Alright gang, the time has almost come for kickoff and I’m as interested and excited as the rest of the community. I’m also concerned for my own team and others. As we ready for the upcoming season, let’s all keep a few things in mind:
- It’s not about the robots, or the awards, or what most of our culture values these days.
- It is about changed lives (students and mentors), spreading the message to others (and remember what we do is much more important than what we say), and ultimately having a positive impact on our future.
- How you behave will always outweigh any perceived wrongdoing by others.
- The more “successful” your team becomes, the more you need to stress the real meaning of success as it relates to the true purposes of our programs.
- This is not a dress rehearsal. Some things you can’t take back or do over. Make as many mistakes with the robot or on the playing field as you like. They are great learning experiences. Let’s not make any critical mistakes with relationships and people. Just because you will work harder than you ever have before in your life doesn’t mean you ever get a free pass on acting poorly.
So, here is why I’m concerned. Every year FIRST programs grow it leads to more people in FIRST from mainstream culture, which is a good thing, but… the higher the percentage of “mainstreamers” we have the more we need to politely and persistently provide models of how and why FIRST culture is different. Whether we like it or not, our mainstream culture values winning, trophies, being better than others, and looking for someone/somewhere to place blame when we don’t win. Sad but true, it’s a very materialistic and individualistic world in North America and elsewhere these days. Please know that this is the very thing we, and I MEAN ALL OF US, are supposed to be actively changing.
However, every year that goes by I’ve been in FIRST, I see more of those crappy mainstream behaviors, often in public. Now, if you subscribe to the “Kressly Mainstreamers Theory,” this is to be expected. However, this also means it must also be addressed. I propose that pointing out the shortcomings of others is not the way to go. We need more positive models and better decision making as individuals than before, using a model something like this.
This brings me to my case study on why we all need to pay close attention to this every year. We’ll look specifically at Dawgma and my concerns for it. Two years ago we were Rookie All Stars. This is year three for the team in FIRST. Last year we made it to the Galileo Semis and were a design award winner in Philadelphia. Part of our crew also was fortunate to win an FVC event and an Inspire award on the same day last year. This crew also went to Atlanta and won all of its matches.
These “wins” brought about a tremendous amount of attention from the school district, newspapers, and local television. These mainstream thinkers all wanted to know more about us because we had trophies, but we were able to use the opportunities to get our deeper message across each time. However, this year, the expectations to “win” are at an all-time high among the students. We are about to compete with two FTC teams in January and are scheduled once again for the FRC regional in Philly this March.
I spoke to my team about it more than once already and I will again, but I also challenge all members of Dawgma right here to remember what their real responsibility is, especially in public. I implore, that even during the heated moment of battle or when you are working your butts off in the lab, that everyone can look to the outreach efforts, the learning, the changed individual lives, and the community building more than you focus on winning. I hate seeing red-faced team members arguing with event folks, referees, and each other when they don’t win. Even if they are “right” look at the individual example you are promoting. If I want to see that, I’ll watch ESPN or go to a local little league field. Let’s agree to end the spread of this infection at and after our events.
I told one of our veteran students that I spent a lot of time this past summer considering the idea of starting out this school year by running all of our FIRST trophies through a bandsaw and throwing them out in front of everyone (no joke, I really did think a lot about it). She almost got sick right in front of me. When I explained why, she understood. Our trophies need to be symbols of changed lives and communities and team members need to understand that the “winning” part will attract outside attention, but we inside the organization must always know what they truly stand for and must be ready to celebrate and spread that part of the message.
Let’s expect to work hard (really, really hard), learn, and grow. Let’s not expect to win trophies or Newspaper/TV appearances. If they happen, fine, but when they don’t (especially if you’re used to winning these things in the past) be ready to celebrate the real reason we all do this. I’m expecting the Dawgma team members who read this to share it with others on the team and I’m expecting others to share it with their teams as well.
Happy Holidays and have a great year. Namaste.