Team 2980 2023 Open Source Thread

The parent reaction wasn’t universal.

That said, I think it was a combination of misplaced anger (disappointment in things not going well) and a lack of understanding of the situation. This was clarified during our team meeting over dinner Saturday night.

Really…The kids did a great job all things considered.

I’ll write more later.



The current state of our robot. It was worse WednesdayHopefully this isn’t too much of an extreme choice.

What is left of our arm. The new one will be a mix of our first arm and the one we took to our first competition.

This is the current plan. I am really hopeful that they can get it done by Thursday of next week.

Missing is the gripper/intake. They are planning on going with a modified everybot design. Hopefully they can figure that out.

Ok…On with my ramblings.

Today I started writing a post that I knew I shouldn’t write.

I was feeling it…I let some of the parents get to me. Before realizing how dumb that was.

So…I let it go.

Today’s meeting was so much better. Not great, not the best, but we took the time to get everyone, well…almost everyone on board. For the most part, it worked. Almost everyone was working towards something. Some, most in their own way, but work was done and progress was made.

We should have a robot again, sooner rather than later.

That said, the kids who don’t participate much continued not participating, and the kids who struggle with not just doing things still just did some things, but all in all it wasn’t too bad.

Now…What I think I learned?

One of the things that I have been struggling with is that the kids really don’t like to CADD. It is weird, but they think they can just “figure it out”. But I am trying to insist that they have a plan for everything, and that they know what they are doing, and how they are doing it. Part of it is that I am so much faster at it than they are. Part is that they don’t really know how to express what they have in their heads without doing it in the real world. So…They struggle to actually do much more than I directly ask them to do.

So…a lot of them just do things, and with a robot this complex that usually leads to unintended conflicts, or having to redesign parts around what is there instead of what is in the CADD model.

So…Today I gave them much more manageable problems.

Make me a box that is this big and fits here.

Redesign this bracket moving this motor from here to here.

Copy this intake/gripper design based on relatively known and proven geometry

The box still ended up wrong 3 times, (he went off of the CADD model and not the actual robot. While in a perfect world that wouldn’t matter, (when they originally cut out the frame rails for the actual robot mistakes were made and they just decided to “go with it.”) in the case of our robot things aren’t always 100 % the same between the two realities.

So…We are well on our way to having a new robot. Not one that can do all of the things, but hopefully enough of the things that we will be alright.

No more tipping over btw.

Now…the second part, and I think I really needed 12 or so hours to come to this conclusion.

Yesterday almost immediately after I asked the team to stop just “doing stuff”, and to instead come up with a plan frist, one of our parents who has been helping out with the team came over to me really pissed off. He said, “This is my first time doing this, working with the kids, and I told my daughter that the first time I asked a kid to do something and they told me they couldn’t, that I was out of here.”

So I asked him what he asked the kids to do.

He asked them to cut a piece of polycarb and mount it on the frame so they could slap the electronics on there and get the drive train running.

They told him that they couldn’t…because they had to CADD the box first.

That was what he wanted to leave over.

I managed to talk him down, reminding him that we had literally just asked the kids to stop doing things without having a plan first,

Now…here is the thing. If I give up on someone then I lose the ability to influence them. I feel like if someone is exhibiting behaviors that we don’t like then we should work to help them see why the desired behavior is preferable for everyone.

I was really hot under the collar after that exchange

During the drive home I got to a place where I thought…The next time he threatens to leave I will take him up on the offer.

But…that would be giving up on someone. I would lose the ability to have an influence. He would walk away thinking…”Yup…the problem is with the team and I was wasting my time trying to help them.” Instead of ever having the opportunity to see things differently, to understand more of what is actually going on, and to grow into a great mentor.

That said, is he doing too much damage to the kids in the meantime? Also, is it my job to fix him?

I’ll figure it out. Have to believe in that.

Ok…enough for now.



The “Bigger” Man (really I should say person but in this case we are talking about a man so…)


So we completely tore the robot down…to nothing. The goal was to lower the arm, as in completely slam it down to just 14 inches off the top of the frame, and to move the swerve modules. (They were mounted under the frame to give us more ground clearance which turned out to not be as useful as we originally thought.) under the frame.

Once the kids started doing this they realized that they were going to have to relocate all of the electronics (mounted to the uprights) and move the battery, and…and…and…

So, by the end of the meeting on Tuesday someone had taken apart the square tube frame and was pouring all of the metal shavings and rivets out of it.

Things started out slow. I think the some of us were sort of sitting in astonishment as wednesday rolled into Thursday while the robot just sat in a sad sorry pile.

And then Friday happened.

The team got to stay late. The school was putting on an art show and we had some members volunteer to help guide people to the building where the art was on display.

