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  • Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

    I am thinking aloud as a coach doing his 5th year, with yet another new team (my school stops at 5th grade, so, a new team every other year is common).

    I can coach only one day a week for two hours, and I have not been able to get any others to extend that time, so my teams are minimally competitive. I do this so the kids have fun and tend to fund 90% of the cost of the competition since the school really doesn't have the spare change to do it. My goal is fun and education for the team, not winning. Still, I see teams that almost flaunt the rule "the kids to the work". I've seen teams with 9 and 10 year old kids running programs that would make a college junior proud. I've seen teams whose coaches are doing the programming in the pits, and teams where the coaches outnumber the kids on the team. I've also seen these teams win the "big" trophies. I find this disheartening to say the least. I don't bring these views up to my team and change the subject quickly if anyone may notice so that they don't feel so outclassed. How much pride can the team have when the adults do so much of the work? I do wish that the judges would be more activist about this kind of thing, but I understand that they don't want an ugly scene during a competition to spoil things for every one else. This has been bugging me for a while, so thanks for "listening" as I get it off my chest.

    Lest anyone think that I'm just "sour milk", please note that I keep doing FLL every year because the kids love it! I will continue to do it as long as kids keep signing up.

    On the bright side...
    This year's website for FLL is so much easier to navigate than before (this was one of my biggest complaints in the past), I'm thrilled to see this improvement - Even with the hassles of getting clearance for a second coach which cost me a LOT of time at the start of this season. Good job and "high fives"!

    DLC
    Last edited by dlc; 09-28-2014, 10:24 PM.

  • #2
    Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

    Originally posted by dlc View Post
    Still, I see teams that almost flaunt the rule "the kids to the work". I've seen teams with 9 and 10 year old kids running programs that would make a college junior proud. I've seen teams whose coaches are doing the programming in the pits, and teams where the coaches outnumber the kids on the team. I've also seen these teams win the "big" trophies. I find this disheartening to say the least. I don't bring these views up to my team and change the subject quickly if anyone may notice so that they don't feel so outclassed. How much pride can the team have when the adults do so much of the work? I do wish that the judges would be more activist about this kind of thing, but I understand that they don't want an ugly scene during a competition to spoil things for every one else. This has been bugging me for a while, so thanks for "listening" as I get it off my chest.
    I've only experienced one team blatantly breaking the "kids do the work" rule. A coach was at the practice table with a laptop tweaking the programing. He had several team members with him but they were only running the robot to test his changes. We were pretty shocked. This team had gone on to the championship competition the previous year and made us wonder if the coaches had a big hand in that. We noticed later that a judge and referee were talking with the team and asking questions about their robot. In the end they didn't get an award or move on to the next tournament. I'm grateful the tournament volunteers handled it well.
    Lego Works
    2011 - Food Factor
    2012 - Senior Solutions
    2013 - Nature's Fury
    2014 - Moonbots
    2014 - World Class

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    • #3
      Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

      Originally posted by dlc View Post
      I've seen teams whose coaches are doing the programming in the pits, and teams where the coaches outnumber the kids on the team. I've also seen these teams win the "big" trophies. I find this disheartening to say the least.
      I usually see one or two in our competitions like this (makes me sad to for the kids). For the most part though I find very few teams like this here in Michigan.

      You are also in a hard spot with new kids every year. I am lucky enough to have had veteran team members each year who take the lead and teach the new kids so the knowledge gets passed on. We usually work 3 hours each weekend but we start in the summer doing tests, writing a code library, researching, etc. Our brand new FLL team we started this year is working about 4 hours a week and they are struggling just to get it to come together. There is a learning curve for sure.

      Originally posted by dlc View Post
      Even with the hassles of getting clearance for a second coach which cost me a LOT of time at the start of this season.
      You too! That whole thing was a disaster. Our second coach missed a button click on one of the screens but it never gave him a warning message. We waited days for it to go through until he got tired of waiting and went through the whole thing again. The new TIMS systems needs a much better UI/workflow and error messages.
      Coaching the Flamingos since 2004!
      Team #79 - The Blue Cheesy Flamingos
      https://www.facebook.com/KalamazooFLL
      http://www.KalamazooRobotics.org

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      • #4
        Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

        I don't know how much this has to do with winning and how much it has to do with engineers generally being a bunch of uber nerds. FLL is a lot of fun. You play with robots and LEGO and computers and solve problems. When the team is working on the challenge, making obvious mistakes or missing a brilliant solution it is natural to want to step in and "help". I have those urges, so I build my own "secret" robot that the team never sees. A few years ago we kept the table at the co-coach's house where I couldn't play with it. After a practice I was all wound up and it took a while before I was calm enough to go to bed. It got so bad that I developed a twitch. The night before the tournament I built a robot which I hid in a spares parts box and took to the tournament. When the team was at the head-to-head competition (the pits area is empty at that time) I ran my robot on one of the practice tables. Almost got away with it too, but when we were packing up to go one of the lads noticed a strange robot. My secret shame was revealed.

        Some people need to win no matter what the game. For them winning is the only reason for playing the game. They will never be good FLL coaches. Some people want to win for prizes and glory. They can be great FLL coaches because there really are no prizes or glory other than watching your team grow in knowledge and confidence.

        I have my co-coach register the team and he/she keeps me updated on important email from FLL. I always try to find a co-coach that has the organization skills I lack. Having more than one person interact with FLL is a mess and a waste of time (my opinion).

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        • #5
          Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

          Originally posted by dlc View Post
          I do wish that the judges would be more activist about this kind of thing, but I understand that they don't want an ugly scene during a competition to spoil things for every one else.
          I work primarily with school-based teams (more as a coach trainer, actually), so I totally know where you're coming from, with new teams and limited after-school robot practices. I applaud your efforts.

          With regard to your point about ugly scenes - usually this sort of issue at a tournament is handled quietly in a back room, so the coach can understand the situation, and figure out how to handle it with their team. When a team is quietly disqualified, there's no public explanation needed. In my experience, every judge panel and referee is aware of this issue, and they work diligently to be sure that the kids did the work.

          I feel sorry for those who think this event is about building a robot that scores a lot of meaningless points.
          FIRST LEGO League Mentor and Referee/Head Referee since 2011.

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          • #6
            Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

            Originally posted by Tom Mosher View Post
            When a team is quietly disqualified, there's no public explanation needed. In my experience, every judge panel and referee is aware of this issue, and they work diligently to be sure that the kids did the work.
            While I have never judged at the FLL level, I have judged at the FRC level and yes this is 100% true. Judges talk and share information for this type of situation.
            Coaching the Flamingos since 2004!
            Team #79 - The Blue Cheesy Flamingos
            https://www.facebook.com/KalamazooFLL
            http://www.KalamazooRobotics.org

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

              We totally agree that there some situations where we have seen a coach go too far (ie. programming at the contest!). However, we also need to be careful about adults/judges jumping to conclusions.

              There ARE kids who can program at a High School/College level even if they are only 11 or 12 years old. Just as we see kids who are phenomenal at sports (well above their peers), we do see incredible kids at these competitions - kids who are 11 and know multiple programming languages, use PID and other complicated techniques, etc.

              The worst we can do is to cast too many doubts on the talents of a child who's true gift is in this area - robotics/programming. We should foster such talent whenever possible.

              We agree it is hard to judge sometimes, but we need to have faith that majority of the teams believe in the Core Values and do FLL for the kids! :-)


              Originally posted by dlc View Post
              I am thinking aloud as a coach doing his 5th year, with yet another new team (my school stops at 5th grade, so, a new team every other year is common).

              I can coach only one day a week for two hours, and I have not been able to get any others to extend that time, so my teams are minimally competitive. I do this so the kids have fun and tend to fund 90% of the cost of the competition since the school really doesn't have the spare change to do it. My goal is fun and education for the team, not winning. Still, I see teams that almost flaunt the rule "the kids to the work". I've seen teams with 9 and 10 year old kids running programs that would make a college junior proud. I've seen teams whose coaches are doing the programming in the pits, and teams where the coaches outnumber the kids on the team. I've also seen these teams win the "big" trophies. I find this disheartening to say the least. I don't bring these views up to my team and change the subject quickly if anyone may notice so that they don't feel so outclassed. How much pride can the team have when the adults do so much of the work? I do wish that the judges would be more activist about this kind of thing, but I understand that they don't want an ugly scene during a competition to spoil things for every one else. This has been bugging me for a while, so thanks for "listening" as I get it off my chest.

              Lest anyone think that I'm just "sour milk", please note that I keep doing FLL every year because the kids love it! I will continue to do it as long as kids keep signing up.

              On the bright side...
              This year's website for FLL is so much easier to navigate than before (this was one of my biggest complaints in the past), I'm thrilled to see this improvement - Even with the hassles of getting clearance for a second coach which cost me a LOT of time at the start of this season. Good job and "high fives"!

              DLC
              Mentor: Not the Droids You Are Looking For - retired (World Festival Champion's 2018)
              Judge: Western PA, World Festival, Razorback Open, Mountain State
              Head Referee: Western PA Championships

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

                I also coach a school based robotics program. I usually only have the kids for three years starting in the 6th grade and aging out in the 8th grade. The goal of our robotics program is to spark an interest in STEM and provide information about STEM based career technical education (CTE) pathways. Basically, we compete to learn and our team motto is, "What we discover is more important than what we win."

                We've seen the type of behavior you describe. It is usually so blatant, I'm not sure whether or not the adults realize they are doing anything wrong. I think they just don't know where to draw the line. If a coach happens to be a software engineer, it might seem normal to learn the intricacies of NXT-G or EV-3 and teach it to the team. If a coach is a mechanical engineer, it might seem normal to develop engineering solutions a layman might find complicated. To some this may seem like an unfair advantage. Do these teams have an advantage, sure. But is it unfair?

                I have certification from NASA's professional development network in STEM and LEGO robotics in particular. I volunteer as a judge every year and host tournaments. I teach robotics everyday as an elective. All but one team member is in my robotics class and all of them are part of our robotics club which meets after school almost every day of the week.

                But I know where to draw the line. I have a set curriculum I teach to all of our robotics teams. It's enough to get them started. After that, they are on their own. The internet is a rich source of information if they need more, but they need to initiate the research. 8th graders teach the 7th and 6th graders so there is continuity in our program. I also let the team know that Robot Performance is worth only 1/6 of their overall score and they only need to be in the top 40% to be eligible for the Champion's Award and the top 20% (usually) to advance to the Championships.

                My teams have never won the Robot Performance award and they probably never will. This year my rookie team was complaining about some of the other teams. They suggested there should be divisions for the teams: PG for teams with too much Parental Guidance and G for everyone else. They also use it as a code when they see overly involved adults. I heard them chanting, "PG! PG!" at our last tournament.
                Last edited by Roosevelt Robotics; 11-27-2015, 01:30 PM.
                Donate to Roosevelt Robotics at Donors Choose
                http://www.donorschoose.org/we-teach/639572?active=true

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                • #9
                  Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

                  I agree, I've seen over involved coaches but I think the judges figure it out. This year several parents comment to me about the team next to ours (in the pits) where the coach was actively programming. One of them wanted to tell the officials but I told them they were struggling rookie team would most likely not in award contention. In the end they never charged their robot and it died on the table on their 2nd round. Agree, I felt bad for he kids.
                  Shawn -
                  Team#388 Amazon River Dolphins
                  East Montpelier Vermont.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

                    Originally posted by skasulka View Post
                    I agree, I've seen over involved coaches but I think the judges figure it out. This year several parents comment to me about the team next to ours (in the pits) where the coach was actively programming. One of them wanted to tell the officials but I told them they were struggling rookie team would most likely not in award contention. In the end they never charged their robot and it died on the table on their 2nd round. Agree, I felt bad for he kids.
                    That's the sort of thing tournament officials should be notified about, so they can come and observe it themselves discretely, and take the appropriate action.
                    FIRST LEGO League Mentor and Referee/Head Referee since 2011.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

                      Originally posted by Tom Mosher View Post
                      That's the sort of thing tournament officials should be notified about, so they can come and observe it themselves discretely, and take the appropriate action.
                      Is there any particular official that should be notified? I've never been a judge so I wouldn't know who to look for.

                      And yes, I have seen cases of a coach doing programming at a tournament.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Thoughts on coaches and the desire to win

                        Originally posted by dnb View Post
                        Is there any particular official that should be notified? I've never been a judge so I wouldn't know who to look for.

                        And yes, I have seen cases of a coach doing programming at a tournament.
                        In Minnesota, we usually have a "head judge" at a tournament. This is usually the person who leads the coaches' meeting early in the morning at the tournament. If you can't find that person, just flag down anyone wearing a red shirt, and they should be able to get you in touch with the right people. If you can't find anyone in a red shirt, track down one of those funny people wearing black and white shirts and silly hats.
                        Last edited by timdavid; 12-02-2015, 06:10 PM.

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