101 Things I Wish I'd Known Before My First VEX Tournament

101 Things I wish I’d Known Before My First VEX Tournament

Building Robots

  1. The robot should be no more complicated than necessary. “Keep it simple, make it fun, keep it safe.”
  2. You can never finish your robot too early.
  3. Plan out everything before you start.
  4. Reliability is the best robot feature of all. You can’t win if your robot doesn’t work.
  5. A day of testing is more important than a day spent cramming one last feature into your robot.
  6. Always give your programmers a lot of time to test if you want a reliable robot that works.
  7. Test your autonomous code.
  8. Get the whole team involved in the planning and building process. Everyone’s opinion matters.
  9. Engineering decisions should not involve feelings. Don’t worry when your teammates don’t like your idea.
  10. Adults should keep their hands in their pockets when work needs to be done.
  11. Remember that the measuring box is an absolute, not a guideline. It’s better to have a small robot than to fail inspection.
  12. Crazy ideas sometimes work, try them out, but remember that most crazy ideas are crazy for a reason.
  13. Zip ties are the duct tape of robotics. Make sure you have lots of them in all legal sizes.
  14. If the code doesn’t work, check the robot’s wiring, sensors and mechanicals first.
  15. Tighten your screws tightly. You don’t want stuff falling off during matches.
  16. Make notes and take pictures.

17. Check your batteries with a voltmeter; faith is a bad tester.
18. Make sure that your batteries are charged, fastened securely, plugged in, and most of all, that your robot is turned on.
19. Use a battery clamp, Velcro strap, or otherwise firmly secure your battery. Batteries don’t help you if they’re lying on the field or dragging behind your robot.
20. Make sure all your batteries are labeled and numbered and that you swap them after each match.
21. Don’t use your oldest, scruffiest battery in the finals.
22. Make sure there are always batteries on the chargers.
23. Build a battery charging station, and have someone in charge of your batteries for the entire competition. Your team’s Battery Boss can win matches for you.

At the Tournament
24. Don’t panic.
25. Always expect the unexpected.
26. Safety first! Follow safe procedures and don’t forget your safety glasses.
27. Expect everything on the robot to break at least once. Have replacement parts for everything.
28. If something goes wrong with your robot, don’t stress out too much. There will always be someone willing to help, and chances are that one of them will know what’s wrong.
29. If you want to do well at the tournament, pick your drivers ahead of time. The qualification rounds are no time to test new drivers.
30. Give your drivers a lot of practice before and during tournaments.
31. Have a neatly organized pit area. It is easier to get repairs done on a tight schedule if you don’t have to spend time looking for tools, and judges and your guests will appreciate your tidy work area.
32. Never be afraid to ask for a spare part even if you’re sure no one will have it.
33. Have a clock in the pits.
34. Sometimes a team that you were barely paying attention to can end up being a really great alliance partner.
35. Remember as friendly as robotics competitions are, the other side wants to be a winner just as much as you do, and they will do every legal thing to win.
36. Don’t ever lose hope. Even if you’re dead last after qualifying, there is still a chance to make it to the finals. Keep working to make your team the best it can be.
37. Label your personal possessions, especially when you leave things in the stands.
38. The best, most powerful teams are frequently the ones who are most likely to help those in need.
39. Designate team members to be team spokespeople in the pit and then be sure they are always there to be spoken to.
40. Your opinions and statements reflect on your team and its reputation.
41. Bring your own extension cords and power strips.
42. Shoot video and take pictures.

Tournament Matches
43. Something will happen beyond your control. Don’t worry about it – that’s robots.
44. Keep the same drive team and coach for every match.
45. Develop excellent communication between the pit crew and drive team.
46. If you’re the coach, don’t be afraid to do whatever you have to in order to get the drivers’ attention. Drivers need to be reminded who is in charge.
47. Drivers, you shall listen to your coach and do what he says; coaches, you will give clear, concise, and calm instructions to your drivers. Arguing and yelling is for after the match – not during it.
48. Make sure you turn the robot on before the match.
49. Learn what every flashing light on the controller means. Check those lights before each match.
50. Check all systems before every match. Use checklists. If it’s good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for robotics.
51. Make sure your robot has the correct code loaded.
52. Make sure your PWM cables plugged are into the right ports and are seated tightly.
53. Make sure your communications are working before every match.
54. A minute on the field waiting can last an hour or more. A minute during a match lasts about 10 seconds.
55. Really – make sure you turn the robot on before the match. Important enough to state twice!