I told them that they could keep working so long as team members were volunteering.

We stayed until 7. I also let them skip homework hour since it was the beginning of the weekend, and since it was the beginning of a weekend, they didn’t need to stop and clean up.

When we left at 6 or so yesterday, there was a robot that with some tweeks to the code could drive around. The chopped uprights are in place. Mr. Blinky remounted. Pretty much everything has changed.

The arm, a combination of the final arm and the original arm was assembled. It was sitting on the floor, but it was assembled.

It was really cool to see.


The Board Meeting

On Tuesday the parents asked the kids to do the following:

Create a presentation
Go through each of our matches, figure out what went wrong for each match, and explain what the plan was in order to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Create a list of all the things on the robot including the cost of each thing and a total cost, so…a BOM, and the cost of the changes they were making.
Create a plan for moving forward, how they were going to change the robot, and how that would work out.
Create a purchase list including total costs
I too missed the last part, and maybe the parent who relayed the message forgot to say it.

So…three of my kids stood in front of the board for 1 and a half to 2 solid hours and answered every question. I bounced in and out throughout the meeting, but really didn’t need to be there. They were able to answer everything with confidence. At one point before leaving to make another hardware store run I said, “Clearly you guys don’t need me here. You’ve got this.”

Because they did.

They finally did their homework.

They were the bigger people.

Now something that I did notice.

Some of the kids who should have been in that room…weren’t.

That sort of scared me a little bit, but it also shows which of the kids are the true leaders. Our team structure is (I would say, loose). Our rule is, kids who lead are leaders. Leaders don’t need titles, they just lead and people follow. If you think you are a leader and no one is following you, then you aren’t a leader.

Now you may be asking yourself, “What do kids put down on resumes or applications?” So…I tell the kids to create a position based on the work that they have actually done and include a robust description of what that position entailed. So for example, one of the kids on our team has done the majority of the programming. He is welcome to call himself the chief programmer for team 2980 and list the years that he has been in that position, (even though the position doesn’t exist.) so long as he include a robust job description explaining the work that he did while in that position.

Now…here is the crazier part.

The mentor…the one I talked about in the last post. He went to the meeting. He was loaded for bear. He has clearly spent a lot of time watching matches and reading up everything he can find.

I think he went into the meeting looking to fight the kids.

Now…I had a hard time with this, and was planning on sitting in on the meeting just to be the wall between him and my kids, (which clearly I didn’t need to be.) but really the kids were able to answer all of his questions. He was especially impressed when they pulled up the CADD models and were able to show their work, showing exactly how much compression they were putting on the game pieces, the angles things would have to move to in order to achieve the desired goals, why everything was the way it was, and exactly how they expected everything to work.

So…After the meeting, after I cleared out all the kids. He came to me and apologized for his behavior. He explained where he had lost perspective, and how he realized that he was wrong about the team.

He actually broke down a little bit.

Now…really he was talking to the wrong person at the time, and I want to see him make peace with each of the kids, but it was a wonderful first step. He was the bigger man.

Ok…Enough for now. I have gravel to shovel out of the back of a truck this morning before I head out for the team’s meeting. According to my watch I got almost 5 hours of restful sleep which is more than my usual. Oddly I don’t feel like it. Stupid daylight savings.

For real though.


The arm. Before leaving I actually shoved the chain and sprocket into place. It still needs to be attached to the top plate so that it actually drives in and out. The kids were talking about using servos with cams mounted to the top to act as brakes for the different degrees of freedom. Not sure if that will actually be a thing, or if it is actually necessary…

The current state of the robot. The uprights are only held in place using 2 cleco temporary rivets each while the kids finalize the alignment. The plan is to hard mount them first thing.

These are older pictures of the robot showing how much it changed.


Seeing the highs and lows here makes reading about the good days so special. It sounds like you’ve made an amazing amount of progress with your team.

Everyone reading this thread is rooting for y’all.


Making an ME box for our In School Suspension Classroom

Eternal wiring will the programmers are off programming.

Our intake based very heavily on 2910’s. The kids have been referring to our robot as a budget phantom. Given that they have swerve SLS printed parts, and CNC parts I think budget has left the building. Imitation is the best form of flattery though so…

The closer we get the slower we seem to go…The worse we seem to do?

Between college and grad school I drove across the country. My cousin and I were driving from New Jersey to California. We were coming across on highway 80 into Nebraska. I noticed that my cousin was driving slower and slower…I began to feel like the close my cousin got to Ogallala, the slower she was driving.

Turned out we had blown a head gasket and the car was burning coolant. We coasted into a gas station in Ogallala Nebraska at about 4:30 PM on a Friday.

But…what is my team’s excuse?

