Rookie Entry Requirements Are Too Loose



Seriously, this whole topic is the elephant in the room.

It is common knowledge to anyone who has been around for a few years (including those in charge) that the current means of expansion is a mess.

They are able to come up with a new game every year and learn from past mistakes. There are major overhauls that can happen to make teams more sustainable. They can take all the data they want, but in the meantime, that elephant isn’t going anywhere.



If we break the original proposed requirements of the thread into a more general form, we have:
-Demonstrate familiarity with important knowledge resources (info, tools, forums, etc and having made contact with other teams that can help them)
-Minimum number of students
-Minimum budget & number of sponsors
-Deadline for these requirements to be met

We can quibble over what exactly the numbers and dates should be, but these generally seem reasonable to me. Out of the four, the $10k/3 big sponsors seems like the only one that might be a genuine barrier to teams that have a real shot at making it. I’d like to see some evidence that loss of sponsors is a major cause of team dissolution before implementing something like that.

The one big contributor that’s not on the list is mentors. “Conventional wisdom” a couple years ago (which I think still holds) was that the main reason most teams die out around 3-4 years is that they were mentored by parents who lost interest once their own kids graduated. There’s no easy checkbox-solution to this that we can require rookies to follow, but perhaps there’s something FIRST can do to work with these teams and make them more sustainable.

And the question remains: If a team exists for three years, does decently well at competitions, has lots of fun and inspires three years worth of kids, would it really be better for them to have never existed? I can see how a school or sponsor would be soured on FIRST after supporting a team that never competed, or barely scraped together a very poor robot once or twice before dissolving, but a short lifespan doesn’t necessarily mean a school or sponsor will perceive their investment as having been worthless.

I think a holistic application would be the best way of determining whether a prospective rookie team is prepared to participate. Last summer I met a student who wanted to start an FRC team at her school. She spent the summer trying to round up sponsors and mentors, with limited success - one teacher willing to mentor, and $850 in grants. We talked in detail about her goals and options, which included joining a local community team herself, joining that community team as a group and then branching off the following year, starting an FTC team, or forming a rookie FRC team and trying to bootstrap it somehow. In the end she decided to start an FTC team this year, and work on attracting more mentors and sponsors so that they can eventually move on to FRC. I think this was a smart move, not because of any one factor, but based on their whole situation. If a team has less than $10k, or no non-teacher mentors, or any other red flags, they should be required to demonstrate that they understand what it takes to complete a season and have a viable plan to overcome their barriers. And be gently redirected into other options if they don’t.


Thanks Nate. If we had FIRST Robotics in the UK, we’d probably still have the same budget minus the flights. My company, Bloomberg LP, would no doubt be in a position to sponsor another UK school in that case to a similar budget.

Really just wanted to point out that a minimum budget pre-requisite for FIRST would stop some schools from participating, this shouldn’t just be for schools lucky enough to have a large corporate sponsor. You can do a lot with a $100 budget for parts!

Also, as it seems relevant, although I am a mentor, I have acted as head coach for the team for 5 years.


Rather than dreaming up ways to keep teams and schools out… why not dream up ways to help them succeed?

I’ve got no problem having a team take a chance on this “FRC” thing, and walk away at the end of the year saying, “It wasn’t going to be sustainable for us, but the people were amazing, the competition was great, and we were helped at every step of the way.”

I’ve got no problem with a team showing up with a half-built kitbot and a bag of parts and saying, “Whoa… everyone just jumped in and helped us out and we got on the field and we scored a point.” – although in more developed FRC areas I’d have to wonder why someone wasn’t already doing that during build season.

And I’m very happy to say that while I admire and enjoy the great robots, I would have got bored of them long ago if it weren’t for the people. Welcoming, inviting, supportive people who understand that our goal here isn’t to build better robots… it’s to build better people.



I think Caleb’s analysis of how RAS teams fare vs rookies as a whole is that analysis (and note that if we compare non-RAS teams, the gap increases). Well prepared teams as evidenced from the RAS have a higher success rate. I think supporters of this thesis are pretty clear–sustaining current teams needs to a prime objective of FIRST and is included in it 5 pillars. I’m not sure what other evidence that you might be looking for.

As for the thesis, the question is whether more students are reached through team expansion with a high attrition rate, or through sustaining current teams at a much higher rate. I think someone could take a crack at making that calculation and determining the breakeven point at which sustaining teams surpasses expanding teams.


Education institutions are risk averse. Most FRC teams are attached to such institutions. If those schools see that a program has failed after 3 years, given that they probably know little about the internal dynamics of that program, they will attribute a failed program not worth investing in the future. So they will be much less supportive of starting another FRC team in the future, meaning many future students will not have an opportunity to participate in FRC.

