Mentors quit...help needed

Our head mentor has essentially quit. Her husband who was also heavily involved has also quit. We are left with an alum and our teacher sponsor, who I adore, but cannot really help us with making a robot.

Context - I am the team captain. The head mentor had a son who led the team a couple years ago. She allowed him free rein of the team with no concern about involving underclassman (my class) and essentially let him do whatever he wanted. When I took over, we had a rebuilding year last year while I had to bring everyone else on the team up to speed. After a large amount of success, we decided we really wanted to go for gold this year. I have been clashing with the head mentors after wanting to install practices that I have learned from watching and listening to good teams. I was pulled from robotics in the fall because of college apps and other reasons, and the head mentor took it upon herself to spend the vast majority of our money, we had a really large grant we weren’t expecting, on managerial things like a new tool box and an upgraded pit. This might seem great, but now we are left with ~$7K for everything on the robot + an identical practice drivetrain. The head mentor now has a freshman son, and I feel like she is doing everything she can to make sure he has a team when we leave. The is a lot of toxic culture between me and the head mentor, and it has finally come to a head. I know this sounds bad, but all of this conflict has come from me not following exactly what she wanted to do or fitting in with her plan. I have my own vision for the club, and my fellow teammates have the same goals and agree with my leading style and priorities. However, most of them are too afraid to speak up against the head mentor because she essentially imposes her will on everyone in the team.

The team is essentially all seniors + 1 sophomore. There are ~50 people registered for the team, yet only the seniors + 1-2 other people show up to meetings. The conflict came to a head when me and another student, the intake lead and sophomore, were having a genuine discussion on the pros and cons of different intakes. I wanted to do something, he wanted to do something. The head mentor’s son has taken a very active role in the team even though he has graduated 2 years ago. He is essentially acting like he is on the team and still in control. The head mentor always differs to him in discussions and favors his opinion over mine or the other people on the team. In the discussion, the son kept telling me listen to your lead, listen to your lead, stop arguing listen to your lead. He is only a sophomore who doesn’t have much frc experience, and we were both having a communication disconnect. He didn’t see what I saw and I didn’t see what he saw. We were both kind of digging in our heels, and the discussion was going in circles and nothing was coming from it. Eventually this was rectified with an in person discussion, but in the conversation the son finally said

“Well I’ll say this for the last time, listen to what your leads want to do. Your job is to listen and encourage. I’m hearing a lot of side discussions and executive decisions between you and certain members.”

This really me off because he basically perfectly described himself. As a mentor he is supposed to help us do what we want to do even if he thinks what we are doing is wrong. Throughout the whole build season, he has leveraged who he is, his longer time in frc, and his family to influence design and team discussions. I fired back a quip,

“i’ve also heard alot of decisions made by a mentor whos role is to enable the students”

And he promptly rage quit the team. His mom refused to order parts when we had just spent all day making a shopping list and threatened to quit.

Just clarifying, I talked to other people on the team, and they didn’t see the problem with the discussion between me and the intake lead. In fact, the intake lead dm’d me after this whole debacle and said he thought I was doing a really good job leading the team and listening to everyone who wanted to give input.

The head mentor has essentially quit today. She said she will work on awards and tournament logistics but nothing else. She has been present at the school this week for FRC meetings, but chose to ignore the team the entire time.

On a related note, I realized today we had grossly overestimated our abilities based on our prototyping adventures today. We had set goals and priorities that exceeded that of top teams (referencing the #openalliance). We (the senior leadership + the sophomore lead) are going to hold a meeting tomorrow about redirecting and salvaging the season.

Because of all this drama, and the fact that we over reached, I am truly at a loss for what to do. I cannot do everything. The other senior leadership is committed to the team, but few work on running the team or contributing when meetings end. Since now the adult mentors have quit, I really don’t know if I can keep the team alive and running.

The super selfish part of me just wants to say screw it and invest everything (I’m talking about time and manpower not money) into building a competitive robot. However, I know the underclassman will be excluded, but they have never really shown that much of a demonstrated interest either. The better part of me still wants to do that, but I want to make sure that the team will still retain some knowledge and skills for next year. However, our club has never done any offseason training or camps because noone was interested in actually attending and learning.

What do I do? I don’t really know what I expect from posting this, but I am in need of some direction or guidance.