Everything is physically there for this given iteration of our robot. Yesterday they had to run 4 wires. It took them 2 hours for some reason. The strange part is that the wires they ran are temporary. We ran out of Anderson Connectors. More won’t get to the lab until Saturday so they were cobbling things together using butt splices and the like, but still…It was hours of sitting around talking about doing stuff with very little actual doing.

Compared to last weekend or even earlier this week when they seemed to be moving at light speed…

I think they made the mistake of realizing they have some time before their next match. So long as it isn’t done, it is something in their mind that isn’t yet defined by reality.

Once they ran the three wires, they realized they had 2 broken encoder wires on spark maxes. So…over under on how long that will take to do today?

Now on a more serious note, they have decided to swap out the roborio. They are chasing a gremlin, and the roborio is the only thing they haven’t switched. That said, not sure I am 100% behind that idea. They had originally planned to swap it out last weekend, and had even done the physical work of removing the old one and putting the new one in its place, but…the new one wasn’t setup at all so they switched back. Towards the end of the meeting yesterday they were talking about switching back again…So…practice driving will have to wait?

Have I mentioned how tired I am?

I really just want them to make the darn thing work already.

I know it will happen sooner rather than later, but I’ve never been good at waiting.

I suppose while I wait I could be remaking the bumpers…

Ok…enough for now.



Should I optimistically move the field elements out into the hall where the team normally practices?

(feeling ready to see this darn robot actually doing all the things.)

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Random Scattered Thoughts

I’m writing this over the course of 2 days.

I don’t have any pictures. I don’t have any video.

I sort of wish I did.

The past week has felt like it’s been…a couple of weeks at least. A month maybe? A year?

The robot is mostly working? The kids want to make revision 2 of the intake. While I support them in this endeavor, most of the time when they take note of something that could use a little work in order to be better it ends up costing us a day, and the days keep adding up and adding up and adding up and eventually we are going to run out of them.

And then it will be time for our second competition, and our drivers will be going up against drivers that have had so much more time to practice driving…So…while in the end we may have a wonderful robot with all of the bugs worked out, it won’t help us much if we don’t know how to use it.

And to that…

The other day I read a thread that listed a team’s chances of making it to district champs. (PNW District Championship Projections 2023) So I scrolled down…and down…found us. Not exactly at the bottom, but well below 50%. Things have changed a bit and I think we moved up a little since then…

So…it makes me wonder about something else I read…

“More time does not equal more progress.”

That is to say that a team may or may not benefit from taking more time during build season to work on their robot because of the diminishing returns and reduced productivity. I can feel that. I feel it in the fact that we have less than 10 kids who actively work on the robot.

But our team focuses on doing all the other things. This past weekend we hosted a STEM event. 49 girls spent the day Saturday with us, playing with legos, doing STEM activities, and really just having a good time.

Sunday we scrambled to get the robot operational so that another team could come and play with us in the afternoon. The team from Mount Vernon came out and drove their robot in our cafeteria.

The funny part was that our robot was broken or being worked on for the majority of the time that they were here. We spent quite a bit of that time cleaning the scuff marks from the visiting team off of the tiles on the floor. Lesson learned for next time? Stay on the concrete!

In either case, we stayed till 7 PM on Saturday and Sunday leaving me and the rest of the team completely wiped for monday.

Monday was a day without school so the kids were supposed to do 2 things. 1) finalize the robot and fix all of the things that they learned from driving it on Sunday (really just fixing what was broken on Sunday in a more permanent way. And 2) to clean up and organize all of the kits that they used for the STEM stuff for our GIRL”s Day event. I was supposed to spend the day finalizing 2nd trimester grades and getting ready for 3rd trimester.

What happened instead is that I spent the day helping with working on the robot and slowly trying to clean up my room in any way, shape, or form in order to get ready for the 1st day of the new trimester. My lego kits did not get sorted. Again we stayed until about 7 PM.

So now it is Wednesday.

We stayed late again yesterday and sorted about 12 of the 16 kits that we used.

Yesterday I started a new trimester. I have new kids and I can already see that my classes are going to be a handful. Unfortunately I teach a lego intro to robotics class and all of the counselors and special education teachers think my classroom is a great place for kids who haven’t done well in school traditionally.

It was like pulling teeth getting through all of the “getting to know you” activities. It didn’t help that in the back of my mind I was thinking about the fact that so many of the lego kits that I use were all scrambled up and not sorted.

Honestly we don’t get started with the lego kits until thursday at the earliest, but it still sat wrong with me. The kids came in and sorted most of the kits yesterday after school. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the kids pretended to work on the robot instead of helping while others were just absent. It was a bit frustrating but in the end it all got done.