Strategy and Judging
56. Always coordinate strategy with your partners.
57. Have a scouting plan. Losers build robots, winners scout.
58. Scouting is about finding great robots for your alliance which may not be the ones with great records.
59. It’s hard for a VEX team with only five or six members to do a thorough job of scouting. Get parents to help collect scouting data, and work with some other teams to gather information. Analyze it on your own, but share the collection work.
60. When you go into alliance selection have a ranked list of at least your 25 favorite robots in the tournament. If you are picking, you will find that someone else gets your top five choices so you need a good depth chart.
61. Sometimes a great team with a good robot will outperform a weak team with a great robot. Evaluate the entire package – not just the hardware.
62. Sometimes a lesser-known team will be a better choice than a “famous” one. Famous teams weren’t always well-known.
63. Make sure your scouts are your team representatives for alliance picking. They will know who to pick; drivers usually only see their own matches.
64. Bring white boards and markers. Use them to go over strategy with other teams and for posting match information in the pits.
65. Judges aren’t scary people, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can tell them about your robot. They’ll love it.
66. Practice for judging just like you practice with your robot. Have a mentor run a mock judging session for you. Each person should know the whole story of your team and your robot.
67. When talking to judges be enthusiastic and coherent.

Life at Events (Especially Multi-day Tournaments)
68. Wear comfortable shoes.
69. Wear jeans, but bring shorts.
70. Have fun! These competitions are supposed to be a blast, not a chore. Don’t be afraid to look like you are having fun, either. At least 20% of the people there are less cool than you.
71. Drink lots of water even if you aren’t thirsty, and don’t forget to eat.
72. Bring lots of water. No one wants to pay $4 for 16 ounces of water.
73. Bring earplugs of some sort. Tournaments can get very loud.
74. You will lose your voice.
75. Jedi robes or pirate costumes make any team instantly cool.
76. Get cell phone numbers of as many people on your team as possible. Put these on a list and distribute to your team BEFORE the event.
77. Network. You never know how friends you make in robotics will influence your life later.
78. Meet other people from other teams - they have a lot to teach and a lot to learn.
79. Caffeine is essential.
80. Caffeine is no substitute for sleep.
81. Wash or sterilize your hands with alcohol. Don’t get sick!
82. Yes, kids really do cry when their robot loses. Adults sometimes do, too.

Marketing and enthusiasm
83. Be aggressive in your onsite marketing. If no one knows who you are you might not get picked for eliminations.
84. It’s impossible to bring too many buttons.
85. Be enthusiastic. Yell, cheer, chant, and dance. Act foolish.
86. Your team’s banner can never be too big.
87. Bring a lightweight color printer to the tournament. Being able to print marketing flyers on the spot can be a big help.
88. Get out of your pits and meet other teams. Otherwise, you might as well watch a webcast.
89. Wear distinctive shirts.
90. You are NOT too cool for a giant conga line around an arena.

Working Together
91. Don’t be afraid to look around and learn from other teams.
92. Have a lot of fun, remembering that sometimes fun and pain go hand in hand.
93. Don’t burn bridges. You’ll find that standing alone on scorched earth isn’t much fun.
94. Get everyone involved. Even the newest team member can have the one great idea.
95. You don’t have to be a genius to be good at robotics, but hard work and enthusiasm is always a winning combination.
96. Help others as much as you would like to receive help from them.
97. Specialize. Despite what Robert Heinlein said about insects, you can’t run a team where everyone is responsible for everything.
98. If you are good at only one thing, learn another.
99. Your second year in robotics is your first year as a mentor. Always be willing to teach any skills or knowledge you have, even to people on other teams.
100. Speak up when it comes to a major decision about the robot.
101. Never let a problem with another team member get in the way of both of you having a good time.

I’m really liking the list!

However there is one VERY important thing I would add:

**DO NOT ** accidently plug in the yellow reciever cable into the programming serial port of the microcontroller!

This basically will mess up all of the code on the microcontroller and you will have to reload the master code and then your competition code before being able to compete. Take your time when making these connections!!!
Unfortunately this was a problem at the world championship in Dallas when switching from tether to radio control right before our practice match… I strongly urge other teams to beware… although VexNET looks like it is going to eliminate this problem :smiley:


Sometimes people post things that just make you go WOW! and this is one of them. Thanks

This is a list I started compiling a while ago on another forum. Many of these were suggested by other roboteers. Since I have no idea any more who added what, it’s become One List. Any new ideas are welcome, and the tip above is a good one. Make sure the wires are plugged into the right holes!

