What makes a good strat lead? What about a drive coach?

What goes into being a good strat lead? What are the most important skills, what is overlooked, and what are your major pointers? Same questions for drive coach.

Thank you!

-Bryce
Ellipse 6814

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From what I’ve seen, there’s three things. Flexibility - being able to change strategy when you learn new information. Say, a team says they can’t do defense. Then they can’t. Work around that, don’t try and strong arm them. You can win in more ways than one
Interpreting data - being able to look at a robot or look at some data points and determine what they can be good at and what they are good at is a skill. Every robot has potential in something, you’ve just got to find it. And if you can help a team find it, you’re not only helping yourself.
Being easy to work with - if people dread talking to you about strategy, they’re not going to be as helpful. If you’re someone people want to work with, they will.

Anyways, I’m no authority on the matter, just some things I’ve noticed.

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As far as strat leads, I think that the major important things are background knowledge, critical thinking skills and communication skills.

As a strat lead, it is your responsability to know all of the relevant teams at a competition. Who is top tier that you want to work with? Who is on your level that you will be directly competing with. Who are “weaker” teams and what issues exactly do they have? Also, as far as background information, you need to know what the “meta-game” looks like and why. Is everyone running 2 O, 1 D? If not, why not? How can you exploit or deal with common strategies. A good resource for the “meta-game” information is FirstUpdatesNow. They do lots of analysis of matches and tournaments which can really help to get you a solid grasp of the game. It is also just good practice to watch load of matches to get a feel for the game.

Next is critical thinking. Generally, good strategy people will be strong analytical/mathematical thinkers. This is not to say that more visual or kinesthetic learners can’t do strategy, it is merely what I have observed in my time doing strat. Strat heads need to be able to think creatively about the task at hand and be able to create a logically sound plan for your alliance to follow. You also need to be able to absorb a large data set and be able to make sense of it quickly. When you look at a scouting sheet with about 8 data points on 6 different robots, you need to be able to fit that into the context of your match and plan accordingly.

Finally for strat heads, there is communication. If someone is going to be talking to other teams about match strategy, they need to be able to articulate their ideas as well as think of them. Having a strong voice is also preferable in my opinion as softer or quieter people can get talked over at times. A lot of it boils down to being confident, both in being right and in being wrong.

As far as drive coaches, I am not an expert as I am not one myself and there are many way more qualified people on CD but I will say that being a clear communicator and someone who can adapt quickly are both very important.

To finish off, I want to touch on two things that I think are very important for both positions.

  1. READ THE RULES. If we are in a strat discussion I want to be talking about offsetting cycles, not what a blockading penalty is. Additionally, to inform on field decisions, a coach must know the rules inside and out.

  2. You can and will be wrong. People mess up. It happens. Deal with it. In both of these positions, you need to be ready to make mistakes, accept them and learn from then. Nobody is perfect but if you try to act like it, you won’t get any better.

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For being a drive coach - things are going to break so know your robot, prepare to change strategy mid match due to system failures. Don’t forget to watch the rest of the robots in your alliance, make sure they are doing what you agreed on before the match , also take a few seconds to see what the other alliance is doing , you might find they are doing a different strategy that you thought they were going to be doing - see if you could change accordingly.drive coaches must make split second game changing decisions.

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Your drive coach should be experienced with driving in the past, like a mentor who has driven before. This helps calm the kids down as he/she was in there shoes before.

For strat lead it should be someone that’s not on drive team or pit crew to work with the drive coach after/before matches and alliance selection.

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Strategy lead is all about understanding each robot’s previous performance and using that to predict how each alliance will perform. With that analysis they can think of the most optimal use of each robot for the best chance for success. For example, they might look at the data and see that the opposing alliance are all moderately good scorers, but struggle with defense (both playing and playing against). The Strategy lead then comes up with this plan for your alliance to follow: have your best defense bot play interference and try to delay their LV3 climb while your two other bots fill up a rocket for the RP.

The Drive Coach’s purpose is to make sure your alliance follows that plan until something unexpected happens. Say in the previous example that one of the opponent’s teams comes over to play defense on your tower. What do you do now? Do you push through them to attempt the RP, or do you split your forces to score more points? If you’re close to the RP, do you have your defense bot play counter defense and risk giving them an uncontested LV3 climb? Those are all questions that your Drive Coach will have to answer with only a few seconds to think. This is why your Drive Coach should be experienced with FIRST (either Mentor or Junior/Senior with drive experience).