Really feeling that overwhelmed and tired was pretty stressful. It got me thinking…Why do we keep doing all of this? THe kids were looking at their chances for qualifying for district champs. One of the kids mentioned that we still had one more shot at the impact award. One of the parents said, “Impact? That isn’t in the cards for you guys.”

And honestly it really isn’t.


Let’s face it, we are geographically isolated, and we aren’t coming from and the things that we do don’t lend themselves to the impact award.


So…we keep on keeping on despite knowing that it won’t add up to much. But on the flip side of that, It gets harder and harder to raise money from our community when we aren’t experiencing the results that we did pre-pandemic. Doing the community service that we currently do is expensive. Even if the team did qualify for Worlds we currently would have a really hard time paying for it, and it would mean starting off next year with absolutely nothing in the bank

So…the thought was, “what if we stopped?” Not, stopped making robots or stopped competing in FIRST, but what if we stopped doing a large portion of the other stuff?

See…I have that thought, but then I think, what would we stop doing?

This weekend we had 49 little girls come in and play with robots and do STEM activities for the day. It was exhausting, but also wonderful. Some of those kids are going to be on this team in a few years.

Which people who ask for wheelchair ramps would I turn away?

Which projects?

A therapist for our school reached out earlier today to ask if we could try to come up with a soundproof booth for kids with trauma. I honestly have no idea what that might even look like but We are on it.

And my kids are starting to sound burned out. Some are falling back into old and unhealthy habits. Others are shutting down all together. They are so…so…so tired.

Honestly I don’t know what else I’ll be able to get out of them. And…that is the worst part of all of this.

It is knowing that it is going to be a hard sell to get the kids to keep doing when they know that their chances of moving on are so slim

Even if they do move on, It really just adds up to more work.

Ok…I am falling asleep while trying to write this.

Enough for now.



You probably get this already but I think it’s worth noting the purpose of the advancement probability estimates is to be useful to teams for planning rather than as a value judgement.

It’s not even a measure of robot performance per se. For example, team 4060 currently has no hope of advancing but I’d rather have them on my alliance than dozens of teams who are ranked ahead of them.

Furthermore, there are currently 12 teams (including yours) in the 30-40% range and I would expect about 4 of them to go to the district championship. If I were in your shoes I’d be starting to think about logistics because 1 in 3 is not what I’d call slim odds.

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I do know that…and while I do…it is also a hard to remember and keep in mind. It isn’t so much the probability estimates as it is remembering that our team’s value is inherent and not really a function of how well they do in any given year. The last post was a bit of a pity party, and the reality is, I/we have it really good.



Holy crud, did I mention the team stripped the robot down to nothing and rebuild ti pretty much from the ground up in between competitions and we somehow still have time for driver practice?

So…the reality is this is going to be a pretty interesting experiment where we compare teams that have been doing nothing but practicing for the past however long compared to a team with a pretty decent robot…(If I do say so myself.)

It is funny hearing the drive team talk. They say things like…We should really practice getting on the charging station because having such a small robot would allow 2910 to get their triple doc. (Um…we still have to qualify for district champs for you guys to get that opportunity.), but the reality is that they built a completely new robot learning from all of the things that went wrong in our first competition so who knows.

Now the funny part is…While I can say they are hopefully going to be able to do their part, they are only ⅓ of every equation for a very complicated and unforgiving math problem.

They will get 10 shots, and from there we have to see where they end up.

My goals for them?
Complete a level 2 link in every match. (One of the drivers really disagrees with this strategy suggesting that everyone else is either going for level 3 or level 1 and helping them to complete whichever one they are going for is much more important because that way the sustainability bonus is more plausible.) Once we realized that we should be able to score 1 link on our own and possibly fill in a place or two on top of that, completing a level 2 link each match became a better argument.)
Dock on the charging station at the end of each match. (while we can’t reliably do this during autonomous because we haven’t really been in a situation where we can test it. We do have a team built single charging station, but we don’t have a dedicated space with carpet that we can Velcro it down to, so our charging station slides around a lot. We should be able to do this during the end game and may work it out on the practice field.)
Score a game piece during auto and get the mobility points setting ourselves up to grab a cone early on in the match from the midfield.

Of course in order to get there we need to practice like there is no tomorrow, and if our team has an Achilles heel, that is it. There are kids on the team that love to work on things…Endless tinkering. Two days ago one of the kids wanted to pull the swerve drives to “clean them out.” endless tinkering. That scares the hell out of me. He is a great kid and we love him to death, and he always seems to jump to the most extreme conclusion for simple problems.

These are things I think they are capable of doing which is so much more than they were able to do before. Honestly if they manage to do this for most of their matches then we can’t walk away without knowing that we did our best, and that is all we can ask for.

The reality is a lot of this will come down to luck.

