Time for the Big Show
Life happens at the level of events, not words.
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! (graciously, of course)
Time to celebrate your robotic creation! After weeks inside a dark, quiet crate, your bot is ready to get unwrapped and put into action. It’s a very exciting time. To make the most of your trip(s) to your first regional event(s), be well prepared.
ADVERTISE YOUR TEAM NUMBER
From your team shirts to flags to banners, show your pride in your team and your robot by displaying your team name and number. Because you are a first-year team, these first competition events will help cement your identity in the FIRST community.
Make sure you advertise your team number well at the regionals. Teams that recognize your number and associate it with your robot will be more apt to select your team should they wish to add you to their alliance during the elimination rounds. Then again, maybe you will be selecting them!
Competitions generally mean long hours, little sleep, close interaction, and poor diets. Try to eat right and get as much sleep as you can. Many have gone full out every day of the regional and ended up sick when their team needed them most. Take care of yourself. That’s the best way to maximize your contribution to your team.
You may need to restructure your team prior to attending the regional event. Roles will change at the competition. Understanding which roles you want to fill and who will fill them may take a bit of a shuffle.
Your pit area will not be able to accommodate more than a few people at a time. Prepare for this beforehand and determine who should be in the pit and when.
Possible competition roles may include - Competition Team (necessary), Pit Crew (necessary), Scouting Team, Spirit Team, and Chaperones/Travel Logistics Team.
Your competition team should plan to stay closely together during the competition. Your coach should understand the competition agenda and know where each competition team member is at all times.
During Team #365’s first year of competition at the Nationals (as they were called then) at Disney World, our main drivers could not be found prior to a match. It turns out they had fallen asleep on the grass somewhere. We had to put in our back-up drive team, who, fortunately, won the match for us.
Although you may have practiced with one set of drivers, you never know when fate will require someone else to drive. Determine who your back-up team will be beforehand.
COMPETITION TEAM BUTTONS
FIRST will provide your competition team with buttons, which will identify them and allow them access to the playing field. DO NOT LOSE THESE BUTTONS. Ensure that either each competition team member is responsible for his/her own buttons or have the coach collect them at the end of each day.
BE PREPARED TO STRATEGIZE WITH OTHER TEAMS
Your competition team will be the first line of communication with alliance partners. Part of a successful alliance is truthful communication and another is the ability to communicate clearly and professionally. Discuss this prior to the competition.
Be truthful about your abilities when strategizing with other teams. If you are not sure that you will have a function repaired in time, tell them. Your team credibility will be much greater in the long run if you are honest.
Be prepared to reconcile differences in strategy with your alliance partners. You will not get your way every match and should not expect to. Every team wants to strut their stuff each match. Your partners are no different.
Always ask if your partners agree with your suggestions. Open up the discussion for their input. Who knows, they might be in a position to select your team going into eliminations.
Plan to have key scouts or a strategist meet with the competition team prior to their match and before they meet with their alliance partners to summarize scouting information. Be brief and relay information obtained from the scout sheets. Talk about possible strategies based on the strengths and weaknesses of your alliance compared to your opponents.
POST MATCH DEBRIEF
After a match is over, meet with the competition team to review performance. Be honest, but supportive of the team. Discuss what went well, what could have been better, and what to do to improve next time. Try not to assign blame.
One way to visually assess performance is to have someone videotape the match, focusing on your bot, and then review the tape with the competition team.
ELIMINATION ROUND SELECTION
Be prepared to select partners for the elimination rounds. Even if you are ranked last going into Saturday’s Qualification Matches, you never know when you will be selected and may need to assist the team selecting you with their next choice.
Maintain a list of teams ranked in terms of compatibility as an alliance partner. As elimination round selection is occurring, cross off teams who are already chosen.
A number of teams are not prepared to select alliance partners and do not pay attention while teams selecting before them make their choices. This may lead to embarrassment as the team chooses a team already selected.
Have your alliance captain or team representative chosen beforehand and ensure he / she understands the selection process (and has a list).
Ensure that each member of the pit crew understands his / her role and has the proper tools and equipment to accomplish the role.
While all team members need to abide by safety rules, the pit crew works in the more dangerous environment. Always wear safety glasses in the pit area. You never know when metal shavings will be flying through the air.
Help each other be aware of safety issues. Tell others to wear their safety glasses. You don’t want your fellow teammate to be taken to the hospital due to the two seconds it would take to flip down the safety glasses.
Bring extra pairs of safety glasses. Students (and old engineers) tend to misplace them. Make sure ANYONE entering the pit area is wearing them.
Entering / Exiting the Playing Field
Another significant safety hazard is entering and exiting the playing field. Competition team members are always stepping or jumping over the side field rails, instead of walking through the open side gates. Instruct your competition team members to enter and exit the field safely
Lifting the Robot
Having two team members lift a 130 pound robot (with battery and cables) on and off the field puts much strain on their backs. Teach your team members the proper way to lift, with a straight back and bent knees.
If your robot has sharp edges, your lifters might also need to wear gloves for protection.
Plan for an organized pit. With the little time you may have between matches, avoid spending the majority of it looking for a specific fastener. Organize tools, parts, measuring devices, and fasteners. Ensure each pit member knows where everything is located. Also make sure that pit members return tools they use to the assigned location when they are finished.
DECISION MAKING IN THE PIT
Assign a Pit Boss, someone who has ultimate authority in the pit. Between matches, you may have three repairs to do and only time for one. Who will make that decision?
