Shelf Life Of A Team

Answer the age old question about your team! How long do you think your team is designed to last? How many seasons before it decides no more?

I’ve always believed in the following for a team to remain strong:

Financial Stability (A sound sponsor)
Support from Teachers
Support from Students
Support from Past Team Members
Support from Engineers / Adults willing to help
Support from your town or city

What do you think? Please add more!


All of this is true. If any element fails the team is sure to fail. For FIRST teams to get engrained in the school system school systems will need to decide to make the coaches a paid position like the basketball and football coaches.

We (team #47) are starting our 9th year. There are always struggles but we have managed to survive and look to the future. FIRST is a great educational program.

I agree. My team, 201, is heading into its 7th year. There have been several occasions where problems made it look like it would be the end of the FEDS, but the strength, passion, and dedication of our students has always driven the program forward. Who knows what the future will bring, but I hope that I’ll be able to say that about 201 and FIRST for a long time to come.

I agree 100%…

It is very important that the impact of FIRST on the students involved is communicated to the school district. If the district does not support the team leaders or enthusiastically support the students to excell in technology, scince and math the team will be doomed.

Strong financial and technical support from local industry is also extremely important, but I know quite a few teams here on Long Island (NY) that have very successful teams with very little sponsorship.

As long as the district supports the team, the team will live on. Make sure you show your school districts how important FIRST is to your education… Even better, have your PARENTS tell the district how import FIRST is to the school district!

Team 418 is going into it’s…5th year, my 3rd, and quite frankly we’ve never really had that much money to do anything. Last year, for example, we got our 5k in so late that we picked up our edu kit with our competition kit on kickoff. Last year we were fortunate enough to get last minute sponsorship from a local company. In years prior, I recall beggin in our school office to get that last few hundred dollars to go to this. This is probably the first year we’ve been comfortable with our situation before kickoff. It’s also really helpful that we’ve had a really awesome sponsor, and a really awesome team. But yeah, all of those are very important.

one year at a time

thats all you can ask for

its all you can hope for

and its all ANYONE can promise

Its our eighth season, and I think well be in it for the long haul. This past year we have been expanding. Before, we only met during the six weeks, but now it is once a week year round. We have like…40 sponsors (Mostly food). We have some teacher support, but major parent support. My parents and the Nelsons run the team. (Us from RUHS and them from MCHS) we brought the team back from the dark ages.We have great amounts of support from Raython and Northrup Grumman. (Shout out to Northrup) Got to put in a good word. LOL. The society loves us, esecially the buissnesses. Thats why we have so many sponsors, because we are in the newspaper all of the time and they can just hang up the newspaper and say, “We sponsor them!”

Well, the past team members come and go. They all are trying to start their life. A couple them started there own…either website making buissness or grphics something…I dunno, something with computers. Yeah, they are getting pretty good amounts of money. One of them has a Mustang. (It is cool but im dedicated to my hummers…H1’s all the way!)

N-e ways, we have like 30 student members and 11 mentors/engineers. We have ten solid members that come to every event and 4 solid mentors/engineers. Everyone else mostly shows up around kickoff and the build season. And thats ok, most of the ones that can’t make it have to study for tests in their AP classes and they are doing college applications. Giggle, I made a deal with the other co-captain. I said “Ill take care of the exhibitions and lego league competitions, and other Public Relations stuff like that, but you are taking over during the season,” LOL, he laughed and agreed.

I think our team has a chance of being around for awhile but just getting sponsors is hurting us and most of the team members dont due anything on the off-season to get sponsors and that is what upsets me as a mentor and that is what I think that will led to the down fall of this team

yes, that is one thing that we try to instill in the students. The team need sto always be on lookout for potential financial and technical sponsors. This year we are adding 2 part time mentors to assist with machining skills.

But even more importantly we were able to add 3 new financial backers (500 - 1000 each). That helped a LOT this year.

Team 356 is going into its fifth year. This is year five in the Five Year Plan.

We’ll have to come up with another Five Year Plan after this competition season.

Each year, there always seem to be one or two high school students who are so enthusiastic and so deserving of participating in this program, that we just can’t seem to stop.

Well, there are two distinct questions here: “How long will it last”, and “What does it take to keep it going”, and we seem to be concentrating more on the latter.

I’ve now started two FIRST teams over the last couple of years, at two different high schools.

Startup, and maintenance of a team are separate questions. How long will it last once it is GOING is merely keeping enough will, manpower (both student and adult), space, tools, materials and financial resources for fees and travel supplied to the team, regardless of source.

