Rookie Essentials

So we are waiting on our grant to be approved but right now we are moving forward with the knowledge that we will be getting it approved. That being said we budgeted for 6 new FRC teams, now comes the reason for the post whats some essentials for a rookie I know its really changed over the years. Some rookies end up better robots than most teams but that is also due to mentor-ship and availability of supplies, we have been blessed with CNC mills, a water-jet sponsor, as well experienced mentors for these new teams. Is there anything we really need to help make this next season a success for these six teams. All the rookies will be get their pick of any kit chassis in our CAD vault ranging from swerve to WCD and that pesky vectored intake wheel drive some people use. Any more advice will be greatly appreciated.

These will be new teams in Southern Arizona region and are apart of the Robotics Alliance of Southern Arizona.

From your post it seems like the teams are well on their way but each team should have the ability to define success for themselves in the upcoming season. Success for a rookie team has a wide range. As an example, our rookie group set out to qualify for District Champs as well as setting some award, robot, and individual growth goals.

Just as an FYI, rookies were not allowed to opt out of the KOP Chassis from Andymark in 2017.

Having a resource of other teams to stop by is a huge help. I know this year I had a few mentors/students from other teams stop by to give a hand during build days. Also, having someone trained as a Robot Inspector to stop on by was a huge help. Making sure to have all the big issues covered.

I have to echo Michael on this. Each rookie team needs to set a goal. Our goal was to simply compete. We had no resources, no experience, a mentor that had no experience in engineering, and no tools. Our goal was set very low because of this. Everything we accomplished after successfully completing our first match (which we lost) was just part of our victory lap. Turns our our victory lap included a top 10 finish in Idaho, winning 4 awards and finishing 23rd in Newton at champs. We tried our best and that was the what was important to us. The achievements and awards were simply a bonus.

One suggestion I can add is that you need to find out what each team does the best and build your robot around that skill. Each team should have at least 1 kids who is very good at something that can be applied to the robot. I can imagine that it may be difficult to find that 1 skill at times, but there will be something that each team will be good at and it should serve as the foundation for the robot. Our team was good at welding steel. We ended up welding together a steel robot (that thing shook the airship with each loaded gear) that was still fairly lightweight (103 pounds) and very robust.

Another suggestion I have is to respect the community values for the community the team originates from. I am not sure if the teams you are establishing are culturally the same as your culture. If they are then disregard this suggestion. If they are not, take extra care to be knowledgeable and respectful of their culture. This can be surprisingly difficult. This season there were a few instances where mentors from other teams upset the kids on my team through ignorance. This rarely happens from kids from other teams (only happened once and that one was from both mentors and kids from that team which will go unnamed).

My final suggestion will be to ensure that the kids have full ownership of their machine. Every inch of the robot needs to be built by the kids. The kids need to feel that the robot is 100% their creation. Even though other teams helped with aspects of our robot (4 teams had a hand in perfecting our climber at champs.) the kids knew they were in total control and could have vetoed any suggestion made by another team. They also did most of the work themselves with those suggestions. We did not accept any cheesecake this season, but if we did it would have been a kid only decision and would have had to be unanimous.

Now, the students having ownership doesn’t exactly mean they manufacture every single last part. We had a part this year (our shooter) that had sides made of carefully cut plywood. The part was cut by a mentor because of the precision needed, but I was the one who designed it and printed out a paper drawing for him to follow. I still feel that I made that part because I designed it.

In essence, if there is a part a student designed that requires a lot of precision, maybe have a mentor cut it while showing the student how they are cutting it. But if you have CNC machines, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Exactly! You designed it. You made the template. Hopefully the mentor did show you how to cut the wood so that you now know how to do the precision cutting.

I know our team is lucky in that we have a kid who will be a master welder by the time he turns 20 (his current project is to build a 20 foot by 40 foot stage for our graduation ceremony) and a pair of wood artists who carve wood for fun.

I would strongly suggest that this be discussed with the established teams in your area up front. I would also strongly suggest that this be a multi-year relationship. There is much more to having a successful and sustainable FRC team than knowing how to assemble the kit.

I have worked with several post-rookie teams that struggled due to organizational and fundraising issues because they never had a long-term relationship with a successful established team to learn from. Unfortunately, by the time I joined those teams, they had been running for some time so they thought they knew how best to do things and were not very open to asking for outside help. It is also very possible that the recent memory of winning Rookie All Star gave the team members and mentors on these two teams the impression that they knew how to run a successful and sustainable FRC team.

The biggest thing is not starting a rookie team, but starting a sustainable rookie team. I hope that your grant money is enough to cover a few years.

So part of your essentials is starting a business/fundraising plan on day 1 to get them to be sustainable.

So sustainability is the key we have had veteran teams start rookie in our area before then just drop them after the first season. Because I am the Director of the nonprofit these teams will always have someone there I don’t like to spend money and not be there to help out. Our grants do come with stipulations they will be covered the first two years with regional fees for one regional but they have to show they are “in it to win it”, by having them fund their second regional and half of Championships. After their second year they present their business and branding plan to gain more funds going forward from the nonprofit but they will also need to cover 60% at least of the cumulative team fees so they don’t get complacent and they know that they have a stake in everything.

As for established teams in the area they will be given workshops by current Robotics Alliance of Southern Arizona(RASA) teams, they range from chairmans to effective strategy and design. All kids are trained on all the machines we have except for the Waterjet as it is from an offsite company, but they will learn how to take their CAD and arrange everything so that your parts are in the correct format to be sent to the waterjet sponsor. We do know the KOP chassis is not available to opt out of and that’s fine it is one of the Chassis’ available for them to choose from.

We do have friends of that hold jobs with FIRST (FTAs,CSA,LRI) so they will be inspected as they build so that they don’t make the common mistakes some rookies and even veterans make because of oversite.

They do have alot of “toys” available to them because we have built up our veteran program so much. That being said the veteran program (1828,4841,5207) will also start as peers of the new teams, and it is their jobs to make sure the new programs grow. We do have a new Engineering process that all teams will follow that we haven’t done in the past, starting with CAD then going to Lasercut Wood then finalizing with metal.

We are very excited for this and its been something we have been working to over the past few years, we did a dry run with the VRC programs in the area and made 10 new teams last year that joined the 7 current teams, it was a success in everyone’s eyes and we feel comfortable bringing it the FRC level.

Looks like you are pretty prepared them. Just make sure to remind the team that on-field competitive performance != successful team. Usually the on-field attributes follow the teams that are successful but not always. You, and the others surrounding this project, seem to understand that. But it does tend to get lost in the weeds a bit.