New Team/New Coach Help!

coach
mentors
#1

Hello! I am the head coach of FRC team 6843 from Missouri (this was our second year as a team). I am a recent college graduate teaching math at our school. I am an alumna of team 2346 so I know generally how FRC works, but I am hoping for some coaching/mentoring support and advice from some veterans. As I’ve discovered, coaching is VERY different from being a member on the team.

This season was rough for us; with the crazy snow we got in the midwest, we lost several build days this season and weren’t able to perform as well as we’d hoped. On top of that, our team only has 7 students (only 4 are really committed). I’ve struggled to promote the team and get more students involved and the ones that are haven’t talked it up as much as I think it needs. Our school is in its second year and is still small. We ended up with a decently performing robot at the Central Missouri Competition this past weekend (even though we finished almost last, the students were proud of their work and the robot did what it was supposed to nearly every match), but we are losing half of our members this year because they’re seniors or involved in other things.

So here’s my main question: As a new team, how can I create excitement in our community to get kids involved in our team? How can I be an effective coach and mentor to my students? How can I help my team be more competitive and committed? I realize these questions are VERY open-ended and are common problems, but I want our team to have a better 3rd year in the 2020 season. Thanks for any help you can give!

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#2

I can answer from a student perspective. This is my final year on the team and the main reason why I stuck to it was not only because of a passion for robotics engineering but because the team was welcoming. Recently, we have started a lot of team bonding activities - team lunches, team game night, etc. My mentor also plays a large role. Not only does he spread his wisdom of robotics engineering in interactive and fun-filled pre-season sessions, he is also a great friend and gives awesome life advice. He is aware that students have lives to live (we live in Utah, we take advantage of snow days and go skiing/snowboarding instead of robotics sometimes). My school is a liberal arts school that demands so much from its students, I have the ability to be in robotics but also take part in the school’s choir and senior activities. Some schools run their system differently, but robotics isn’t our lives.

Overall, starting a team in a new school will take some time. The best you can do is hold more sessions and have more interactive ways of teaching. Robotics is not like any other lecture class where you just sit down and watch videos and talk (although that can be important in learning). Have an open workshop and have students come in and touch the objects, place them in places. You can also get more teachers involved (more mentors). Having more teachers within the school who are a part of and promotes the team can assist in students filling in. If your school holds an event that is popular, showcase your robot at the event too. Create a sanctioned area and have students actually drive the robot for about a minute and really show off what the students are capable of learning.

I hope that helps!

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#3

Thanks so much for your input! I think having team bonding activities is a great idea and I think we’ll try that in the future.

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#4

As a fairly older team having issues with mentors, keep in mind that doing more out reach is the best way to get more sponsors and ask for not only money but people who are interested in helping out. We still have issues with lack of members and getting mentors to help with robot/out reach will boost exposure and coarse more people to join. We are just now looking for more out reach for more sponsors that can give us mentors to help with programming/ build.

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#5

By doing community out-reach - show the robot off at events, do volunteer work, host camps, do presentations at elementary schools, help with celebrations, etc. Getting your name out there will pay back in dividends: students want to join your team and the community will want to support you.

That’s a big one.

When possible:

  • attend off season events
  • train skills in the off season
  • attend workshops/seminars hosted by other teams
  • ask local teams for help*
  • Work within your resources**

*The KC area is rich with FRC teams. 1710 from Olathe, Kansas is an outstanding team that would love to help you. 1986, Team Titanium, has historically been a powerhouse team - in the same city as you! Reach out - odds are, most teams will want to help you.

** When you don’t bite off more than you can chew, you’ll likely build a better robot… even if it does less. A robot good at 1 thing is better than a robot medium at 2.

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#6

In addition to Katie’s suggestions - have you considered doing FTC or VEX for a few seasons, building up interest within the school, and then later moving up to FRC?

