Time Commitment

So I’m a very competitive person by nature and want our team to succeed, but I doubt it’s going to happen when I’m on the team because of the lack of competitive drive on the team. No one else seems to have either the commitment or drive, but they want to win and believe they can win with essentially an robot with Everybot capabilities. This is more confusing, as we had a leadership meeting where everyone wanted for each person to have at least 100-150 hours minimum yearly, which is a lot of hours for a team with 50 people building an Everybot. But even the president doesn’t show up for most meeting and organizes them the day before they happen. I mean if the president of our club is this uncommitted, why should I spend more time than him? A few reasons I don’t think our team can succeed is that they work single threaded, literally only one thing can be accomplished at once and the mentors will yell at you if you try to get people to work on multiple things at once; there is no prototyping, someone draws a picture of what they want on kickoff and that’s what we build, no matter how flawed or bad the design is they act as if its do or die; they don’t use any outside resources, I mean I’ve looked through many Open Alliance threads from 6328, 95, and 3847 to name a few, I’ve also looked at 1678 and 254’s yearly technical release of info, I think that most people can agree that learning from how these teams tick and function, or even just their designs can give a lot of inspiration and insight in to a good design. I’ve tried to bring it up a few times and I get the “they have more money and mentors than us” from most of the leadership team and mentors, which is true, but you can still learn a lot from how run. It just really frustrates me that no one is willing to put time in to make their own designs, but also refused to learn/copy the designs from good teams, yet they still want to win. If our team had a meeting today and went “Ok, we’re just gonna have fun, it doesn’t matter how many meeting you attend, we are just gonna try to build a robot that functions”, I would be fine because at least everyone attitude would then match with the goal, but right now, everyone wants to succeed, without putting an ounce of work in, then blames the money for losing. I’m going in to my junior year which is very important for getting good grades for college so I don’t know how much time to put in and if this is really a worthwhile place to spend my time even though I find this stuff really cool.

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Are there other teams in your area? I’d try and join them. Sometimes a student and a team aren’t a good fit for each other. Best thing to do is for the student to find a new team that aligns with their goals better.

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There are, but most teams in my area are school teams so I don’t think I would be able to join. I’m currently on my school’s team.

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Normally, school teams will accept outsiders as long as you come to meetings and are commited (how I got into FRC). Maybe try sending them an email, talking to members on discord, and just see if you can check out the team for a bit to see if its a better fit.

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This is not an insane ask. Let’s say you consider your season to be two weeks leading up to build season, the six week build season, and an eight week competition season. We’re talking 6-9 hours per week of commitment – on par with or less than most sports teams and other activities. If you consider a year to be the entire academic year, you’re asking for 3-4 hours per week on average.

Was there consensus on this requirement? Did you build in any structure for accountability? If you did, it’s time to hold the students that aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities accountable. If you didn’t, it’s a lesson learned and time to talk about what’s next.

This is going to happen here, and everywhere, for the rest of your life. There will always be people less committed than you, and people more committed than you, in just about everything you do. I’ve had bosses who don’t care about the finished product as much as me, or teachers that are less invested in grades than their students, etc. I’ve even helped produce FRC events where the people in charge are less invested in a successful event than the volunteers running the show.

It’s frustrating and confusing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Give it your all, and if you succeed, you know it’ll be the result of your hard work. If you fail, you know that you were going at it alone and didn’t have the support you need.

We’d all prefer to be successful than to fail, but there are valuable lessons in both.

“You have to show up to want things.” People can’t have it all. If you’re the one machining and nobody is there to design, it sounds like you have an opportunity to take another design. While I don’t suggest working against your team, I do suggest making it clear that decisions can’t happen in a vacuum and not showing up also means not being part of critical discussions.

I’d recommend a goal setting meeting – one where you set SMART goals. There are lots of resources on this, so I won’t go in to great detail, but a key part of SMART goals is the R: Realistic. If a goal isn’t achievable, you shouldn’t set it. This doesn’t preclude you from setting ambitious goals, but if something would need to be a fluke to achieve, it’s not a SMART goal. The A is sometimes Attainable and sometimes Authentic. Both are good considerations. Attainable, like realistic, means it should be within reach. Authentic means the goal has to work for you. “Being world champion alliance captains” may be unrealistic for you today, but it’s even less authentic. Nobody goes from 0 to 100 without luck. Hard work is incremental, and your goals should align with these increments.

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I don’t know how to solve the totality of your problems, so I’m going to pick out one narrow point to respond to.

