Unusual FLL Registration Process, Why Different from FRC?

Hi folks, I’ve been in the FIRST Community for over 20 years, but other than FLL volunteering/judging, I’ve almost exclusively stuck to FRC. Through most of that time (and since I’ve been a Lead Mentor), TIMS has always been my primary method of event registration and team logistics.

This is the first year I also started/mentored a FIRST Lego League (Challenge) team, and it’s strange to me how different the event registration process is.
Registering for a Qualifier was straightforward enough – register for one in TIMS, pay the registration fee. Both Lead Mentors in TIMS get all the official information.

My team earned a spot to the Regional level event last week, so I was constantly on the search for my event registration there as well. TIMS constantly reported “No Events Found”, so I eventually reached out to the volunteer coordinator. I was told for the regional events, you don’t register with FIRST. Instead, you fill out a Google Form and send Paypal or Zelle to a gmail account to claim your spot. Of course, our closest event was already full because as a Lead Mentor I never got an e-mail about registration until I asked, the info was sent to “an e-mail address on file”.
Of course, paying this way precludes our team’s ability to pay using grants and funds in our TIMS account, but I find it strange that FIRST is handling official events in this manner. Why so?

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I don’t have an answer as to why FIRST does FLL event registration this way, but figured I would comment that your experience is not unique. FLL in my state is similar. We register via a Google Form and payment is made via check to the event host. It is frustrating that grant funds in our FIRST account cannot be used for event registration.

I don’t know why, but FLL is a much more distributed model than FRC. I’m on the planning committee for my region for FLL and I help run one of the qualifiers. It’s been the same way for the 6 seasons I’ve been involved - registrations are via a Google form (for Challenge and Explore), the PDP distributes them amongst the events, and then teams send a check (or Zelle or PayPal or Venmo if the host of the qualifier can accept those) for their registration to the individual event. The only budget for our qualifier we have is the money we bring in via registrations and most have concessions (we do as well, we use our qualifier as a fundraiser for one of the local FRC teams).

The only time I’m dealing with FLL events in TIMS is as a volunteer. I’m surprised your regional event wasn’t in TIMS at least for allocating volunteer purposes.

I can also confirm that the event registration process for FLL is different from FRC and has been for the 12+ years I have been involved in FLL.

The local Program Delivery Partner coordinates and/or organizes the local competitions. Depending on your location, this could extend all the way up to the state championship level, if it exists in your area.

It is best to find out from FIRST who the PDP for your area is and make sure you are on their mailing lists as a coach for your team, especially if you did not start the team. Sometimes, there is some miscommunication between HQ and the PDP.

The quality of experience the PDP’s provide for you and your team varies widely from one area to another. Some are very helpful and responsive. Others, not so much.

In our area we have found it beneficial for coaches and mentors to network and share information regarding issues such as event registration and quality of particular events.

The quality of the local events will also vary quite widely, depending on the individual tournament organizers. Unfortunately, we have found that a long running event is not an indication that the event will be well run.

Edited to add: Since I now mentor various teams and am not involved in the day to day running of any teams, I have to rely on the coaches of my teams and other coaches I know to pass information like what @seg9585 is needing to me.

The reason for this is the decentralized nature of FLL compared to FRC.

In FRC, HQ collects the same registration fees from all teams, assigns teams to events, and handles the finances for all events. This means that when local events for FRC fundraise, they remit that money to HQ. Likewise, when an event comes up short on their fundraising, HQ bails them out. (*All this for the regional system in FRC)

In FLL, the local program delivery organization are responsible for collecting event registration fees. Teams pay HQ for the mat and ability to compete, but their PDO handles the event registration. PDOs then disburse those fees to event organizers, buy the things that need to get bought, etc.

Largely, the reason for your less than ideal experience paying registration through PayPal and filling out a Google Form – after you were not made aware of the process – is not caused by the decentralized nature but by having new PDPs in SoCal. I’ve already spoken with them about how we need to create a form that both collects registration and payment at the same time (it’s not that hard!).

As for not getting an email, that’s odd. Qualifying Tournament Directors were required to submit a list of advancing teams by the end of the day of their QT and were told that an email was going out to all coaches of those teams on 11/14 (the day after the last qualifier) at noon. I’d double check that they have your correct email on file, and also double check that your QT correctly identified the advancing teams.

Having three levels of competition in SoCal (QT, Regional, Championship) is new this year. Along with new PDPs, new TDs, and new processes, there are A LOT of moving parts where something could go wrong, unfortunately. I’m hopeful the process will be smoother in future years.

This might be a semantics issue, but clarifying that this isn’t correct. The term “TIMS” isn’t used officially by FIRST much if at all anymore, but it refers to the Team Information Management System – as in, the dashboard mentors use to register for events. Volunteers use a system preciously known as “VIMS” to sign up and register for events – now it’s baked in with the FIRST dashboard. This is not to be confused with VMS (backend of VIMS for VC), STIMS, or RIMS.

An event does not have to have team registration through the FIRST Dashboard (TIMS) to have volunteer registration through the FIRST Dashboard (VIMS).

Thanks Jared, since you seem to be involved in the process, I am just sharing some of my feedback to the SoCal coordinator, which highlights why this process was concerning to me:

  • Since we were concerned about phishing, I looked up the gmail account elsewhere. It pops up on https://socalfll.org/ which is fine, but that website is a single page and still has Cargo Connect resources, with no mention of this season. For that reason, I was unsure about the legitimacy.

  • On top of that, the Paypal link doesn’t actually mention the e-mail address, just a username “@califsouthernrobotic” which doesn’t even have FIRST in the @ name, again something that seems very phishy.

  • By not being able to register on TIMS, we were unable to use our team’s grant funds to pay for the event. This is a well established method to pay for events in FRC, and team sponsors will generally only fund teams through this method.

  • With official registrations occurring on TIMS, both Lead Mentors get correspondence like this through official channels.

Only involved to the extent that I’ve noticed many of the same things as you and asked many of the same questions, albeit from the Tournament Director perspective.

Curious - what answer did you get on the grant question? I’ve seen some suggestions to have donations/grants directed to FIRST California, but I haven’t seen a documented process. Are you able to access those FIRST funds, or do you have to apply them to next year’s kit?

No answer yet. At this point we can spend it on a new Spike kit, or I suppose get a regrant to eventually reimburse ourselves? Figuring that angle out at the moment.

Assuming the the grant is unrestricted then yes you could regrant it but to my knowledge only US based FRC teams can regrant funds that are unrestricted. For all the rules on regrant check out the link below.

At the end of the 2022-2023 season, any unused restricted grants funding remaining in FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge team accounts is returned to the Donor’s account for use at the Donor’s discretion.

FIRST killed FTC and FLL regrants. :pensive:

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