When Does Age of a Team Not Matter?

Hey guys,

So you might have seen my other thread about the best teams per rookie-year.

Now I want to talk about at what point you guys think it’s appropriate to have similar expectations of teams regardless of their age.

For example, everyone knows that the rookie year is going to be a team’s shakiest. They’re just trying to get started and it is 100% understandable to not be an amazing team. And definitely in the second year of competition, a team still has a lot to learn and probably still has more work to do in terms of finances and mentors etc.

But now you look at a team like 1114. It’s their 8th year of competition and I think it’s safe to say that they have as high of expectations as any team to come out with an amazing robot (which they never fail to do… just look at what they did in 2008 in their 6th year), even compared to teams that have been doing robotics for 12+ years.

And then we can look at teams like 1625, 1717 & 2056 who have been in the game for 6, 5 & 4 years respectively. They have performed very well at Regionals and the Championship and I think it’s safe to say that the FIRST community sees them as challengers on the “big stage”.

So my question is this: for how many years do you guys subsidize your expectations of teams because of how long they have been around? Do you think that the top robots from the first few years of FIRST are still definitely the best teams around, or have younger teams stepped up and held their own?

Note: I clearly understand that different teams have different resources and in no way are age and experience the most important factors to success (see “What Makes a Powerhouse”). I am just trying to throw out a question for discussion.


I think four years. This is because students only have four years of high school. Students become more experienced as they progress and see more games, and experience more years, but with the exception of the mentors, leave after four years. Therefore, total team experience maxes out at four years.

I agree with the four years, that a team finds their niche at that age and gets going in the right direction. I would not however say they max out at four years. I would just say they have established them self on a high level, not to say though they can not establish themselves before that. Just my two cents.


I hate to sound clichee and say there is no “steadfast number” but it’s really true.

I mean, look at 2753 from last year. Number 1 seed at NJ, regional champion and divisional champion? There are teams out there that have never accomplished that, and they did it their first year.

And look at 2056, only been around a handful of years, and they’ve yet to not win a regional?

Another notable is 2016, only a recently young team, but they went to the finals this year, won another regional, and have already won a RCA.

So while I would agree that 4 years is enough for teams to find their stride, there are some teams out there that just as quickly (quoting the Rookie All Star Script) “just get it”

When does the age of a team not matter? With robot-making, the age can start “not mattering” at 3 or 4 years, yes I agree. However, FIRST obviously calls teams to reach above notions of robotics and engineering to ideals centered around service and making change. As a senior in high school, I am still learning the lessons of community service and the impact of FIRST messages. I think as a team, that sort of maturity comes with age and progress. Teams have to cultivate a spirit of service within their team that often is not possible to produce within just a senior’s four years in high school. So, when does a team’s age matter? I think it begins mattering when a team desires to become a serious, well-rounded team that tries to educate students on issues beyond robotics.

  • Jamie

Team 589 is like 9-10 years old, we never had the best robots… But its changing next year, like I always say

I have tried to respond to this about three times now, and every time I do. I run into a block. I change my mind halfway through and rewrite it. I must say, it is rather annoying. So here goes try number four.

You ask when the age of the team doesn’t matter… There are many cases in which the age will cease to matter.

Case 1:
It’s a team’s rookie year, and they finish in dead last place. The year after they seeded in 15th, picked for finals, lost their first two matches. Does this team’s age cease to matter? Let’s wait until next year to judge shall we? This year is here. They build a robot that is riddled with problems. The mentors don’t care about the student’s learning; just that they have fun. Now, they seed 44th and still get chosen for finals. Again, they lose their first two matches. Does this team’s age still matter? No. Obviously they know how to build robots that are nice. They just can’t keep the problems away. But in time they will learn; though with mentors like this, I would not expect the team to last very much longer.

**Case 2:
**The team has been around close to 5 years. Only once have they made it to Atlanta; though this can just be blamed on bad luck. Does this team’s age matter? No. They have been around long enough to where they know what they are doing. Everyone expects them to have a rather nice robot.

Case 3:
A rookie team has just been started. None of the students have ever built a robot before. I would expect this team to take about 3 to 4 years to be able to build a very nice robot. To me, this team’s age still matters. I would give them plenty of slack. But I would expect them to have tons of spirit. :smiley:

Case 4:
A rookie team has just been started. Except this team was started by two college students who where both on a FIRST team. They find two or three students that just finished their FIRST season. These 5 people start up a new FIRST team and recruit about 10 other students. (Without robot experience.) Over the summer they train these new students. They learn to work with their mentors and sponsors. To me, I would fear this team just as much as I would fear a team with 4 years under their belt.

Case 5:
148, 1114, 111, 254, 217, and 33. Enough said. Age no longer matters.

Just my $0.02


Its always different, but I think its around 5 years that most teams start to reach their paces, find their niches and really start to reach stability.

There are a few factors that age often has impact on: Robot/Design ability, Team as a Role Model (aka chairmans credibility), and Sustainability.

