10 THINGS I LEARNED AS A ROOKIE TEAM COACH
1. It's More than Just a Robot
A FTC team is not just about building a robot and programming a few missions. Your team needs to define goals, it needs to have a business plan, members need to be able to spend time on connecting with the FIRST community, and you have to figure out how to inspire others to take up STEM as promoted by FIRST and FTC , even as you are figuring your way out as a rookie team. This just means that you need more members on the team than your typical FLL team. Also, since your team members are 7th graders or higher, they will have other commitments, and having redundancy on the team will help you get to the finish line.
2. You Need a Financial Plan
A FTC team requires a lot more money than a typical FLL team. The robot kit, the field kit, all of the motors and controllers will cost you a lot. Having a team with 9-10 people helps defray the costs. But having a business plan that allows you to raise money for the team is super critical. Fund raising is not a part time activity, so having a proper presentation, approaching sponsors and explaining why they should sponsor you (and having good business reasons as opposed to "Please help us because we are kids doing something good!") should be an important part of your business plan.
You will be ordering parts every week. Create a system that allows you to order things together as much as possible. Plan for a 5 day delay to get the parts you need for the next week. The build team has to take responsibility for ensuring that they have the parts they need every week.
3. Define Goals and Responsibilities
A large team needs members with clear roles and responsibilities. Make sure that these roles are decided at the very beginning, and that members know how to self organize and get things done.
Defining goals for every meeting and measuring yourselves against those is an important part of the learning experience for the team.
4. Important Resources
Keep track of these sites. You will need them all:
www.revrobotics.com - Electronics
www.servocity.com - Actobotics parts and a lot of things
www.pitsco.com - Tools
www.andymark.com - Motors
www.gobilda.com - Servos and tools
Your team will also need to familiarize yourself with two tools, a drill press and a band saw.
You will need to pick a kit to build a robot. There are multiple choices. We found Actobotics to be a very good solution.
5. Make an Impact
Outreach is important. It will take time. Have an adult who will own it and drive it. Outreach includes talking to other teams, meeting with experts, inspiring youngsters, mentoring other teams and making a difference in the community through systematic planned volunteering
Ally with a non-profit. A 4-H club or a 50-1 (c) that receives matching funds. It can help with your outreach, because the non profit may give you opportunities to do that, and, equally important, the parents can use tax deductible funds for FTC.
6. FTC-Friendly Programming Tools
OnBot is a perfectly good environment to write your programs the first year. Android Studio can come next year. PTC is a great tool, but focus on building a working robot first.
7. Mentors Matter
Find a mentor or multiple mentors. Starting a team is like running a startup, especially if the coach and team members have never been part of an FTC team before. It is hard, but you will learn a lot and your team members will grow faster than they possibly can, if they have joined an established team.
8. Important Tools/Things to Remember
You need to have a set of tools (Harbor freight is a good place). You need to ensure that you have at least half the playing field setup. Otherwise, it will be hard to work on the autonomous portions of the mission.
Sweat the small things. Safety glasses, regular robot inspection and weight checks will reduce the scope for surprises.
**The Engineering Notebook is extremely important and it will take a lot of your time. And it won't be popular initially. **
9. Reach Out for More Help
You can reach out to Servocity and ask them for specific help, and they will respond to you. You can also post questions on various forums and people will help you. But the biggest help you will come from teams in your neighborhood. For us, Shishir Rao from Revamped Robotics has been a willing and able supporter who has helped us every time
10. Be Patient, and Build Your Team
Team members will spend a lot of time working with each other. Do not hesitate to have some team building activities at the outset. Lay out the working rules. Respect, trust and treating others with kindness are good rules to have on a team.
Working long hours, and staying focused every weekend is what is in your future. Make it fun for everyone. You will be a better team, a longer team.
Every child is different. They learn at different rates. Respect that and help them along the way, and you will have a rewarding time doing this.