Why even bother submitting a Chairman's Award if we're not gonna win?

After numerous years of participating in FIRST, you tend to find the things about the program that mean the most to you. These things are different for everyone, based on their interests, goals and the way their mentors guide them.

For me, after ten years in the program, the part of FIRST I am the most passionate about is the Chairman’s Award.

But this year it seems that there are more and more stories of teams being disappointed in the feedback they receive about their Chairman’s Award submissions. These issues are vast, and seem to not be regional-specific. These issues are frustrating and do not have clear solutions. I’m not generating this thread to talk about the specific issues or even possible solutions. If someone else would like to create a different thread for that reason, that’s fine by me.

The purposes of this thread:

  • To generate discussion about WHY the Chairman’s Award is important to FIRST.
  • To share reasons, beyond winning a blue banner, to create a Chairman’s Award.
  • To give teams hope and regenerate their belief that the Chairman’s Award is important.
  • To recognize the Spirit of FIRST.
  • To share stories of teams who won the Chairman’s Award, and why other teams agree they deserve that recognition.
  • To share stories of teams who did not win the Chairman’s Award but have a great attitude about why they submitted and what they got out of it.

I guess I’ll focus on your second to last point, about teams who have won the chairmans award. The last three winners of the chairmans award up here in New Hampshire have been 166 the chop shop, my own team 1058 the PVC pirates, and team 131 CHAOS. I obviously know what my team has done, but even looking at the other two, its obvious why they won the award. Team 166 goes into their community, they hold offseason events, and they are one of the most well sustained teams in our area. My own team does a lot of work doing outreach events to spread the word of FIRST. Team 131 has been around for 20 years, and has always been a major part of their Manchester community. The good thing about this? These three teams are within 30 minutes of each other in southern New Hampshire. This proves to me that there are plenty of deserving teams out there in the world. These teams are looked up to by the rest of FIRST, because they are doing what Dean Kamen has been asking to do the whole time, which is creating self sustaining teams and to spread the word about science and technology. I also know many teams in my area who have not won a chairmans award, although they are well deserving. In my opinion, not winning one drives these teams to do more to do what FIRST is asking. So in summation, the award is the goal, and teams will do anything for that recognition, which is forcing more and more teams to be active members of the community. Hope this was the type of answer you were looking for!

When teams ask me this type of question I respond that a team working for Chairman’s is using the experience to direct the team. I know that teams that are actively working towards the goal of Chairman’s Award, are promoting First, gracious professionalism, community service, inspiration for their students and those they meet and mentor. They are shining lights in their communities, their students are working to achieve high goals in life and they are constantly thinking of new ways to improve our quality of life in whatever country they are located. It is hard to recognize that so many teams are doing so much to achieve their goals while only one team can actually win the award. On the other hand, it is hard for me to attend an event to find that only about 10 teams (or many times less) are actually making a submission. It is the same with the Woodie Flowers Award. There are so many mentors that are deserving of this honor and so few teams actually take the time to write the essay. Now granted, many teams are very small and struggling to keep their program alive. They are using all available resources to inspire their students, build a robot and attend just one event. With all that they simply do not have the time to make a submission. To me those teams are an inspiration and we should help them in whatever way we can. My wife and I are often asked to give advice to teams making a submission. Everyone of those teams are deserving of the award because they are making a maximum effort to follow everything a Chairman’s candidate team should.
Now for a little confession. WildStang actually had a meeting many years ago and everyone expressed the same idea. Why should we try if we can’t achieve it? It was at that time that the team made a concrete decision to change the way we worked as a team. We let the award description drive our team decisions and it made a difference in the things we put a priority on. The team became a TEAM and we worked hard at getting better in all we did. We found that there were real needs for volunteers in our communities and there were real needs to help others at events. Even still, our decisions are driven by what we know are First Ideals. That doesn’t mean we are good at it, but we do try. Many of our mentors and teachers have been around for more than ten years because we do believe we are making a difference. We have students that go on to other teams as mentors or even come back to WildStang.
So is it important to try? Without a doubt. Does it become frustrating to not win? Most certainly. Should you stop trying? Never!

