Required Shop Hours

Hi all, my team (4918 Roboctopi) is the only FRC team in a very small town, and historically we’ve had a very tiny team in comparison to who we compete against. Because of this we have been very flexible with our team members as far as shop hours go, we haven’t had an hourly requirement before. We understand that people have other things to do in there lives and we didn’t want to pressure our members.

However, this past season we had more members than ever, about 20 students registered and maybe 10 regulars in the shop (i know, really small). At first we were very excited about our new members but we soon realized that some people may be abusing their space on the team. Here’s what I mean; They wouldn’t show up during build season for weeks at a time, and when/if they would they were only at the shop for about an hour at a time and would do small tasks such as sorting screws or cleaning, not anything super relevant to the progression of the robot and team. These few students would then expect that we pay for them to go to competition, which we do for all of our members.

Since we are such a small team and money is tight its becoming harder and harder for us to justify paying for them to come to competition, especially when they just come to sit in the stands and watch. All there food, logging, travel etc. My question is this, how do you guys or your teams decide who goes to competition, and if it is an hour requirement is it done by day, week, or the entirety of build season? How did you decide on that?

Obviously things are going to be different this year but I would truly appreciate some input on this matter. Thank you all so much. Stay safe.

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We do it by hours over build season (with exceptions), and have a 60-80 hour requirement (I don’t remember the exact number). We also have every member pay for travel, with financial aid if necessary, though we’re in a well off area. In general, if someone doesn’t meet the hours requirement, it’s usually because they stopped showing up of their own choice, so it isn’t really an issue – by setting the expectation that members have to be engaged and committed to be on the team, we don’t really get people who don’t show up and then expect to be treated as other members, so it acts as a good “barrier to entry” so to speak (we haven’t had to enforce it yet over two seasons).

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Historically, my team has had most members pay for their own competitions, but has offered to pay in full for any members who need help paying for competition (of course this is done confidentially with a mentor).
We don’t have a formal “hours requirement,” but we haven’t had any problem with people abusing the system. My understanding is each year 2-3 members (out of ~15) have had their trips paid for, and no one has been turned down.
I suppose the point of this anecdote is that many members may be willing/able to pay for team travel, and it doesn’t hurt to ask them to pay for trips if the team is tight on money (of course this should be anonymous so no one is embarrassed by not being able to pay).

I’d say an hours requirement is a very fair way to limit who can get their trips paid for by the team if you are short on money.

Another idea is to have a policy where students can apply money they fundraise for the team towards covering their travel costs. This might get more people involved in the business/fundraising side of the team, and would likely net the team some money (as some people would fundraise more than their trip costs).
Of course, grants can be a bit hit-or-miss, and many depend on networking through parents, so you may want to have a system where people automatically get their trips paid for as long as they fill out 1-2 grant requests, or attend x outreach events, or another fundraising-related criteria.

Good luck figuring out a travel policy!

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Our teams are also from a very small town. Yeah I said teams plural we have two from the same high school one is all male one is all female. You will always have some very part-time students. The ones that rarely show up don’t often gain a knowledge base enough to have real meaningful contributions to the team. The way we work it is our students track their hours by clocking in and out. The top four hr. Earners for each team will automatically be able to attend events as long as they meet school eligibility requirements. With these eight students and mentors we go through a decision matrix to select up to four more students per team. This will be our final roster to attend our regional event. This process is all laid out in our handbook so the students are aware from the beginning.

My recommendation would be that if your team is giving away free stuff (like trips, food, spiritwear, etc) then you need some minimum requirements for being a team member and getting those benefits.

My high school team was about the same size as yours and had very lax (if any) requirements for being a team member. There were a handful of students who showed up to the majority of meetings, did most of the work, and learned the most from being on the team. There were also students who showed up a few times a month, sorted bolts or whatever, got very little from their experience, and stuck it on their college application. We chose not to place limits and allow those students to consider themselves team members because even partial participation might spark an interest to learn more. Everyone was invited to competition, even non-team-member students. But we also ran a very slim budget where everyone paid for their own trips, food, team clothes, etc. so there were no major downsides for us to allowing those kids to join.

