Team Mindset

Our team is working on a two point shooter for an off-season event that is coming up. I, as one of the programmers tasked with making the hood code, realized when looking at many other teams’ code, that I didn’t think our hood had enough range of motion to shoot accurately beyond the tarmac.

Our shooter has a single flywheel and no back rollers, and the proposed hood has 5 degrees of motion (25-30 degrees relative to 90). When I mentioned this to the team, the president and the mentor both said that we should build it first to find out whether we have enough motion, but we’ve done no prototyping and the angles the hood can move we made from guesses. So to prove it, I made up a desmos simulator (inspired by 3847’s Infinite Recharge desmos calculator) with some basic physics to prove my point. Instead of realizing that our shooter wouldn’t work that well, I was told that our priorities are the build the current hood instead of messing around with another design.

I think this is a major problem of our team, getting so hard stuck on one idea and thinking it is the best, when we should’ve pivoted. We don’t really prototype, we just kinda draw a picture on a whiteboard and design that, which would work somewhat ok, if we at least refined our design, but no I’m always told that we need to build it before we can change designs. The only problem is, we meet every other week for around 2 hours, so we won’t have time to pivot designs.

This is also a problem during our build season where we somehow meet 3 times a week for 3 hours, but it still takes us till around late week 8 (Week 3 competition) for anything to be actually built. From what I’ve heard, a lot of time is spent screwing things together and then unscrewing them because of a lack of communication. This might be related to the problem, but most of the seniors last year built most of the robot and the juniors, sophmores, and freshman kinda just fooled around and didn’t want to get involved. This meant that when all the seniors left, we had basically no one on the team with any mechanical knowledge, including mentors since none of them are CAD (we have some 2 programming mentor, 1 electrical mentor, and like 5 mentors in business and organizing the team). One of the seniors left us a 2 point design, which is the one we are building.

Does anyone have any advice for trying to get our team to be open to prototyping and doing more testing before committing to building a sub-optimal design?

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Best way to solve this? Crash and burn, hard.

1293 has existed for many years in its history. The leaps forward came when things were so miserable that everyone really had to reexamine their thinking. The miserable 2008 season led to a focus on in-shop building and simplicity that got them their first playoff appearance in 2009 (and 2010, and 2011, all as second-rounders). An equally-miserable 2018 season stuffed with design overreach, poor communication, and frustrating pit operations led to adopting more of a minimum competitive concept approach for 2019, some decent-tier Onshape, and a lumber-based Super Pit. We’re riding a streak of four straight regional playoff appearances starting at Palmetto 2019–two alliance captain appearances, a first-round pick, and one Golden Horseshoe pick that netted our first banner in 19 years of trying.

The good news is that you’ve got more tools now than ever before to make your build faster and thus friendlier to iteration. Whether it’s REV ION parts, adopting the AM14U instead of a custom chassis, or using brushless current limiting as a clutch so you don’t have to design a mechanical one, modern FRC parts make a lot of things very simple. You can also use things like Spectrum Prototype or Ryan Dognaux’s clamping blocks to get something ready fast, then take the lessons to build a better v2.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to turn the boat around without that crash and burn. But if it happens, embrace it and get frustrated enough to do better.

(also for real get a couple people passable at Onshape it will save you so much time)


Looking at your post history, you’re struggling under the weight of leadership at the top that doesn’t know what young engineers are capable of or how to guide them most effectively for competition success (or when to get out of the way).

Generally, FRC teams do need to “build it and find out” because members don’t have the experience to know better.

You need to finish the prototype.

High performing teams have two basic hacks to get thru this: design work outside of lab open hours, and really fast mechanical architectures for prototypes. So they’re building robots in days, not weeks, and then rolling iterations onto the robots before you see them in competition.

(There are limits to “needing to build” - eg you can do some basic trajectory calcs to say approx what your results “should be”. Those basic calcs say that 5 degrees difference is not a ton of adjustable range. But your mentor leader needs to see it with his own eyes, like many human leaders.)