Oh…don’t let me forget. I am worried that when they go for level three the arm extends as it rotates over the robot. It looks a lot like it may be breaking the 6’ 6” height limit. I really need to check that because that would be bad.

Ok…enough for now.



I mounted the 360 cam on the robot and then played around with the footage. It is probably a bit nauseating to watch, but I had fun so…I think our video team will put together a better edit soon.

I think I’ve started writing this about a million times.

I keep writing this entry and then deleting everything and then trying to start over again only to delete everything again.

I am cautiously optimistic.

I feel like the team is perfectly capable of hitting themselves in the knee on this one, but all in all we have a decently capable little robot and a pretty good control system.

Now the bigger questions are:

Will the team take way too long diagnosing and fixing some problem and end up with a push bot for a number of matches at competition?
Will the team not have made as much progress as enough of the other teams at a week 6 competition meaning they still end up middle of the pack not earning enough points to move on?
Did we in fact fix our radio problems meaning our robot won’t constantly disconnect during matches?
Have our drivers gotten enough stick and button time?
Will we be impressive enough to win an award putting us over the top?

Our season could very easily be over after this weekend. Which is fine…I would get to spend the rest of spring break with my wife and make the trip up to Canada to meet up with her uncles who are coming over on the train from Chicago. I could go kayaking again. I could get some much needed work on our RV done…

But the kids are so full of hope and pride. They have worked so hard rebuilding this robot. There are a few of them that are talking about worlds at this point.

I’m trying to keep their feet on the ground. If things don’t work out the way some of them are talking they are going to be so absolutely devastated.

I don’t want that for them.

It seems they have good days and bad when it comes to the robot. The other day they ran for a good 10 minutes making level 2 link after level 2 link. They were floor loading cones and cubes. They were flowing. It was sort of beautiful.

It reminded me of one of their FTC matches where both of our teams were on the same alliance. God they shined in that moment.

Then yesterday the robot’s wrist motor wasn’t working for a few different reasons and they took part of the arm apart to try and install the sponsor banner. They didn’t get it done and then when they tried to drive something else wasn’t working properly. Then One of them got pulled to practice for their Impact award presentation.

The drive team still isn’t a cohesive unit. Our drive coach keeps getting into arguments with our driver over what they should be doing and when. I tried tying them together and insisting that they not be untied until they sort out whatever issues they are having. It worked for about a day but now when they have a conflict they just hide it instead of actually dealing with it.

Part of what is hard is that our drive coach (a student) wants to feel necessary and one of our drivers is just as versed in strategy. So the drive coach resorts to making orders and demands of the drive team that don’t make sense from the perspective of what we are trying to accomplish.

I was trying to get them to practice a set of things based on our goals for a match.

I don’t think they have done that as of yet.

Our goals:

Score 1 game piece during autonomous and get the mobility points.
Score at least 1 level 2 link on our own.
Fill in at least 3 other game pieces at any level helping our alliance gain as many links as possible.
Balance on the charge station at the end of every match.

I would argue that this specific list of things is what the team needs to practice.

Instead the drive coach has been telling the drivers to do random things in random order.

I tried to explain the goals for each match, and he said, “That is going to change every match based on our alliance partners.”

How so?

If we score a link on our own, and then help our alliance partners to score more links filling in for them, then what else would we be asked to do? What else might anyone else ask for? My fear is that either,
The team will try to play defense in the hopes of being a 3rd pick for alliances or
The team will be asked to play defense by other teams hoping to be able to show off by scoring cones.

Did I mention how much I don’t want them playing defense?

They are concerned that they will be paired with two other strong robots and be asked to play defense. That scares the hell out of me btw. Our robot isn’t a good defense robot, and if they go that route they are going to earn a ton of penalties and probably do a lot of damage to our own robot. I can also see them damaging another team’s robot and earning themselves the cold shoulder. Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but at this point who knows.

I really wish they would stop giving deference to the whims and ideas of every other team as if we don’t have ideas or plans of our own.

Funny story about our team and defense. During Deep Space our team’s hatch panel manipulator broke. We were at district champs and our intake got twisted. This meant that they couldn’t load hatch panels from the human player station. So…Instead of focusing on balls, the team decided to play defense.

At one point the pit crew was just sitting in the bean bag chairs, the robot left unworked on in the pit. I asked what was going on.

“Why would we put all of that work into the robot if they are just going to go and repeatedly ram it into the wall.?”

I couldn’t really argue against that one. At least not in a way that would be reasonable.

I hope we don’t end up in a similar situation during this weekend’s competition.

I’ll let you know either way.

Ok…Enough for now.



This is really cool! Very exciting to see your team assess the situation after Glacier Peak, determine that they needed to take the risk of a rebuild and execute it.

