Training for Drive Coaches

Because of our team’s philosophy, we’ve always had students in the role of drive coaches. Just like we have our drivers practice with the robot before the competition, I’d love to find a way to help drive coaches learn their role before the competition. Have any teams come up with methods for doing this?

One thing that comes to mind is for the coach to watch hours of video from matches at other regionals. Our first one happens to be a week one regional so that’s not as helpful. Also, the typical video feed from regionals is mixed from multiple cameras whereas, from a coaches perspective, you’d like a constant view of the entire field.

This tread isn’t meant to rehash the discussion of whether adults or students should be in this role. If that’s your interest, there are many threads devoted to that topic. The focus here is once the coach is chosen, whether adult or student, how do you train them?

A great training ground for coaching is VRC, or FTC. Same type of coaching is needed, just much cheaper, and smaller scale.

-Nick

Following the “train like you fight” philosophy, we use intra-club scrimmages to train drive teams, with experienced students coaching the new drive teams. Of course, we aren’t an FRC team, so it’s much easier to run multiple practice sessions to train coaches and drivers.

I had never thought of using VEX as a training platform for FRC, but you could build two or four simple Protobots ($299 each), create or buy a game, and run scrimmages of your own. I do a lot of teacher workshops using VEX Protobots, so I bought a few dozen cheap tennis balls, colored half red and half blue, and using scrap stuff from my garage I can invent a new game in an hour or so. It’s amazing how simple rules can create a competition that is fun and absorbing. Protobots are more-or-less designed to grab tennis balls, so I base all my one-day games on them.

It’s also pretty common to test drive teams on the rules of the game, but that doesn’t help much with the communication, physical, and situational awareness you need to be a good coach or driver.

If you were looking for some ideas on WHAT to teach, as well as HOW, I would suggest that the most important things for a drive team to have are:

  • Trust in one another
  • Knowledge of what role each person has
  • A clear understanding of the team’s strategic goals
  • A clear understanding of the tactics that work best for the team’s robot
  • Shorthand verbal queues for common tactics (in Elevation, our coaches would say, “score two, blue five” rather than “drive over to the 15-inch goal on the blue side of the field and put two cubes in it.” A good shorthand frees the coach to plan the next move while the drive team executes the last one.)

I was a driver for two years and then coach last year. We went into our regional without much practice but I feel there is no substitute for experience on the field. One great way to do this is a end of build session scrimmage, we have one locally here and its a big help to give drive teams practice in real world competition.

From my experience the best coaches were once drivers, they know how to communicate with the drivers and know what its like in that role. This helps the drive team work effectively, that and lots of practice, as soon as the bot is ready drivers/potential drives should be driving it hard. Robots have a personality and it takes time to figure this out as a driver.

The best advice I can give is practice, a lot, with just your bot, with other bots the more the better, this will allow the coach to figure out the game and how to best deploy their robot during the match to be the most effective

Danny B

The most difficult role of the coach is to keep track of what’s going on with the entire field as well as the immedidate vicinity of your robot. Yet knowledge of how the rules apply is also key. Strategies are things the drivers should know beforehand, though it’s up the the coach to determine if deviation is needed based upon the situation. FTC/VRC is easy to do since you stand over the field and have practically a birds-eye view of the field during the entire match.

For FRC, I do the following:

  • Keep track of time, communicate it to your drivers where necessary (also, get into the habit of giving the drivers a countdown that is based off of the field clock and NOT
    the announcer! - Mentally make a birds-eye view of the robots and communicate appropriate “field states” (e.g. stay away from this place, or stop defending and go climb the ramps, or most importantly “get outta there we have incoming!”)
  • Use those birds-eye views to create choke points and cut-offs when defending (like dogfighting…)
  • Communicate with other coaches
  • Keep the two drivers communicating with you and each other
  • Make signals to the human player. Often times this was the most comical part of '09 since they sometimes refused to pay attention and the coach was left with wildly waving hands. Heh.

You hit on a very important point here and one that I try to implement in each new drive team that I coach. As a coach, your job is to feed information to your drive team without overloading them. If there is trust that is built up within the drive team, there will be no doubts or hesitations when a coach makes a call or tells the driver what to do. Once trust is established all that is left is guidance and direction applied at the right moment for the respective game. So obviously you will want to have your drive team know the rules of the game.

Needless to say communication is key to a good drive team and without trust it is difficult to maintain a line of communication open to each of your drive team members. So I would suggest excercises that focus on building trust and communication.

This was my first year as a strategist or drive coach (hopefully not my last, but if I continue it can’t be with 1714), and I really only think I was “prepared” for the job at IRI, maybe Atlanta. It took about two events for me to get a grasp of what I was doing and an ability to make decisions that wouldn’t let down my team.