The problem is “an adjustable hood shooter for the competition” is being mechanically prototyped in time for the competition, not a complete product feature managed and finished.

Prototypes should only answer a single question.

From your post, you make it sound like this single prototype is trying to answer “how do we adjust a hood” and “what is the good short shot angle” and “what is the good long shot angle” all at once, and won’t be ready until comp when you will find out all three things at once.

How I’d structure the development is three different prototype phases - a completely static “angle definition” prototype to verify the hood angles, then a mechanism to adjust the angle, then finally putting it all together into a single device… where you already have the shots 80% tuned in from your first static prototype.

If you don’t have time to build all three prototype stages, I don’t think you have time to build the final product either.

It’s probably too late for that multi-prototype strategy now, but you can try to learn that project management / project structure lesson from this, and apply it for in-season work.

Finish your prototype. Learn your lessons.


My advice it to look at past games.

What was the game piece(s)?
How were they acquired?
How were they scored?

Could you build adjustable prototypes using 3D printing and have them done BEFORE next kickoff?

For a shooter prototype, from 3847s web page,

You could build something similar that you can change…

Motor speed
Hood angle
Wheel size/material
Hood material

Maybe make it so you can try single wheel/double wheel versions.
Also look at if you need a feeder wheel as an option.

I can see having prototypes pre-build and start modifying and testing them as soon as your team gets the game piece.

I would rather the CAD team design mechanisms with parameters they are given (Motor, Gear reduction, Shooter wheel, Compression, Hood angle) than have the CAD team design a mechanism and make a best guess.

That post is spot on for the utility of prototypes. I can add that my team is a reasonably good team and we use prototypes. As a matter of fact the coach starts with having small sub-teams of students (and mentors) sketching ideas for each of their assigned (in some manner or voluntary) subsystem they are on.

Then there is a call for who wants to work on what to make prototypes. Ideas that can’t get any takers to build a prototype die. Prototypes get built and the better and most popular by whatever criteria people want to use get refined. You get the idea - teams use prototypes to hone in on a design.

What these posts here may be lacking is you are asking “How do I influence people to get them to do it my way (or this way)?”

There are a lot of CD threads and thousands on the Internet somewhat related to that question ranging from Only the coach’s ideas get made to Our team is a democracy and that’s a messy inefficient organization.

A quick search didn’t reveal what I was looking for to help you and I have to run to another volunteer activity to help build a woodshop at the Senior Center (I’m really, really old!) so my quick, shallow advice is

  • Point out most teams use prototypes because that’s effective (provide data - you can see them posted all over the place)

  • Build something simple that proves your point. You can do a lot with not much plywood, some flexible thin plastic, drill motor or robot motor, a couple of axles of wheels with gears and chain, some clamps. Do it yourself and try to recruit another team mate to help. The more students and mentors that help you the more obvious that’s the way to go.


Forcing leadership to change can be very difficult. I second the idea about trying to build your our very simple prototype. We tend to use a few pieces of plywood and adjust hood angle by proving the shooter on blocks. If you can find some other people willing to work on this outside regular meetings, do that.

I will also say that your meeting schedule seems super light compared to what I’m used to. I don’t know if it feasible for you to have more meetings, but if it is then who knows your leadership might feel like they have time to do more incremental prototypes. Or maybe you could add optional meetings for people to work on prototypes and side projects. For reference my team meets 24-30 hours per week during season and 6+ hours per week in the offseason.

Try to show what you can learn from prototypes without antagonizing your leadership. It won’t matter how much evidence you can present them if they wish you would stop talking.

Good luck.

The first prototype of a mechanism might come from just a sketch. For teams with good CAD capability, that might be a CAD sketch, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be driven by calculations. You don’t know how it will work so you have to build it and find out. A critical difference between your team and teams you wish to be like is that some teams can find a way to build something related to that sketch “design” very quickly, like hours or a couple days max. There’s a huge problem if you can’t convince your president and mentor that 5 degrees of hood adjustment isn’t enough from some straightforward calculations. However, if you can build a shooter with 5 degrees of adjustment in two days out of wood and plastic and “prove” 5 degrees is not enough, then you could get over that hurdle and start on the next design with more range.