There are several key elements that are IMHO VITAL to keep a team running:

  1. TOP school administrative support. Without that, it runs the risk of dying at any time. My experience has shown that it is IMPERATIVE that support this comes from the top down, not the middle up. The Principal MUST be on board, AND supportive, or the politics will complicate this effort immensely and it’ll be a constant struggle.
  2. A “Product Champion” driving this effort, whether teacher or engineer doesn’t matter. SOME adult MUST be “the force” behind this, or it’ll stagnate and die.
  3. At least ONE “super teacher advisor” or other admin contact that will take the group under their wing in the school. This CAN be the Product Champion, but that’s a LOT of work. It often works better if the Product Champion and the Primary Teacher are separate, so one can handle school side, and the other handle team side issues. In addition, building at a school often require MULTIPLE teachers for supervision, so if they’re NOT the driving force, having more than one that can “take turns” supervising the build is vital. We have TWO main teachers for our team, and that’s still not enough.
  4. A “core” of supporting adults, from industry and/or parents. We even have a separate “Parent’s Auxiliary”, that have been FANTASTIC supporters! If you don’t yet have one, START one!
  5. A “core” of interested students (Hey, after all, it’s all about THEM!) The whole thing is pointless if they just don’t WANT this program, and would rather play Nintendo, other sports, or watch TV…
  6. Some way to at least pay for the Kit of Parts, travel costs for one contest, and enough for materials to complete a robot. One or more industry “Big Daddies” makes things MUCH easier, but I’ve been very impressed and amazed to see teams without local industry support that still do it on their own out of sheer hard work, willpower, on nickels and dime fundraisers. (I bow to you…) We depend on our industry support primarily for the big fees, engineers, and things like corporate travel discounts, and try to raise our own robot materials and travel costs with local efforts.
  7. A stable place to build, with tools. Can be at a sponsor, the school, or in someone’s garage/basement.

Lose any ONE of these, and you’re probably toast.

IMHO ideally the program runs BEST as a “mentor / apprentice” relationship with industry partners and an industry side Product Champion, but it has been shown it CAN be run under a “teacher / student / local fundraising” model instead. IMO the latter is MUCH more painful, and you may not get the full benefit of the program because I feel what we’re trying to do is “model a six week standard industrial design cycle” to them. I feel that’s best done with mentors who “do it for a living” every day.

If a team goes inactive for more than the students’ lifespan at the school (typically 3-4 years) though, you’re definitely back to square one, requiring a fresh startup. And believe me, STARTING a team from scratch takes a LOT more effort than keeping one running!

For example, my first team took three years of groundwork on my part, another of active team forming to launch it, and required a LOT of support from other local teams (robot demos, etc.) for the school system to “get it”. (THANKS AGAIN TEAMS 66, 470, 494, and the rest!!!)

Based on what I learned, I got the second one up and “limping” in only one year (and it still needed robot demo support from other teams), but I have a four year “buildup plan” to complete before I feel it’ll be anywhere near what I would call a “stable” situation. There are NO shop facilities at my current school, so in addition to forming the team, I’ve also found myself in the position of pulling in the resources over time to enable the school to “recreate” an ENTIRE industrial arts program at the school (wood, metal, AND welding) from scratch JUST to support the team. Last year we built our robot in a basement primarily with students, engineers, parents, borrowed tools, and school supervision (for insurance purposes). In the off season, I’ve managed to scrounge up the beginnings of metal working tools for the school (mill, lathe, & welder, none of which are in place YET but are literally days from delivery), so this will be the first year we work IN the school. It’ll still require a lot of “borrowed tools” and special volunteers like weldors (people who weld) and machinists to work with the kids to help them RUN the machines until we can flesh out the missing tools and train school personnel in their proper use. So to put it mildly, “it’ll be another interesting season”… :slight_smile: On the school side, they’ve promised to start developing classes to use whatever major tools I bring in, so we’re on our way!

BTW, I was approached yesterday by the administration with the suggestion that we’re now far enough along to try offering Robotics I & II as CLASSES starting next year (anyone with a school that DOES have a FIRST Robotics curriculum, PLEASE email me directly with course material suggestions!), so the FIRST team is DEFINITELY having a STRONG impact on this school! :slight_smile:

Therefore, my BEST suggestion for making the team have a LARGE shelf life is to “work with the administration to make FIRST related technology an integral part of your curriculum”. Once THAT is established, you’ll not only have commitment from the administration insuring longevity, you’ll also have a FEEDER system to create students raring go go, that’ll WISH to be on the team. We’re also working on establishing the FIRST team under the school’s “sports team” model, where FIRST becomes a letter sport. We are also planning on HOSTING a “repeat” contest this year, which will also create a new “prestige enhancing tradition” for the school.

