As a (newly graduated) alumni of a young team, one of my biggest concerns for this team is its future: How will it be in 4 years? Does it even have a future?
Of course, having been one of the founding members that shaped it, my worst nightmare would be the team ceasing to exist. Though I’ll be hundreds of miles away for the few years I’m in college, I still hope to help steer the team in the right direction with occasional long-distance mentoring.
So the main question is: **How do you sustain your team? **
We’ve faced many different kinds of hardships over our short history, spanning from financial crisis to lack of participation and not enough annual growth. We’ve gotten sponsors, we’ve done innumerable fundraisers, we’ve made our team well-known and respected in the school and community… What else needs to be done?
At our largest, we had 30 members in the beginning of the school year, which quickly dwindled to about 15-20 within the first few months. Eight of those members were seniors that graduated last month, myself included. We have tried just about anything we possibly can to increase enrollment; curriculum fairs, speaking at freshman orientation, demonstrations at festivals and other schools in the district, school announcements, newspaper articles. Yet still we see no signs of growth.
We have tried to engage our new members from the start, yet a lot of them just don’t stick around for some reason. We started VEX teams to get them immediately involved in the design and build aspects. We’ve tried partnering new members with veteran members to teach them what they need to know. We’ve made our team a very friendly and family-like environment to ease away some of the uncertainty. So why aren’t we growing?
Another major issue is participation in communication. Our primary mode of contact outside of meetings is email; from the very start, new students and their parents are required to supply an email address to be contacted by. Yet when our coach sends out time-sensitive emails that request prompt responses, very few of us actually do as requested. People either don’t check their email, or they make some kind of excuses, or they’re simply too lazy to reply. This is by far the biggest source of frustration for our coach, and I’m seeing him change from the easygoing, mild mannered man he once was to over-stressed, short-tempered and grouchy because of it.
He won’t let us help him out with much. He takes all of these burdens onto himself until he’s overworked and stressed beyond belief, yet when our other mentors or us students offer to help with something, he’ll frequently shrug it off and say that he’ll deal with it on his own. It’s because he feels like he can’t rely on anyone to get it done. And based on the email participation (or lack thereof), I can’t entirely blame him. He’s admitted to me that he doesn’t even know if there will be a team after next year, with how things are going.
Despite our problems, I see a very bright future for the Toasters if we can just get the ball rolling; there are some highly gifted students joining each year. We’re the school board’s favorite extracurricular activity, and it would upset them to see such a program fall apart. Our sustainability was the only reason that we did not win a Chairman’s Award at the State Championship this year.
I would do just about anything to prevent this team from disbanding, because it’s done so much to build me into the person I am today. And it saddens me to see how stressed our coach is, and how some things just don’t seem to get done due to a lack of motivation.
I greatly appreciate any insight or recommendations that can be given.