Some students have amazing natural gifts in mechanical design. However, being lucky enough to have one or two is not a strategy. A design feel is also not a substitute for engineering knowledge. You aren’t going to sustainably solve your problem until you get a good mechanical mentor or two. A good mentor would insist on calculations where possible and would provide guidance on appropriate calculation methods.

It’s pretty hard to iterate through prototypes of multiple mechanisms on a robot with this amount of available time. Your mentors probably understand that you currently have time to guess and build something to completion that may work poorly, or you could embark on prototype iteration and end up with everything incomplete. Having mentors that support calculation as the basis for design and having mentors and students who can rapidly construct and test prototypes are critical components, but having the time to support prototype iteration AND THEN build the competition robot which will still require optimization is just as critical.


OP will not feel I’m being helpful - it’s not what OP wants to hear - but OP’s enthusiasm might be far beyond the team’s norm. I’ve been a mentor for years and I see such great variation from year to year of the effort the team as a whole can or wants to try to accomplish. I and thousands of other coach’s and mentors know what it takes to get to the championship.

But some years people just don’t have enough time to dedicate to robotics. Some years the schedule works pretty well, though. Some years the students are preoccupied with other subjects (music is one of two of my team’s Achilles Heels). Some years you get a highly dedicated student that does much to help the team. Some years you get four highly dedicated students and the championship comes into sight!

How do you change a team’s norm to spend more time of robotics? That’s been described as being hard to do. You have to have a coach who can dedicate a lot of time. You have to have cheer leaders or motivational speakers to fire up everybody. You have to recruit lots of students and mentors with the enticement of fun, meaningful activities. And you have to have some capable mentors and coaches who can provide some expertise but at least help the students explore.

All this takes time and it never hurt to have plenty of sponsors to support good tools and space to build stuff.

I don’t mean to be gloom and doom (and again I’m being simplistic with this post) but if you can’t get people to follow you, then do your own thing and next year will likely be different. Some even try other teams if that’s a choice.

PS One summer we had in-depth sessions, classes on interesting topics and some students showed up. We went to championship that next season. This summer - no takers - students spent zero time on robotics not even going to a social event at the county fair (with a free pass) to show off the robots.

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I couldn’t agree more with almost all of this post. Really great perspective. The one part I’d change is the quoted line. I’d recommend more than just hoping things will change. Without the right mentors in place, the team is going to have issues year-after-year. Definitely do your own thing and try to help others understand how it benefits the team, but do more than that. Actively try to recruit the critical mechanical mentors that you team needs.


For sure!

Coaches, mentors, students, sponsors are all precious resources that have to be actively found. Always be on the look out for opportunities to grab any of the above.

It may seem trite - you always hear - Practice your elevator speech! You have 30 seconds to talk to anyone and everyone so put on the hard sell.

Even if you aren’t successful finding a single person you’ll probably impress someone along the way who might then recruit you for a summer job, college scholarship (you can see my post on a recent Weekly Wins), provide you a recommendation or you’ll be motivating your employees of the company you found. Good Luck!

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I actually think this is really helpful. I first tried to show some designs from 254, which I later realized is way out of our reach currently because of both lack of mentor and student knowledge. I’ve later tried to some some more reasonable designs, but still got rejected with “Those are the good teams” (I’m not gonna present bad design for us to build).

I think this is what we lack and will likely never have, as we lack the mentor support, and are generally very disorganized, which means that when new members join, they usually come for a few meetings and then leave because they don’t really know what they’re supposed to do.

Our team is in an suburban area, but there aren’t really that many large companies nearby, which probably contributes to our lack of mechanical mentors. Without a bunch of new extremely dedicated mentors to help us, I think I should accept just building simpler robots that are more fit to our team.

I think I should accept just building simpler robots that are more fit to our team.