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#7

I’d suggest doing a lot of recruiting in the classes you’re teaching. Also work with feeder schools where your freshmen are coming from – if you can do demos over there with the robot it can help spark interest in the team. Take your students to Massive Mini up in Liberty in the fall (it will be on a Saturday) to go to some of the workshops if you can. Sign up for and attend off-season events like Cowtown Throwdown (at Lee’s Summit, usually around Halloweenish) – those are great for building interest in prospective students and mentors who are on the fence. You also want to build up a good mentor crew to help keep yourself from burning out – look for parents with skills and nearby businesses that employ engineers, scientists, or machinists/craftspeople.

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#8

I think FTC would be a better fit for our school, but our principal and president have decided that we should do FRC. It’s possible that if next season doesn’t attract enough students that we will do FTC instead of FRC in the 2020-2021 school year.

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#9

Thanks for your advice! I agree that community outreach is important for team-building and getting our name out there. I struggled beginning this season as not only a first-year coach, but also a first year teacher. A lot was asked of me and I struggled personally, and I think some of that may have come off on my team.

I really regret not reaching out to the teams in our area this season. I definitely will next year.

@vhcook Congrats on your win at the Central Missouri Regional! I’ve always loved watching 1939 compete.
I like the idea of working with the feeder schools and I would love to help their LEGO teams or help set them up, but I’m concerned that I’ll be spreading the team too thin since it’s so small. Maybe starting with just one feeder school? I know for sure one that already has a LEGO team that might like some help.
And we will for sure be at CowTown in October! We’re looking forward to making our bot better for the event.

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#10

Thanks! We’ve come up just short of the win quite a few times, so it means a lot to us to finally win one.

Start small, work up – first step is getting you into double-digit students, which will make it a lot easier to get through regionals. Just starting with one feeder school is fine. You’re climbing a mountain – take it one step at a time.

As a new teacher and a new mentor at the same time, you need to be really careful not to over-reach what you can do without burning yourself out. I’m told the first couple of years as a new teacher are really hard while you build up your stockpile of lesson plans. If you need extra staffing for an outreach event because of your team size, reach out to nearby teams – there are a lot of us around that would be delighted to lend you some bodies and potentially an extra robot or so.

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#11

Try to get parents involved as much as possible. Parents can help find additional sponsors, and they make great mentors. Many of our mentors started as parents of students on the team, but they stuck around after their kids graduated (it might have something to do with our tying them down and not allowing them to go!)

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#12

To build on this, There is no way my team could be run by just 1 mentor. there is so much to know/teach/learn that one person couldn’t do it all. try to bring more mentors in to help you.

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#13

Start simple. A lot of these outreach ideas are awesome, but awfully hard to pull off with a team of 7 people.

Does your school have an activities fair or STEM night? Bring the robot there.
Will the school let you drive the robot around the cafeteria or atrium during a lunch break or dismissal time? Do that.
Does your school have an orientation for rising Freshmen? Show off the robot.
Can you hang posters to advertise your first meeting of the new school year (or, better yet, a designated “interest meeting”)? If so, hang those posters!
Are students allowed to wear team shirts during school? Encourage them to wear them as often as they are clean.
Have you attempting to rope in other teachers, administrators, or school employees? Team parents? Now that the seasons over, have an “open house” to show off your work.

Have your core students drag their friends to meetings next year, it doesn’t matter if those friends are particularly interested in robotics.

The first step is to build your reputation within the school. Once that reputation grows enough that you have a stable recruiting base, you can look to expand outwards.

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#14

I second vhcook, recruiting in the classes you teach can be very effective. Most of my seniors say that the main reason they joined as freshmen was their engineering teacher hyping it up in class (he’s still a mentor, but no longer teaches at the school).

Another good way to recruit is presenting at middle schools that feed into your high school, similar to how drama/band/etc sometimes do. Bring the robot and a handful of kids, and some video from build season/competition/etc. Project the video, have the kids talk about what robotics is and why they love it, and then have them drive the robot a little to show it off. I’ve usually done it as a 6th period “assembly” in the middle school’s auditorium, but if the middle school is having an event such as a science fair or open house you could do a less formal version.