  1. Give your drivers a lot of practice before and during tournaments.
    Made me laugh, the only driving practise I got was trying to get the auto working the day before the nationals.
  2. Always give your programmers a lot of time to test if you want a reliable robot that works.
    Once again, at the nationals our programmer had to stay behind till 10pm+ to try get one of the three robots autos working.
  3. Make sure your scouts are your team representatives for alliance picking. They will know who to pick; drivers usually only see their own matches.
    Loled at this, i’m usualy the one who picks and i’m the driver :stuck_out_tongue: But I spend most of my time when i’m not driving walking around looks at the other teams bots.
  4. Have a scouting plan. Losers build robots, winners scout.
    Is only true if you have a small team, if you’ve got a big team you can do both. Two hours before the actual Nationals.
    And 74. You will lose your voice. is so true. And it hurts.

I really liked the list :stuck_out_tongue: Goes to show how unorginised we are. Got to show this to the team.

  1. Always give your programmers a lot of time to test if you want a reliable robot that works.
    I was programming almost all the time when there was no match and the drivers wern’t practicing at the NZ regional. After a week of programming in NZ before the worlds, as soon as I tried the programming on the fields in the US it wouldn’t work, because the fields were newer and not worn down like the ones I had been using for testing so the robot turned further. This upset the first try at the programming chalenge as well as the 20 second. I spent all the first day and a lot of the second fixing this. Even after the week of programming the programming chalenge was only about three quarters done, so I was one of the last ones to leave at night at the convention centre.

  2. Test your autonomous code.
    I changed the speed (probably about halved) of the line following before the robot turned to go on the ramp for the programming chalange only about an hour before we did the final heads up match. I didn’t have time to test it, but this was the one time when it worked the first time after changing it!

  1. Yes, kids really do cry when their robot loses. Adults sometimes do, too.
    Really? I’ve never seen that happen in any of our comps. But they’ve never really been that serious. Even in the finals at the nationals, there was more anger then sadness. And then there was the other 100 or more people shouting stuff, that was acutaly kinda awesome. Although our team is very laid back, and the anger was not so much from losing but from another issue. But trying to explain that will just make me and our team look bad.
  2. Build a battery charging station, and have someone in charge of your batteries for the entire competition. Your team’s Battery Boss can win matches for you.
    We had one of those :stuck_out_tongue: We also had someone whose job was to re-pump the robot using our bike pump as two of our three bots used pneumatics. (hardly any new zeland robots used pnuematics, most used a motor powered clamp.)
  3. Something will happen beyond your control. Don’t worry about it – that’s robots.
    That was the main cause of our teams doing so bad, although in the end it seemed to be simple errors such as plugging stuff in properly. By the end of the comp we had a systematic process of checking everything, down to the last screw.

This has been copied to the VEXwiki so we have a permanent copy with changes. Feel free to edit (when needed) beyond 101 items.


This was the bane of Exothermic bots all year, above all the other issues we had.

That’s why it is on the list three times. :slight_smile:

OMG just loved it! I’ll take the list to my team. Hehe we’re a bit nervous about the next tournament… But with the list will help us.


I think that I have heard (and experienced) a few of these a couple of times before…:slight_smile:

Maybe I should add:

  1. Keep the school free of the Swine Flu so that you can attend robotic competitons.

Bring Apples to Apples, even if your team comes in dead last - you can still have fun with the teams around you. (It is also really awesome for the 8 hour flight from Hawaii to Dallas, with a 3 hour layover in Houston)

Elevation was my first tournament even though not my teams. Our team had electrical problems in an earlier competition so we had a checklist similar but somehow there is always something that you dont check or something completly random pops up. This year during our first round in the world championships our processor over heated during autonomous and we had to painfuly watch our robot do nothing for 2 minutes.

Your microcontroller overheated?!?!?!


I think it was part due to a slightly defective micro controller and partly having all the motors (8) work simultaneously. When the robot encountered any resistance i.e wall, it would slow down and if the resistance continued it would stall.If this would have occurred during drivers control i would let go of the “throttle” and then the processor would cool and resume functioning normal. However during the 20 second autonomous, if the reboot hit a wall or ramp and tried to push itself it would then stall and for the remainder of the match just sit there.

It was a real disappointment especially during world championships. it took us 3 unsuccessful matches to fix the problem but by then it was to late.

Oh i almost forgot that after we switched our micro controllers and stopped running or autonomous we had another competition in which our robot didn’t start due to the RX1 cable being slightly severed which wasn’t visible until close examination.

Bummer but what can you do about it, except learn for next year.