One thing your team could be doing between now and kickoff is to organise a “practice kickoff”. Pick a game from the past (say 3-5 years ago so someone on the team has experience with it), and go through the steps you would go through in the first few days after kickoff. Divide into subgroups. Read the rules. Brainstorm tactics and strategies. List needs and wants. Brainstorm designs. Prototype. Have a mock scrimmage with old robots or just people. At the end, validate your results by showing the team some match videos and photos/CAD for winning robots. Gather feedback about how it went.

This has two effects:

  • Leadership can discuss (before and after) how they want a kickoff to go, and what they see as good practice for team members to follow. Should we have sub-groups with specific responsibilities? Who is qualified to lead a sub-group? How do we decide which capabilities we should shoot for and which ones we have to drop? How do we avoid having one person be the bottleneck for the whole team? How do we decide between multiple competing design ideas? How do you know when to drop a design and pivot to another? What is the timeline after kickoff?
  • Once you get to kickoff, you don’t have a bunch of students who have never done a kickoff and have to learn everything on the fly. For the rest of the team, it hasn’t been an entire year since you’ve experienced a kickoff. Your leadership is not making up its process as it goes along.

Find out if any more established teams in your area are doing their own mock kickoffs. Ask if you can send some representatives of team leadership to sit in as a learning experience.

Also, if you want prototyping to happen, make sure you have the supplies on hand at kickoff. Cardboard, tape, wood scraps, dowels, PVC pipe.

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Think about why you joined frc (for the fun of doing robotics and learning). If your team captain isn’t getting much out of the program, nothing stops you from putting in all your effort to improve your team. :slight_smile:

If you can inspire even a small group of people on the team (5ish+) then you can build an insane robot that ends up in the world championships, trust me.

I’d recommend if you think its possible to take responsibility and realize that it is unfair that others are not working as hard but it’s also providing you an opportunity to learn by doing their work. If that doesn’t seem very possible in your situation, I’d recommend reaching out to other teams in the area.

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Doesn’t hurt to try. I’ve taken students from other teams onto my school’s team. Reach out, explain your situation, and see what happens.

Whether you find a new team or stay with your current one, put in as much time as you enjoy putting in, without jeopardizing your grades. If you would happily put in X hours per week for a competitive team where everyone was driving toward the same realistic goals, and Y hours per week for a team that’s actually just trying to have fun and build a robot that functions, recognize that your current team is the latter (whether they admit it or not) and if you stay with them, put in Y hours.

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This is not true for a lot of school’s. The insurance policies at many school’s will not cover student’s from other districts, and there may also be regulations or laws regarding providing services to non-taxpayers. I know this is an issue that my team has run into, as have several others in my area (not just for student members of the team, but also for things like our summer camps).

It doesn’t hurt to ask, but don’t hold it against them if they cannot accommodate the request.

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This post reminded me of the experiences on a lower-resource and lack of mentor cooperation that was the topic of a post earlier this year. I highly recommend reading that thread—lots of people gave good advice on how to deal with such frustration and the options that there are for remedying the situation.

Given what you’ve said here, it’s evident that the team you’re on currently has serious organizational issues. Unfortunately, it’s effectively impossible to fix organizational issues as a single individual—the amount of effort it would require is insane and anyone who attempts to do it will likely burn themself out and end up feeling horrible (again, see the thread linked above).

I suggest that you talk to the team leadership about serious, systemic changes. If they aren’t interested and actively supportive of that, I suggest that you go looking for another team on which you can have a better experience.

A quote which has stuck with me (albeit I forget who said it) is “Good robots come from good teams; good teams come from good programs. The real competition is building programs, not robots.” This is why it’s so important to be able to work together with the team you’re on to improve it. Any team could have one good season as a fluke, but teams backed by a good program will have good seasons year upon year. Good programs ensure less instability due to member/mentor turnover, a larger knowledge base, and a stronger team culture. That leads to good teams, but it’s less visible externally, so a lot of members might go “ooooh team number somethingsomething has TONS OF MONEY, so they win!” but in reality, team number somethingsomething has a strong program behind it that allows every student to contribute their skills to the team to make something awesome.

This post was rather ramble-y, but I hope it helps.

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So to help you levelset… we’re very far from a “top team”, but we do purposefully build more than the everybot.

A “full time” student on our team will put in about 200 hours a year. 1/3rd of that is in offseason training and prep, 2/3rds in building the robot and competition season. So, while 150 hours does seem like a lot, it’s under where we are at… and we’re considered one of the more “casual” teams around the area… or at least so I’ve been told.