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Good Drive Coach: I’m going to go a slightly different route and say communication.
All too often I see drive coaches standing there behind the driver, watching the match and not doing a whole lot. The drive coach has possibly the busiest job on the drive team:

  • keeping track of time and informing the driver of key benchmarks
  • keeping track of the other 2 robots on the alliance and making sure your driver doesn’t get in their way, or doesn’t put the robot in a position that they get in your way
  • determining where your driver is going to go/what they’re going to do after they complete their current task
  • checking in on the opposing alliance to see how they are doing, and if your alliance needs to adjust focus anywhere
  • communicating failures, game piece availability, field openings/driving lanes, field/feeder station faults, where your robot is headed (if you intend to cross paths with a teammate), and any other important information to the other 2 drive coaches

A well communicating alliance is a well coordinated alliance.

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For us, the is a separation between Strategist, Drive Coach, and Scout Lead. All 3 must interface as if they were a 3 sided coin.

The strategist is responsible for

  1. Evaluating the game for all strategies possible
  2. Coming up with multiple possible counters for the strategies that might be used against you.
  3. watching the matches to determine evolving methods / strategies
  4. watching matches to determine how refs are calling the game and therefore How that effects strategy

The strategist is there to see to possibilities for individual teams and alliances.

The Scout Lead is responsible for

  1. Knowing what all teams have done
  2. Communicating strategy possibilities to our alliance
  3. Defining our alliance picking strategy

The Lead Scout is about data analysis and maximizing the possibilities.

The Drive Coach is responsible for

  1. knowing every possibility for our robot.
  2. Evaluating possible strategies and finding the the best place for our robot in each
  3. prioritizing for the lead scout. So the lead scout knows which strategies to attempt to get the alliance to preform and so that the lead scout can communicate clearly on when and what counters are appropriate.

The Drive Coach is about knowing our robot and our drive team and getting the most out of them.

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For me the biggest thing I like to see in a student strategy lead is interest… I’ve found that the students who have a strong interest in strategy/FRC games and their history make much better strategy leads. The students who obsessively go back and watch the 2014 Einstein Finals and get excited about telling me how insane the 1114 vs 254 matches were are the students I like working with the most on strategy. It doesn’t take a whole lot more than an interested student to make a good strategy lead. I’ve found it also helps if they have a sports background/interest as well. The kids that play fantasy football and are into statistics/strategies in professional sports also tend to make great strategy leads.

As for drive coaches… I think the best drive coaches are alumni that are out of college and are back mentoring after gaining some life experience. Former strategy leads on teams that have matured and gained some composure.

The primary reason I think having an adult drive coach is the way to go is they can shield the drive team from a lot of the pressure, take the blame when things don’t go well and then deflect praise when things do go well. They can help to improve the psyche of all the other members of the drive team and keep them focused on the next match/next objective. The other reason I believe an adult drive coach is the way to go is experience. By the time a student is mature enough to be in that position they’re usually a Junior and only have 2 years of being a student drive coach. There’s so much to learn about the position and it takes more than 2 years to get great at it. All that said, 4607 has had student drive coaches almost exclusively and we have had some amazing students in that position.

I’m not intending to turn this into a student vs mentor drive coach thread but I suspect that’s where it’s headed anyways.

I think lots of people have covered well the strategic aspects of what a good drive coach should do, but one thing I haven’t seen mentioned too much is the emotional aspect.

As a coach it’s your job to keep your drivers safe and operating at peak for the duration of the event. Sometimes shielding them from team negativity, keeping specific people away from the pit, and making sure they feel comfortable can all be huge responsibilities of the drive coach.

The strategy parts of the job are much easier than the personal ones in my experience.

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Ditto.

For both roles—motivated to watch hours upon hours of match video

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Drive Coach is ideally a Strat lead no reason to separate that role… #1 quality great communication/leadership skills and ability to quickly form an intelligent consensus with buy-in.

This person will continually communicate along with the driver to the Lead Scout (also a strat lead) and scout team on bots in play and vice versa.

They will take that “intel” and graciously present it to partner teams. This allows them insights to find out actual team capabilities to formulate the optimum game strategy based on past performance characteristics of the partners and mitigate foes

Depends on your team dynamic. On 5254, our drive coach was only occasionally part of the strat discussions (when he didn’t have much else going on). We allowed him to focus on making sure the drive team is focused, calm, and set up for success, as well as making sure the robot is kept in shape by helping the kids diagnose any issues and signing off on fixes/performance tests. Myself and our lead strat student would talk to each other about what we think want out of the match, then talk to other teams, then bring it back to the drive team when it’s all been figured out.

Improvisation and flexibility are very important. If you have an idea of what your alliance should do in a match, be prepared to throw it out the window during a discussion with other teams and even during the match. But, if you have what you think is an important idea, stand your ground on it. Be honest with other teams about your robot. Read the rules a million times. Watch game film and take notes. Have an idea of what the other robots can do before a match.

