My Team Isn’t Student Led

The head teacher/coach on my team dominates it to the point that our team cannot function.

I have dealt with this coach for a long time. When I first joined the team, I was warned that the most major obstacle I would ever face on the team would be him. I thought they were joking. FRC teams are student led, I assured those Veterans I would be fine.

I didn’t expect to be so quickly disappointed. The first thing was how he expected us to be there during all potential robotics hours. Robotics students at my school are often pillars of their community. They are involved in everything at school and busy. He expects us to be there during all potential hours. Which for a single week is a minimum of 28 hours. That is an actual job. This is besides the fact that robotics students have actual jobs and other extracurriculars. Those jobs and extracurriculars do not get acknowledged other than an item to pressure the students to abandon. He likes to say things like “Jobs always take students away from the team”, “Jobs remove kids from the team” and implying that jobs make those students unimportant.

Then it bleeds into the actual robot and the actual ideas of FRC. During build season, he loves to design our robot himself and not let the students do their own thing. When we were talking to another coach about his shooter design, he claimed that it was all his design. Although it was a student’s, he had the confidence and certainty to claim it was his. This isn’t the only item he has done. He almost vetoed the way that our intake was actuated.

He is overbearing regarding every aspect of existing on the team. He makes students do unnecessary things and they do not get to choose otherwise. Things need to be done his way, as it is the best way. Students that he can pressure more have to do more work. For example, we have a few very kind students who do complicated tasks on the team. These students have been pressured into writing up to 100 pages of explanations for a single topic. One of them had to condense 400+ pages of writing into 62 for his “assignment”.

At competition he is a whole other force to be reckoned with. He likes to make decisions that we cannot go against under any condition. They aren’t even up for discussion or debate. We had an issue with a few wheels when moving the ball. The wheel ended up too low someway or another. And so, he decided to cut our compression wheels. We told him that the size of the wheel did not matter for this issue, and he then cut them without student input. He then drilled multiple holes and decided to overall brainstorm and fix the issue himself.
It shuts students down. Our students are wonderful. They work together well, they discuss without issue, they respect each other. Of course, there are occasional issues but the students are mature enough to resolve it in less than a minute or two. I have never seen anything escalate. When it comes to this coach, it makes the students so frustrated many have to completely leave the situation in order to be able to deal with him.
There is a part of our robot that we want to improve. The entire pit/drive team and the vast majority of the team members in the stands want to try and improve it. However, we were hard rejected by him. He decided that he didn’t want to risk anything breaking in the process to figure it out. We did not have any issues at the time and we wanted to improve standings. If anything broke we had stuff to replace it and we were ready to replace and give up if it wouldn’t work.

First believes in a few wonderful ideas that go directly into making innovators. The ideas of discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun make all First programs fantastic for students of any age. However, this coach removes all of those ideas and destroys any hope for student led innovation. We cannot discover or innovate when he decides what the robot will be like. We cannot improve our world when we are oppressed. Students do not feel respected when their every debate and insistence is met with demand and commands instead of discussion. Teamwork is out of the question when he thinks he is the whole team.

I do not think that we have truly made any of our own decisions when we have told this coach about it. Recently, he claimed that coaches/mentors are a part of the team and due to their experience and the fact that they are paid they get to make decisions for the team. This extends to any decision at all, from snacks to cutting the robot in half. My team isn’t student led. My team is led by one adult man. We don’t know what to do. Is there a way to fix this? We don’t want to get him fired from his job, just off the robotics team at most.

-John

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Not that this would be the best solution, but I have heard of members leaving their current team and creating a new rookie team to avoid overbearing mentors. I don’t know if this would work at all, but it could be an option if nothing else works. I would definitely say that this mentor needs to be removed from his position based on the information that you have given.

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This coach is a teacher at the school?
Everything you described lacks a “threat” from the coach. Is the coach insinuating or threatening to shut the team down or kick out dissenters?

I don’t want to cast doubt on the info stated, but it sounds like all the students, and possibly the coaches, don’t like dealing with this person. It’s pretty rare for one person to hold such an authoritarian grip on an FRC team. Students tend to quit the team in these situations, especially if they are already have jobs and are doing other school activities.

If other mentors/coaches support this person, you’ve got a bigger problem. If not, and these mentors are being paid (by the school?) then a meeting with the school admin is the first step.