Great answers so far!

Let me clarify something: the title of this thread is not one that is in my mind, but one that I’ve heard voiced from students and mentors over the past ten years.

It’s a generic question that I think most Chairman’s Award winning teams have asked themselves in the past.

To me, the question of, “Why even bother?” generates an abundance of answers beyond the desire to win.

I have often thought this would be a great topic for Champs. You should present this. :slight_smile:
I did a talk on this same topic for Rookies at a local kick-off years ago.

Just a few practical benefits that we have found:

1- Focuses the team on the messages of FIRST
2- It forces the team to reflect on and evaluate their past, present, and future activities
3- It gives the team a document that they can share with potential sponsors and supporters.
4- It creates a team history and is an informal way to track the development of your team.
5- It creates an excuse to educate your entire team about team’s mission

Just a few of the many benefits I can think of on the spot.

This is the third year my team is submitting a chairman’s essay, Although we did not won, this award has changed my team and the community where we live.
Our major sponser (the only one who give money) is our municipality, they put X amonut of money on our FRC team and get not only FRC but also FLL+Jr.FLL teams in all the schools in our city(the team members are mentoring those teams).
I like this award because ןt always gives the feeling that we did something and we are different people.
So we didn’t win this award, so what? we losed something? definitely NO, we need to try harder; to add more activities, to improve our activities.

Chairman’s Award is hugely important to FIRST. Even though it doesn’t recognize every team that deserves the award, it cultivates so many skills. (And, even if you have a great robot, you may not win the regional.) The essay builds writing skills. The actual presentation itself hones your communication skills. The years of outreach enhance your community awareness. Through your outreach, you show your region that science and technology are important.
Chairman’s gives us something to work for over the off-season that makes a difference. Just reading some of the submissions shows the huge impact this award makes. Although Chairmans can be given to only one team per regional, it inspires us to reach our potential in FIRST and in the future.

While I understand your purpose, Carolyn, I hope you don’t mind me playing the Devil’s Advocate here a little bit, because I think that it might spur a little bit more of discussion. Please don’t think that I am attempting to significantly degrade the Chairman’s Award, its prestige, or its importance within the greater FIRST community - rather, I’m attempting to play the Devil’s Advocate - based on things I’ve seen and heard from quite a few students and alumni - to spur civil discussion :smiley:

Opinion: Why the Chairman’s Award is Kinda Sorta Irrelevant

“The Chairman’s Award honors the Team that best embodies the goals and purpose of FIRST and is a model for other Teams to emulate.” Let’s assume that the “goals and purpose of FIRST” are to change the culture of the world through those all-important “Inspiration” and “Recognition” of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

What is inspiration? How can you define it? How can it be quantified? That is, after all, for the judges to decide. This, in and of itself, seems to be a slightly flawed system - after all, what inspires a thoroughly matured adult judge is most likely NOT the same as what will inspire a five- or six- or seven- or eight-year-old child, or even a teenager. If a team chooses to place emphasis on inspiring youth, then is it not entirely possible that a program that delights this target group falls flat with adult judges? Even if some of the people affected by this team’s work submit letters of support - the decision ultimately lies in the interpretation of this team’s program and the intent and purpose of the letter of support; it all goes back to the judges.

Certainly, at times it’s obvious what team is deserving of winning the Chairman’s Award and entering the FIRST Hall of Fame. In 2012, I don’t know that very many people would have argued that Team 1114 was not the clear favorite to be the newest Hall of Fame inductee. And that’s because it is truly an inspirational team - a team that is generally very professional in its conduct, extremely competitive on the field, and broad in its impact outside of the game.