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  1. No, this quoted statement is actually just wrong

In my honest opinion this sounds like a case of a mentor trying to build a sustainable program and students who are biting off more they can chew without listening to those who might actually be more experienced than them.

Students have no idea how difficult running the team is as a lead mentor, and when another mentor does quit (regardless of reason) it can be debilitating and can cause burnout in the lead mentor. .

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Ultimately, aim to build something simple, and once you have that, improve it. That way you don’t over reach.

As for being a team? Keep going, make sure to scale your goals, and work to keep everyone together.

As for yourself? Stay health, and don’t let it go to your head too much, I know the feeling.

If you have any questions, you have a chief delphi community behind you. Feel free to send me a pm if you need 1646 to help with any coding.

I know this isn’t super helpful, but you very much seem to be on the right track. You seem to be a smart level headed kid, so you’ll make it through, even if it’s tough. I’ll think about it some more and let you know if I can think of anything else.

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It would probably be a good time to do a few things:

  • Reach out to your local regional director, FIRST Senior Mentor, or VISTA (lower-right part of the page) for guidance on any mentors or assistance that might be available from people or teams they know.
  • Discuss what can be done without burning anyone else out this season.
  • Discuss how you can attract and retain other mentors without burning them out for the future.
  • Discuss if and how you should adapt your robot building plans. It would be easy to point to Everybot, but I’ve bet some people a concession stand snack that that robot would get picked at our Week 1 event. You may decide that with the drop in manpower available, it’s time to go with a simpler design. It’s over a month until the earliest events, so you can still make a valuable contributor happen with some drive practice before even a Week 1 event.
  • Take a good night’s sleep. I’ve stressed on this kind of stuff too. It happens. Lost years happen too, unfortunately. Losing sleep about it won’t solve anything.
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I would suggest that maintaining the team is your primary focus. Although you may have a fun and great year this year if you do it yourself, if you don’t sustain the team, then others down the road will miss out on the same opportunity. I would suggest making a robot that is competitive, but not necessarily top-tier like you are thinking. Make sure that your time is spent teaching newer members how to build a robot. I know this may seem hard, especially since not many underclassmen seem interested, but it is extremely important.

Along with this, I would encourage that you try to try to fix the broken ties with the mentor. Although it is true that students lead the team, we are nothing without good mentors. Mentors are there to guide us and help us when they can. They shouldn’t just help us when they think we are wrong, they are there to provide insightful input and help us. I would say that you as a team need to have a discussion with the mentor about him always taking his son’s side, and ask whether he will consider coming back. Just make sure you approach the situation graciously and respectively. I hope this helps somewhat. Every situation differs, and because I am not part of your current situation, I do not know what the perfect response is to your situation. Lastly, don’t overstress yourself. FRC is supposed to be fun and educational. Stressing yourself out won’t make the situation any different.

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I’d have to disagree with both of you slightly on this. I think a mentor should try to steer a team in the right direction, but they shouldn’t need to pull the seniority card to do that. If the mentor cannot clearly explain (to a student who seems fully capable of understanding logical reasoning) why something is right or wrong, then they are either need to learn how to do so, or haven’t thought it out enough themselves.

(also the whole 2. !!! 3. wow thing wasn’t really necessary)

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Regardless, the statement I quoted is plain false. That is not the intent of having mentors around.

But yes, I agree they must have the ability to persuade with more than just a seniority card.

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As a third year FRC student, I find this reply extremely unconstructive, accusatory, and closeminded. Most of the conflicts between mentors and students that I’ve witnessed or been a part of have been the result of a student and a mentor disagreeing and not being able to see the situation from the other’s POV. My main point is, I’d encourage you, as a mentor of a team, to try and imagine how’d you respond to this issue if this was your team and then suggest that to the OP as a posible solution. (If my grammer or logic is bad, it’s because I’m tired, sorry :sweat_smile:) (Also, I mean no offense towards you or your team, I’m sure you are a great mentor and you’re team is very successful)

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As a FRC alumni (who spent 7.5ish years in FRC, and a couple of years in FTC), and a current FRC mentor. I find Akash’s reply to be spot on, and the very much opposite of close minded.