My current team, on the other hand, is a good bit bigger (~35 students) and has much stricter membership requirements. To be considered a member there are attendance, volunteer, fundraising, summer training, and parent volunteering requirements, among others. Before we start the season there is a meeting with all students and parents to make sure everyone understands what they’re committing to so no one ends up dropping out halfway through the season. But in return for membership, students get transportation and lodging at domestic events, (somewhat) free food every night, plenty of excused absences from classes, and some free spirit wear. And with the larger team size, this way we can guarantee that there will be enough mentors to teach the students properly.

Neither solution is necessarily better than the other; it’s up to your team to decide what makes sense in your situation. But you probably do want to make sure that no one is putting in minimal effort and getting a “free lunch”.

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I think implementing some minimum requirements is completely reasonable.

It can also be tough though, because sometimes if you have a bit more knowledge about a students personal situation, it may make sense to excuse those requirements. Maybe going to competition will really make them excited and engaged next year, maybe there are problems at home, etc. However, it’s unlikely that half the team is like that…

For us, we’re similar to others that we expect for everyone to pay for their hotel, transportation, and food as the default, but then will pay for any students that need it. If a student needs a scholarship to pay for the costs associated with competition, I usually have them write a 1 page paper on a topic that I think will be beneficial for them, and I typically default to a couple of paragraphs about how they’ve benefitted from our team and/or how they feel they’ve contributed - even if they’re a student leader. I figure that helps them organize their thoughts for college resumes/scholarship applications later. Depending on the team/area - it may not be reasonable to default to everyone pays for themselves.

We also usually tried to hold a fundraiser where students can use any funds they raised to pay for competitions. Like a raffle, or pre-sale tickets to a car-wash, etc. If they aren’t attempting to raise any funds, that can also be an indicated that they don’t actually have a desire to go to competition.

EDIT: Forgot to add that we do use an attendance tracker as a first pass of determining travel team. For our local competition we try to take everyone who put in a reasonable amount of effort (showing up for enough hours equivalent to All Saturdays + 1 more meeting a week type deal). This runs on a pi and people sign in/sign out at the door. The hours aren’t hard and fast though, in any given year we’ve either not taken someone that has “enough hours” because they were unfocused or a distraction at meetings, or taken someone that didn’t have “enough hours” because we know they were putting in time outside of meetings and/or they were sick for an extended period of time but show dedication when not sick, etc.

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On 6672 we don’t do it by the number of hours, but decisions of who gets to go to competition are based on how much time they put in and how much value they add to the overall team. Luckily in 2019 we were able to take anyone who wanted to go, but in 2018 there were some decisions of who got to go to competition that came down to who put in more effort. We try to instill in team members the idea that what they put into the program, they will get out of it. Luckily, as a team leader I have not had to make these types of decisions, but if the situation arises I imagine we would have a lengthy discussion with team leadership and mentors and try to either find a way to bring everybody, or decide who is most deserving based on merit.

If you think that tracking hours is a way that will help your team make that decision, then I think you should go for it. Just be cognizant of two things: first, the quality of hours is very different between team members. Some people come to all of the meetings but don’t add as much value as someone who may only be able to make it half of the time. Second, many people on our team spend tons of hours outside of meetings solving problems and researching. Of course, the people doing this are normally high up enough on the team that there is no question of how much they add, but just remember that sometimes work goes unnoticed because it happens outside of the meetings. I personally put in around 40% of my hours outside of meetings (average 30 hours a week during build season). Because of these types of abnormalities that make pure number of hours not as powerful of a metric, I would suggest to incorporate it into the considerations, but not make it the only thing that determines the outcomes. Good luck!

We tried having an hours requirement last year (60% to go to local competition, 75% to travel). We also allowed exceptions for students who couldn’t meet the requirement due to health reasons, sports, transportation difficulty, etc as long as they came and talked to us about it and were focused and working hard when they were there.

