Announcement from my Facebook page a month or so ago:
For those of you who know me well, I’ve been a part of The Mech Tech Dragons for the last 10 years. It’s a competitive amateur robotics team based out of my high school alma mater in Richmond, VA.
I mentored full time starting in 2014, after I dropped out of West Virginia University and moved back home to go to school in Richmond. I was really bad at this mentoring thing when I started! I was very demanding and had a mindset that did not always put the students of the program first.
As the years marched forward, I managed to find new and exciting ways to fail at the job, and consequently get better. I also progressed through a degree program at VCU.
A little over a year ago, I was in the middle of wrapping up my degree and taking the reins for my first year as head mentor. I had an opportunity to work with an incredible group of students who found their passion in achieving the success we craved in the way that mattered to them very personally.
After 16 years, the team broke its losing streak and took home an event winner blue banner. The team continued to crash through the ceiling of my expectations, winning the region’s championship event and finishing as divisional finalists at the world postseason expo. We also picked up major culture-changing awards along the way.
The experience of watching the team I’ve put so much time in to over the past 10 years humbled me. Over the summer, I started to work on my plans for the 2019 season, the team’s 20th in operation. I wanted to do more–climb higher, reach father, chase greater success.
As I ruminated on all of this, I thought about the additional time I would have to commit to see these plans realized, and it was hard to find. I want to build a career that’s rewarding to me, and I want to run the program to the best of my ability, at the only intensity I know (maximum). Ultimately, I can’t be someone who does both–at least not not right now. I can’t short my own opportunities, and I can’t bear letting down the team during the competition season when I fail to meet my obligations. The students deserve people who are passionate, tireless leaders, and I can’t be that person any more.
This is all a really long and sad way of saying that I will be leaving The Mech Tech Dragons before the start of the 2019 season. This decision was not made lightly, but after a lot of thinking and discussions with a lot of people, I concluded that this is the right time.
Because sustainability is large issue in FRC; I would suspect a large portion of teams dissolve after losing a lead mentor; and I’ve seen very little discussion of this before:
Is there anything in particular you’ve done to prepare your team for the loss of a lead mentor? Is there anything you’ve done that you think would benefit the majority of teams who are losing a lead mentor, or anything you would recommend other lead mentors do before leaving their team?
Losing a lead mentor sucks, let me tell you that much. If you’re lucky, you have an “in-the-know” person lined up and ready to step up to the plate. A good number of us aren’t that lucky and have to scramble to find some other poor unsuspecting sap to take up all that displaced responsibility.
Then, you’re looking at all the ways the rest of your leadership structure might break down as a result of the change. God forbid anyone else follow the lead mentor out the door. As we’ve seen from recent discussion, change doesn’t come easily, especially large-scale change. You may find that you spend a year or two (or more) at less than your best. You may find that regrouping everyone and moving ahead is a constant uphill battle, but you fight it anyway for the hope of making it out the other side. You may have people who are jaded or upset at factors ultimately out of their control.
But if you have the right people behind you, and if you can keep motivation up and have a clear plan, you can make it through. The biggest keys are transparency and shared responsibility. If no one knows what the last guy did, or what needs to be done, that’s when stuff starts to fall apart.
LOL! Not exactly the topic I expected when I read the thread title.
I’ve had a theory for a while that if FIRST were a board game it would be labeled “For ages 14-22; 40+”.
Participating on a FIRST team as a mentor is a difficult and demanding endeavor under the best of circumstances. To attempt to do it while building a career and/or raising a young family is an entirely new level of hard.
Of course if the OTHER significant change being discussed is elimination of bag and tag that calculus might change a little.
Yep, there’s been good discussion on here before about taking a break from FIRST for school, but FRC is just as hard to juggle when you have other major commitments in your life. There’s a lot of time you need to invest in a budding career, a new marriage, or a young family, and we all know FRC is not something you can do a lot with on just a couple hours a month. Your goals for your FRC team change a bit when your daughter is born right after kickoff…
Good luck Will! If your job accommodates it spending a weekend a year volunteering can still get you a little bit of that robotics fix. You’ve thought through this really well, I know I could not imagine trying to run a team as lead mentor when I first was starting my career.
You are a great person. I have to admit, when you posted this on fb, I was surprised. There’s not many people who care more for their team and their students than you, so I know this must have been a difficult decision for you. But if you made it, it must be the right decision. Good luck, and I hope to see you back when you’re ready.
There are many ways to contribute to the community other than mentoring… some of them are even compatible with building a career!
People who know FRC at an intimate level, but do not have a team affiliation are a valuable asset as judges and refs. Technical FRC skills are great for tech inspectors, in the machine shop, as a CSA, or field builder.
Congratulations on setting out on a new and exciting path. Now log into VIMS, sign up for some events, and keep building your network. There will always be a team looking for a passionate, skilled mentor when you’re able to return to full-bore mentoring… and having a range of experiences will make you even more valuable in that role should you decide to come back to it one day.
Been there, did that. Well, almost: Not entirely away from FRC, but picking and choosing what I felt like doing, and no guilt if I didn’t feel like it.
Robot Inspector was a good gig: 3 days a year, and great view of the field as desired. And free food for a weekend.
Nowadays, after leaving NJ for Atlanta, I help inspire a local team, but don’t necessarily show up every day during build season, nor do I usually stay past 6 pm. Outside the build season, I’m sporadically around.
Take a lot of time off, don’t feel at all guilty, and come back and participate if you like, but completely on your own terms. Life will be better for it.