paper: FRC Growth numbers

District Championship. Better know hereabouts as MSC or States.

So was this article wrong in saying that “more than half of Michigan’s high schools (both public and private) now have a FIRST team on campus”?

I suspect not. The article mentions that more than 50% of Michigan’s high school have FIRST teams, while Richard’s statistic specifies FRC teams.

I’ll wait for Jim Z. to clarify the statistics in that article, since he probably is the source.

My own are pretty simple: divide the number of (active) FRC teams in each state by the number of high schools. Those ratios misrepresent teams that comprise students from more than one school, community teams, and home-schooled teams.

My point was just that the higher ratio of teams to schools in Michigan suggests more opportunities for new folks to be exposed to FIRST and inspired.

I agree, I was just curious about that stat.

The problem with that intuition are the actual retention numbers. As Karthik pointed out, 2 of the top 3 regions with the highest retention aren’t in districts, thus the average team there likely gets fewer plays than those teams in districts.

There are just too many factors that go into team retention to be able to come up with a single solution to boost it. If we take Michigan, as an example, we can point to two big items - districts and grants. How have they impacted retention?


2000	2001	2002	2003	2004	2005	2006	2007	2008	2009	2010	2011	2012	2013	2014	2015	2016	2017
0.96	0.95	0.91	0.93	0.88	0.82	0.81	0.78	0.75	0.76	0.73	0.70	0.70	0.67	0.72	0.75	0.77	0.76

We start back in 2000, when they went over 50 teams. You see a steady decline in the retention percent for a long time. Districts were introduced in 2009 and there was a small bump that year - the retention numbers improved slightly that year (possibly due to the excitement of switching competition structures? Everyone wanted to try it out?). But after that, the decline continued. It wasn’t until 2014, 5 years after starting districts, that the retention numbers started improving… and that was the same year the grants were introduced (see this link from earlier in the thread).

The other districts, for reference:



2000	2001	2002	2003	2004	2005	2006	2007	2008	2009	2010	2011	2012	2013	2014	2015	2016	2017
Chesapeake (2016)
1.00	0.98	0.88	0.90	0.82	0.81	0.79	0.74	0.69	0.68	0.68	0.66	0.63	0.61	0.60	0.58	0.58	0.54
Indiana (2015)
1.00	1.00	1.00	1.00	1.00	0.88	0.83	0.81	0.82	0.83	0.83	0.74	0.74	0.78	0.74	0.67	0.65	0.62
Mid-Atlantic (2012)
1.00	1.00	0.89	0.86	0.82	0.81	0.80	0.74	0.74	0.70	0.65	0.63	0.64	0.66	0.64	0.64	0.61	0.58
New England (2014)
0.96	0.92	0.92	0.85	0.85	0.83	0.74	0.82	0.77	0.73	0.71	0.69	0.66	0.66	0.65	0.65	0.64	0.65
North Carolina (2016)
1.00	1.00	0.86	0.75	0.78	0.70	0.60	0.64	0.71	0.65	0.73	0.80	0.73	0.71	0.68	0.68	0.66	0.67
Pacific Northwest (2014)
1.00	0.90	0.92	0.86	0.80	0.70	0.62	0.64	0.70	0.78	0.79	0.77	0.77	0.77	0.72	0.69	0.67	0.63
Peachtree (2016)
    	1.00	0.50	0.94	0.87	0.71	0.61	0.30	0.57	0.54	0.52	0.55	0.55	0.53	0.53	0.54	0.55	0.56
Israel (2017)
    	    	    	    	    	1.00	1.00	0.85	0.80	0.76	0.72	0.63	0.54	0.51	0.53	0.51	0.52	0.51
Ontario (2017)
1.00	1.00	1.00	0.90	0.90	0.72	0.69	0.63	0.58	0.53	0.49	0.52	0.54	0.43	0.55	0.55	0.55	0.53


It seems that switching to districts and getting more plays does not help team retention. Michigan is the only district that has seen a significant increase in retention since switching to districts, and that is most likely due to the grants. It seems that if we really want to influence team retention, we need to throw money at schools as fast as we can, and never stop.

Out of curiosity, what qualifies as an active team, one that registers or one that plays? Because according to both the FRC Ranking and TBA for MAR, there are only 120-121 teams.

To the main point though, this really puts it into perspective the lifespan of a FRC team.

Actually, what I’d like to know is if additional plays affect team sustainability.

In other words, do teams that go to a 2nd regional/district have a better chance of not going defunct?

It’s probably more likely that very sustainable teams are able to afford the extra events instead.

If you ignore Michigan in my post a little up the page, you’ll see that attending more events (ie districts) does not mean an increase in team retention. Toss Michigan into the mix, and it jumps out that team retention is related closer to financial stability than it is number of plays. Those teams that can afford to attend multiple regionals or sign up for additional district events are more likely to have that sort of financial stability. So there’s a correlation, I think, but not a causation between team retention and multiple events.

This is why I was questioning the direction of those relationships up above. We all would likely agree more plays is correlated with better performance but idk the cause of that.