Bottom line: ALL of this groundwork is totally aimed at making the team a solid part of the school. I can’t emphasize that enough! Intertwine it into the school’s CULTURE, and you’ll NEVER have to worry about it dying. Leave it as an OUTSIDE ACTIVITY (“club based, externally financed”), and you’ll ALWAYS have to worry about whether it’ll be back next year or not. You’ll be at the mercy of an external workforce and market conditions potentially ripping your sponsors out from under you. I estimate it’ll take about four years before our shop will be completely running to my satisfaction, the curriculum fully established, letter jackets issued, and our local contest established. But once THAT happens, I feel our team’s “shelf life” will be HUGE, and I’ll NEVER have to worry about it going away. The SCHOOL will become the force insuring the team’s survival, and will do whatever is necessary to maintain industry ties and/or insure financing.

  • Keith


You have done a fantastic job of stating the trials and tribulations of beginning any program. As a mentor of a second year team I can really appreciate some of your comments. I operate in the second category of FIRST teams with limited industry support and limited technical and/or engineering assistance. Locally the students are interested and the parental assistance is good. I believe it is a very valuable program and wish to continue as a mentor and have students enjoy FIRST for many years.
In my particular situation the rural support needs to be accentuated as SD has many bright students who need this type of academic stimulation. With two engineering schools in the state it is my hope that we can continue to fund the program and build a sustainable concept for the future through industry and post-secondary partnerships.

the most important factor is interest from the students.

It’s 103’s 8th year.
The team is as close to self-sustaining as possible. The stability comes from two teachers and three technical mentors who have been involved from the beginning. Today we are well ingrained in the school with our own homeroom, three teachers, about ten technical mentors, and an active parent group. We have consistent district, sponsor, alumni and community support and always work hard to maintain these relationships. We’ve seen tremendous educational benefits for the students and thus continue to endure all obstacles to keep it going.

This is our 8th year in the competition (I think, maybe 7th) and we’re going stronger than ever. This year, we have almost 50 students signed up to participate on our team. Our numbers keep going up, and we feel confident in our work. With our yearly increasing numbers and the passion that we see in the new students coming in, I personally think that the HOT robotics team will be going on for quite a while. :smiley:

Reading all of these posts makes me realize how lucky our team has been. We are only a second year team, but we have over 70 members in the robotics “club”. Being at a school with a Math, Science, and Technology magnet program, student interest has always been good, and faculty/administration support has gone along with it. Our principal has always been more than generous in offering support. Also, only half an hour away is Georgia Tech, our primary mentors, where there are quite a few very helpful and dedicated engineering students that help us out a LOT (not to mention the financial backing they help bring in :smiley: ). In fact, this year we have converted one of the rooms in the school into a machine shop and are working out the details and purchase of the last pieces of large machinery we need to complete it. We are doing so much this year, both in and outside of the several competitions we are a part of, it makes my head spin :yikes: .

My point? I think you guys have hit the nail on the head on what it takes to make a team strong. I think the moral of the story is if you have strong support in all of these elements, a team can really “explode” into the scene, allowing for even reletively new teams to become quite large quite fast. Thank you to everyone who has supported us, and stay tuned because it is going to be a very interesting, very fun year! :smiley:

We, of course, are an original team and , though I have been only involved for a couple of years, one thing I can plainly see is that the leadership team has installed a model for running the team every year and they stick to that plan. Consitency is the key. The kids are given the same level of expectations every year and are made to adhear to it. We have a strong leadership core to make sure that the ship is going in the right direction. We may not always build the strongest robots but we always walk around with our head up at being a model FIRST team.

Not 100% true actually. To remain an active team, yeah then its most often true, sometimes not. To remain a strong team, no you dont need all of that.

Take my team for example.
2001 year, we were active, 15 seniors and 1 freshmen (me), JJA as a sponsor (Johnson and Johnston Associates).

2002: No more JJA, only remaining member left was me, went inactive. Saw 2002 game, really wanted to still be a part of FIRST so got a new team together and took our 2001 bot and modified it to play the 2002 game.