Recognition for this sort of work and effort is extremely important. With that said, it’s not hard to imagine (and I have certainly seen evidence of this) students - and even mentors - on a team become so jaded or disillusioned with the idea of the Chairman’s Award that their efforts in creating their presentation or writing an essay or making a video become single-minded in scope. The Chairman’s Award is no longer about the criteria, but about the Blue Banner and the automatic bid for Championship, the Michigan State Championship, or the Mid-Atlantic Region Championship. It becomes about checking boxes off of a list - causing teams to want to do the things they believe (or even worse - know) will win them the award and discouraging them from taking risks, from starting groundbreaking programs with grand dreams and hopes - the sort of programs that can make a flying leap towards FIRST’s “goals and purpose” rather than another generic baby step.

Is that wrong? I tend to think so. Certainly teams that are making breakthroughs, the teams that are blazing trails are the teams that tend to win the Chairman’s Award at the international level and be immortalized into FIRST’s Hall of Fame. But getting these kinds of teams TO the Championship in the first place can be difficult when perennial Chairman’s Award Winners become complacent with their “Winning Formula.” Once that paradigm becomes established, how long will it take for the new guard to be ushered in? Would it ever?

The worst thing about this is that teams who repeatedly face this sort of competition may become jaded with the award and not only stop presenting but also allow their outreach to wither and die. In that sense, the Chairman’s Award is self-defeating. And that’s bad news for FIRST and its goals.

Perhaps it calls for a different mechanism by which the award is given - require all teams to submit a proposal alongside a robot at competitions? Perhaps only allow teams to conduct an interview if selected initially by judges AT the competition? Make the Chairman’s Award selection process more accessible and available to the opinions of more than simply the judges? Make the process for winning the Chairman’s Award at regional or district events more similar to the Engineering Inspiration Award?

There is likely no single best solution, but the system as it currently stands removes the emphasis on the outreach itself and places the emphasis on “the most prestigious award” given out to teams by FIRST. That prestige inherently brings with it a sort of desire and lust for success that doesn’t belong in the culture that teams truly deserving of the Chairman’s Award are attempting to build.

I apologize for the length, but this is something I have seriously considered on multiple occasions. I am someone very passionate about what the Chairman’s Award stands for (or, at least, attempts to stand for), but I can see compelling arguments of this nature. As it is, as a presenter for 2337 for the team’s first ever DCA presentation (and win!) as well as its second ever DCA presentation (and loss), I was always very proud of what my team did that seemed - in my estimation - be be unique, fresh, and exciting. I think that FIRST is right to place such importance on this outreach, but I have at times wondered if the award really is all that important, of even important at all.

In an ideal world, there would be no need to recognize teams for doing such work - the inspiration would be reward in and of itself. And for many teams, this is the case. So it truly begs the question of whether or not the award truly IS important? For the teams that truly deserve to win, is the recognition all that important in the first place?

So far, all alumni (100%) of Team 1912 have attended tertiary education. 77% have majored in STEM fields. The objective stats are similar for many other teams, raising graduation percentages and **inspiring **students to pursue engineering careers.

Disclaimer: I’m keeping my Devil’s Advocate hat on here

So, since the objective stats are similar for many other teams, how is it relevant? Furthermore, that’s one way to quantify inspiration, but perhaps the judges don’t think that’s viable. Then what?

Removes Hat

Alumni are super important. I’d be lying if I told you we didn’t include alumni numbers in our presentations while I was working on them. That said, if many teams’ numbers are similar, doesn’t that then just become another “checkbox” metric?

From the Chairman’s submission of 3337 (Panthrobotics, in Baton Rouge LA):

FIRST teams are inspiring students everywhere to continue STEM education and seek STEM careers. This isn’t a checkbox as much as a testament to each team’s impact.

Jared, you WOULD. :rolleyes:
This definitely was NOT the intent of this thread, but as it’s been brought up, and I do enjoy open-discussions, I’ll indulge your Devil’s Advocate with taking time to respond to your long post.

When you write a paper for school, especially in college, your grade is dependent on your professor or TA’s interpretation. No matter how much time you put into it, how many hours you labor over your presentation and essay, the end result is judged by someone else. You may receive a rubric, but usually rubrics are not fully clear on how exactly these assignments will be judged. It’s up to you to put together the best work that you can, and hopefully it will be judged fairly.

