Mid-season lull

Hello FIRST community!

My team has reached that point in the season where the excitement of kick-off has worn old and the end is too far away… so far away. We have reached the build season’s slump.

It has gotten to a point where I feel that my phone and email have become hotlines for the disenfranchised members from my team as well as mentors from other teams.

I dread this time of the season - it can disable the best of teams. FRC is a like sprinting a marathon (not my words - but a former student’s analogy).

How do we cope? Well, here is what I have been telling other mentors (please note that this was written for a couple of rookie teams we are working with):

If needed, take a short break to reboot. “have you tried turning it off and then on again” comes into mind here.

**Please note, the (new) students have no idea what they were getting into, and the veteran teams sometimes forget how taxing this season truly is for rookies. So lets go back and prioritize your season.

  1. Organize a team (students)

  2. Gain funding

  3. Find coaches

  4. Find the tools

  5. Establish a name and logo

  6. Attend a kick-off

  7. Breakdown the game, read the manual, and formulate a strategy

  8. Prioritize the needs for your team

  9. Design a robot

  10. Get a driving frame.

  11. Program the drive train

  12. Fabricate a manipulator (gearage, shooter, climber, whatever)

  13. Program the manipulator

  14. Test the robot

  15. Optimize the robot and code

  16. Go back to your priorities and adjust as needed

  17. Record the advancements/downfalls.

  18. Repeat steps 11-17 until bag and tag on Feb 21

If you have survived to Step 11 - you are already a success!
Yes, there are other aspects to the team I did not address - but those areas not as difficult to manage than the build teams issues are (imho).

How do you other teams reboot from the mid-build season doldrums/setbacks?

Remind your team that they have only two long Saturday builds left to finish the robot if they want any decent amount of practice time with it or to attend a week 6 scrimmage.

That got a number of my students in an urgency panic when I mentioned it as we left this weekend.

Building a really strong culture of striving for excellence is the best way to keep students engaged throughout build season. This isn’t some quick fix to the problem, but rather a long term solution to it. Using past seasons for motivation to reach even higher heights is what motivated myself, and many of my friends during build. This mindset helped me to keep trying to improve and not getting stuck with saying “this is good enough” to myself. All it takes is for one student to adopt this culture, and then many will follow.

I usually try to make sure we meet important, obvious milestones once a week to keep the morale up, as well as try to do something fun and not robot related once in a while. The big thing is to keep everyone on track of what your goals were back on kickoff, and not to stray from them as the season gets to that “lull”.

Having large deadlines to meet every Saturday is a great way to keep the students on track. This includes things like drivetrain functioning, mechanisms fabricated, mechanisms mounted and programmed etc.

Not only does this help to give you an idea about what you need to work on each day, but it also allows you to see obvious progress every week.

Just in case you forgot you were on a time budget:


Our daily work board has the Days Left count down and is divided into Big and Small tasks. Next week I will switch from black to red marker color. Big tasks have been assigned to our most reliable (almost always there, do quality work) team members. They own those projects until they are done. The Small tasks I assign daily. Infrequent attendees and/or those with an imperfect works/broke it ratio get jobs that are within their current abilities. Oh, and there is nothing better for morale than fresh paint. Battery boxes, floor panels, pit structures…just makes the sometimes grim struggle against time and space more tolerable.

We should transfer competition controls to our practice machine on Saturday with gear management system and winch complete. The ball shooter was a stretch goal for us and could be our 30 pound with hold. Competition machine frame is 80% done so swapping the important stuff over should not tax us too much.

Now, if I could just figure out where all those 80/20 fasteners went. I suspect the kids are eating them.

T. Wolter

We pulled up from our mid-season lull at yesterday’s session. Key things that helped:

  • Finished chassis v1 previous session, so we started drive tryouts and practice in earnest. This reduced the crowding in the shop, and raised spirits all around.
  • New toys - fuel came in (we aren’t shooting, just to drive around), more versaframe, some badly needed spacers, new heat gun and successful test of a plastic forming technique.
  • Evrett (student drive coach) took over the “daily huddle” meetings from me. No coordination, just I was otherwise involved when it was time to start, and he jumped in. He copied most of my good meeting habits and fixed most of my bad ones. (I arrived about a minute into the meeting.)
  • Layout and elevation drawings of robot v2 were available, and a notional animation. Not really CAD (which is finally a real thing for us), but enough to see how we’re going to climb with a device that’s UNDER the gear slide and why the new gear slide doesn’t need to curve, and how that funny shape is going to push the gear onto the peg.
  • Isaac, Travis, and I (all mentors) showed up three (quite different) versions of steampunk garb.