2003: team of 17, again inactive. Team was given a challenge of building a robot that can open a door, and succeeded in less than 6 weeks. Pretty strong team (for TRHS). Built 2 robots that could play the 2003 game over the summer, in 2 weeks (yes using some old frames, and 1 old drivetrain)

2004: Team of 25. Team was split in 2 during the fall for a training challenge, each having to build their own full size robot (complying to all 2003 FIRST rules) that could play a game I created. 7 weeks later, 2 of the best robots we have ever had are complete. And we are once again active, with a really strong team, the best we have ever had (including 2000 and 2001, our other active years)

2002, 2003, and for the training challenge this year, no engineers, no machine shop (and 2002 had no veterans but me). Only about $100 to be used 6 or 7 weeks to build the robot, for all 3 years.

Not trying to brag or anything, All I’m saying is this.** The only thing a team needs to survive is people who want it to survive.**

I completely agree, yr 2002 our team had a lot of problems. First of all, noone got along, there were “clicks”. (I wasn’t part of the team at that time, my sister was) Second, half the team would work at our autoshop at our school and the other half at the machining shop that was supporting our team. The autoshop thought one thing was going on and the machine shop, another. One big mess, not only that but the mentors didn’t get a long and the school support was slowly fading. It took a lot of coaxing to get their support again.

But, after that year was over, three mentors relized that an intervention was needed…or reinvention. We created the steering commitee, which i would attend meetings a long w/ my sis, last years captain, and this yrs co-capt besides me. I think an important thing we did was we started with spirit. We painted everything orange in the auto shop.

(Yeah, i thought it would be fun, painting, but it takes forever to get acrylic paint off! At the time it was annoying! But, now when you walk in, you know who it belongs to…Even though the Construction teacher is trying to get us kicked out, sorry, we have marked our territory. LOL)

N-e wayz. After everyone started to come regularly to meetings and we started to steadily get sponsors, the steering commitee meetings began to fade.

It took about three months of 3x a week meetings but it was worth it. The team was back on its feet, even jumping in the air. Not only were we able to get the funds for registration and Phoenix, and food, and everything else, we also did countless numbers of exhibitions, making many friends in the community. (Another shout out, this one to Whole foods, the best sandwiches ever!) The season also ran smoother because of this, we got donations of 1/4" thick steel for our welding booth, loads of alluminum, and lots of wood so we were able to build a full field. The field was another cause and affect. We invited teams to test their robots at our field. Ex. Team 696. Wow, their robot is oned of kind, it is especially scary when they are trying to get the autonomous perfected and im in the way. Yeah, i ran, yeah i screamed.

N-e wayz, my point is, with out those three engineers that wanted team “Beach Cities Robotics,” to march on, I wouldn’t be here writing right now. The team wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t have met the amazing people in FIRST that dedicate their life to making this work. Most important of all, a team of students wouldn’t have been inspired, maybe not about engineering, but about life in general.

…And I wouldn’t have found my second family. Without FIRST, I can’t imagine how my life would be.

This is our team’s 3rd year in FIRST, and 5th in a robotics competition.

As a exec member hows been there from the day the team/club was created, I would definatley agree that nothing happens without people, and particularily team members. Dispite our increasing strength (in our rookie year, 2 years ago, we were 35th at the Canadian Regional, and last year we attended Houston) we are loosing people. Our school has an exceptional reputation for academic and athletic achievement, not techinical. Most of the school’s focus is on social sciences, pure sciences and music. Many students apply to our school for that reason, not robotics. As a result, our manufacturing classes have shrunk. Two years ago we had 3 different courses. This year we only have a single grade 10/11/12 split of about 30 students. All of the senior members of that class are exec members. I guess the course is still staying alive because of robotics [which our teacher had incorperated into the course].

We have about 30 registered members, of whom 15 are active. Several years ago we had as many as 30 active members. Part of the problem is that the club is seen as something between friends (all of the exec member are close friends as a result of our dedication to robotics), and not something open to them. The other part of the problem is that many potential members are turned away by the complex machinery [lathe, CNC mill, welder,…] or the amount of time that is required of them to dedicate. Most of our new members drift to non technical elements such as programming, web page or animation.

We have little sponsorship and only a handful of mentors and one staff advisor. The team is completely student run; which in a sense is a problem because our staff advisor won’t be able ressrect the team after a dorment season. This year most of the exec member are graduating and the team next year will most likely be even smaller. :frowning:

Hopefully, with another successful season we’ll be able to lure a few more students.