A “simple” robot can still be a very effective robot. Do not underestimate the KISS method of design. Last season we used a ramp and gravity to move balls to our shooter. Very reliable because gravity usually never fails. For Deep Space we had a very simple hook made of cutting board material to gather and deploy hatches. With some practice, we became very good at placing them. Again, very reliable. And at playoffs, reliability is a key contributing factor for wins.
So, don’t think of simple robots as not being good robots.


Agreed with this. Try to build for what your team can reasonably accomplish, not for what the top teams are building. In fact, the simpler you go, the less points of failure you’ll likely have in competition, and the more reliable its likely to be over the course of an event (and the more likely you are to get picked!).

The hardest thing to do buildwise is build the simplest robot you can that accomplishes your goals. To reference my own team, our robot this year had no vision tracking, no turret, and no indexer - our “hopper” was just a gravity fed ramp. We were an exclusively fender shooter. Our climber was a modified 2020 everybot climber which only climbed to level 2 (and we added a high bar attachment after our first event). Despite not having all the “top team designs”, we were a top performer at both of our districts (Rank 6/36, 2nd overall pick and Rank 2/41, 2nd alliance captain), as well as performing well at the Michigan State Championship and the world championship.

You don’t need all those bells and whistles to perform well. Just good strategic design practices and an accurate estimation of your resources.


What is simple to one team can be complex to another, but our robots have definitely been simpler or at least less fancy than others we competed against (especially 2022). I consider our 2014 and 2015 robots pretty simple in absolute terms, and our 2022 robot has definitely simpler than some of our opponents (i.e. kit chassis, no turret).

Some of our best years had prototyping of a simple mechanism that we tried to closely match in final build - 2014 we prototyped the catapult on an 80-20 frame until the dimensions worked, and then copied those exact dimensions into the robot. Those good seasons have given us multiple finalist appearances, wins, and trips to States and Worlds.

Though we’ve also had years like 2016 or 2019 where we probably should have pivoted some aspect of the design because those were pretty bad - 2016 we should have probably redesigned for a low goal only ball scorer and 2019 should have been a more angle tolerant hatch mechanism. And 2018 our analysis said focus on the center scale, but we put a lot of focus into the ramps which was kind of a strategic blunder. Don’t ignore your own analysis.

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To rephrase what @Billfred wrote:

We all know “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but the corollary is “If you want it fixed, let it break”.


I’d like to point you to these two blogs. (Let me know if the links are broken.

I also think that you’ll eventually realize that this itself is a learning experience and that it’s not too big of an issue as long as it’s moving towards a resolution.

For instance.

Situation: The team struggles with time managment? Resources maybe? Some bias towards designs?

What can we learn?
The team’s prototyping capabilities are too slow or ineffective.
The team may not be ready to move on to a harder design.

Things to answer.
Is the team meeting enough and with enough urgency to actually finish this project?
Was the design chosen because it was good or was it because it was loosely framed as “should work”?
Does everyone understand the design decision and the affects?

These are important things to think about.

Remember, you can only control what you do. If others aren’t taking it seriously, the best you can do is learn and have as much fun as you can while knowing you did everything you could.

If I remember correctly, 3847 has their Protopipe system. 5254 has the HYPEblocks. The Thrifty bot has something that I’m forgetting what it’s called. These are all 3d printable. If need be, ask a neighboring team to print them for you if the team doesn’t have 3d printing capabilities.

Learn more about mechanical design. I love referring to the 2016 1678 fall workshop for CAD and design as well as the RAP document from NASA.

Seek out help from a mechanical mentor even if its remote. The 254,1678, and The Open Alliance team’s mentors and students are very response in their CD threads/Discord.

Work toward the long term improvement.
So what if this shooter hood fails? Learn and make a better one.
Need funds for a 3d printer or a laser cutter? Fundraise and write grants.
People aren’t taking robots seriously?
Prove to them they can be better.
Need more mentors? Find one, they’re out there somewhere.

(Will attach more links when I get home)


Let me start this with: I have created a burner account to protect my identity, and I have no malicious intent with having a burner account.