Robot/Design is simultaneously one of the hardest and easiest things to master. We have seen some very young teams, even rookies, come out with some amazing robots. We have seen some teams 10 years old that just cant seem to pull together more than scrap metal. Its all about the experience of the team members and the adaptability to the FIRST design process. Some young teams have mentors from old teams or just “get it”, other old teams will never change their ways. But generally after 5 years or so, a team that really tries and wants to grow will have reached a design process that is comfortable for them.

Team as a Role Model… its hard to burst out of the gate and be a role model for other teams, and in general you look at the FIRST rules, and Chairmans teams really have to have 3 years experience. After 4 years they have turned over a full class of their first graduates, and after 5 they have successfully learned how to rebuild. Are there some teams that are raring to go right away? Of course. Many are your Rookie All Stars. I like to think 1511 hit this mark, hosting the pre-ship Rally, driving 10 robots to drayage, and kicking off & running the Ruckus all in their first year. But they werent really a role model yet. It takes a good 5 years to build a program that is really solid and to get that kind of noteriety.

Sustainability… a big one and a really tough one for a lot of teams. After the first couple years of scrambling to figure out budgets and funds, I would think most teams settle in again around 5 years. They have some major sponsors, they know how to spend their funds, they know what travel costs, they have a reasonably stable team size, they know how to recruit and they know how to get the job done. Its a tough thing to manage especially when a lot of teams in the first few years really dont have stable funding. And we have seen plenty of teams that had funding for 8+ years lose major sponsors. But I like to think after 5 years they have enough of a program (in general) to not give up/die out. They have the will to push on and sustain themselves.

We are seeing more and more all of this coming out of the gate. Some of the Rookie teams have a huge leg up, building on the experience of mentors who have come from FIRST in the past. The more experienced the mentor across the ranges of the program, the shorter the “age not mattering” happens. But I think the general average is somewhere around 5 years before a team really hits their stride.

Coming from a team that is in its 6th year and has yet to be wildly successful, my personal feeling is that age barely matters. Of course, as a rookie team, most don’t have a bot that rivals the amazing teams in FIRST; but as was mentioned, there are some teams that haven’t lost a regional ever, from the onset of their rookie season.

In my own experience, a lot of what matters is not team age, but more of the things that make or break a FIRST team, in my humble opinion: Resources, policy, and student involvement.

By resources I mean money, machining tools/companies to make parts, mentors, engineers, etc. Some teams have a CNC laser cutter and a team of professionally trained machinists ready to make every part on the robot as soon as a student draws it up. Some have a drill press and some nuts and bolts. Obviously, the team with the laser cutter is going to be able to do a whole lot more than the drill press team. The laser cutter team has less to worry about in terms of “how are we actually going to make this” and more to worry about “is this the best solution for this year’s game.”

By policy, I mean what the students do and what their engineers and other helpers do. I have seen teams where the students take absolutely no part in the building of their robot, and I have seen teams where the team is student work from start to finish. A team of professional engineers and mentors doing all of the work is obviously going to trump the best of what a team of high school students can do.

By student involvement, I mean how motivated the students are about FIRST and spreading the message of FIRST, showing team spirit, and wanting to participate in the program. A team with 50 students who never show up and hope that somebody else is doing the hard work is never going to come close to the team with 15 students who work hard and do all they can to make their team a successful team.

I am not mentioning team names because I am not accusing anybody of things like having adults do all of the work or having unmotivated students or whatever else. It’s just that these are the things that I see teams doing differently that make an impact on how their team and their robot turns out. Regardless of age, some teams have it all and some teams just never quite make it.

Note: I took some of the above quotes out of context… but the same point is still there.

So people here in general seem to think that it takes 4-5 years for teams to become relatively stable and have their age not matter.

Let me point out the last Einstein Finals alliances:
67 111 971 217 68 247 (2009)
1114 217 148 67 16 348 (2008)
190 177 987 179 71 233 (2007)
296 217 522 25 968 195 (2006)
56 254 64 330 67 503 (2005)

I´m not necessarily disagreeing with the responses posted… but it makes you wonder when 968, 971, 987 & 1114 are the only ones of a potential 30 (I understand there are some repeat-appearances for teams) that are less than 10 years old. That means 26/30 teams in the Champs Finals in the last 5 years have been very veteran teams.

It seems that even though, in your opinion, we should theoretically have equal expectations between 6 year teams and 12 year teams… the older teams are still always making Einstein and winning it.

Anybody care to shed light on why?

The age of a team always never matters in my honest opinion. Every year there are new individuals entering FIRST and that’s also new minds to the organization. It really doesn’t matter how old the team is. If the team knows the objective and the rules, the opportunities are endless for how well the team could do. Teams that are older do have a step above the rest but by how much? A few mentors may have game experiences but there are new minds entering every year. The things that really make or break a team are organization, support, and knowledge. The teams without most of those essential needs really don’t have a good chance against the game and competitors. For example, last year team 1647 was not organized what so ever. The support that we had was lacking and the knowledge was small. This year, we have become much more organized, gained much more support, and the knowledge we have gained is unbelievable. This can be attributed to how we did in the Philly Regional this year. Surprisingly, we have become a much better team and it did not take 5 years to do that. We hunkered down and focused on what was important.