Based on my personal experience, I’m going to have to disagree with you here on separating Drive Coach and Strategy Lead. I’ve coached for three seasons now, one where I was also the Strategy Lead and two where someone else filled that role. Before that, I was the Strategy Lead for two seasons, with another mentor as Drive Coach. I definitely prefer having the roles separated.

A dedicated Strategy Lead can spend more time watching matches, and making detailed observations that can be difficult to capture in a scouting system. Keeping the roles separate also lets the Drive Coach, and by extension the entire drive team, focus on one match at a time. This is particularly helpful when there’s a quick turnaround in the schedule.

The most effective division of labor that I’ve seen is to have three separate roles:

  • Scounting Lead
    • Makes sure data is complete and organized
    • Provides data to Strategy Lead
    • Provides additional first-hand observations not captured in data to Strategy Lead
  • Strategy Lead
    • Supplements data and observations from Scouting Lead with their own first-hand observations
    • Forms match strategy
    • Gets buy-in on match strategy from Drive Coach
    • Participates in strategy discussion with alliance partners
  • Drive Coach
    • Provides feedback to Strategy Lead on match strategy
    • Participates in strategy discussion with alliance partners
    • Flows necessary strategy information to drive team
    • Takes responsibility for execution of match strategy
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This is huge, I have heard stories from teams with no/low mentor involvement and there have been students that are super hard on themselves when something they designed, or their strategy goes wrong.

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I’m used to having the drive coach be the strategy lead, it had never occurred to me to separate them until our team tried it this year. The separation between the two was still kind of fuzzy; our drive coach was deep into strategy throughout the competitions, but liked having backup - the strat lead would go through the scouting data and give the drive coach a summary, and then they’d both go talk to the other teams on the alliance together. It was just easier than having the drive coach do it all himself.

I think the most important qualities for a drive coach are:

  • Temperament. It’s important they be able to stay calm under pressure, be assertive but not confrontational with other teams, act professionally in general, and set a tone for the rest of the drive team to have fun and not get too stressed out. They also need to be able to bounce back from matches that go badly, and to field feedback from the rest of the team so that the drivers aren’t inundated with criticism
  • Strategy. No plan survives contact with reality, and the drive coach will need to adapt the match strategy on the fly. When something unexpected happens the drive coach needs to be able to make strategic decisions on a dime, whether that’s a robot mechanism breaking, or getting hit with defense, or an alliance partner not doing what they said they would.
  • Communication. The drive coach should keep an eye on the big picture of what’s happening in a match, so that the drivers can focus on driving. The drive coach needs to communicate clearly when the team should go to the right instead of the left, when the robot needs to shimmy a little to the side to line up to the feeder station, whether to try to line up better or just take the shot, when it’s time to go do the endgame, when the robot’s getting penalties called on it…so that the drivers can just focus on execution and not be distracted by bigger-picture issues.

What about a strat lead’s role in robot design by facilitating discussion around which aspects of the game are important? Is that a thing teams rely on their strat leads for?

In terms of becoming a good strat lead, I cannot stress enough the time commitment that is involved. Every weekend that our team is not competing during the season, I personally have about four TBA livestreams up at all times. This not only allows you to see how effective different strategies are, but it also is important to watch teams that you will be playing with in the future. Beyond watching matches, we take additional time to develop background profiles on each team before going to a competition. Any team that I have no information about from having already watched livestreams, I make sure to watch at least 3-4 of their prior matches. Even checking social medias of teams is helpful for earlier competitions where no match videos are available. This process as a whole is not particularly complex, but it can take a grueling amount of time to be thorough.

Once you have all the background information, strategist are set up to do great at competitions. Qualities that others have mentioned, like good communication skills and flexibility, are also vital when interacting with other teams. My best advice is to be adaptive; go into strategy meetings with a solid plan but be able to improve upon it through other people’s perspectives.

This entire process can be very tedious, but it pays off. For example, background information allowed us to pick alliance partners that upset a very strong first seed at the SCH District Event in semifinals. Additionally, as part of our alliance on Darwin, we were able to contribute through our strategy and understanding of opponent alliances. We would pull up specific match videos so the driver of 4481 could see what different types of defense were most effective on individual teams we were playing against.

I want to make a note about whether strategy lead should or should not be drive coach as well. Though slightly unconventional, our team has actually found the most success this year with the strategy lead as human player. I see how this might not make sense initially, but it has worked well for our team. As human player/strategy lead, I rarely touched a game piece. Instead, I would watch the match and communicate between the alliance as a whole. This allowed our coach to focus on how our team was performing, like which game pieces were closest and how to get around defense. Meanwhile, I looked at major changes that occurred in strategy based how on the match would play out, and then communicated this to the drive coaches. While not always feasible based on how human players are used in a game, this system has been extremely effective especially in this season.

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