I suspect, regardless of the competition outcome at Auburn, the team has learned a lot from this experience. To me, this is the benefits of no bag coming to fruition. The opportunity to go to an event, see what didn’t work with their original design and then take the learnings, motivation and inspiration from that to try and build a design they saw that they thought was better is something that wasn’t previously an option.

Your listed goals seem very reasonable. I think you’re posing the right questions and pushing the right guidance for the drive team to practice. Hopefully they come around before the end!

Best of luck at Auburn this weekend, all of us on 2910 are excited to see “Phantom-Lite” play!


You just named our robot. They were really inspired by you guys and your robot. I felt a bit bad that in match one of finals they played such hard defense against you guys. I am hopeful that that is behind us and they will play the game as intended moving forward.



More practice video:


Looking great! I’m eager to see it in action this weekend.

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The kids can’t stop talking about you guys either.

Taking a huge risk

First…Some Music:

I’ve probably shared this artist with you before but…Hell…Maybe even this specific album and song. It fits though so…

The drive team drove the robot right up until we closed the truck. Ok, so not exactly, I mean…they turned it of, put it on the cart, and loaded it into the truck.

So…I am so damn proud of these kids. I hope they have the best possible outcome, and I hope that for everyone. They took a huge risk and worked their little butts off and I really hope it pays off.

So…between our week 1 event, and our week 6 event they tore the entire robot apart and changed every last aspect of it down to how the bumpers attach to the darn thing. And in this artificial world where things matter and people work hard, these kids really came through.

Guess we’ll know more by Monday.

Ok…Time for sleep. Tomorrow is a big day for these guys.



A letter to my team leads:

We don’t have leadership on our team. We have a philosophy. Leaders lead. If you want to lead something then do so. If no one follows you, then you aren’t leading.

Here is the letter:

Hey guys,

Wanted to take a minute to remind you all of a couple of things:

  1. Outcomes on or off of the field are not a judgement on your value or the value of the team.

There is a lot that goes into this program. The reality is, we can only control what we can control. No one can say that we haven’t done the hard work and while I definitely hope things work out in your favor, things sometimes don’t.

  1. Follow the plan.

We have done the work, we have a plan, and all we can do is our best to carry it out. Check things off of your checklist before each match. If something goes wrong, come together to get the team back on track, (“Back on” just auto corrected to bacon. so now I’m thinking of a train track made of bacon where the train wheels are covered in tiny mouths that take bites of bacon as they spin round and round.) Don’t worry about who did what wrong, just do what you can in the next x minutes in order to make your situation better than it was.

  1. Bad things happen to good people

Again…See #1. Some days are good and things go your way, other days things don’t go so well and you figure out you have more work to do.

  1. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

Take your time. Think things through. Stick to the plan as best you can. The best tool we have are our brains and you guys have some pretty good ones especially when you allow them to work together. You all have totally got this, and if you don’t then you’ll come together and do your best to set things right. Don’t let the stress get to you and no matter what, be there for each other.

  1. It is not about the robot.

This whole thing is artificial. It is designed to create stressful and dramatic situations. It is designed to push you to your limits. It is designed to bring out the best (or worst) in all of us. Try desperately hard to remember that 10 years from now…hell…2 years from now you won’t remember your ranking. You won’t remember the outcomes, but you will remember key moments, like Gideon burning popcorn yesterday:-p or the robot getting air off of the charging station on the practice field because Branson typed in the wrong number (hasn’t happened yet, but it makes a great story so I’m sticking with it.)

You are building relationships that you will think of fondly for the rest of your life.

So…with that said. Lets all work hard to have the best possible time, and to make this, the hardest fun we ever had, a wonderful and cherished memory for everyone involved.



Long Division:

I recently read (listened to ) the book “Long Division”. I personally loved it.

One of the concepts in the book is that everyone wants to skip to the end, but life is like long division. You have to do the work and see how it turns out in the end.

Things we need to remember.

“My Kids really wanted this.”

Is there a kid out there that does this that didn’t “really want this”? We have a couple kids on the team that are all about the numbers. They were sitting in the pits going through calculating every point in every match trying to figure out what was enough for them to move on. At one point one of them said to the drive team as they were leaving for a match, “You need 3 ranking points in this match or we are statistically done.”

I took him for a walk.

“11th place is the last spot where we are statistically likely to make it to the finals. We need to make it to the finals (bottom half) and then score 2 upset matches in order to move on.” Ok, not an exact quote, but something like it. Basically he was saying that if we didn’t get the 3 ranking points, there was no way we would be moving on.

So I told him about the idea of the book long division. He was trying to use a calculator to skip to the end and instead he needed to live through everything in order to see what would happen.

