Advice for first competition?

So my team (of two students) has our first competition this weekend at Trinity High School in NH. I’ve been driving robots and doing strategy meetings in FRC for the last few years, so can anyone who has done both FIRST and VEX give me any tips about how strategy meetings or matches differ from FRC? Or any other advice for VEX newbies would be welcome too.

Bring batteries, extension cords in case charging stations are not at your pit area. Bring a small amount of tools for fixing things. More if you robot is not quite done yet.

VRC typically has more matches per day (depends upon the event but in general it holds true). It’s easier to reset the field and carry a robot due to weight and size.

Venues can be more compact as well due to less “stuff” required. You many times have 4-6 fields in a basketball court sized gymnasium with stands. Pits may be 4x6 cafeteria table or folding table for you. Better events have power cords at your table.

Make sure you have charged batteries for your matches. Nobody likes a dead robot.

Keeping track of when you are up is the other big thing. Events can run behind or even ahead of schedule. Get a schedule once they print them out and keep an eye on the match numbers. Many events have projectors, and not all are reporting real time for the Vex Via app. You don’t want to miss a match.

Don’t forget to sign up for judged sessions but make sure it does not conflict with times of your matches. This can be tough sometimes.

Lastly, be sure to get skills runs in. If you are going for top awards, many tournaments use not only on field performance but skills scores in the decision making process.

You could take a look at this http://www.vexrobotics.com/wiki/101_Things_You_Should_Know_Before_Your_First_VEX_Tournament

I’ll be at that tournament (not competing, volunteering maybe?) So feel free to ask if you have questions or need help.

At Trinity in the past the fields are in the gymnasium, and some of the pits are also, but the rest of them are in the basement. There is a projector with match times, but sometimes it is not 100% accurate so it’s a good idea to send someone to check what match is happening now and then.

Some things that I’ve learned to do during competitions:
-Have spare batteries in your pockets
-Have tools in your pockets
-Have a couple nuts and screws in your pockets
-Have zip ties in your pockets
-Have a red and blue flag in your pockets
-Test the robot between matches
-Talk to people

Basically have anything you might need in a hurry in your pockets in case you need it right before a match starts. About halfway though the tournament (or earlier) start to talk to teams who are ranked highly about the possibility of an alliance. Make sure they know your number, and if they are willing show them what your robot can do.

My tips:
Don’t reprogram your robot to make it better minutes before the match in hopes of scoring 1 more point in autonomous. You risk having stuff go wrong and having no program for the match.

Also ALWAYS go to awards. Even if you think that you have no chance of winning anything, it is still possible. At worlds, we went to some of the earlier awards, and thought about leaving before the excellence award was announced. We decided to stay just to see if it was one of the teams we had played with/against. We ended up winning it and would not have been there to receive it if we had left.

General advice/thoughts, in a not-so-prioritized order:

My team would create an “emergency toolbox” of parts before each competition. It would be some kind of small toolbag with at least one of the “critical parts” of the robot that are most likely to fail. For example, one could include:

 - Screws and nuts (these always fall off, and can easier to replace than to find during finals)
 - Rubber flaps from the advanced tank tread kit.
 - An intricate, custom Lexan part, if applicable.
 - Some shafts and collars
 - Spare motor
 - Spare sensor, if there's one that's really important and in an easy-to-break spot
 - Tools (Allen keys, needle nose pliers)
 - Zip ties
 - Electrical tape and wires
 - Programming cable
 - 7.2V Robot batteries
 - 9V backup battery
 - AAA batteries for the remote

Then, we would carry this bag with the robot at all times. Of course, we’d have more spare parts/bigger tools back at the pit area, but 90% of repairs during a competition can be taken care of with a very small selection of parts.

Make friends with people! My favorite year in high school was the year that my team traveled all around VA and went to a couple of Maryland tournaments, because I got to make friends with competitors (rather than just seeing them at the event and never again).

Go to the Coaches’ and Driver’s meetings at the beginning of the tournament; this is the time to raise any last minute rule-clarifications with the head referee.

If your alliance partner for a match doesn’t show up, don’t freak out or give up. It’s quite possible to win a one-on-two match.

If your robot breaks and you won’t be ready for one of your matches, always show up to the field, even if it’s to just stand in the drivers’ box and watch. :wink: (Note: this piece of advice is going off of prior years’ rules, check the manual to see if it’s still relevant.) If you don’t show up, then it’s as if you were disqualified for that match: no win points, no scheduling points. If you do show up, you get whatever win points/scheduling points that are applicable.

Finally: if you need something, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other teams at the event. The robotics community is unique in that we (speaking in the general sense) want to raise the level of competition, rather than win at all costs. For example, I’ve seen many teams give strategy, building, and programming advice to other teams during the competition. Before the rules were changed, teams would coach each other if a one/two person team needed some help. Loaning parts/equipment for the duration of the tournament is also quite typical.

Arrive with autonomous routines tested and ready to go. Don’t leave it until event day because it’s easy to get swept up in other activities.
You’ll be surprised just how significant winning the 10pt autonomous bonus actually is. I recall the very first 7682 VEX scrimmage in 2012 where we only had protobot parts (4x 269 motors and AA batteries) yet managed to rank #5 mostly because we’d win autonomous almost every time with a really simple routine albeit programmed on the day with drive code programmed in the car enroute. Moral of the story be prepared, as other posters have given worthy advice on already.

Don’t plug the yellow radio cable for your driver into the programming port.

Source: My very first match.

Oh my goodness. Back when we had the PIC controllers, I remember once I downloaded a new, working version of my program to the controller, but didn’t plug back in the radio cable. :eek: This was in Round Up, so you couldn’t touch the robot even though it hadn’t moved from the starting tile…

I felt really goofy sitting there for two and a half minutes doing nothing, wishing I could plug my cable in.