The key aspects of competition readiness for FIRSTteams involves a whole lot more than what goes on during the game and on the field or table. The most successful teams (in FIRST or in any sport or competition) know that the only thing you have complete control of in any competition (or anywhere) is - YOU!
While the robot games are great fun, the whole point of the experience is not only to learn useful STEM skills, but useful people skills you need to be an all around awesome, capable, technically literate and decent human being. Being Competition Ready for FIRST events means you've exercised all the qualities of well prepared people, ready to face anything, a level of informed readiness that gives teams the best chance at overall competition success, even if things don't work out as hoped on the field.
FIRST is a STEM education program that uses robot challenges to build science and technology skills and interests for youth ages 6 to 18, in a character driven program designed to inspire self-confidence, leadership, and life skills . With support from a bunch of generous Fortune 500 corporations, educational and professional institutions, foundations, and individuals, FIRST provides more than $22 million in college scholarships to high school kids in the program, and serves over 400,000 students in 80 countries. The suite of programs includes FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC® ) for students in Grades 9-12; FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC® ) for Grades 7-12; FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL® ) for Grades 4-8; and Junior FIRST® LEGO®League (Jr.FLL®) for Grades K-3. VisitUSFIRST.org for more information nationally.
- How to Start a FIRST Team
- Community Networking for FIRST Teams
- FIRST Teams Guide to Effective Outreach
- FIRST Mentoring: Volunteering with Impact
Step 1: Elements of Success
There are several main elements to successful competition experiences. They include:
- Solid understanding of FIRST mission and values
- Conduct that reflects that understanding with Gracious Professionalism on the field and off
- Strong teamwork and communications skills
- Well designed and documented robot build
- The ability to showcase all of that at a competition
Step 2: FIRST Things FIRST - Always!
As always, make sure all team members understanknow about the program you're involved in...
FIRST is an acronym for the U.S. Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - a really long name for a nonprofit organization created by inventor Dean Kamen, with a pretty simple Vision and Mission which are important to know:
"To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.“ - Dean Kamen, Founder
Mission: FIRSTs mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.
Step 3: Remember FIRST Values
If you are or were involved in FIRST LEGO League in elementary and middle school, you may have memorized the FLL Core Values. While not referenced very often in FTC or FRC, these are the basic values for all FIRST programs and all teams would do well to know them, because they are at the heart of the Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition that anchor the FIRST experience:
- We are a Team.
- We do the work to get the job done with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
- We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
- What we learn is more important than what we win.
- We share our experiences with others.
- We display gracious professionalism in everything we do.
- We have fun!
Do those things, and you're golden! And you'll have fun!
Step 4: Be Informed
Staying informed - about game and robot rules, upcoming events, scholarships, outreach opportunities and more - is critical to having a successful season. If you're a student team member, ask your coach to share FIRST updates with your team as they're received. If you're a coach, share those updates!
It's really vital to read all communications from US FIRST, and from your coaches and mentors thoroughly and completely. Important online resources include:
- Program specific blogs at usfirst.org
- Program specific calendars at usfirst.org
- Program specific game manuals at usfirst.org
- Program specific Q&A forums at usfirst.org
- Program specific forums at Chief Delphi - while not "official" these forums can have some very helpful information on them; just keep in mind that information provided
The better informed team members are throughout the season, the better they can represent at events, talk to judges and demonstrate broad based knowledge of their FIRST experience.
Step 5: Look Sharp!
At events, dress and act as a team.
Appropriate event clothing includes team shirts or outfits, closed toed shoes that are properly tied, and no dangling strings or straps that can get caught on things. The better you match as a team, the greater your impact on judges, on each other, and on the event itself.
Step 6: Be Gracious Professionals!
Mind your manners, in the pit, on the competition field and everywhere in between. Hold doors for people, help other teams whenever you can, and be good to each other – you’re at the competition because of ALL of you, because of the gifts, skills and talents each of you brings to your team.
Recognize, respect and celebrate that. You succeed or fail together, but your chances of being successful are far, far higher work as a solid team.
Communicate with each other – fully, clearly and consistently.
Think and act, instead of reacting without thought.
Step 7: BE at the Competition!
To get the most out of this great opportunity, you have to BE there in body, mind and spirit. Avoid recreational or superfluous cell phone use and video games. Support your team actively and enthusiastically from the stands, and support your alliance team from the field.
Step 8: Use Your Pre- and Post- Game Checklists
You have those right? Checklists are some of the most valuable tools you can have at an event. Don't try to rely on memory in the excitement of competition day. There's nothing worse that getting to the drivers station and realizing you've forgotten something basic like charged batteries or the toggling your power switch.
There are some nice sample lists here . Customize your lists for your program and game needs, and use them.
Step 9: Be Judge Ready
It can’t be emphasized enough that the field matches are only one part of the game. How complete your Engineering notebook is, how well you showcase your achievements and your teamwork during visits with judges, and your conduct and teamwork throughout the day are all major and equal components of the award recognition process. To that end:
- Show the judges you’re happy to be there, shake hands, and welcome them to your pit area.
- For formal interviews, arrange yourselves so that your main speakers are scattered throughout your group, rather than grouped on one side.
- Be ready to showcase everything and anything – have your display board area clear for viewing, your community service notebook handy, design sketches at ready
- Be prepared to talk about at least one thing you’ve worked on or enjoyed with the team.
Step 10: Aim High!
Whatever program you're involved in, find the requirements for the highest award possible and aim for nothing less. In FTC, for example, the Inspire Award is the highest achievement. The requirements for that award are:
- Team must demonstrate respect and Gracious Professionalism both for team members and fellow teams
- Engineering Notebook must be submitted, and must impress the judges
- Team must work beyond their Robot to help spread awareness of the team within the community
- Team displays good communication and teamwork skills within the team as well as with their alliances
- Team communicates clearly about their Robot design to the judges
- Team presents themselves well in the judges interview
- Robot effectively competes in the game challenge and impresses the judges
- Team and Robot consistently performs well during matches
- Team is a strong contender for all other judged awards
Aiming for the top greatly increases your team's chance of success, and helps you qualify for any number of other awards in the process.
Step 11: Stay Till the End
Win or lose, stay for the full competition and cheer on remaining teams, just like you enjoy being cheered on when you’re competing. Staying for a full competition, regardless of your own success in it, does a couple of things:
- It establishes you as GP competitors It might provide you with an additional opportunity to the next level
- You'll learn a lot and get some new ideas for your own robot watching the finalist matches
Have a great season, and Go Teams!