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From what I’ve heard from fellow members, he’s said that he is going to be retiring from coaching year after year, but ends up returning year after year.
I believe that everyone has just been waiting for that to actually happen, or else we probably would’ve considered that already.
Another issue with this solution is that our team composed of all of the schools in our district, meaning we wouldn’t have another place to go. It would be very difficult for a new team to function so close to our current team.
-William

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I think multiple students’ accounts of the conditions on their team are being represented by one CD anonymous account

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The coach is indeed a teacher at one of the schools that make our team.
They do threaten kids being kicked off the team for insubordination. For example, the coach/mentor often will command people to do tasks in the middle of then doing an important task. A student once told the coach that they were busy with an important task, and so they got screamed at for immediately not dropping everything to do the mentor’s task. It was like a public shaming, right in front of the entire team. The student was threatened to be kicked off the team during this.
This is not the biggest example, but it is the most recent as it happened during build season.

The other coaches have mixed reviews. This bad coach has about 10 years of experience more than all of the other coaches, making a difficult power imbalance. The other coaches have either been put down for years or, in one coach’s case, tried to support the other coach’s decisions no matter what. It’s because they’ve only been coaching for a year or so, I assume. In summary, the other coaches and mentors will not help us.

Our team has decided on a mass exodus if nothing changes. Our team will be empty after this year. The issue with that is those rookies who will have to deal with the coach with no veteran support.

-John

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Kicked? Off of the student run team? That’s miles over the line.

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There are multiple of us on this account. We don’t want to be kicked off for posting this. You will probably hear the most from me, but almost everyone from our team has access to post here.

-John

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I wonder if the FIRST district people could help you. Find someone at that level, for your area, who would be willing to mediate a discussion between all of you. Your mentor might give more weight to input from someone who has held a similar position and is familiar with the challenges that teams face. FIRST wants your team to succeed and be a great experience for it’s students.
You might find someone in the school administration for the same help but they often don’t understand the nature of FIRST teams.
Offering a united front in those situations is one of the most challenging aspects. There are lots of resources on how to prepare for a difficult conversation. Don’t let the summer go by before addressing it. The experiences are fresh now and you have seniors that may be more willing to take the risk to speak their experiences.
I have a page written up on how to prepare for challenging discussions. Let me know if you would like to see it.

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Every team has it’s own politics. “cannot function” seems a stretch. you speak of the team like you’re not a first-year rookie team. Apparently it IS functioning.

Stop calling the team ‘student led.’ There’s no value in this. The reason the mentors are there is to teach you.

To call a team ‘student led’ is an offense to the mentors. The ‘lead’ of a robot team needs to be a careful collaboration of all of you. The mentors defined your team before you got there and will likely still be with the team when you’re not. Losing a mentor can kill a team. Losing a student, probably not.

I don’t know your coach, but if he’s anything like me, he’ll spend about twice as many hours during build season as most of the students. People choose where to spend their time. Every student that puts another activity in front of robotics has chosen that. You don’t think your mentors notice? If you’re planning a STEM career, you should consider choosing robotics over theater or track. But it’s your life. Just know your decisions with your time are public for everyone to see. There are students that choose robotics over other things.

My team does many things democratically and most kids like it. I’m an American and I’m used to this process. But we don’t win much either. I once heard another very-winning mentor say ‘voting is not an engineering process’. Many times I (think I) know the better way to do something but if I can’t sell the idea to the team, it will be passed over. My team mostly works with ‘prove an idea will work’ and if you can, we pick it unanimously. Sometimes that’s not an easy hurdle. Nearly sure your coach would let you try to prove some other idea (off the robot) if you are so sure it’s better. And as for writing 100 pages of robot stuff, sound’s like he’s trying to get people to ‘prove’ their ideas. But I would much rather see a working prototype. or a youtube of some other machine doing it.

Engineering and design, despite popular propaganda, is a profession for people with ego. I have designed many cool things and I take pride in them. Yes, most of us are humble and quiet in public, but we live to design. The ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is totally wrong. Ego is the mother of invention. Musk isn’t building the Starship because of necessity. So your coach designs robots in the off-season. Is there something wrong with that? If you tell him he can’t design, he won’t enjoy robotics anymore. I think you just want his ideas to compete with yours on a fair basis. I’m not so sure he would be against that.

