Scouting Help: Unhappy Scouters

I had a lot of issues early in the season with having only a few people willing to scout (the collective made it so we only needed 2-3 people at a time for shifts of 6 matches) and I had a lot of people complaining to mentors they had to scout matches. It’s now mandatory on my team. Does anyone have any good ways to make scouting more fun? We use an app for it so its rather easy. No entering data into a sheet.

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Recommended reading: Your scouts hate scouting and your data is bad: Here's why

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My team has three main strategies for keeping scouters happy: short shifts, friends, and music. My scouters only scout for 10 matches or 1 hour at a time, and we set at least one other scouting shift break between each person’s shift. I also send out a form asking who everybody’s friends are, and schedule them together. That way, they have friends to talk to while scouting, and aren’t being distracted while scouting. And, I let them listen to their own music, which helps them focus. Other things I would like to try to implement are rewards for good data, like later curfews. One last thing you could do is explain to your team just how valuable scouting is to your success. That made my teammates shut up about it.

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Good points above. I think the key is establishing that scouting is valued and desirable, and making sure that sentiment is expressed, is real (and not ironic) and that everybody feels scouting is important, not just the proponents of scouting.

What does that mean? It means your drive team and pit crew don’t treat their positions as superior to scouting. Scouting shouldn’t be the consolation prize for not making the cut for a “better” position. It should not be a punishment or banishment.

It means you need to be willing to put some resources into your scouting team. You got the drive team a nice laptop, nice controllers, a tricked out driver station console, a fancy robot cart. The pit crew has all manner of fun tools to play with. What does your scouting team get? Maybe some cushioned stadium seats? Team-themed clipboards? A collection of nice Android tablets? A portable printer? Special shirts or lanyards? Be willing to invest in their needs and show (and sow) pride in scouting as much as you would any other subteam.

It means your drive coach needs to solicit advice from, and listen to, the observations and strategies collected by your scouting team. Scouts need to know that their data is useful now, in the next match, not just being collected and saved for later in hopes of being in a picking position.

And on that note: you need to plan to be in a picking position. If you’re a team who always seems to be in the tail end of qualification rankings and doesn’t have a history of making it onto an elims alliance, then it is understandable that your scouts could feel like “but what’s the point”. So as a team, figure out a way to change your luck. Do you rank poorly because you always show up to your event with an unfinished and buggy robot? Then maybe you need to scale back your goals. Agree to build a simpler robot, get it done early, spend time practicing with it. Watch Karthik’s presentations on strategic design – as a bonus he also talks a lot about the importance of scouting.

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The bottom line is scouting is not fun. Think of scouting as the offensive line in football, they arn’t going to make any fancy plays, but everyone can tell when they don’t do their job. The thing is that a strong offensive line will make the rest of team’s jobs so much easier and allow them to make amazing plays, the same goes for scouting, when there is a strong scouting team it allows for the rest of the team’s jobs to be easy and can make the flashy plays. When someone is new to watching football, the linemen are overlooked and the quarterback, running backs, and wide receivers get all the attention, but once you understand how the game works it is obvious that those players would not get anything done if they don’t have a strong line to set everything up for them. This is what your scouters need to understand, they arnt going to make the flashy plays but without them, neither can the drivers. They are the backbone, it is important to make sure they know this or else they feel like they are riding the bench when they have been in the game the whole time.

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Oh, also have driveteam scout sometimes between matches, it’ll encourage the others to see everyone is doing it.

A few things 342 had done to make scouting more important to the team.

  1. The scouting captain is part of the team’s student leadership and is selected via application/interviews.
  2. We use 30-45 minute shifts, depending if we have 2 or 3 squads scouting. Each squad has 6 scouts (1 scout per robot) and a data entry. We’re “Old School” with paper scouting sheets.
  3. The Friday night pick list meeting starts with all of the scouts present, each gives their top pick from what they’ve seen (the hard to qualify attributes… good defense, good cooperation, etc. ).
  4. After each regional the team manager/ lead mentor thanks each sub- team, making a special note of the importance of scouting.
    Scouting isn’t fun, but we’ve seen the alliance leader trying to make a choice, but had no idea who to pick because of bad or no data.

There are ways to try to make scouting more fun. Start by asking your scouts why they feel it isn’t fun, and see if you can’t address their concerns.

Maybe they feel like they’re chained to their seats for hours on end with no escape. So you could shorten their shifts and try to assign more scouts than needed so they can spell each other off for bathroom breaks or to go get food or just to stretch.

Maybe they feel like it’s tedious or error prone entering data into scouting forms. So maybe you can find ways to simplify. Maybe you’re collecting data that you don’t actually use, so you could remove it from the sheets. Maybe you could pair up scouters so one calls out observations and the other writes them down. Perhaps you could set up an electronic scouting app so the students are poking buttons in an app rather than writing stuff down on paper.

