Tryouts for 2020 Team

After gaining much traction with our school and advertising significantly more (yay!) we attracted many potential members at interest meetings and such. After discussing it with mentors and board, we’ve concluded that we do have a maximum number of people we can take, and too many people who want to join. That unfortunately means try-outs and cuts :frowning:.

So, I was wondering how do your teams handle cuts for both programming team and mechanical/build team as that is where we are going to have the excess number of people. In regards to code, we have previous tests that we could use to judge adequacy. I don’t know if that’s the best way, but that’s how we are probably going to do it.

For mechanical, there is a little more nuance. All members are going to partake in a mandatory safety test, but past that, we’re undecided as to what exactly to do. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Cut deadweight. Start with time spent actually working. Not just sitting there, but paya attention. John who shows up 2 days but works both is more valuable than Bob who shows up 5 days and works 1. Let every student participate at first, because sometimes talent isn’t shown in tests.
However, if it comes to it and work time doesn’t work, cut by grades. Contrary to popular belief, school should be a priority over robotics. (Probably grade cut based on number failing currently, not on past performance). Don’t be too harsh however.


There’s no good way to cut.

  • Cutting based on grades, skill, prior experience, and similar criteria risks cutting underserved or disadvantaged kids who would benefit tremendously from FIRST.
  • Selecting new members randomly (ie a raffle) risks missing out on kids who have a lot of skill, maturity, etc that would really bring a lot to the team.
  • Cutting at some point during the year based on participation hours up to that point doesn’t account for kids who show up but screw around all day, unless your team is very diligent about shutting that behavior down.
  • Interviewing kids to try to gauge their enthusiasm, commitment, etc is subjective, and some kids might just not interview well. And enthusiasm going into their first year doesn’t necessarily correlate to how dedicated they’ll be once build season starts
  • Requiring applications narrows your pool to only the kids who care enough to bother filling out an application, but might also filter out kids with low confidence who would really benefit from FIRST

All of these methods are unpleasant, but none of them is the end of the world. Your team should discuss these options (and any others you can come up with) decide which method(s) is most in line with your team’s goals and values.


If it were me, I would give everyone a chance during the fall season - consider it an extended tryout. I imagine you’ll find some that fall out by themselves, and others that prove to be unproductive or a distraction - they are the ones that won’t get much from being on the team, and won’t contribute much to the team. Basing tryouts on current skill alone will potentially eliminate productive, willing members that just need to learn a bit about what they’re doing. Unless you have some sort of JV program (FTC would work great for this, as you can field many smaller teams and give students more hands-on time with the robot!) where they can go to learn and improve, I don’t see cutting those individuals useful for a team.

Building a TEAM is not just a question of selecting the individuals that do best on a test. They have to be able to work together well and be productive in a group environment too. You need experts, and you need learners - the best way to really master something is to teach it to someone else, who will then go on to teach another person later, etc. You need leaders, and you need followers - too many cooks in the kitchen is just as bad as none! You can’t determine all of that based on a test, but you can by observing people working together over a couple of months. I can tell you definitively - Every student that has been a captain or a serious contender for captain on my team identified themselves their rookie year, through their attitude, ability to learn, and integration into the team - but no one could have predicted it the moment they walked in the door.


I myself was someone who did not do a lot freshman year. Now a junior, i know more than anyone, able to complete more difficult tasks (alone), understand what to really scout for, knows most of the electrical components (better with mechanical), am heading for programming (first on-team student programmer), holds leadership, and outside knowledge.

None of this would have happened if i was cut from the team. Most of this came from going to a competition and seeing other bots. If i had been off the competition group, this probably would’ve resulted in an extra wasted year.

2019- we had 40 students on the day of sign up. Dwindled down to 30 on Kickoff, and ~20 comp time.

2018~ 25 start, 20 end.

2017~ 15 start, 20 end.

Tldr, for me personally, it bursted from going to a competition. If i had stayed in the shop, i wouldn’t have the knowledge i have now.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. While we had 120 students on the roster for 2791 this year, the number that actually made it to build season and then were actually involved through to our regionals was much smaller. I believe we took around 80 students to our two regionals.

I would expect your incoming class to reduce by anywhere from 25-75% by build/competition season


I noticed you’re a pretty high numbered team so I’d maybe advise you to put into place a rigorous off-season program and follow Jon’s advice. There are tons of threads here about off-season ideas you can do. This year, I think we’re going to steal some ideas from good teams and try to build an elite level robot with elevator and L3 climb (100% CAD, manufactured, tested, and hopefully brought to an off season in October).

We don’t “cut” from our team but we’re parsimonious with our spending since the team is 100% funded by sponsors with no school support. At the end of the build season the mentors, teachers, and student leaders independently submit a list of students who we think deserve to travel. We then usually debate between 3 and 6 kids for an hour and come up with a final list. It’s not really scientific but its a frank discussion because we get the student leader point of view, mentor point of view, and the teacher’s to make informed decisions.

If you do a rigorous off-season you can probably have that type of cut-list discussion in November or find that enough kids dropped out of robotics that you don’t need to.

If the number of applicants to cut is modest (less than 50%), you could just make the tryouts long enough and arduous enough that up to half of them drop out. Then, you’re likely to get the right fraction (mostly) without having to cut anyone. When 3946 did tryouts in 2015, we had about 3x as many applicants as we could take. Six tryout sessions (with a bunch of time-consuming but not really difficult tasks, including a couple of take-homes) caused a 50+% dropout rate; we only had to cut a few.


We operate with a total roster of about 60 students, and could probably do the same work with closer to 20 or 30. However, because we’re a “club” rather than a “sport,” we aren’t allowed to have tryouts or applications. We utilize as many of our 60 students as we can at any given time, and the ones with nothing to do tend to get bored and leave. It’s a problem that solves itself. However, on a personal level for the students, it’s not a great system because it means that a large portion of students don’t have a good experience on the team. (The only way we’ve ever managed to lower the team size is to tell the parents at the “start of year” meeting how crazy huge the time requirement is. Scares them right off.)

Our biggest challenge isn’t reducing the number of students on the team, it’s increasing the number of students we’re able to utilize. The larger the number of students we’re able to efficiently utilize is, the more capable we are as a team.

As a discussion point that actually counters what I’m saying here (a bit), I had a discussion with a mentor of a “top team” who had this to say about this topic of team size (anonymized for courtesy, formatting is mine.):

Thing about [Team Number] #1:

[Team Number] is a “small” team. We try to have only 30-35 kids each year, maximum. Last year we were actually much smaller (22-23?). [School] provides robotics for EVERY student (through VEX programs), but students must earn their way onto the [Team]. Many of the mentors have had similar experiences on “big” teams (either as mentors, or students). Only a handful of the kids do the majority of the work, most of the others are just killing time. We want to ensure that our students get a very specific experience, and believe increasing the number of students will detract from the individual experience.

Thing about [Team Number] #2:

We don’t track student hours (anymore).

One of my favorite phrases is: “You get what you measure.” - if you measure hours, students will give you time. In the past we’ve had students show up at the shop just to get hours (and they are typically, distracting people who are TRYING to do work. A similar effect happens when teams get too big and you’ve got more people than jobs to do.) Now we try to measure engagement. We rate the students based on their ability to fulfill the “[Team] Success Matrix” (something made by the team teachers). This rating is how students are chosen to attend competition.


I’m very curious about this “success matrix.” In particular, I’m interested in how teams “look beyond the hours.” Could you forward on a request for more info? (or perhaps the mystery mentor will see this)


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