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#15

Short term (though also helps long term if you keep it fresh): Do something awesome, and get it in front of the student body (especially underclassmen) in the fall, preferably several weeks before you stabilize/finalize the team list. And oh, yes - make it loud that you are recruiting for the team at the events you demo this awesomeness. For 3946, this has always been the air cannon which shoots t-shirts, foam footballs, stadium cups, and other swag into the stands at football games. This air cannon was literally rebuilt/re-designed at least every two years, to be better than the one before. This past year (year 8 for the team), mentors purchased a used golf cart with a “rear deck” and made a lot of updates, including a new exhaust system, improvements at least approaching street-legal wiring, and a frankly kick-■■■ pneumatic cannon until it became something useful not only for football games, but Mardi Gras parades. I went on several road trips with this beast before I left 3946, and it’s frankly the most awesome thing the team has ever done.

Longer term, build relationships with the middle/Junior High feeder schools. Mentor their FLL teams, show up with your robot (and awesome air cannon or whatever) at their spring (or whenever) festivals, and be sure to schmooze not only the students, but the parents who seem interested. Also, as you search for sponsors, see if your sponsoring companies have an employee or three willing to help with mentoring. The key thing to getting mentors (whether from parents or elsewhere) is to make it clear to them that they do NOT have to know anything about robotics when they start - if they can fix a machine, wire a car, write a program, sell anything to anyone, cook a meal, or plan a vacation, they have useful mentor skills. (I’m certain I’m leaving some out.) – oh yes, plan a game strategy!!!

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#16

Fancy seeing 3245 posting here, one of our Utah regional alliance partners! I’m the lead mentor for 6411, and would suggest reaching out to local teams if possible to see how you might collaborate. For example, 3245 helped get us off the ground in 2017. We didn’t know the first thing about robotics but they helped us a lot!

Our team is also small, basically 5 dedicated members now after graduating half the team last year. Recruitment is not easy. I’m not sure what type of school you are at. If you don’t have feeder schools that makes it all the more difficult. I would suggest searching for local FLL or FTC teams to partner with. This year we partnered with one team in each of those divisions and perform outreach together. It’s a work in progress but the idea is to build a pathway for kids to progress as they grow.

How to be an effective mentor? Hard to answer without knowing your personality, but for me it’s about having fun. We know how to have fun and keep things light. Sure there are serious moments in competition, but I just ask if they need anything, and if not then let them be. They know when to ask for help. I think that’s all part of the growing process.

How to be more competitive? We are a 3rd year team. In a total of 5 regional competitions, we have made it into the elimination rounds every time. Our first year as rookies we won the Utah regional and went to Worlds. Last year had 3 quarterfinal appearances. This year we made it through to the Utah semis along with 3245. Our design philosophy is pretty much “keep it simple”. Yet each year the team is asked to learn at least something new. This year it was pneumatics. Well, they learned it after the competition bot was bagged but it worked perfectly for the level 2 climb. This summer we will build a whiffle ball shooter that actually works. Keep them learning and engaged. That’s what the whole thing is about.

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#17

This one is huge. By interacting with other local teams - especially older, well established teams - your students can SEE how other teams work and can start thinking about how to implement the lessons they’ve learned into your own team. There are a ton of things in FIRST that teams can only discover through experience, and by pulling on the experience of others you can increase your chances of success.

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#18

What sort of outreach did you do with these other teams? I know outreach is a huge part of FIRST, and I’d like to find something that my high schoolers and the grade schoolers from the local FLL team can both get involved in and excited about.

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#19

So far we have only done two events together; as I said it’s a work in progress. The three of us went to the Hill AFB air show last summer. They had a hangar set aside called “Science City”. The second event was the annual STEM Fest, which is geared towards middle school kids. We had our different kinds of robots set up at both events. We call it the “Sandy City Outreach Alliance”, have a banner and everything. Very official stuff! We are still new, and learning.

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