It was good in that it got a much higher number of new members to take the team seriously and show up consistently. I think we set the bar a little too high, because only a handful of kids were able to hit it and we had to make a lot of exceptions, so we may change the % or create some opportunity to make up hours, but I think we’ll definitely keep the requirement in some form.

We also don’t pay for travel for everyone on the team. This year we only brought 17 kids to Utah (out of 31 kids who showed up at least once during build season, almost everyone who was still showing up by the end got to travel, with only a few exceptions (including a few freshmen whose parents didn’t want them to go)). Of the students who were selected for the travel team, we send home an envelope with a slip of paper letting parents know the cost of the trip, and the parents send back a check for as much as they can afford, and the team pays the difference. We never turn anyone away because they can’t pay, but this method allows us to collect some funds from the families who can afford it.

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I have mixed opinions on hours requirements. We’ve been tracking hours pretty well for 2 years and we’re still not sure if we want to use them as a “requirement”. We’re a mid-sized team right now where we ought to travel 20-24 students roughly (that’s 5-6 hotel rooms) so we use the hours as a data point when we make decisions. We also post hours every week on our slack channel and hype up the kids who are putting in the time and effort. The caveat with our time is that a mentor signs off on the student time every night --so these aren’t kids just sitting around doing nothing.

In terms of travel or missing school Usually 15-20 spots are no-brainers and we spend almost all of our time around the last couple of spots we talk a lot about behavior, effort, hours, future potential (are there spring athletes with less hours we think will convert to FRC full-time the following season), etc…

We’ve started charging everybody for travel now as well. We do subsidize hotels and food if we’re going to an expensive city. But, we also charged the airfare for our trip (that never happened) to Memphis this season and that weeded out quite a few people I don’t think we wanted to bring anyways.

We have an extremely small team (2-3 mentors, ~10 students) and we’ve moved to a 3 strikes you’re out system.
If you’re going to miss a meeting then you must e-mail the coach in advance (we don’t care the reason: just don’t feel like it today? Fine, just tell us). Failure to do that 3 times and you’re off the team, everyone who is still on the team goes to competition (it does help that all our districts are close enough that we don’t get hotels and everyone fits in a single bus).

At least while I was with the team, 3946 always had a minimum number of hours participation to go to competitions on school days, typically about half of the “regular time” shop events plus a couple of outreach events and some fund raising or at least documented fund raising attempts. If we had more qualified by hours than the school would allow, we’d prioritize based on what you would be doing at competition (drive team, pits, chairman’s and scout lead were solid, then add in more scouts and spirit and alternates!) Bayou was a day trip, so expenses were minor. For the few remote events (so far just 2015 CMP, 2019 Arkansas, and 2019 CMP), students were expected to raise or pay the bulk of their travel expenses.

Our team members only expense to travel is a $20 deposit per student that ends up paying for your lunch during competitions. Yo prevent students from doing nothing and then requesting a spot on the bus, we have a minimum hours requirement that must be met 2 weeks before the event. I don’t have that number off the top of my head but I think it’s around 150 hours since last august when off season started. If a student is below that threshold before the deadline a mentor will talk to them about how we can get those hours up or meet a compromise. It’s important to keep in mind that not all students may be able to make it to all meetings which is why it isn’t really a hard cutoff. Students can also get hours by fundraising

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We still focus on a 6-week build season and in order to travel to competitions with the team, students must put in 40 hours of work during those 6 weeks. That is a pretty easy goal to meet so we also require students to participate in at least one fundraiser, one speaking engagement, and one volunteer opportunity to travel with us to competitions. Most of our kids have no problem meeting these goals.

OP our team is about the same size as yours and there’s been some very “casual” members. We don’t travel very far for comps (about 20 mins away from school), but we will actively “kick off” members who we don’t think are pulling their fair share of the weight, after appropriate cautions and warnings are given ofc.

