The Power of a Coach

For those that don’t know, Robotics was added to the Minnesota High School Coaches Association last year. Pretty straight forward, it’s an organization that serves coaches across the state, and there are definitely some benefits to being a member for us! One of those is a newsletter that had a great article on the front page this month - The Power of a Coach. It looks at 4 questions, and how examining those answers can change how you impact the students you work with. It’s well worth a read, for anyone working with a team!

Why do I coach?
Why do I coach the way I do?
How does it feel to be coached by me?
How do I define success?

After you’ve read it, I’d be interested in hearing thoughts on what parts may apply differently to FIRST. Part of the conclusion struck me as something that may not really apply to us:

with less than 3% of students going on to play college and less than 1% professional sports, we are not providing these opportunities to help students get scholarships or professional careers.

Does the difference in that fact impact the conclusions and observations made in the rest of the article?


Sort of a tangent
Does FRC have the highest percentage of any high school sport for players to “go pro”?
What constitutes going pro for FRC? Going on to “play” in college would mean majoring in STEM? Does “going pro” mean going on to work for a big engineering company? Graduating as a STEM major?

First thank you very much for posting this. I’d recommend everyone also watch the video referenced in the article.

I don’t think that the fact that in general FIRST has a higher percentage of students become professionals means that any of it doesn’t apply to us as FIRST Coaches.

It comes down to that 4th bullet point. How do you define success? Is it the number of students who go pro, or is it the number of students who have learned and grown in any way in the program.

Thanks for posting this Jon. I coach cross country and track and field in addition to robotics. I think Mr_V hit the nail right on the head here: It’s how we define success. I have always, in anything that I coached, defined in terms students having a good experience and growing from that experience. A very wise teacher and coach I worked with for two decades had a philosophy that any coach who defines success in terms of objective “on the field” success in terms of wins or number of kids going to compete in college is setting themselves up for a lot of angst and disappointment. Because you largely can’t control the talent of the kids coming to you and the talent of the kids you are competing against. It’s not that I don’t want those objective successes, I am by nature too competitive for my own good, and I want to win. But I want those things to be a by-product of my doing a good job.


If you are truly comparing roboticists to atheletes, then an extreme minority of FRC members go on to build robots. But, a majority of the do go into the STEM field. I guess it depends upon your definition of “going pro”.

I think a pretty universal definition of “going pro” would be getting paid to use a skill-set you’ve acquired.

That’s why college athletes are considered amateur athletes; because they aren’t paid a salary/paid for their time (separate side discussion on whether college athletes should be paid).

So regarding FRC, if you get paid to do something that relates to skills you learned in FIRST (whether that be CAD, software, hardware, project management, machining, public speaking, etc), that would be considered “going pro”. Doesn’t necessarily even need to be in the tech industry.


In the most general definition, then almost everyone on a team can go pro.
It’s interesting that some members move in different directions. One of our drivers wants to go to law school another desired to become a police officer.

The skills and attributes such as self confidence, teamwork, critical thinking and persistence that I see so many students develop are applicable in many areas of life.

As a related question, how do YOU define success?

It’s an important question I’ve been struggling a bit to truly define myself. So it’s a bit coincidental that this came up.

I’m the type of person that likes objective stats. And goals like this can be difficult for me to quantify. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to define goals that don’t really use hard numbers. I mean, number of students impacted is great, but then I even start to wonder what that number should be.

I know we need student involvement in the activities we go to. When student interest seems low, where do you draw the line? For instance, if we attend an offseason event we need a minimum number of students. So the question becomes do you attend if 10 want to go? How about 3? Should it depend on team size?

The same type of questions about impact. We held an open house recently to invite rookies to the team. When asked how each subteam would define if they were successful, the answer was usually “if students were interested”. So is that quantifiable enough? How would you know if you’re doing a good enough job?

As a mentor I want to impact students. That’s really all I want. I typically define that myself by asking the students “did you learn something?” Honestly, I don’t even really care what it is that they learned as long as it was SOMETHING. I try to set that as a low bar, a minimum to accomplish. Sometimes even that’s hard.

I am starting to ask myself now though, what would be a higher bar? Does there need to be a minimum number of kids I affect to make it worthwhile? (I feel like if even 1 student is impacted I’ll do whatever needs to be done, but I know others that think “My time would be more useful doing something else.” And they might not be wrong but I’m struggling to define that for myself)

So I’d like to ask again, how do YOU define success as a mentor? And why do you use that criteria?

Thanks for any responses. And great article.

In that more general sense couldn’t you also say the same thing about athletes “going pro”? Athletics also teach soft skills that can be used for future careers other than playing sports. And there are other parts of some of the larger athletic teams that can teach more business and speaking skills (press box announcers, equipment managers, etc.).

Thanks for posting this article Jon, I think it will be a good read to help remind us why we coach and mentor in this program.

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I would say going “pro” would mean getting paid for being in a STEM related job or teaching. I would also say that the FIRST is the inverse of sports, where the MAJORITY of the students actually go “pro”. My kid grew up in FIRST and is now “pro” at a mega corporation doing exactly what she wanted to do.

I guess the reason we wouldn’t say the same thing about athletes “going pro” is there are pro leagues where if you say to someone that a baseball player “went pro” almost everyone would assume that meant the pro leagues

What about Proffesional Engineer designations. That’s a pretty accurate pro league. (Yes I know FIRST isn’t just engineering)

PE’s don’t necessarily apply to all of the professions that can be pursued using the skills learned in FIRST. For example, the software PE exam was only introduced in 2013, and was discontinued 6 months ago due to low demand - it was only offered 5 times. Only 81 individuals have sat for the exam in total, representing a profession that has millions of practitioners (According to EDC, 4.4 million in North America in 2016!) across nearly every industry.

Using licensure as a requirement for “going pro” really degrades a lot of professions and industries that just don’t require it.

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I know. People just were saying there wasn’t even a professional designation/league and technically there is

As inspirational as the message is, I want to highlight the importance of the Minnesota Robotics Coaches Association (MRCA) being adopted by the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association.

When we started down this road a few years ago, it was primarily to get the liability insurance for the coaches/mentors in Minnesota. The $2million liability (outlined on pg 15) shows how this coverage is distributed. Not only does it travel with the coach/mentor to all events, it also includes a $1mil coverage for camps.

Finally, the latest development with the MSHSCA is in regards to protecting coaches and defining their role in the community. Some (parents, fans) have abused the perceived role as one that is a public figure. This was at the heart of the case in the issue (starting on page 3).

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