Let them have some control over how they run their section. Maybe they can dress up in some way to distinguish scouts from other “regular” team members. Maybe they have a special stash of scouts-only food and snacks. Maybe you give them preferential seating on the bus so they can work and talk together. Maybe they get special dispensation when it comes to curfews. Give them perks.

6844 has a presentation we go through (includes parts of @Karthik’s seminar) each year. You have to teach the why if you want buy-in. To help achieve this, we also go through some case studies:

  • 2056 picking 1114 in Archimedes 2012 (look at the rankings - if you didn’t have stats, that wouldn’t have made sense).
  • 1678 scorching on 2013 Curie.
  • After this year, we will probably include a case on why 3230 picked 3245 as their first pick at the 2019 Utah Regional. And maybe 195 picking 1073.

We had no issues with scouting after this training. In fact, I told scouts that they could stop for playoffs - but they insisted they continue scouting.

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Vouching for these guys on the scouting front. Very effective data collection. We used our scouting data to select 6844 in Utah, and then 6844’s scouting data to find 3006.

Regarding your examples, I’m pretty sure 2056’s scouting data is a static document that says “1114” at the top.
image

This year we tried splitting scouting up between 2102 and 4738. At any given time our scouts were watching one alliance while 4738’s watched the other. Lessening the workload was beneficial for scout morale, but it also meant that we couldn’t always ask a scout about a specific team or match because they weren’t on our team. Giving perks to scouts is a good policy, and something that I hope we can adopt going forward.

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Another option for joint scouting (for teams big enough) would be to still keep some superscouts, that watch the matches and make notes on the teams, but don’t collect match data. It seems like it is easier to draw conclusions and keep some consistency when you only have a couple people making those sort of notes anyhow.

I’d be very wary of not collecting match data. If you have to reduce what you’re tracking, see my recent paper. You can mathematically determine useless metrics using methods like PCA. On my toy 2013 dataset, capturing ~33% of the data yielded ~66% of the total variance.

In general, we’re always happy on 6844 to collaborate on scouting.

Eh. See Waterloo 2014.

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1114 ranked 3rd, picked by 1.
2056 ranked 4th, picked by 2.

Just because they couldn’t use their tried and true “pick 1114” strategy doesn’t mean they didn’t want to.

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To make anything “fun” you need to start with BUY IN. . We have absolutely no problem with scouting due to the fact that the entire team believes in it. This was earned over time by actual results, the other shoe IT MUST WORK. It is our most consistent group year to year in performance.

No one on the team doesn’t believe the way we scout since scouting came alive for the team.Once the team believes in it scouts are volunteering their time to do what needs to be done.

Couple things I did as I created our scouting system after or initial rookie trip to worlds:. In part born out of the idea we needed an edge to compete with the best.

Goals:

Make it easy to understand the value proposition (A lot is based on proven horse racing bet techniques)
Have a solid understanding of why we scout and what we track and why its a must to win games.
Elevate the scouting department to on par with engineering.programming and driving
Lead scout is responsible for our alliance partner makeup solely (28 deep picklist)
The Lead Scout is our team representative during alliance selection
The team themselves in other roles always finds ways to let the scouts know what won that last game.
Scouts are often mentioned positively in passing by mentors and team members.
We never overload a single scout.

Its a constant feedback loop between all parts of the team

Once you elevate scouting to on par with engineering , programming , driving then it gets the support it deserves willingly. The other teams in the stands watching how we do it further supports the feeling we do it in a cool way.

I also use it to show the kids how to critically think for after First and how to break any problem down to its essence. This means only track things that make a difference not just what other teams overtrack.

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I mean splitting scouting into 2 groups. The first being the joint group that is only focused on data collection. The second being qualitative scouts (on your own team) that fill the role of being aware of all the teams in all the matches, and being able to give some context in scouting discussions.

I would highly recommend having all of your scouts watch Karthik’s Conference: Effective FIRST Strategies for Design and Competition.

Another great resource you can use to teach new scouts.

I would also play these videos made by First Updates Now, the FUNalysis videos go very in-depth on matches, events and shows the most effective strategies for past games.

I’d like to (shamelessly self-plug) and recommend this post I made a while back about how we solved 1296’s scouting issues in 2018.

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Our team had issues with scout burnout in 2018 (some people did upwards of 20 matches in a row without a break - I think the longest I know of was 40, and it wasn’t pretty).

With that in mind, I entered the year with the goal of minimizing scout burnout. I checked in with the scouts every 6 matches or so and swapped out the ones who wanted a break. This led to much more positive results*, and none of the scout burnout problems that we had last year.

*On a side note, some of my scouts are… contrarians, and when I told them to take a break, they naturally wanted to scout for 20 matches in a row. When told that they shouldn’t/weren’t allowed to, they sulked. And found increasingly ingenious and devious ways to sneak in matches behind my back.

TL;DR: Show your scouts that you care about them.

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