I will stand by that performance plays a factor in retention (teams winning events don’t often fold) but again. Direction of that relationship is fuzzy.

I also have a hunch distribution of quality plays in too. Something something income disparity something something Bernie Sanders. Basically - teams that get blown out of the water are less sustainable than teams that have a fight chance. Again intuitively but not numerical. I haven’t found a good metric for “team competitiveness” other than my pet dynasty metric. And idk how good that is. But perhaps there’s a relation between perf metric Gini and retention.

Joining this late:
Most of this discussion has the wrong focus:
The switch to Districts won’t drive grown, and won’t drive retention on its own.
This whole thing is about Marketing, Customer Service, and Return On Investment.
People have choices; Participating in Robotics is a choice.
Why would you choose this over any other activity?
This is the key question to everyone who is a “customer” whether you are a student, mentor, parent, or school superintendent: ** “Why choose FIRST?”**

It all comes down to the perception of what is provided and at what costs.

  • Costs are time, effort, money, ( and frustration)
  • Benefits are learning, fun, teamwork, prestige, etc.
    Teams join due to perceived ROI, they stay due to actual ROI.

The actual growth in our case at FiM is due to a very active Customer Service approach and deliberate efforts to improve ROI.
Not all district regions behave this way, so results vary accordingly. Some regional areas exhibit some of these same traits, and are able to also demonstrate good growth and retention.

Overall, from a financial perspective, the district system has some very clear advantages in terms of participation per dollar.
This is important to many who are considering joining, so this does help with the initial sale, but will not result in sweeping changes on its own.
Most of the rest of the Non-financial ROI hinges on a combination of the local district management and field operations, and the competition experience provided by FIRST HQ.

What works for us is to build a relationship with the school districts we work with, be sensitive to their needs, work with them to solve problems and build networks, and provide an overall experience which they enjoy and want to do again and again. Basically we are building a community, and communities are key to all lasting human endeavors.
And, of course, millions of dollars of government money to offset the exorbitant registration fees also helps :).

Regarding ROI and team experience, has FIRST released the results of the end of year surveys broken down by district/regional model? Assuming more satisfied teams are more likely to return, I feel like those results were be very insightful in determining which model is best for team retention.

In my opinion, team retention is about keeping teams above a set of minimum levels such that they will sign up for the next year.

In the regional model, I think that roughly means:

  1. Funds to cover the entrance fee and the bare minimum of parts.
  2. A mentor
  3. 5 students
  4. A place to compete
  5. A place to build

I don’t know what that means in the district model but I suspect it is a bit higher due to attending 2 events.

It’s probably worth noting that there are a significant number of teams in MN that have more years in existence than elimination matches played. At both regionals we attended this year one of our alliance partners for elims was a 7th year team playing in their first eliminations.

This is true across FIRST. It’s staggering how many teams go for long stretches without playing in elims or winning awards.

Just for my curiosity, do you mind grabbing these numbers for the various districts? It would be interesting to see the age of teams, how many times they’ve made elims, last elims played, longest dry spell of elims, etc.

Would be neat to see. I consider more teams playing in elims at lower levels to be a big improvement for team experience.

This notion of collaborating with the school systems rather than pushing against them seems key to me. In NC, we’ve run into a lot of issues with schools who just don’t want to participate in FRC or make participation difficult… It seems to me that the teams or tentative-teams take this as a hostile act by “uncooperative school administrations” rather than as a communication challenge to be addressed and end up fleeing from the schools to form community based teams… these community based teams perpetuate the hostile relationship and on and on… it’s an awful cycle but it explains a lot of why NC has small growth. Some of these community teams just aren’t sustainable without the support of something like a school.

Granted, this is my take on it and not a data based analysis of the problem… it just seems to me that more nuanced discussions between the various camps are needed to truly drive sustainable growth.

I think team count is the wrong metric. More teams means we’re reaching more students, but it doesn’t mean we’re really inspiring more students.

I’ve seen year-after-year some teams come to an event without the ability to compete. They have a barely functioning drivetrain and they lose most of their matches because of it.

Those students don’t look inspired. Those teams look like a mentor or two trying to keep a team alive with a group of students who don’t care about FIRST or STEM or engineering.

What I like to see is that excited face when a team realizes they’ve made eliminations for the first time, when they see the results of some little engineering decision they made during the season pay off when it matters. That excitement when they win a match or climb the rope for the first time or get to play with the big dogs despite having a terrible schedule.

At a 65 team regional, only a third of teams at the event get to play in eliminations, and those teams also only get 8-9 qualification matches. Not getting selected for eliminations at a regional is probably the least inspiring thing that can happen in FIRST.

What districts do isn’t necessarily increase team retention, but it increases the teams that get to play in eliminations, it raises the floor of an area so more teams get more chances to be inspired.

tldr; It’s not about the number of teams, its about the experience of the students on those teams, and getting every student in FRC the kind of experience that many of us who keep coming back had.

I think there are several things we need to measure - team growth, population growth (total number of kids) and engagement. It has been depressing talking with young people in some competitions when asked about their role on the team say that they just “hung out”.