.

Wow this seems like a late post to be asking for knowledge seeing how kickoff is four days away. As far as mentors, look for local engineering companies that require their workers ( or ask their workers) for outreach in the community. Most times these workers have a certain number of hours that they need to get within their job. The added benefit is they are extremely hard workers and are very passionate towards robotics and helping kids learn new techniques.

Start thinking of longevity now!! Money will slow but more importantly if you do not have mentors that are invested, it will be very hard to over come starting over every few years.

Get parents involved right off the bat. They are there for their kids but you may persuade a few to keep going with the team even after their child has graduated. I have five mentors that are still with the team five years after their children moved onto college.

Ask local teams for help!!! They are always ready to do anything for new teams. We just took on two local rookie teams this year and I have opened up our tech shop for them to come and build parts when ever they need.

Build to your teams ability. Also, some kickoff locations have veteran teams help out rookies do quick builds after kickoff.

Most importantly. Enjoy the season and learn!! Make sure the kids are having fun!!!

I will tell you what I tell all of our new students and mentors; watch Simbotics’ seminar series.

I like to print out the PDFs ahead of time so I can take notes. I have watched two different versions of the video of strategic design and was able to attend Karthik live at FIRST CMP in 2015. Each time I watch I take something more to bring to our team. With small exceptions, this is how we run our build season.

The other episodes of the series are equally informative. Be sure to watch the q and a. This is in its own way as informative as the prepared presentation

118 does a nice video, Robonauts. Contentwise.

I am told that Citrus Circuits 1676 has a good training, as well.

As far as, your actual question, almost all of our mentors come from our parents. We are a community team that draws from over 10 school districts in south-central York, PA and have grown to 37 students this year, so our situation may be a bit different. We have 12 lead and associate mentors that are parents. Only 5 are engineers. Since our motto is about building students, we have professionals from many other areas. Most contribute to the design or construction of the robot, as well as, their own expertise.

Bottom line for us, keep an open mind. You never know what you will find.
Finally, look at the requirements for rookie all star. This is a ticket to a World CMP.

Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.
Michael Jordan

Even so, you might want to put some more time and energy into those areas. Clint wasn’t exaggerating when he said they are the most challenging parts of a team. Solid commitment for continued funding (of which the NASA grant is not) as well as driving logistics are crucial.

Thanks for the suggestions guys! I have sent back a rather long list to the teacher so that we can get some things in place.

• A captain should be selected on Saturday by the team, this student will be heavily involved with the management of the team
• Meetings should be scheduled as at least 2 weeknights (3 hours) and 1 day on the weekend (6 hours)
• In addition to the 3 regular team meetings every week, there should be an additional 2-3 hours for management purposes where mentors as well as the captain and any other interested students can get together and talk business
• Students should be expected to attend 2/3 of the regular meetings every week
• Chief Delphi is a great forum for FIRST teams and a great way to get some help
• There is a great Youtube series on team management that can be found here:
• Parents should be involved whenever possible. Not only engineers. Parents will make up the support system and can (hopefully) assist with administrative tasks, fundraising, grant applications, etc.
• Please send me an invite on the TIMS system when you can.
• In terms of parts – we need at least 1 spare of every major component of the robot. Accidents will happen and electronics will be fried. More spares should be available for parts that may wear out such as wheels, belts, etc.
• Team 2079 in Franklin may be a good local contact. Established teams often have practice fields and other resources that may not be as accessible to new teams.
• I was able to get in touch with one of my old teammates and he said he may be able to help on a part-time basis. If so, we should be ok in the areas of programming and electronics.
• Eventually I’d like to take the team to visit another team on a Saturday just to see how everything is run and maybe get some ideas and help.

Other suggestions are always welcome!

If you would like the AZTECHS will gladly help you out. I know your team is coming to our local kickoff at Assabet on Saturday. Feel free to come find me and we will help you out wherever we can.


Thanks Marcus! I will certainly be there and will be looking.

If you are looking for another new rookie mentor to talk to… I am your guy!

Our team is in a similar situation down here in Baltimore (NASA rookie grant, about 7 dedicated students, two mentors) we are not school based however. The teacher that applied for the NASA grant seems to have a handle on the school bureaucracy part. Transport, while under 30 mins away, is still something you should look into. Different districts have different rules.

You may find the documents I posted a while ago helpful:

Thanks Michael. We are still looking at transportation options. Buses would be a very big expense, so we’re hoping to carpool. I will have to look into any policy that may get in the way of crossing state lines, though.

Definitely find out your transportation rules, or have the lead teacher find out. All of the school districts I have worked with do not allow carpooling, anything other than a student transporting themselves or their parent transporting them is a no no for liability concerns.

Find out if the teacher can get certified to drive a school van or small bus. We used a small bus that sat 16 two years ago and it saves quite a bit since there is no driver cost. We even transported our robot and tools in it. Our competition was local though, we would not have been allowed to take it out of state.

If you will be the lead engineer/mentor, and likely the lead parts buyer and designer as a result, find out about purchasing options from your school’s bookstore or district finance office. This has probably been the most important task I have managed as our team’s lead mentor and one of the most frustrating. Many schools only allow spending with purchase orders to approved vendors, and the process to become approved if a vendor is not already there can take weeks. Lead times can be an issue (I’ve waited up to 8 weeks on a PO to process when our bookstore had turnover) and you may find you aren’t allowed to use certain vendors, as I just did for Home Depot :frowning: . You’ll have to judge what makes sense to get through the team and when it is time for a donation on your personal card for a quick part from Vex you need now.

It sounds like you’ve got a solid plan on setting up team meetings that won’t burn out your resources, and lots of good advice already on design practices and team management. Go simple and robust your first year (or all years!) and have fun.

I’ve got good news and bad news:

Based on my experience, building the actual robot is the least of your worries.

That was both the good news and the bad news.

Last year was 2706’s first year as a new, veteran team (spun off from another local team). Being involved in the team administration for the first time was eye-opening, as there is a LOT of stuff going on:

  • team registrations (tracking your own paperwork, waivers, and also STIMS/TIMS)
  • competition transportation and lodging logistics
  • getting a leadership structure in place for your mentors and students
  • setting up subteams
  • finding sponsors
  • planning fundraising events
  • planning and ordering parts
  • answering the many emails you’ll start getting from… everyone
  • teaching students the skills they need: hardware, software, communications, planning, conflict resolution, etc.
  • team building
  • team branding and marketing (shirts, banners, logos, pit)
  • awards

You’ll note the robot itself is not on that list anywhere.

So this is good news because your mentors don’t need to be robotics experts. Experience in any sort of school/club/Scouts/Guides/camp/team environment is directly applicable. I’m a software guy, but when I started doing FRC I was learning everything directly alongside the students. I was maybe a half-step ahead of them thanks to my industry experience. And that’s OK. I think that was a great way to learn, and it models to the students how to go and get the answers they need.

As for the robot itself, as you’ll see from 1114 and everywhere else: Simple, simple, simple. Build the kitbot. Nice thing is that this doesn’t require dedicated shop tools or all that much specialized knowledge. Then expand on it according to your skill and equipment. Build something that’s reliable, that does whatever it does consistently.

As Karthik says, find something simple to do in the game that’s within your reach, and be damned good at it. Practice the heck out of it. The nice thing about this strategy is it doesn’t require a fancy robot, and therefore, fancy fabrication or programming skills from your mentors. A willingness to learn is all it takes. And, realistically, the ability to sell the “simple” concept to your students, because everyone will be tempted to try to take on more. You have to know to stop before you’ve taken on too much.

Good luck!