Hopefully you build some of his ideas—and yours–and see which are really good ideas. But no one’s design is the ‘best’ until you’ve built it, tested it, iterated it and made it the best. The minute an idea is on the table, it is no longer ‘his’, it’s all of yours.

It is a fact that every idea comes from one person’s brain. Sometime you or he may think its’ your own idea, but you could’ve both thought of it… Teams and commissions don’t think-up robots–or ships or airplanes…etc. individual people do. But once you’ve built it and tested it and fixed the problems or optimized, then it belongs to all of you.

As for saying the shooter was ‘his’ idea or you saying it was someone else’s’, everything is based on history. If your coach has been in it for more than a couple years, nearly sure he’s seen more ideas than you have. Again, it doesn’t matter who’s idea it is. I tell my kids that the best way to build a good robot is steal the best ideas from other robots and machines, cartoons, sci-fi…

If you think your team needs a new plan for decision making, that’s completely reasonable. Not many teams use the ‘dictator’ method. I doubt yours really does. Do you have a written plan now? I present a powerpoint at the beginning of build season that details how we make decisions. We actually use a decision matrix fairly often. It’s a terrible process. I just don’t know what’s better.

When you join the (stem) work force, you’ll face the same thing as with your team…every business that’s making money already has successful products and you can’t just ‘innovate’ them all. You’ll be a contributor, part of a team. Everyone with the same goal. And until you demonstrate success, the people over you won’t be that excited about your ideas either.

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No. No, it is not.

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Work sux learn 2 h8 life b4 u gotta go do it every day

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Hey gang, Kim here. Mod hat half on, half off. Nothing here is strictly against the rules yet, but it’s always important to take a breather and remember the other person. Many people in this thread are pretty clearly vulnerable and passionate about the topic; their experiences, their time and effort and energy spent. Please try to avoid quick, snarky responses, and be considerate.

On this topic, I suspect you may find you agree more than you think, with a few terminology breakdowns. I’ve been there before too. :slight_smile:

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(Excuse my grammar mistakes and typos im on mobile and english is my second language)
I think that you are missing the point here actually.
FRC is about inspiring students to pursue a career in STEM, and it takes time to get there. You can’t expect a first year student to commit to 28 hours a week (after school obviously) before they join.It’s way too scary for most kids, I would have never joined my team if that was the case ( and I eventually gave all of my time to our team which was probably about 50 hours a week), sometimes kids contribute in different levels, some pour their heart and soul in to the program and some anjoy coming in twice a week to make some parts in the lathe, both are fine by me, as long as they dont let their team down when they are counting on them.
You also can’t expect to compete with those kids on design concepts. Its not a fair fight and its completly uninspiring, I had this happen to me as a student one year and it SUCKED, not to mention we were more succefull the year after where we designed and thought of the robot ourselves.

Now, as a mentor that has some FIRST experience and also a bit of real world experience it is WAY more diificult to comply to the teams wants and ideas, especially when I know there is a better one out there but that doesn’t mean that i’m going to design a concept and prove to them it outpreforms theirs. I believe that as a mentor its my duty to help the kids get to where they want to go, to help them design the systems they chose to design within their limitations, and to give them the little tips and tricks that gets their design from 95% to 100%. I also think that it is my job as a mentor to make sure the kids gain as much knowlage before the season because I want our team to be great. That does not mean that in a weak year I will force my ideas on the team and that is the reason I ask the kids for feedback when they think i’m overbarring.

And to my most imortant point, mentors help the team sustain itself, they don’t lead rhe team!

A huge part of being in an FRC team is facing the challenges of runing a big group with different wants and needs, that is an incredible life skill to learn, same goes into making contributions to a sustainable organinzation, and creating team culture or modifying it. I would hate to rob those kids this experience, even if they fail.

The last thing I’ll mention here, is if that if most of the team got so frustrated they chose to post here, there is something wrong, and its not on the students, this program is for them and they need to choose how they want to participate in it. Even if that means being less succesfull. In the short term.

OP, I hope you guys find a solution, and make the next year the best experience you had this far, even if that means you won’t be as succesfull as youre used to.

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I do, you watch
I do, you help
You do, I help
You do, I watch

Mentors leading is an essential first step to the ownership transfer process… But also, mentors following is an essential end step to the ownership transfer process.