COMMUNICATION BETWEEN COMPETITION TEAM AND PIT CREW
As the robot comes off the field after a match, some critical information needs to be communicated to the pit crew. Are all robot functions working properly? If not, what needs to be examined? Do modifications need to be made? It is important for your team to determine how that communication will happen and who will be involved. It is very difficult to hear when 10-20 people are asking the same questions in a cramped an already noisy area. Plan for it and let everyone know how it will happen.
STORAGE IN THE PIT – THERE IS NOT MUCH
Plan to have team members bring minimal “stuff” to the competition venue. What they do have will probably need to be stored in the stands with the team, not in the pit area. There really is not much space.
Tell team members to only bring bare necessities. Also, they need to consider that in a crowded venue, their belongings might get misplaced or possibly stolen. Suggest that valuables be kept to a minimum.
DRY ERASE BOARD WITH MATCH INFORMATION
One of the most common methods of communicating with your team and other teams is to display a dry erase board in your pit. Match numbers and outcomes can be recorded on this board for all to see.
BE PREPARED TO ADDRESS SCOUTING REQUESTS
Scouts from other teams will show up in your pit area to scout your team and robot. Determine what you want your team members to share with scouts when they ask.
BE PREPARED TO ADDRESS JUDGES
Expect judges to drop by your pit to talk about your robot and your team. Prepare your team members for this occurrence and focus on the key points you want to communicate to the judge(s). You may only have a few minutes to get your key points across, so be succinct and clear.
TEAM HANDOUTS / ROBOT SPECIFICATION SHEETS
If you have handouts and/or specification sheets, keep a number of them in the pit area. Other teams will be looking for them.
PREPARE LIST OF ROBOT MATERIALS AND ALL ASSOCIATED COSTS
If you haven’t kept a list of all the materials used on the robot as you built it, now is the time to prepare it. If you waited until after it ships, you will not have the physical robot to refer to when ensuring that you have everything captured on the list. Having this list is a requirement for getting the robot certified as acceptable for competition at each event.
Teams use all different methods to record information about other teams – paper, computer, hand-held PDAs, etc. Use whatever method is most comfortable for your team.
Scouting is important to determine how you complement other teams in your alliance and how you match up against your opponents.
No matter how you record it, focus on information, which will be useful to your team when you meet your alliance partners to discuss strategy.
Some possible areas to gather information include:
CAPABILITIES – what can the robot/team do and what can’t it do?
STRATEGIES – what does the robot / team do during the match? How do they play the game?
PERFORMANCE – how well does the robot / team do what it attempts? What are the robot’s strengths and weaknesses?
AUTONOMOUS / HYBRID – what does the robot do in autonomous and/or hybrid mode? Does the team have multiple program options?
The more data points you can collect on strategies and performance, the better understanding you will have of a given team. Many teams use a paper system to record this information. Information on Capabilities can be obtained by visiting the team / robot in the pit area.
The best way to gather accurate information is to have well-trained people obtaining it. The most successful scouts are individuals who see scouting as valuable and pay attention to detail.
Plan to train scouts on what information to collect and how to collect it before the competition. If possible, assign them teams to scout prior to the competition.
If you have enough team members, assign certain scouts specific teams to focus on. This maintains consistency in the collected information and can reveal modifications in strategy and/or robot functionality improvements.
NASA WEBCASTS / NASA TV BROADCAST OF COMPETITIONS
The first weekend of competition is March 3-4. Check the NASA Robotics site to see what competitions will be webcast and if any will be broadcast on NASA TV. Determine if any teams you will see at upcoming regionals are participating. Scout via the web or broadcast, if you can.
TEAM SPIRIT... MANY ASPECTS:
Unlike many other sports, FIRST competitions celebrate efforts of all teams to come up with their robotic masterpieces. Cheer for your favorites and do not boo anyone. Help those who need it.
Having spirit doesn’t mean you just cheer when your team is doing well. Each time you cheer for another team you are really showing support for what FIRST is doing, inspiring youth interested in science and technology.
Another way your team can distinguish yourself is via a team banner. These banners can be displayed in certain areas of the competition venue. Banners can contain your team name, team number, robot name, special cheer, and a list of your key sponsors. This is a great way to thank your sponsor(s) for the assistance that made this whole experience possible.
An exciting mascot can add a lot to your team spirit. There are often opportunities for the mascots from various teams to get out on the field during a break in the action to interact and dance to rev up the crowd.
Give one of your really outgoing team members a great costume or a puppet to represent your team. Maybe your school already has a mascot costume you can use.
Keep in mind that the mascot costume should be very portable and not too hot. Many of the venues get real warm and you don’t want your mascot keeling over from the heat!
CHAPERONES / TRAVEL LOGISTICS
CELL PHONE NUMBERS
Make a list of all team member cell phones. See that more than one team member keeps a copy of the list handy.
EMERGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION
Make sure at least two people have emergency contact information for team members. Emergencies happen. It is best to be prepared.
FIRST RELEASE FORMS
Before your initial competition of the season, be sure to have each of your team members complete the official FIRST Release form located on the FIRST website. You must hand in these forms as you check in at your regional. If you do not have these forms, you will not be able to practice or compete with your robot. We forgot our forms when we arrived at the Chesapeake Regional in 2003 and had to call to have them faxed to the event so we could compete. Learn from our mistake - remember your completed sheets!
OBTAIN INFORMATION ABOUT COMPETITION VENUE
The FIRST website will have current information available on each competition venue. Read this information and start thinking about the logistics of getting your team to the event and then to and from the event venue and where you will be lodging.
BEST OF LUCK!