I don’t think there’s any substitute for on field FRC practice with a drive team you trust and work well with (which can also only be found out on the field). Go to as many offseasons, scrimmages, and practices as you can. It’s a little late for the former, but many low team scrimmages will get you plenty of practice. Watching matches in season obsessively helps a lot, as does good communication with the scouting team. Learn how a match in FRC plays out and how long it takes drivers to do tasks or transition to offense or defense until calculating options based on time remaining is second nature.

If you can, pair with veteran drivers when learning to coach, and start building up what information you give them slowly. Start with a countdown in the last 10 seconds, and 15 second clock updates leading up to that, then add in stuff like on field conditions (in Lunacy, empty cells delivered, full hoppers, approaching robots). Stack on some directions on top of that and feel around a bit until you have a good balance and coaching style. At least, that worked for me.

I was a coach and driver in FTC and it didn’t help me as much with FRC as I’d have liked. Keep that in mind.

I’ll post more when I remember more to add.

Some suggestions:

  1. Have your coach go over all of the rules. Learn early on how penalties are earned and avoid them. Make sure you’re familiar with how to score points. Map out potential strategies for use in the game. Think about all possible scenarios that can arise on the field and come up with ways to deal with them.

  2. A huge part of coaching is communication and interaction with the robot drivers. You want the whole team to feel comfortable working together, so they should absolutely have experience working together. Have the coach and the drivers work together extensively. It will also help the drivers to get familiar with potential strategies and avoiding penalties.

  3. Don’t only talk about the strategies you want to map out, also practice them in more realistic settings:
    (a) If you have old robots, have a secondary drive team play defense on your 2010 robot for practice.
    (b) If you have other local teams, get together to practice. Then you can simulate games and practice all of your strategies. It will help your coaches and drivers, mutually benefiting all of your teams.

  4. During competitions, you are playing as part of an alliance. After practice, have your coach reflect on your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Think about what role you can play in an alliance in competition. Playing with other local teams would definitely help with this.

  5. Practice using data- do pre-competition scouting and use it to adapt your strategies and approach to coaching. This will prepare you for the scouting data you will use during competition.

  6. See if you can find veteran coaches for your drive coaches to talk to. The fundamental aspects of coaching do not vary from game to game, and having a mentor for your coaches can be really beneficial. They may learn surprising things. Asking questions like this here is a great way to start.

Good luck and have fun! I was a student coach when I was in high school, and I gained a lot from the experience. I hope it turns out to be as valuable for your students.

There isn’t a direct substitute for time on the field in order to develope the strategic, tactical, visual, vocal, and other codependent demands upon a coach.

However, I will highly suggest that you let the coach work with the drivers as often as possible before the event. Developing a strong rapport and communication system is absolutely critical.

Watching match footage (and other matches during the event) can be helpful for picking up strategies, tactics, and scouting purposes, but isn’t a full training in itself.

VRC, FTC, and other competitions are the closest parallel, but some aspects of the competition (namely the view and atmosphere) aren’t quite the same. They are still highly beneficial.

There really is no substitute for on field experience. A few things that will help though would be:

  1. KNOW THE RULES!!! This is very important. Read the game manual front to back at least a few times.

  2. Research team #'s. See who will be attending your regional/s. Look them up and research team past/colors/robot building styles/Drivers (very important on big #'s like 111, 1114, 148 and such where the drive team may be the same for all 4 years and have ALOT of experience)

  3. Know your robot. Memorize where every wire goes, learn at least basics about everything, even if you didn’t have a part in constructing it. This is very important when you set the robot down and see that one PWM dangling out the bottom. Know its limitations. Its frustrating for drivers to hear a coach telling them to do something impossible.

A few more tips:

  1. Be patient. If a driver messes up, he messes up. Assess the situation from that point and try to make the best of it. Driving a FRC bot can be one of the most stressful experiences in FIRST, especially with your entire team is counting on you.

  2. Dont be afraid to move around. So many FRC coaches stand behind their drive team and just concentrate on their bot. The GDC does not give us that big area just to stand in one place. Move around! Talk to the other coaches, act as a 2nd pair of eyes for your driver (especially important in big clusters of robots and big game elements (see 2007)) Announcements such as time left, or if the other alliance is in position to score big should be made to the WHOLE alliance, not just your drivers.

  3. Stop looking at your robot! This is a big tendency. Look at the field/other robots/scoring elements. Only a few quick glances should be directed to your robot to see where it is, if it is ready to score. Keep track of all the other robots/what they are doing.

  4. Talk to your human player. This was very important last year. They can act as another set of eyes too if needed.

Thanks,
Wilmo

One thing to keep in mind is that different drive teams require different types of coaching. Some drive teams need direct-micromanagement with the coach telling them to “drive forward, now turn left, now raise arm”, where others just need a simple “go over there and score that game piece.”

