This is a good question… I’ll give it a shot:
In order to compete at the highest level within FIRST, you need these things:
“Resources” is a big one… it includes everything from engineering resources to fabrication resources and the ability to find a space to build your robot.
A good example of having the right resources was the design challenge of the Chipawua motor this year:
… A team with resources can get the engineering expertise to include this motor in the drive train in a short amount of time. Also, this team has the resources to get a specialty gear made in order to fit the requirements of the design.
Another example is having the resources to build a mock playing field and a space to not only build the robot, but also debug the robot on the field. This takes money to buy the field components, and the resource of shop space. For example:
… Our team (TechnoKats) had mediocre success from '92-97. In 1998, we acquired a large shop. That year, for the first time, we built an entire playing field and had more practice. We also build a second drive base that helped our drivers practice on the playing field. We’ve had a pretty good run since then.
In order to get a top-notch performing robot, the above category of “resources” is the most important. However… you can’t just win with a good robot. Leadership and Teamwork are huge factors.
“Leadership” is also important. This includes adult and student leadership. Leadership means teaching, doing, listening, caring, and making tough decisions. Sometimes these leaders have actual leadership positions (student leaders, adult team leaders), but also leaders can be Freshman who are dependable and accoutable or parents who take on entire projects like travel planning or fundraising. Leadership takes a mixture of guts, risk, and patience. Leadership comes into play when there is pressure at hand or dissention among the team. A good leader is determined when they handle a tough situation with class and control. On bigger teams, the leadership mostly comes from a few people… not just one.
“Teamwork”, of course is very important. Sure, engineering the robot is important… but so is scouting, strategy planning, fundraising, trip planning, communication, robot repair, and marketing.
Here are some examples of teamwork:
…Some teams had awesome robots this year, but didn’t get picked in the finals at the Championships because of a weak marketing effort. Part of the team must spend the time relating to other teams and getting to know all competitors. This is important and the more it’s done, the more enjoyable it is.
… Also, good teams have pit crews (students and adults) who routinely “kick out” teammates who need to be doing other things. For instance, my job at the competitions has been to strategize and plan for the our matches. If I get in our pit and start working on the robot, more than one person will kick me out of there. Some of my favorite moments are when our students have kicked adults out of our pit. This is done good-naturedly and is an enjoyable thing.
… Everyone needs to pitch in on the menial tasks. There should be no “freshman jobs” where only the rookies sweep, sort bolts, or clean up. Even the veterans should do the crappy jobs. However, this is also a two way street… the rookies need to understand that they need to learn the basics before they get to the higher level design stuff. Before they jump in and start designing gear trains, they need to know what the difference is between aluminum and steel… and they need to know that a #4-40 screw is dramatically smaller than a 1/4-20.
A very successful team knows where to get the resources to get the job done. It also has the right leadership to plan the trips, raise the funds, and lead the robot buid. Finally, a successful team includes everyone on the team to some extent. Alll bases are covered by the entire team working together.
Anyway, there is my $0.02 and then some,