In addition to the ones you identified…
In 2005 503 was 4 years old, 330 & 254 were 6 years old, 65 was 8 years old, 56 & 67 were 9 years old…
In 2006 522 was 6 years old, 296 & 217 8 years old, 195 was 9 years old
In 2008 348 was 9 years old

So actually using your analogy, 15/30 teams were less than 10 years old when they won championships. Thats 50%.

And while its an interesting point, you are only judging by robot performance at championship. There are A LOT of factors that I don’t have exact numbers for but I would be willing to guess more “older” teams go to championship than younger teams. Rookies are ONLY allowed to go if they qualify.

I think the reason we consider age is for a few reasons.

We like to see the growth made in the years
We want to know how others manage things

However when it comes down to it, I believe that we all expect everyone to have a decent robot. When you are competing and scouting do you scout out the oldest team or the robot that compliments your team the best?

Maybe this is lack of 10 years of experience talking, but to me a non-subsidized expectation doesn’t imply an Einstein appearance. What I’m saying is, I expect most teams with roughly 4 to at least 12 or so years of experience to preform about the same–average, as the case may be. I’m usually unsurprised to find out their age. I don’t subsidize my expectations of them; they’re likely to build decent robots, have solid teams, and maybe win a couple awards every few years. But I don’t expect to see them hang up blue championship banners either (though I’m happy being pleasantly surprised).
Now, of course, there are a few teams I do expect to stand out in Atlanta every year (and they rarely disappoint). I don’t base this on age, but they are by-and-large more likely to be older than the norm. However, I don’t see them as a reason to scrap the 4-5 year mark for at least on-par performance from everyone else; just my $0.02.

Just for curiosity, the average age of all FRC teams last year was just under 4 years. This year it’s probably around 4.1 years.

I agree with almost everything, except for student involvement, slightly. But that belongs in a “Student-built Vs Mentor-built” thread. :wink: Let’s just say that this is about teaching the students.

Our team has been around for exactly 8 years now. FIRST’s website states that we went to ATL in 2002 and 2004, though nobody on the current team went. Whether we paid our way or won a regional, no one knows. What I do know is our team has suffered organizational and monetary problems since I’ve been on the team, until this year. 8 years is definitely past the 4-5 year estimate in this thread.

But beyond our lack of quality robot performance, we have bright young minds who are willing to learn about the process of running a successful team, including building a cool robot. Parents, teachers, and open-house guests are amazed at our “crappy” robots, not because of their on-field performance. It’s because students had a leading role in designing and building that machine. And as of this year, we have the growing support of our Board of Education, school staff, and community. Along with that, we now have more funding. Not much, but enough to attend off-season events, buy some new toys (like a dedicated programming laptop and omni-wheels), and much more.

Getting somewhat back on-topic, though, I think we’re missing another important aspect which can cause our age estimation to vary greatly: How long do you do what you do? Our team, at least for the 5 years that I’ve been involved, have never met past the last week of our regional, and our meetings start roughly two months before kick-off. That’s including recruitment, setting up our shop, finalizing sponsors, but more importantly, freshmen training. This year, we had about 6 freshmen students, and they appeared to be more useless than a left-handed screwdriver for the first few weeks. We had to teach safety, tool/machine training, get them somewhat acquainted with the rules/limitations of FIRST. The point I’m trying to make, is that a year-round team that is going into their third year will probably perform much better than a 5+ year team that barely meets before and after each season.

tldr: Age never matters, at least when it pertains to FRC teams.

Even the best, most seasoned teams have off years. Key students graduate and no one steps up to “fill their shoes”. Key mentors stop participating for whatever reason (get a job out of state, for example), and the team struggles without them.

Even the best, most seasoned teams have off years. Key students graduate and no one steps up to “fill their shoes”. Key mentors stop participating for whatever reason (get a job out of state, for example), and the team struggles without them. Or maybe the team just reaches a little too far one year and can’t get everything working. I’ve seen it happen to veteran teams. And i worry every year that it might happen to us…

The problem with setting expectations based simply on team number comes when people don’t meet your expectations. if you expect someone to be one of the best robots there and they aren’t, you’re going to think they’re a lot worse than they really are. Likewise, if someone is bad year after year and they suddenly do decently, you’ll rank them a lot higher because of the surprise.

Mentoring and strategy are way more important than experience.

This isn’t any of those team’s first year being in their stride. Many of them hit the ground running.

Also, not every team can be on Einstein. There are so many amazing robots that don’t make it every year that you can’t use “Einstein” as a synonym for “the team is successful”.

A decent, but no means universal metric for a team’s strength is having a robot consistently “in the hunt”. I honestly would not say there is a specific number of years for this to happen. Pick any strong team and the year they entered the hunt consistently could vary widely. I’ll grab some teams and analyze data to prove my point later.