The Fall Season: Developing Talent

Note: This weekend is the Tech Valley Robot Rumble at Ballston Spa High School near Albany, NY. The event will host about 16 teams playing Recycle Rush. Qualification matches are planned to be 2v2, and a few other rule changes are in play to make the competition more relaxed and fun. #freepress

A few weekends ago, 20 and 5254 competed at the Rah Cha Cha Ruckus off-season event in Rochester, NY. The two teams had very different goals going into the event. 5254 wanted to finally win an event- which we did! Thanks to 1114 for selecting us and 1285 for rounding out our alliance. 20, however, was not at Ruckus to get picked by 1114, but was instead trying to develop talent, and that’s harder than any strategy lessons or build tips to communicate in writing, especially when it’s such a complex and difficult topic.

Talent on a team can come in many different forms. It might be the student who is calm and cool under pressure who could become your next driver. It might be the eager to learn, inexperienced student, who could learn to build, program, or wire. It might be the student who is really loud, obnoxious, and a general pain in the butt (that was me as a freshman), who could be an asset in the future if something changes or something clicks. That student might be the goofball mascot right now, but given the right combination of opportunity and discipline, they could be a game-changer.

But that’s not every student, and might not even be most students. Developing talent is hard, and understanding the strengths of any given team member is important. On Team 20, this means sifting through the over 100 students on the team and finding the ones who really want to be there. And maybe in the process inspiring some of the others to come more often, learn more, and be more dedicated.

Students on 20 come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are hardcore nerds, who were probably going to be engineers all along. Some of them come to the team because their friends are on it, and it’s a welcoming atmosphere. A large number of students learn about the team through their technology courses, and attend a meeting and are persuaded to stay. Some of them are athletes. Some have never competed in a sport in their lives. It is not an easy task to keep 100+ students engaged and coming back and inspired. A ton of students want to drive the robot at some point, and sometimes parents get involved because they feel their kid isn’t getting enough out of the team.

Keeping kids coming back during build season is difficult for 20. Our 100+ at kickoff quickly dwindles to 30, then 20. After bag day, we often have 5-10 students regularly showing up. It’s hard to understand why those people stopped attending, but its easier to find why some of the students stay.

Those students are the ones who feel they can contribute, they feel involved with the team. They have a desire to improve and make the robot and team better. They prioritize robotics and work their schedules around it as best they can. They enjoy some sort of work on the team or seeing their work validated.

On 5254, the situation is very different. The team is very small, and attendance at meetings and off-seasons is less-than-stellar sometimes. The team has only so many students, and each one is different and has different strengths that need to be leveraged.

One student on the team is a very smart kid, and he really cares about the team’s success, but he’s terrible under pressure. He had a limited stint on drive team at IRI, when the regular season human player couldn’t make it, and was partially responsible for our ramp breaking in playoffs, causing us to place only only one stack in our last quarterfinal (reminder to said student if he is reading this- I still love you you’re a great student and a great head scout, just not a great human player). By leveraging the skills he does have- good people skills, great analysis skills, and just generally being a smart kid, he’s a great asset to 5254- just not on drive team.

Another student on 5254 is great under pressure and relatively committed, even if he sometimes acts like he’s too cool for the team. He doesn’t necessarily see a future for himself in engineering, though, and his commitment can be splotchy (he missed IRI for a music festival- and if you’re reading this, you would be a great engineer if you set your mind to it). He was our operator for the 2015 season, and is another fantastic asset to 5254.

The lead student on 5254 is Max Westwater (Maximillian on CD). He’s a phenomenal asset to 5254, being the team’s main driver, head programmer and head of build. He’s one of those students who is going to invent some miracle that solves climate change or something like that. The trouble is going to be when he leaves the team after the 2016 season, and in his wake is going to be a vacuum where multiple students need to fill in. Max is a student you don’t get very often, and he’s done great things for the team, but we need to be mindful to train students and develop young talent right now to take his place after he leaves the team, wherever he goes. Hence, my current thoughts about developing talent.

On 20, vacuums like that can also appear when some very influential students leave the team, but our massive size and dedicated mentorship help to lessen that impact. 20 lets various students drive at off-season events, as well as learn to scout, be in the pits, and feel what competition is like. 20 has a different set of student drivers for every qualification match at Ruckus.

5254 has 6 students attending the Tech Valley Robot Rumble this weekend. 20 has probably ten times that. Both teams need to develop talent, but the two teams have very different roads to travel to make that happen.

I should be drive coaching for 5254 this weekend at TVRR, unlike last year where I got a chance to be an MC at the event. We’ll be rotating a few different students in to human player this weekend, as well as trying to get the other attending students some time to feel the competition atmosphere.
20 will likely have different drivers for most qual matches as well, trying to use more of a shotgun-style approach to try to develop talent early on. We’ll see what 2016 holds for both teams in FIRST Stronghold!

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