They did manage to win that match and get the three ranking points putting them in 11th place, but they lost the next one and instantly dropped to 17th.

The thing that was really hard for my team to remember was that every time they moved up in the standings, it meant that someone else moved down, and every team at the event cared just as much, was just as smart, wanted it just as badly, and worked just as hard as we did.

“Every time you “get lucky” or “catch a break” someone else struggles.

There was a scrappy little team at our last competition. KOP drivetrain with 2 giant bars of aluminum strapped across the top.

Over the weekend the team seemed to shrink. In the end I think there were 1 or two kids left, but they made it to the finals.

At one point they were ranked 8th.

The SOTA bots took this team under their wing. I checked in on them periodically making sure they were ok, but in reality they were doing great and I was really rooting for them. I so wanted to see them move on.

Our alliance, also including the SOTA Bots, took them out in one of the matches that we needed in order to make it to district champs.

The thing is, we didn’t even really do that well in the match. Ok, so we balanced in auto! So freaking cool, but then in placing our first cone our intake got stuck on the charging station and that was it for the rest of the match. :frowning:

The funny part is, the kids came back convinced they had A) lost the match because they thought getting stuck would give them a red card, and B) thinking they were done for the season. But in the end, no red card, and they were carried by their alliance partners for the rest of the match.

So we ended the day with 63 points, ranked 40 somethingth in the district. The kids were pretty convinced they were in a position to move on, but in reality we were right on the bubble. If the right group of teams won awards and we didn’t win any, they would knock us out of the running.

Yet, somehow they drew a good straw and we get to move on.

But, for every one of us, there is some other team that worked just as hard, cared, just as much, and wanted it just the same, and for them their season is over.

I really hope we can keep that perspective as we go on to district champs later this week.

Ok…enough for now.



An open letter to my team:

First a bit of background.

We made it to district champs. We went into our final district event with a 1 in 3 chance of making it, and the kids did exactly what they had to do. They managed to go into finals as a first pick for the fifth place alliance, and managed to get out of it with 63 points. The cutoff for district champs this year being 61. They also picked up an EI award which means we aren’t out of the running on that front as well.

We got 1 day of “rest”, one day to work on the robot and reload the truck, and in about an hour we leave for the long 6+ hour drive over to Eastern Washington University (Chains required.)

Last night I started writing this letter as an email for the booster board/parents attending the competition, but then I decided not to send it. Instead I will try to pass this information on verbally as I interact with parents and mentors throughout the weekend.

Hey all,

As we go into this competition I wanted to take a moment to recognize all of the hard work you have all done to get us here. While there is a non-zero chance the team might move on, going into this competition in 43rd place means even if our performance is middle of the pack as expected we are not likely to earn enough points to move on to worlds.

The last thing I would ever want is for us to miss all of the good times that are to be had at this event because we are worried that everything possible isn’t breaking our way.

With that in mind, please try to have as much fun and remain as positive as possible throughout the weekend.

Please remember that we as adults and the kids are that horrible mix of exhausted, anxious, and excited. For some of the kids, our success or failure feels like it is resting completely on their shoulders. For some of the adults, we are one simple/silly/stupid mistake away from failure, and that is a terrible place to be.

We are going to be interacting with judges. While we want every kid to understand that every interaction with anyone at the event could make or break our team’s chances of winning an award, we also need to recognize that our kids are kids. They are learning how to navigate this world. They are struggling in ways we may never understand.

We are also going to be competing on the field. We have a decent robot, but there are a lot of untested parts on the robot which may lead to unintended unknowable conflicts that we won’t see until certain circumstances arise. For example we braced the arm in several places. While we did rotate the arm through its full range of motion after adding the braces, we were unable to actually test the robot because our driver station and one swerve module are broken.

We will hopefully find out later today/early tomorrow.

So here is what I ask.
Please try to keep how tired/nervous/excited we all are in mind throughout all of this. We are going to make mistakes. This state will bring out the worst in many of us and those problematic behaviors are going to be exacerbated. We have been driving the team really hard for a really long time at this point, and things are going to be ragged around the edges…

So…With that said, In every interaction you have with a kid please try to do the following:

Ask yourself, what is this kid trying to say/do?
What does this kid really need/want?
What can I do during this interaction to leave things in a better state then they were before?

If you find yourself having a conflict with a kid or dealing with a kid who is exhibiting an undesirable behavior,

See all of the above
Ask yourself in any conflict, “What do I get if I win this conflict?”
“What do they lose?”
Is there a way out of this where everyone gets away feeling better?

Remember. The ones who need the most love will show it in the most unloving ways.

Thank you all again for all of your support and help with all of this. We could not do it without you.