I would like to second the “be patient with the drivers comment”. When driving a robot, things will happen and the robot will behave differently under certain circumstances. I’ve had our traction control mess up on me while I drove and the coach was yelling, “turn turn turn!” and I couldn’t which I told him which made him yell it louder and telling me that I can turn. Along with other experiences both this year and last year.

Watching videos of matches really helps, I was able to pick up on some tricks by watching teams play at the championship which came in handy when coaching at an off-season last year as well as when I drove and operated.

I’ve driven both with student and coaches as the drive coach several times, and I personally prefer to have a student coach. You spend more time with the students both interacting and at competitions so you already have a closer connection with them in many ways so working with them is a whole lot easier. And if they were a driver in previous years or earlier in the year, they know exactly what to tell you and they observe what the other robots are doing and communicate it with you.

Also drive coaches and drivers both should have a good conversation with the scouting team/head scout to discuss teams and strategies for the upcoming matches. Having these little meetings and having the ability to ask even the smallest questions about a robot’s performance is key in a match when you need to make a quick decision.

brendan

That is absolutely true. I have coached for several drive teams and each has it’s own dynamic. Before competitions I ask the drivers what they want of me as a coach in terms of timing, scoring, driving, etc. In the end what they ask of me usually gives me a good idea of where that particular drive team stands and how it needs to be managed. It’s at that point that I would focus on feeding them information they need to hear at the appropriate time. Additionally, I found that both the drive team and the coach had to adapt to the competition. It took our team a match or two to finally hit the right stride in terms of communication.

If you want you CAN delegate this to your scouts. My team didn’t do pre-event scouting so I personally did it this year, but it’s not a bad idea at all for the coach to be involved in scouting. Good scouts make good coaches.

Chris that is very true. My Freshman year, I took over the role of head scout in Atlanta and then started coaching my sophomore year. Scouting and Coaching are very similar in many ways.

I student coached my team for the past three years and even though it may be regurgitation of other’s comments, I would have to say for a sound coach, practice on the field and in competitions is number one. No matter what you do, no coach will be a pro after their first year. A lot of what helped shape me as a coach during my rookie years was experience coaching along side veteren/pro coaches like Ken Patton, JVN, and Jason Rees (to name just a few). Each year I did it I got more confident at the job until the point where the duties and tasks and strategies and what not have been driven into me. But I’ll give my list so you hopefully have a good Rookie coach this year. You will see a lot of my comments are not how to train the coach after he is selected so to speak but how to choose the right one so that the training is easier.

  1. Promote competition when trying to earn the position of coach in build season. If there are multiple students interested, they will try and prove to you why they deserve to be coach. I remember my sophomore year, I kept playing the “Rack N’ Roll Simulator” Game against fellow wannabe coaches. This kept me on my toes, gave me more strategy ideas and was a lot of fun to.

  2. Make a Game Quiz. For 1511, our entire team needs to take a quiz on the current game. I would suggest making a short quiz (maybe 20-30 questions) directly out of the rule book (NO OPEN NOTES) and have everyone that wants to be coach get a 100% on the quiz. This guarantees they know the rules inside and out.

  3. When choosing a drive team, one of the most important things to include is team chemistry. Sometimes there will be a really good cohesive driver and co-driver, but when you throw a certain coach in there, nothing really blends. It’s your call, but I know we have found more success when there was already a good bond between the members. Drama on the drive team is the last thing ANYONE wants.

  4. Make sure the coach can command the respect of his drivers. This directly ties into the statement #3. As much as I hate to use this analogy, the drivers are tools. They need to listen to their coach no matter what their belief. If the coach says “go pick this up” and the driver spends time to argue, that isn’t a good mix.

  5. Finally, do lots of practicing with different team combinations. If the robot is already shipped (Hopefully you’ve picked your coach before that point), you can even do this with other robots from previous years.

Now, being a week 1 regional it’s very hard to get in a lot of training but here’s what I would suggest.

  1. Go over strategies with your drive team, if you have a completed robot, test them out with it. Also, test them out again when you get to the competition on the practice fields.

  2. Read the rules and all updates. A lot. Seriously. Do it.

  3. After each match during the competition, go over what went well, what didn’t, what you can do next time to fix it.

And my advice to whoever you happen to pick: Be Confident, Be smart, Be Assertive, Be Enthusiastic, Be a Leader, and Be Yourself. I think you will find your first regional as the biggest training help ever. Although you may not get the best record (my team went 3-8 at my first regional coaching), it is invaluable to get behind that driver station and start that training. You WILL get better at it over the year and years to come. Good Luck!:smiley: