Strategy and Staying within your Comfort Zone

Have you ever discussed strategy with another team,  had them claim to be able to do something,  and then completely fail at doing it on the field? Have you ever been the team that did that?
Sometimes the team that does this actually doesn’t know what their robot is capable of.  Sometimes the robot breaks in unexpected ways.  But I think most of the time these things happen because teams try to play outside of their comfort zone.

What I mean by “playing inside your comfort zone”  is doing the things you’ve practiced rather than the things you think you can do or things your robot is theoretically capable of.

For example,  at the 2013 WPI regional,  Team 20 had only ever practiced shooting and hanging from one location.  The robot was optimized to shoot from the front of the pyramid,  and hang in that location too.  In finals,  due to some communication issues,  our third partner,  3182, was hanging in that spot. Our drivers had never hung from any other side of the pyramid,  so instead of quickly swinging around to another side of the pyramid,  they tried to hang right next to 3182. In the end,  neither 20 nor 3182 was hanging,  and we lost the match by 10 points.  All we had to do was keep everyone within their comfort zones and we could have won the regional. Later in the season,  we practiced hanging in different locations and shooting from different locations,  so those became a part of our repertoire.  We were comfortable doing those actions.
This is a near-cardinal rule for qualification matches,  and often for high seeded eliminations alliances,  but it isn’t hard and fast,  especially for low seeds in eliminations.
At the 2015 Tech Valley Regional,  Team 20 was the captain of the 5th seeded Alliance.  The top 3 seeded alliances were all capable of 4 stacks fairly consistently. We were capable of 1.5 stacks,  and our first selection was 5254, who was making 1 stack during qualifications.  Using our third partner,  we somehow had to make an additional 1.5 stacks with a third robot who couldn’t use either feeder station.

This required extending outside the team’s comfort zones. 5254 starting using a ramp for the first time in eliminations in an effort to produce more than 1 stack.  3624, our second selection,  was solely capping stacks,  and 20 was solely building stacks. The results worked in that our Alliance made it to the finals,  but we were inconsistent, scoring anywhere from 70 to 150 points in eliminations.  That higher standard deviation was necessary,  since playing in our comfort zone meant we could only possibly score about 80-90 points.

Being able to play the game effectively in different roles can increase your scoring output,  but only if you’re comfortable doing so.

The best teams in the world understand this principle and use it to their advantage.

1023 won every in-season event they attended in 2015 by doing almost the same thing every single match,  starting with their second district.  They built 3 stacks and hit a 20 point autonomous from the feeder station almost every match.  They always claimed the three cans from the staging zones because they knew they could put up 146 points almost every match that way.

2056, however,  seemed to do a different role almost every match.  They seem to be excellent at every role in the game,  being able to build 2-3 stacks from the human player station or the landfill,  even being able to place coop.  They did this not because their robot was particularly exceptional compared to most other top-tier machines,  but instead because they’re extremely practiced.
2056 was the same in 2014, finishing,  trussing,  and inbounding on a championship Alliance at three different events.

2056 always played within their comfort zone because they made sure their comfort zone was as wide as possible,  while 1023 played within their comfort zone by being the absolute best at one role and insisting at getting to do that role every match. Both were successful because they knew what they could do and executed it every match.

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