Whatever it takes

So…our season is over. Who am I kidding? We had two outreach events today and however many different projects coming up over the next several months. Our season never ends. #yearRoundTeam #selfCareIsNotAThing #burnOut? #burnBabyBurn

Last Saturday I went to the Woodie Flowers breakfast. Eric Stokely was presenting to the group, giving us a preview of the speech he was meant to give a little while later at the opening ceremonies. His speech consisted of a series of quotes that he expanded on.

One of the quotes really hit home for me. It is in reality the overarching theme of our program, and it is something that I have started to struggle with, and probably need to address.

“Whatever it takes”. Stokely said he saw that on the side of a delivery truck, and it reminded him of me oddly enough. “Whatever it takes”.

So for me, it sunk in, that this idea…”Whatever it takes” is the specific thing that I have been trying so desperately hard to convey to my kids. That “whatever it takes” is what FIRST is all about, but that may not continue to work out in this post COVID world.

See…For as long as this team has existed there have always been some kids for whom this is simply a safe place to be. They aren’t interested in robotics in the least. They are interested in having a place where they can just be themselves.

Some are friends of kids who are really into this, others are kids whose families have traditionally been on our team and so for them it isn’t really a choice, or those whose parents want to see things like this on college applications, and there are those that just need a place to be. All of these people need to coexist on a team who’s overarching ethos is, “Whatever it takes.” and that creates some really difficult situations to live with.

So…an example. I somehow managed to explain to the kids that scouting was important even for teams that aren’t performing well at a competition and generally won’t end up as an alliance captain. The reason was that our drive team coach can review scouting data for alliance partners and looking at the teams we are competing against, and use that information to come up with a plan for best how to play each match.

The problem…

Our lead scouts get last pick of team members after drive team and pit crew, and good scouting requires the largest number of people. You need 6 people per match and 1 person to compile all of the data. Now yes, we could use some of the fancier scouting apps, but that would require investing in technology which hasn’t worked out well for us in the past.

So…Our scout leads have to take everyone and anyone willing to sit and watch matches. The scout leads sit in the stands for hours compiling the information, and they often end up scouting matches directly themselves because some of the kids on the team just don’t show up. Others do show up, but don’t write down accurate information because they get bored or don’t really care. At one point someone handed one of our lead scouts a paper and said, “I just guessed on all this stuff because I wasn’t really paying attention.”
But the team ethos is “whatever it takes.” So…the lead scouts were completely broken by the end of each day. They were doing things like trying to go back and rewatch matches on youtube to get information for people that didn’t do their jobs. They skipped lunch. They didn’t take bathroom breaks. They just worked.

So I told them to stop killing themselves, and instead to relax and get the drive team the information that they had and nothing more.

I don’t know how else to fix this.

The reality is, most of the information was available through blue alliance anyway.

During today’s outreach event, a 1 day lego camp for kids with special needs, I had 3 or 4 kids on the team who simply refused to work directly with the campers. This meant that some of the other kids had to work with 2 or even 3 kids. How do I prevent them from burning out. The funny part is, if you look at my roster there are a number of kids on my team who fit the definition of having special needs, and I know on some level everyone is doing the best that they can…

I guess it is just hard some times.

Things will slow down for us for a while now…Maybe if I think about it hard enough I can come up with a solution that doesn’t mean that we stop being a team that says yes, or that we stop agreeing to do “whatever it takes”. I’ll let you know what I come up with. Maybe I’ll just have to break down and invite my twin brother to help.

Ok…Enough for now.



So…This is goodbye for now.

I’m winding down the team. We will still be working over the summer, but it will be much harder to reach all but the most dedicated kids. We probably have to do a couple cleanup days in the classroom over the summer, and I have to make a millennium walker for a friend’s brother’s 50th birthday.

The kids have to build a greenhouse and seating area down at a local homeless shelter so the housing insecure can grow their own food.

Yesterday we participated in a study on how to increase the number of traditionally marginalized individuals participating in FIRST. How do we get these people in the first place, and once they are here how do we keep them.

I don’t have any answers yet, but I am glad someone is looking at the problem and taking it seriously. Historically we have done a decent job, but over the past few years we have been struggling to hang on just like most teams. Our numbers are starting to come back, the marginalized haven’t come back in the same way.

The real problem is, our current solution (FLL teams) won’t filter through for at a couple of year’s at best. Really though, this just means we didn’t’ do the work several years ago and that is why things aren’t where we want them to be now. People want some sort of instant solution, but the solution comes several years out.

Tomorrow we are presenting to Soroptimist of Oak Harbor. They are a Women’s organization and have done a ton to help promote women in STEM and our team.

I hope we haven’t let them down too much.


I hope you all have a great summer. If your team does FTC or FLL, then see you in a few short months. Otherwise, Kick off is only 219 days away.

Enough for now,