Most of these posts have seemed as if it has come from a mentor of many teams and less a student, and I think my own insight may help. I have been in the FIRST community for a while, and I have also hopped around teams to increase my own exposure.

Concerning your first point, one must consider a team’s “resources” (ie. the skill level of the student body, the capability to perform certain tasks, the availability from mentors, etc.) While your team may have these implied “resources”, a lot of off season additions to robots come with an opportunity for students to learn and develop skills for future years. Additionally, if you still believe that your team should pursue a hood that is larger than a five-degree range of motion, then I think you should essentially create a solid pitch to give to your mentors and the team leads. Have a healthy discussion and stand your ground. As a student myself, I have been at all positions; I’ve been a captain, a lead, and a member. Standing your ground is crucial, and if you can have a sophisticated, healthy debate, then that goes a long way. IF the leads and mentors still don’t understand your way, I always like the approach of “hey, will it hurt us if we try a larger range of motion hood? If anything, our student body gets more experience, and it will help us for future years as off seasons can be levied to learn and prepare for other seasons.”

Concerning your competition season meeting schedule, I tie it back to your teams’ “resources” and specifically your mentor’s availability. Keep in mind, mentors have lives outside of robotics, and as students, we must respect their time. At the same time, I do think that maybe during the build season, you could potentially meet a little more often, even if the meetings are slightly shorter. Meeting more often allows for more ideas to be thrown around inherently in my opinion.

I hope all of this help, and I have no malicious intent in posting this. This will likely be my only post from this account as I want to keep my identity concealed.

I’ve reread this post a few times and I can’t find a single thing in it that is controversial at all. There is no disparaging of anyone or any team. There is nothing malicious. I don’t know why a burner account seemed essential to protect identity. I’d have been proud to post this, not worried or ashamed.


One thing I would like to note here, excellent mentors and team success, don’t necessarily require you to find engineers or other people who work in related fields. I have worked with some really great teams with really great mentors who are in skilled trades and other fields. If you can find committed mentors who put in the time year after year they can build a champ’s level team, and motivate students to excel.


So you are desperate for a talented mechanical type; focus on finding one - contact shop teachers, physics teachers, community colleges, sponsors. Sponsors like to see success and do provide people sometimes. It may be hard to fill this position but do you have any other choice?

[I was riding my bicycle and thought I heard a vertical mill running in someone’s 2nd garage. I stopped and talked to the person. He was a mechanical type but going to my team’s location and helping robotics wasn’t his thing. I tried and will keep trying.]

This would seem to be easy to fix. Isn’t there one team member who is somewhat organized and can make a published agenda? I’d start with ideas from the team of what they want to do.

(This is somewhat limited since I’ve found that up to about Sophomore year in college students don’t know what they want to accomplish - they do pretty much what adults tell them -think mandatory coming to school and doing homework assignments.)

Add other topics to the written list that head you toward building a robot - Java lessons, WPILib, wiring practice. Play with sensors, measure and cut metal, join metal with rivets, saw wood, drill holes, build a simple prototypical shooter! The list is long and I and anyone on CD has an unlimited supply of activities.

You don’t have to have an expert on all activities in person. Draw on the Internet, too. (Do get that mechanical type of person to help all be safe in the shop.) Maybe a part time mechanical mentor would do. Can the shop teacher give you all a start on safe practices? There are some tools student can work without an adult nearby. In the rotating equipment machine shop and carpentry shop you need good adult supervision at all times; a well trained parent can be very helpful.

List activities. List what you want to accomplish in 30 minutes to 2 hours. Put on dates. Put peoples’ names on the activities.

You are right that members will leave if they haven’t been pointed at something to keep them busy so get prepared to do that. Some people will push themselves into an existing activity but most hang back waiting to be invited so you have to be ready to make those invitations. Let the newcomers do stuff even at the expense of whoever was working a task and has to hand it over - help the newcomer do it.

This is a somewhat pathetic lesson in project management and if it has any appeal to you then maybe others on CD can fill it in much better.