When you have a job, your work ethic is judged by your boss, and sometimes your bosses boss. In the “real world” there are certain times a year that employees go through review processes. These review processes are often (perhaps even usually) not fair. The decision ultimately lies in the interpretation of what is best for the company; it all goes back to your bosses.

There ARE set criteria for the award. There ARE specific questions laid out in the Administration Manual. There ARE feedback forms, with certain questions that are deliberated over heavily by judges. Certainly, there is a human aspect involved, but there is human aspect in every way that any business is managed. This is simply Real Life. (#RealTalk)

I can not name one single team who won the Chairman’s Award by going through a list and figuratively checking boxes off a list that they think will help them “win” the award. Perhaps other people think that they know teams like this, but my experience in talking to Chairman’s Award winning teams leads me to to believe that each team deserved to win that honor.

That doesn’t mean that other teams do not deserve to win, but there can only be one winner. Which draws me back to the INTENT of this thread:
WHY submit, if not to win?

When a team becomes jaded or *disillusioned *because they have not been publicly recognized by winning an award, then perhaps they need to reassess their priorities in the purpose of creating their submission. Once again, bringing it back to the original question: WHY submit, if not to win?

New teams win the Chairman’s Award every year. Certainly some teams win multiple times at the Regional/District level, but there are still teams winning this award who have never won it before.

I have met a few teams who have become complacent with their “winning formula,” and what tends to happen is at some point these teams do not win. (I specifically refrain from using the term “lose” because I strongly believe that no one ever loses when they create a Chairman’s Award submission. …once again, leading me back to my MAIN POINT of this thread: Why submit a Chairman’s Award if I know that I won’t win?

Actually, I could point out a couple teams who have won the Chairman’s Award in years past, but became complacent in their winning and let their outreach slow down, and then they did not win the award, letting in a new team. In that sense, the Chairman’s Award is the opposite of self-defeating: if a team can not keep up the outreach and attitude, then the title passes on to a new team. And that’s a great thing.

This goes back to my very specific point in my very first post of this thread: this thread is NOT meant to be a way to point out the issues with the Chairman’s Award or how it is judged. It is NOT meant to be a way to figure out different solutions. It was meant to be a thread to discuss what is good about the Chairman’s Award and how teams can keep a good attitude about it, because the Spirit of the Award goes far beyond simply winning a blue banner.

I love discussion about this kind of thing.
But I think there are two separate issues here:

  1. How the award criteria is laid out, judged and awarded. There are great things about this, but there are also great flaws in the system.

  2. The attitude that students, mentors and teams have regarding the Chairman’s Award.

Jared, your post seems to reflect more on the first, putting “blame” on FIRST. My initial post was intended to reflect on the second: helping teams understand the value of the award beyond winning something. I think both are valuable things to discuss, but I also think that when you twist them together, it gets very complicated and people choose sides, which honestly does not help either issue.

This is probably one of the main reasons my team doesn’t even make any attempt at a Chairman’s award. We do however try to win as many other awards as possible each year, especially awards about robot design, because we put the majority of our team’s focus on a team building a robot to compete in an event - and even that has mixed results.

So I think the main underlying reason is because we as a team have determined how we participate in the FIRST program, and we chose to participate by building students, a robot, and enjoying the experience of the sport.

I have on many occasions brought up the need to try a Chairmans award, but just thinking of how little we do is in NO WAY any matchup to any other team. So really the time and energy is better served elsewhere.

Even more important, what is the real interest in winning it? YES it is the greatest honor FIRST can give a team, YES it will give us some nice swag for the trophy case, YES it will give us national recognition and we will no longer be that team between 173 and 175, YES we will be forever mentioned in a list of the most amazing teams in history of FIRST… but for a team like us, all of the students and mentors just aren’t as interested in doing all of the work. We would have to shut down the entire robot part of our team to have enough resources, time and people-power to compete with the likes of teams who have won at the regional level forever.