I too see that mentor as one trying to build a sustainable program, and also do agree that the point of mentors is not to just sit back and watch.
Yes the mentor definitely needs to be able to explain his/her opinions and not just pull a seniority card. But asking them to just sit back and watch and just be there to open the door’s doesn’t sound like a fun environment to be a mentor in.

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I think more context is needed. In some cases this is true and in others it is false. Should a mentor let students fail and learn from their failure? I believe so, and I would not be the same person that I am today if my mentors did not do this. Should a mentor let students deplete resources from the team unreasonably? No of course not, there is a point at which more money does not mean more learning. I guess it just depends on how you interpret this part of their post. I think calling the statement flat out false is wrong.

(Edit: To potential sponsors of FRC 1807, more money does mean more learning. )

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I actually agree with what @Trent said above. The mentor needs more than a seniority card in order to be able to persuade students about design decisions.

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As a mentor, keep in mind there is some history the students never know about with things like mentor-mentor-parent-teacher and team dynamics issues. Many teams go through significant struggles for various reasons and everyone has a personal “thats it” point. It never in my view involves the students , who are ever changing great. there one year , graduated the next.

I am amazed teams make it this far sometimes mostly intact. Usually its driven by level heads and a common goal.

This is a stressful time for many mentors who are volunteers, to give some perspective. Most have other things like stress from day jobs and even family issues too. People can quit for their personal reasons. It sucks but it happens.

Things do happen for a reason. Best to move forward and accept it as the new reality.

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That’s great and I’m glad that we all agree on that front (for the most part), but now I think we should focus on helping the OP solve this lack of mentorship problem instead of arguing who did what or who was at fault. I understand that analyzing the situation will help prevent this from happening again, but I’ve seen WAY too many similar threads go down the same rabbit hole of mentor led team v student led team and the OP is left to sort through all the back and forth arguing to find a solution to their original problem. After all, the thread is called “Mentors quit…help needed

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To actually answer the question of the original post, my advice would be:

  1. Acknowledge why they might have tried to push you in that direction
  2. Express how you want to be treated more as an equal/ peer
  3. Encourage them to have discussions based on reasoning and thought out explanations, rather than just having the expectation that students shouldn’t question a mentor

If you can get this message across in a respectful way, and if the mentor is not too stubborn or unreasonable, they should see your point and change their ways.
This of course is only if you believe they would be willing to come back. If not, I’m not sure what advice I could give besides try to find a new head mentor.

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An adult who outright quits the team over relatively small quarrels with no warning probably shouldn’t have been a leadership mentor in the first place. I understand where OP is coming from, even if a lot of people seem to disagree with their viewpoint. Without knowing anything about the OP’s situation, remember this: it’s your team. Sometimes mentors aren’t worth it. And sometimes the students are the problem. If you do some honest self-reflection with your team and decide that they’re not worth having back, you don’t need to reconcile (apart from the fact that their family is arranging travel, so you probably want to work fast to make sure that you can figure that out).

If the mentor is gone, simplifying the design and making sure that you have a finished robot very early is paramount. Nothing saves a team like a fun, successful season. If you field something that scores points every match and makes it to the semifinals, that’s a win in my book, and it’ll revitalize the team for next year. IMO, a small compromise on robot performance is worth it to keep the team running smoothly- a day spent arguing could be a day making the robot.

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A similar yet less severe situation happened on my team last year where the team captain and head mentor go into arguments all the time and the captain was always getting hounded by the mentor for small slipups that didn’t impact the team (THIS IS FROM A FELLOW LEAD STUDENT PERSPECTIVE, KEEP THAT IN MIND, I AM BIASED IN FAVOR OF THE CAPTAIN). Anyway, this came to a head when the head mentor essentially kicked the captain and her mom (who was helping the awards team) out of the lab one night and at one point before this the Dean of Students/Activities Director was called in (I was not in the lab at the time). Last year was a hard year (despite making it to PNW champs) and the snow in the PNW did not help the problems in any way. In the end, the captain left the team, the head mentor is (or at least was. That’s a whole different story that isn’t really relevant) set to step down and be replaced (assisted now) by a new head mentor, the other mentors acknowledged that they kinda took too much initiative last year (see our wings, which never worked in comp but were constantly pushed forward by the mentors and not very many students liked them) and have decided to let the students drive the team more than last year, leadership is now done through an application process that involves both the mentors and the school, and the role of team captain has been combined with the GM position (which I don’t really agree with, but that’s neither here nor there).