Supporting this view is that we see few new teams started up where teams existed previously. Yes, there are anecdotes, (e.g., 199 and 299 in the Bay Area) but they are a tiny percentage of the failed teams.


I guess I’m not entirely convinced that schools see a program ending as a program failing, although you may have more experience dealing with schools. If a team competed for a couple years with moderate success and then disbanded because the teacher who was running it had a baby and didn’t have time to coach anymore (for example), and a couple years later a different teacher wants to take up the mantle, would a school really say, “no, that program failed in the past”? Especially if all the team is asking for is permission to meet and a classroom to use outside of school hours? I just think this thread is over-equating teams with short lifespans with teams who struggle desperately during the season and bomb at competitions.

There could be other reasons we don’t see new teams starting where old teams have disbanded. Perhaps the issues that caused the original team to disband still exist (battling with the administration, liability issues, lack of non-parent mentors, etc).


It very much depends on your frame of reference. It sounds like you are a school based team, which likely means you get a design space, a build space, and access to shop tools for free. For example, we are a community based team. We have had to buy all our stuff, plus deal with space issues. There is absolutely zero chance we could function on entry fee + $1000.

I am amazed you can build a robot for $1000. We can’t and I thought we built fairly cheap robots, without much prefabbed stuff. Just going with the metal costs we have close to $1000 in each robot.


What percentage? If you have data, I would very much like to see it.


I will begin by pointing out the Sean is consistently supportive of what comes from FIRST HQ and quite conservative in any changes proposed to the existing program. (And I’m sure that he can characterize my general approach given our frequent encounters here.)

I’ll answer some of these assumptions, because in some cases there’s more to back them up than stated in Sean’s post:

  • In the West, few teams start from FTC or VRC teams, and most just simply cease to exist. I base this on talking with rookies at each of our competitions (and others in California) and following what has happened to teams that disappear from talking with mentors.
  • I don’t think any of us has said that FTC is equally effective as FRC. If that was the case, we wouldn’t be in FRC! What we are saying is that having a sustained FTC team will given a STEM experience to a greater number of students over an extended period of time than an FRC team fails within a couple of years. That would appear to be mathematically true. It’s also true that rookie teams that form from FTC teams appear to be much more successful initially and sustainable eventually. I think the one interesting stat that we haven’t seen is how many of the RAS teams were FTC initially.
  • Folded teams rarely reform. The % is tiny compared to the failed teams. The data is overwhelming on this point. It’s not that they “can’t”; it’s that they “don’t.”
  • You specifically argued AGAINST my earlier presumption that students could join FRC teams at other schools! Which is it?
  • Yes, growing independent of the core student group is the definition of sustainability. See my other post about determining which approach is more likely to impact more students–growing indiscriminately, or growing with sustainability requirements.
  • See my other posts explaining how failed teams impact acceptability of proposed FRC teams. I’ll put forward as part of my qualifications on this statement that I’ve known all of the school board members in my district for the last decade, that I know the top 5 administrators in my district, that I’ve known the last 3 county school superintendents. In addition, I’ve been on 5 city commissions and task forces and 1 county commission. I also work on state policy issues. I think I have an intimate knowledge of how public agency managers make decisions.

As to 330, we consider them a success because their sustained operation inspired many other local teams to form, including a number of very successful community teams. Southern California has many more community teams than Northern California for this reason. I would say that their mission is complete for that reason, and they can choose to quit or go forward for their own internal reasons knowing their legacy is amazing. It’s just like someone retiring at the end of their career. Do we consider them a success or failure for retiring?


See my other longer replies above. Few teams stop because a mentor is just stepping away for a while. It’s usually from exhaustion.


I think that’s your empirical burden. You’re the one who made the assertion that teams can reform, and then said we need for data. If you go through TBA you can find those teams. I know in California that it’s less than a dozen, and probably only half a dozen.



I just don’t choose to join dogpiles when my opinion goes along with the groupthink, and do chose to speak up when opinions outside the CD groupthink are being overlooked. I also don’t see the ad naseum complaints in some threads as productive.


You just asserted that it’s a “tiny percentage.” If you don’t have actual data to support that, it’s essentially a lie.


Understand how you are perceived. I have yet to see you do otherwise.


I would say Sean is against discussing solutions before a problem is properly identified. In other words, he advocates doing some engineering. I don’t understand why that has become so controversial.


@Citrus_Dad you’ve made multiple references to “the data” in your posts. Please share your data or stop referencing it.


I just gave you my data for California. I’m a volunteer and I’m not going to spend my time giving you more exact statistics just because you want to be arrogant. You know that my statement is true as do the others in this thread. But you’re the one who made the initial claim. Again, it’s your burden, not mine.


Which reference? I referenced back to Caleb’s data, and I laid out the analysis on sustainability vs start ups that should be done.