It’s too much of a hurdle and that is ok. Mentors and students of our team understand the importance of the Chairman’s Award, and know what it means for the winners. Trust me, we do want to see our team’s number in the hall of fame and be remembered. But we can’t do it - many teams can’t do it - and that’s alright.

I don’t want every team to submit a Chairman’s award because they feel like they have to. Having this secondary project is great for a program like FLL, but for FRC it has a lot more meaning when its something your entire team must strive for. You can’t just walk into a Chairman’s presentation and list off a couple good deeds - which is what the Chairman’s award would turn into if everyone had to. By making it an award that some teams don’t bother with, you heighten its importance because it really is a bigger challenge that you think - and thats a good thing too.

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This may be controversial, but if you are doing something just so you can win chairmans, you are doing it for the wrong reason.

Thanks for using our essay in the discussion. . .and I agree with your statement. In some ways, Chairmans is a checklist. After all, we use the post-review to hone our skills. But in the same way, building a robot that can compete follows the same fashion. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play a role in why we outreach or why we build. But as my friend from Combustion can attest, winning a blue banner does not suddenly make a team feel as if it has “arrived”. They continue to outreach and to grow. I enjoy the idea of making community awareness competitive. It changes students inwardly by providing external motivation and even when we experience loss (with a four year Combustion streak, we are getting used to it :wink: ) it motivates us to do more, reach further, and become better than we were. By the time you’ve reached the level of a 1114, you suddenly realize that the team has become so much more than the banners received. While the Banners initiate the outreach, eventually, the outreach becomes the Banner.

“Creating a Chairman’s submission” isn’t about trying to win an award. It’s about purposeful documentation of your program that will help you maintain proper focus on the ideals that drive the program and will help you plan for growth, provide PR materials to communicate the program to the community, and so much more.

If you just focus on it that way, maybe a few years down the road you win that blue banner … or maybe you don’t.

Without this type of focus, how are we supposed to change the culture for the better?

(I’ll get off the soapbox now, just search for my name and the word “chairman’s” here and I promise you’ll find wayyyyy too much to read on the topic :slight_smile: )

Really great way of putting it

Rich this is perfect. My team has submitted for the Chairman’s Award each year, precisely because it is one of the chief ways we have to stop and take a look at what we have done, what we are doing and what we want to do in the future. It forms the basis for our goal setting for the next year.

Sure it can be frustrating not to win. If you see winning only as getting that blue banner it can be downright devastating. (My signature is what I tell the kids about this.) Some years, like this one, when you get feedback that basically says “You did a great job but we thought this one other team was just a little bit better” I even have to remind myself to put things in perspective, But the process of putting together a Chairman’s Award submission has a lot of value to the team, even beyond the goal setting and the documentation. It can attract a different kind of kid to robotics.

And remember, the stuff you do in outreach is not just something to impress the judges or even just something you do in order to be good members of your community. Those things can have a huge impact on your team. We now regularly get new kids each year that are a part of our FLL program, which is helping our team to grow and improve. Whenever we do a demo or some sort of outreach we get at least a few people who are interested in joining the team or parents who want their kids to join. Some of the those people have gone on to become valuable team members.

And if you have kids who want to win and don’t see any value in submitting, have them watch Chariots of Fire. There is a scene in which Harold Abrams says “If I can’t win I won’t run.” and his girlfriend response "If you don’t run, you can’t win.


The Chariman’s Award should not be a goal, it is a recognition.

I don’t mentor because I want to win the Woodie Flowers award, I mentor because I absolutely love teaching, answering questions, and inspiring others.
(Well also I’m just hooked on FIRST. I swear, I can quit whenever I want!)

Do good things, and the awards will follow.

I don’t think you’re going to be treading the water with this statement. I don’t see any other way of describing the approach other than wrong. Chairman’s is a recognition that your team is a true embodiment of what a FIRST team should be like. Doing things for the award is not an embodiment of what a FIRST team is about.