I’d suggest letting your team know a number “recommended hours”. It need not be hard and fast, but it would set clear expectations while allowing for discretion on the part of your mentors to factor other things in (like for example if a particularly enthusiastic students can’t make many hours because of family or health problems, they shouldn’t be barred from going to comp). Your mentors should have the final say on who gets what. This creates some potential for things to go wrong (accusations of bias etc), but most people will be honest enough to recognise whether they’ve done enough so long as the expectation is clear.

I formerly mentored 41, and they had an hour requirement also. There were about 100 students on the roster, so a fairly large team. The size and also the school administration necessitated a need for some metric to limit the number of kids going. The school didn’t want that many students missing class. and it was quite a burden bringing that many kids to competition.

41 had a tiered system, 50 hours lets you come to district events, 75 for DCMP, and 90 for championships. Additionally you had to do a minimum of 8 hours per week, as its somewhat difficult to drop into the team if you missed the first 2 weeks of build season. For Champs we could only take 25 kids, so you had to also be in the top 25 for hours. Exceptions were made for reasonable reasons, just had to talk to us.

There was some friendly competition to see who had the most hours and such, but this also led to some un-engaged students staying. The room isn’t that big, so having 10 extra bodies really does impact productivity. I also felt that this pushed some freshmen and sophomores away from even trying robotics. I did bring up my concerns to the coaches, but we didn’t quite see eye to eye on that.

(1) We have membership dues, which tends to reduce (but not eliminate) that problem.

(2) It’s not surprising that somebody who doesn’t show up isn’t going to be all that useful. You have to be there to know what’s going on, you don’t know what to do unless you know what’s going on. Further, if you have a habit of not showing up much, then people have probably planned assuming you’re not going to be there.

(3) I wouldn’t put a ‘hard’ system in place with numbers and so on. Instead, I’d start off the season with "Going to competitions is a privilege. If you want that privilege, you have to earn it by showing up and being involved. We understand that you have school, so we’re not expecting you to be here constantly. But, if you’re almost never here, or if you are here but are constantly screwing around and not contributing, then you’re probably not going to go to a competition. Then, half the way through, if somebody isn’t following through, I’d remind them of that and tell them that they’re at risk of not going.

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We have recommend minimum commitment to travel with the team, which includes recommended hours. Our students do not pay anything to join the team or travel with the team. Students come from such a diverse economic background that it’s hard to make a payment system that’s fair and the school covers most of the cost of travel so we explain that students can “pay for” their travel with their dedication and hard work. Everyone is expected to try to put in more than they take out.

Our hours expectations are a guideline for students to measure themselves against, but we make it very clear that we happily and easily make exceptions. Students who might have to work or watch siblings, as long as they communicate the situation, are not held to the same hours levels. As long as they contribute when they attend and they attend consistently (in small amounts) that’s an easy exception for me to argue for.

Our team varies from about 20 - 35 students, with a solid 10-15 putting in above and beyond the recommended minimum hours.

One thing about what you said that struck me:

I think sorting bolts etc, is a good safe thing for someone to do when they don’t know where to start or how to take on something bigger/more critical. As a mentors it’s a hard balance between wanting everyone to learn how to be self-starters and knowing we have to do more to make an open, accepting, and approachable challenge for everyone on the team.

I do think explaining the cost to the team for each member who travels is a good move, and setting some benchmark hours/behaviors which earn you the right to travel with the team will provide transparency for all the members. Both are great moves, but as other have said there is much more than strict hours that goes into figuring out who travels for most teams.

And the second point is to make sure your program has approachable and productive jobs lined up so that people who don’t come as often know when and where their help is needed most.

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We usually work from 1630 to 2030 on weekdays and 0900 to 1700 on Saturday
No Dues
We require at least 48 hours of work to go to any competition.

We track hours, with a target for attendance, and have a GPA requirement. The roster for competition generally reflects 100% of our top contributors, plus some of the members with fewer hours but strong contributions (vouched for by mentors or students). Relatively informal, works for a team of (nominal 24 / 12-16 traveling)