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Maybe on your team you have mentors that figure out “how to get a building, shop tools, cad t3d printers, metal, plastics. Figured out how to get you to competition, hotel rooms.” and that’s awesome! I’m glad that your team is lucky to have invested mentors who clearly care about your students, I am sure that they have a much better experience in accordance with that.

That’s not the case for every team. On one of my teams the only thing you mentioned that wasn’t explicitly handled by students was securing a work space. That was handled by our school providing us space. Students balanced the budget, figuring out how to procure tools and materials. We taught ourselves cad for the first time after competing for almost 15 years. Several students were interested in 3d printing and the team decided that it would be worthwhile to spend some of the limited budget on a printer and so we did. Students handled travel plans, organized car pools, and identified hotels to every extent that the school allowed. The only level that our school coach supported was actually going through the process of booking hotel rooms, a bus, and flights for our surprise travel.

Our school mentor tried, but was very busy with coaching a sport and being a parent and teacher at the same time. At the same time he had a philosophy of letting the team be student run, so he was encouraging of everything I’ve mentioned.

Mentors didn’t figure anything out for us, and we preferred to be fully student-run to before when we had a very overbearing mentor who had a very negative effect on the team overall.

Maybe your team isn’t “student led,” but mine certainly was.

I find it really upsetting that you respond to a students description of a very toxic mentorship situation with a response explaining why you think the mentors on your team are great. There are many great mentors, many actually win awards related to it. Not all mentors are great though, and there absolutely are bad mentors who hurt teams and hurt people on those teams. I very much hope that OP doesn’t take away the idea that they owe this mentor respect even if they are far from earning it.

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To the OP. from the face of the initial post. I don’t think you are going to change things to your satisfaction. You are either going to have to adapt or find another activity with things more to your liking. Sorry to be so blunt, but sometimes that is the best way.

The level of commitment expected of most FRC teams are the same as a varsity sport or band cult. Clubs less consumptive of resources maybe less so.

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hrench,

I believe you’re missing the point of FRC alltogether. I joined this team to have my ideas heard and tested. I joined this team to learn new things. I joined this team to understand the fundementals of working with people who do not agree, who have different ideas, and who have different ways of viewing things.

If you are offended with the fact that students should be leading with you, then you are not embracing the idea of FRC. How can we learn if we are not allowed to make mistakes? How can we understand what we are doing without trying to lead things ourselves? We are not mindless robot building minions. We may learn how to do certian mechanical skills, but we can not learn how to apply that within an actual team like setting with other engineers if every aspect of it is micromanaged to a point of stress and modification.

We do appreciate the other mentors, that actually help us in our love to learn what being in a team really is. We do not love the mentors that treat us as if we are less than them, and as if their minds are better than ours. My family has run smaller robotics teams, not with FRC, and they have been wonderful and everyone was heard. That was because the mentors let us make bad decisions, and fix them over time. We learned together, and that was the beauty of it.

I love my mentors.
I do not love it when I am treated like my ideas don’t matter.

-Thomas

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As someone who was a part of a team that has been around for 20 years, I can definitely say that functioning is very different from sustaining. While the team has managed to stay afloat year after year, I don’t believe functionality is tied to whether you can scrap together the bare minimum for registration.

Calling a team “student led” doesn’t mean it takes away from the work of the mentors. Imo, the direction of a team should be what the current student body entails, as after all, the FRC program as a whole is designed so that high schoolers can experience and utilize real-world engineering skills.

I’m 99% sure OP stated that their mentor is designing their robot during the build season.

While this may be true for your team (and I’m sure your team is plenty grateful for the work you put into doing so), this is not in any way universal. For many of the teams I’ve met, the students are fundraising and writing grant applications to get the funding for new parts/tools. Many teams also have dedicated logistics teams comprised of students to figure out travel. While there are undoubtedly mentors to guide them along the way, many students are eager to be involved in fundraising and logistics as their actions directly impact their future in FRC.

I know I’m picking at various statements from your posts (most of which I do actually agree with, such as how mentors are very likely to have better ideas just from experience), but some of this just really rubbed me the wrong way. FRC is ultimately a program for high schoolers to experience engineering first hand, and that includes failing over and over to finally find something that works. A team of experienced mentors can certainly build a successful robot, but we already know that. It’s not what the program is for. It’s for students to learn and grow through engineering, and making students feel excluded out of the design process accomplishes the exact opposite.

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