10 Things I Learned as a Second Year Coach

Sudhir Menon-Coach

1. The off season is when the best athletes and teams create outsized advantages for themselves

World class athletes win it all before the season starts. So do world class FTC teams.

Most rookie teams start their season in September, around the time the challenge is released. Your season is effectively over if you do that. To build a world class team, you have to have completed at least 20-25 outreach events, and by that I mean, meaningful outreach events before the season starts. You should have workshops to train other teams if you have the skills or attend workshop to retool yourself so that when the challenge is released, you are ready to hit the ground running. 25 outreach events or more will start to put you in the top tier but more importantly, every outreach event will draw the team closer. It's an outreach event combined into a team building event. This in effect will build a better team by the time the season starts.


2. A sustainable team is not just nice to have- It's the difference between survival and extinction

Teams are comprised of people and are themselves living organisms (Corporations are people too). And a team that identifies critical skills that it needs to bring in is setting itself up for success. Teams lose people, so having new members each year creates vacancies on the team. But here is the part where you get smart. Add people to the roster during pre-season. Then get them to be part of all the outreach related team building. It's a good way for you to gauge how reliable the new members are.


3. Software & Sensor based control is not just for Autonomous

Software can make the robot move wonderfully. No one is going to tell you this, but control is not something that is tied to just Autonomous. You don’t just use gyro, encoders, and sensors only in Autonomous. The best teams combine elements of control into their TeleOp making their drivers incredibly efficient. Using encoders and sensors in teleOp gives drivers the upper hand when needing to quickly and efficiently control the robot. Most teams that use sensors and encoders during TeleOp are in most consideration for alliance selection.


4. Do not neglect fund raising

Yes, your team might be comprised of the sons and daughters of professionals, but learning to raise funds is a critical skill for your kids. Most of them have never had to ask anyone for anything and don’t know how to do it. So start sooner rather than later. Set a goal and measure the team against it. Let them get creative and find out how hard it is to actually raise money. It teaches them the value of money and also sets them up for success further down the road when they start their own ventures.


5. As the season goes by, something interesting happens

You’ve seen it before. Its 11.45pm and one servo does not work one out of six times and nobody knows why. It is always the same 3 members huddled around the robot. These 3 just don’t know how to let it go. They cannot stop caring long after others have gone home and slept. The determination and resolute look in their eyes is something you have seen before, at work. Yes, you are looking at the future stars of the workplace. As the season goes by, that core group starts to expand. Members tell their parents that they will be getting a ride or will let them know when they are done. That is when you know that you are building a great team.


6. When “I” becomes secondary to “Us” and “We”

Most 14-15 year olds have well developed egos and want recognition, plum roles, visibility etc. At the start of rookie year, people act and speak up in their self interest. But as the season progresses and the team starts to see some success, the more mature members on the team will come forward with ideas that are purely in the interest of the team and its success. Thats another clue that you are building a great team


7. Reach out with empathy

You need 20-25 outreach events to even get on the same playing field with the top teams. But it would be a shame if the team went through outreach motions without gaining anything other than running up the total. Outreach is the process of developing empathy for others with a clear view to helping them. If your team members don’t feel fulfilled after an outreach event or they don’t start to see a higher purpose or ask deeper questions, something is wrong. Question, experiment and recalibrate, because success without empathy is meaningless.

8. PTC Creo is your friend

My fellow coach has a line that is quite profound. He says, “Quit being mechanics, become designers”. Build a robot requires nothing more than a few screwdrivers, some wires and a kit. But building a robot does not teach you design, it does not teach you how to make choices, how to weigh those choices and ultimately, how to become a good designer. Tools like PTC Creo allow you to make that transition from mechanics to designer. Invest in a good training program. If you are in the Portland area, we can help.


9. Nail your judging presentation

Last year, we worked all night, came up with nice boards, but never found the time to run through a judging practice. We did not get very far, predictably. This year, we spent time with a parent volunteer, fine tuned the points, and judging presentation and follow up questioning went off without a problem. The only thing you want to accomplish in your judging presentation is provoke the curiosity of the judges to learn more about your team and invite them to come for pit judging.

10. Driver practice, driver practice, and more driver practice

Good teams get their autonomous programs to be reliable and working well. But they win the competition with their proficiency during TeleOp and end game. Like a well oiled machine, good drive teams can work in tandem with their coach without even saying a word. It comes down to hours and hours of driver practice. Rookie teams neglect this at their own cost, so make sure to have well-practiced drivers.