To wrap things up, the head mentor that had problems with the captain last year still brings up last year from time to time (“we wouldn’t want a thing to happen again this year”) and it just doesn’t reflect well on her or the team so make sure that all differences are settled between the students and mentors before you start working with each other again. Secondly, forgive and forget, what’s really helped our team this year is setting robot priorities by task (not design necessarily), buckling down, and making major decisions by team or leadership vote. Finally, each team is run differently and it’s up to the students and mentors to agree on how that should happen.

I wish you and you’re team the best of luck during this season and if you need any programming help, feel free to shoot me a DM.

(the two solutions above my message are pretty good starting points, btw)

Best Wishes,
MVande

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I’m sorry to hear that your team is having some issues, especially right now of all times.

Some context to the rest of my post: I was a total hothead when I was the lead on 1259 and though my teammates respected me and valued my contribution to the team (and my mentors, too, though in hindsight they were incredibly patient with me :slight_smile:), I definitely didn’t take the productive and smart option many a time. I also didn’t have the entire picture when I was a student, and frankly, running an FRC team is tough on mentors.

Take a step back, and really evaluate how you want to solve this problem. I’m not trying to imply you’re doing anything wrongly, because I, and everyone else replying, do not have the full context. Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. What I am saying, however, is that in many, many arguments, both sides are at fault. I know it’s tough, frustrating, and incredibly stressful. I know.

From what it sounds like, there’s a lot of disconnect and discord on your team. I implore you to reach out to, like @Billfred said, your regional director, Senior mentor, etc, as well as try to have a healthy conversation with your team at large (NOT just your teammates, but your mentors as a whole, too). I realize that isn’t the simplest thing when everyone is already stressed, and doubly difficult in the chaos of build season. When mentors and students clash and it becomes “us vs them”, you’re just going to have a bad season. I know that for a fact from experience, as I’m sure many others do.

I also want to point out that it’s entirely possible to build something that can be competitive with less money. My team has had some incredible success in the past two years with a pretty minimal budget. I’m sure yours can too, and others have mentioned various ways in which you can accomplish this. (Important to mention that we had some seriously good luck, too. Never hurts).

As for technical help, the CD community is incredible. Everyone posting on here wants to help you and share their experiences as much as they can.

I wish you the best of luck with the rest of your season and hope your team can work this out.

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As one of the head mentors for another sometimes-struggling team, and as someone who once clashed heavily with the head mentor of my old team back in high school, if there’s one thing I can recommend, it’s compassion. Teams like this mean a lot to people, especially people who put years and years of their life into this; that isn’t to say you’re right or wrong, but simply that it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of it all and to mentally cast these mentors as villains, at which point things really do begin to fall apart.

Since you’ve already gotten a lot of input on the mentoring front though, I thought I’d chime in with a different note: is $7k really that little? I don’t mean that in the sense of ‘so and so built their bot in a cave…’ – I’ve been managing team budgets for more than a few years now, with direct inseason build expenditures ranging everywhere from $6,000 to $19,000. Now that you’re not bound to make two whole robots in order to compete at a high level, it’s a lot cheaper to run a season. Our inseason budget toys year pegs in at a comfortable $8,000 – $6k plus drivetrain money would be a bit tight, but workable.
Apologies if this is off the mark of your post, if course. If you are interested, and could use more info in budgeting/accounting/cost-savings, feel free to send me a long!

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I gotta be honest, this comment feels very accusatory and counterproductive. I’m not necessarily agreeing with the OP here, and I see how what he said can be infuriating, but I think you are taking this a little too personally. I can understand how the behind the scenes of teams can be hair pulling, especially the part that students don’t see, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse for what happened to OP. What happened here is toxic, and I doubt its just because of trying to run the team.

IMO both of you are right, and wrong. Students shouldn’t listen to everything a mentor says, but the mentors shouldn’t blindly follow the student’s ideas. As a mentor, I always try to help students out with their idea, give them my two cents on it, and if they want to do it, I’ll help them even if I don’t think its the greatest (context, I am a senior, but i also mentor younger students in FTC and FRC). It should never be “the mentor’s way or the highway”; students should learn to try, test, and even question ideas.

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I think this is what the OP was trying too say.

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