What is the best way to introduce FIRST Concepts (GP, Cooperation) to a rookie team

Hello, I am currently helping out our school’s 8th-grade rookie team with programming/electrical as a mentor. I think that FIRST values like GP and Cooperation are very important lessons that FRC teaches and need to be central to any team. But, this team is a mandatory class for our school’s 8th graders and high schoolers aren’t allowed to be on the team (we have a separate high school team but we can still help out). Do you guys know what would be the best way to introduce these kids to GP and cooperation without turning it into a boring lecture? Thank you guys for any ideas.

I coach a middle school FRC team (and mentor many others), and this is something I truthfully haven’t focused on as much (I probably should). My general approach is to create an environment where students are encouraged to help each other, ask for help, and treat everyone with respect. Even if the phrase “gracious professionalism” doesn’t stick with them right away, an atmosphere of respect and collaboration allows for great things to happen.

Last year (through a series of convoluted circumstances), we ended up traveling from the UP to Grand Valley for the West Michigan event. Because of winter weather, we were stuck north of the Mackinaw bridge Thursday night into Friday morning. When we finally arrived on Friday at 9am, we had tons of teams helping us finish our robot (huge shutout to teams 85 and 5675 for basically donating a few students!) My students were a bit confused why teams were so willing to help us. After all, we were scheduled to play against all these teams at some point. But after a bit, I think they got it. In FIRST, we want everyone to succeed, we want everyone preforming at their best, to learn, and have fun. Gracious professionalism is the pathway for that.

At some point, its less something you think about, and more something you do. At leas, that’s my approach, and granted, its rather relaxed. I would also be interesting in hearing from others!

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Keep it short and simple. Introduce the concepts. Ask for questions or discussion. If there is some, let it happen and answer the questions to the best of your ability. If there really isn’t any, that’s OK. The concepts are now out there. After that, bring up the concepts that are now known when situations arise where choices need to be made to which the concepts apply. Discussing how to make actual choices is where the real learning takes place.

Simple approaches:

Professionalism - “the combination of all the qualities that are connected with trained and skilled people” (Cambridge Dictionary)

What are some of the more positive qualities that might develop as people become more highly trained and highly skilled? Answers to suggest include competence, confidence, productivity, etc.)

What are some of the more negative qualities that might develop as people become more highly trained and highly skilled? Answers to suggest as needed include dominance, fixation on status, expression of power, etc.

Gracious - “pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous” (dictionary.com)

Blending graciousness with professionalism tends to suppress some of the more negative qualities that can develop as someone becomes more skilled and knowledgeable in a field while reinforcing some of the more positive qualities.

Coopertition - means competing always but assisting and enabling others when you can

This definition straight from FIRST is pretty clear. There is plenty of opportunity for discussion about this concept. There are no absolute answers to how much to how much to emphasize competition and how much value it generates versus how much to emphasize assisting/enabling and how much value that generates. Experiencing this personally is usually the best way to learn about it.

Hello! This is a tough subject to turn into a fun lesson, but whenever we introduce this concept to high schoolers it should correlate to middle schoolers also.

You can use examples from sports, academics, or other competitive activities. For example, you could talk about a team that won a game but also helped their opponents up after a hard fall, or a student who helped a classmate study for a test even though they were competing for the same grade.

You can also emphasize the importance of treating others with respect and kindness, regardless of whether they are competing against you or not. Encourage the students to think about how they can show gracious professionalism in their own lives, whether it be in school, sports, or other extracurricular activities.

Another way to explain this is to tell them a story of a team or an individual who were gracious professional and how that helped them to be successful in their field.

It is important to remind them that gracious professionalism is not only about winning but also about being a good sportsman, showing good manners and being respectful to others.

You can also pull up past competition videos on youtube showing an alliance working together as a team and winning or losing graciously.

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I think the best example that’s happened more than once including on the Einstein Field, is one alliance using their only timeout so that the opposing alliance could have more time to fix their robot.

Can you imagine an NFL team being ahead in the score and using their timeouts to help the other team be more competitive?

I tried to find a clip from a kickoff from years ago where Dave Lavery told this story but I came across this video instead, which also outlines a good example of Gracious Professionalism.


Well, unfortunately GP and Cooperation are just not riveting subjects at their bare bones. However, these kids (hopefully) want to learn robot stuff because that is much more interesting.

The trick is teaching in a way that is both engaging and relates to robotics. Me, still on a team myself (go lambda corps!), would recommend using examples of how GP and cooperation leads to having a good time while accomplishing something that is really cool. Show a video or two of something like 2020’s balancing hangar thing with all three robots on an alliance climbing and balancing, then explain how teams could get a huge point bonus by successfully working together to climb at the same time and work out the best way to balance the bar. You could even localize the cooperation to just a single team, too. Show a really cool robot reveal or something and explain how that robot couldn’t exist without mechanical, software, and electrical being able to work together effectively. GP will be a little bit more difficult to explain because it’s a pretty specific thing (at least in FIRST’s context). Maybe talk about how in the end FRC competitions are just a fun way to celebrate how cool each team’s machine is. Go into the detail of how each team has put just as much effort in as they have, so it feels really good to have other people compliment the result of 6 weeks of intense effort. You can also (semi) jokingly warn them that it’s entirely possible to get a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. In the end, FRC is just a bunch of nerds trying to make almost-mentor-kneecapping death machines cool hit-tech robots while partying with other nerds with their own robots in a high school gym.

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I mostly coach FLL now (my team is all 5th graders and one 6th grader this year), and FLL is more emphasis on the Core Values, but GP and coopertition are also in there. My kids LOVE doing team building exercises together. After each, we then have a discussion of what they learned/can do better next time together. Not sure how big your team is or what sort of time you have, but that’s been the best way to teach it to my slightly younger kids. There are a lot of FLL Core Values exercises online that we’ve pulled from the last few years (this is my 3rd season coaching Challenge).

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Sharing videos of Woodie describing the concepts is a great introduction. (It helps having a mentor around who has met Woodie.) I actually brought a couple members of my FLL team to Woodie’s Celebration of Life, and I think it is really important for those who never met him to at least know who he is and what he meant to the community.

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Show them this video from the 2016 Rio Olympics’ women’s 5000 meters. The best example of GP and coopertition I’ve seen at an elite level. Then discuss what happened and how this applies to FRC.

There’s more examples here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SuKNmLBOpE


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