(adapted from an article at FIRSTWA)
This guide is intended to help you get your FRC team started. Ramping up an FRC team can seem like a an enormous burden. However, if you approach it in a logical way, it really isn’t too bad. We have done this a couple of times.
There are easily 100 getting started guides out on the internet. They all have good information and always the best of intentions. However, some of them are quite scary to read! For example, some of the guides will suggest teaming up with a large multi-national corporation and getting full use of their machine shop facilities, access to large warehouses to setup full sized practice fields, and what appear to be endless resources. While that would be nice, it is a rare exception to be so lucky. It turns out most teams have done their rookie work with nothing more than a simple toolbox and a cordless electric drill in a physics classroom.
We have a different approach to starting a team. It all revolves around not overwhelming you. A rookie FIRST team often times focus on just getting a robot built. Perfect! If you are able to throw in a few more program goals, even better. Do as much as your team feels comfortable with.
FIRST projects, especially the FIRST Robotics Competition, are first and foremost a chance for your students to get involved in a team focused on science and technology. We encourage and celebrate everyone who participates in FIRST, and give the students a huge green light in going forward with STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) as a focus of their studies. More than that, it is also a chance for them to work together as a team to accomplish what most professional engineers would consider an impossible task: Design, build, test, and compete with a robot in just six weeks of build time. While competition is focused on the robot, our program is not. Our program is focused on the students and the process they are going to implement to achieve this difficult goal. This is a learning project for them, and a chance to get excited about some facet of science and technology that will motivate them to pursue a technical field as a career. It is also a chance for them to learn that they may not like science and technology, but might instead enjoy leadership, graphic design, logistics, or some other facet of the program. That is also fine. As long as they have taken advantage of the opportunity to be involved, we are happy.
To meet this part of my philosophy, we encourage all teams to allow the students to handle a majority of the organizing tasks. We want the students to take charge of their own team rather than being passive participants. They will, as high schoolers, need guidance and direction from the team advisor. Provide them with some accountability and be a good steward of the timeline. We would very much encourage a team coaches/mentor/advisor to allow the teams organization to either succeed or stumble on their own. Help them learn to be team leaders. They will naturally focus on the robot. With your help, they will also learn the teamwork and leadership skills at the same time.
The FIRST Culture
Before we jump into the meat of starting a team, we wanted to tell you just a little bit about the culture of FIRST. It is perhaps the single most powerful part of the program. FIRST is based on the ideal of Gracious Professionalism (GP). GP is why the FIRST program works. FIRST teams treat each other with a great deal of respect and compassion. It is considered to be an honor and a responsibility to insure that other teams succeed. We are competing like crazy with a strong desire to win, but not necessarily at the expense of the other team. To be Gracious and Professional is considered the highest honor in FIRST. The Chairmans Award, which is our highest honor, has nothing to do with your teams robot. This award celebrates the team who demonstrates Gracious Professionalism. This might be through helping other teams, working with community, and a range of other things completely unrelated to your robot.
The biggest impact you, as a rookie team, will feel from Gracious Professionalism is that other teams are eager and willing to help you succeed. Our FIRST community is a complete eco-system that thrives when all of our participants share this attitude.
The power of this ideal can’t be overstated. The notion of Gracious Professionalism is what creates an environment where no team or individual feels pressure or embarrassment when participating in FIRST. It allows every individual to shine in an environment free from ridicule and shame. It is this single ideal that creates the enormous amount of change in the students. Confidence rises, achievement is celebrated, and their imaginations are released from the shackles of peer pressure. The only real peer pressure you will find at a FIRST event is in support of Gracious Professionalism.
It is a most positive experience.