That being said, it is a frustrating situation to be in. A lot to possibly unpack, but it’s hard without knowing all the details. Two bits of advice:

  1. See if you can find someone you trust who is fairly close to the situation, that you can bounce ideas off of. Or just complain to. It could be a friend, parent, teacher, counselor, whatever. Just someone so you don’t feel so alone in the stress or trails, and can help check you as you propose and execute changes.

  2. Introspect to see if you can figure out which individuals on the team have the biggest “lever” to dictate the attitudes and culture of the team. Everyone is a steward of culture, but certain folks can help move the needle more than others. Find these people, and focus on working with them to align culture, expectations, and training/actions.

Be careful trying to bite off too much, culture doesn’t change overnight. Take the small wins with pride, and know that the lessons you learn here will serve you well in team environments for many years to come.

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Look for successful nearby teams and organize a field trip. They don’t have to be amazing teams, find some strong points that your group would like to emulate and then go visit the teams and ask them for pointers. It may be easier for your group to respond to in person examples.

Your participation and time doesn’t need to be impacted by what the president is doing.

A few random comments:

Of course everyone wants to win. No one WANTS to lose. Some people are more willing to accept losing, though, based on other factors such as having fun, accommodating a schedule, enjoying the company of a group, or being able to learn something. Competitive people in all walks of life become frustrated with non-competitive people. The reverse is often true as well. If you are competitive, I’m surprised that you aren’t used to the feeling by now and have an arsenal of coping mechanisms ready to employ.

Interesting that you bring up an Everybot and talk about the hours to build an Everybot, but then also mention that no one looks at external designs. If your team takes design clues from an Everybot, then there is use of outside resources.

I assume these statements are exaggerations borne out of frustration. However, the closer to reality they are, the more it is an indication of a mentor problem. A huge team of 50 can’t possibly just work on a single thing. Any mentor with real-world project experience will know that. Even students with just homework project experience know that. If there is zero prototyping and zero optimization and refinement, then your mentors are not conveying critical aspects of design to the team. It’s pretty hard to fix a mentor problem as a student. If you could somehow find a new, talented mentor, perhaps with the help of your parents, it might be a game-changer. If things aren’t as bad as these statements suggest (but they still aren’t good), there might be a way for you to team up in a very focused way with the best mentor on your team and see what could be accomplished with two dedicated people.

This is a very easy question to answer. You do it because you want to. If you are getting something out of the time, put in as much as you can. If you find FRC robotics cool, keep at it. If you want to do all the research to learn about robot designs from other teams, keep at it. Try as much as you can to improve your team until there is no value for you in trying any more. It’s clear from your post that you want a better experience, more learning, and more support. Assuming that miracles don’t occur such that you get all that, just decide how much you want of what exists. It’s unfortunate that you don’t have a high-performing team, but lots of students in lots of activities aren’t lucky enough to have high-performing teams to join. How many football players endure constant losing seasons? How many participants in marching band wish they were going to bowl parades and national competitions? How many strong math students would like a teacher able to help them to an AP Calculus BC test score that would eliminate the time and cost of two college courses?

I’ll close with a question of my own. I’m wondering how your team can have a size of 50 if the environment is so bad. Over commitment is pretty rampant among students and most have little tolerance for wasting the precious time they have. If your team is really 5 that participate and 45 that signed up to be able to write something on their college application, that’s another mentor/teacher problem. However, if it’s really 50 that are trying to participate, I’d think they have to be finding some kind of value. Could you be missing something in your experience?

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When I read this, my immediate thought is that there is likely more at play constraining the team to an Everybot type design than what might be included in your perspective. Especially with the response of “they got more money and mentors than us” - that may or may not be literally true, but maybe this is your team leadership’s way of saying that they are concerned about things like burnout, over-reaching, and limited technical know-how. A team that builds an Everybot successfully is more sustainable than a team that tries to build a top tier robot and fails / burns out in the process.

If you want to try and inspire your team to reach higher, your best bet would be to help alleviate these constraints to help the team feel capable of reaching the next level. Help find more mentors and help fundraise more. Increase technical knowledge across the team. And maybe try and reach out to nearby teams you want to emulate and see if they’re willing to help you.

That said, as others are alluding to, it is possible your team could just be too stuck in its ways to grow and change. You might find a better experience elsewhere if that’s the case. These changes are / seem like big asks for mentors, and if they’re the ones pushing back on simple things like parallel paths in prototyping, iteration, etc. then maybe they’re just not able to commit to the level you’re seeking out. Maybe another team could be what works for you.

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