First Time Captain Advice

Hi guys!

As you can tell from the title, I need some advice on being a good team captain. I’ve been doing VEX for about 3 years now and because I have the most experience on my team, I have elected this year’s team captain. I am pretty excited for this role but I feel unprepared. Previously, I have never really been active in other parts of robotics other than programming. I did my job and then sat back and let the drivers and builders do their thing.

Obviously, I can’t do that this year. I come from a school where it is really hard to get people interested in robotics and I want to change that. I’m looking for advice from other team captains or leaders on how you overcome general team laziness and how to motivate them through rebuilds and failures.

I feel like I have already set a good basis for the team. So far I have given everyone team roles based on their strengths, created a season-long Gantt chart as well as this month’s calendar, and set goals and objectives with the team for this year’s competition.

If there is any advice or things that you have done with your team that has been successful, please share them here. I am really looking forward to this season and I want to do well in my role as team captain.


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I don’t have a ton of advice because I’m a coach not a student - but the most successful student leaders on my team have “modelled the behavior” they want to see from their teammates. Lead by example. If you work hard, they will tend to follow. If you goof off, they’ll be more than happy to goof off with you! Good luck!

Something you need to remember, everything takes two time longer than you would want it to from shifting that bar down a hole, to changing a gear ratio. Something else you need to remember, is that you should always have a 3 day buffer between finishing the robot and the competition, including autonomous mode. This leaves you with plenty of time to spare if things go wrong, or you need to practice driver controls. Another thing I need to do more is keep my work area clean, nothing bad happens in a clean work area. Remember to communicate to your team outside of your designated work times, this will help bond your team together and help you guys work more like a team should, a good way to accomplish this is a group chat over text.

Other things to remember is KISS, or keep it simple stupid, meaning less moving parts= less chance for failure and less things that can go wrong. Even looking at this years robot you’ll see similar designs, however its always the most reliable robot that moves on. Something else to consider is that changing gear ratios should take up alot of your time, because finding the perfect balance of torque:speed is essential, because otherwise your wasting motor power. Other things to remind your team on is that a simple hard stop or reinforcements can take hours off of programming in soft stops, or autonomous.

Remember to always thank your teammates for coming in, and try to establish a schedule and be cognizant of other peoples lives, as they have school and other things to do just as much as you do. Keeping a good schedule allows your team days off as well, for example, you can communicate that your doing code based projects one day, allowing your team to mentally recharge, and come back with fresh ideas or a new perspective on things.

Always keep your team working at a competition, whether that be scouting, finding bolts and screws, or organizing the pit and talking to teams. This is extremely important as everyone needs to have a role to fill, otherwise they’ll feel under-utilized and unimportant, and this can drag down morale.

Overall have fun, nothing can be more important.

I totally agree @Gear Geeks. I have been my team’s captain for the past two years and I think the most important thing is to foster an environment of collabortion and sportsmanship. Although it sounds corny the most important thing is to teach your members how to be a part of the team, collaboration, communication and leadership. My goal is to have every person we interact with to say “Those are some really awesome kids”. This make networking way easer and fun! Just remember that you have to set the example for your team members and try not to act above or better than anyone else. Even though you have a title it does not make you a genius, listen to the criticism because it is probably the most important information you will get.

Be open and tolerant. But don’t be easy. You have to make sure your team doesnt think its ok to slack off. Behind the scout, you need to be accustomed to all the other teams in your club and at other tournaments because when alliance selection comes around, the first people they want to talk to is the captain.
Hope this helped!

Dont be too controlling. As the captain, you should be directing everyone in the right direction but don’t force them. I know of a lot of captains that have always been too controlling and the team members dont like it at all. Imo, as a captain, you should not be doing more work, and really you should just make sure that everything is going in the right direction. Our team doesn’t have directly named captains because we feel that it is better to let those who step up to the plate to have more power. I think this is a good environment that promotes hard work in order to gain some power within the team. However, since you do already have captains, just make it be more known that hard work will be more rewarded with power within the team. For example, there is a kid on our team that does not often participate, and of course we consider his ideas but when it comes to big decisions, his vote does not count as much as those of us who are working on the robot with all of our free time. Many times people would like a reward for their work, and the success of the robot may not be enough until they feel like they’ve had a large enough part in its creation.

Well I was in vex for one year and was the team captain. My regrets include not learning enough about each small job for example, the ins and outs of a complex build, what build ideas are easy and which are hard, and time estimates, other things like strategy, and not underestimating a good auton. Things I felt I did well in: FIND people who are great at what they do, step 2 stay out of there way and do your best to learn their craft, step 3 always know the current state of the bot, the end goal and the next 4 steps, be ready to delegate the easy tasks and tackle the hard ones head on. ALSO time management, a week before a comp all major problems should be solved, as long as the bot theoretically can score enough points to compete, Stop the rough building, focus on all the small mechanical hicups, code, and driving ultimately the little hicups cost you time in a match and in a match time is points. Good luck and if you’ve competed for 3 years trust your gut on the high pressure decisions.

edit: Also remember you are ALL a bunch of nerds maybe just maybe 10 smart people can think great ideas that 1 great mind didn’t think of, but yes this goes with steps 1 and 2 find great builders, drivers, Programmers, scouts, and HR, as a captain your job is management and helping your great minds when they get stuck help them think about a problem from new angles know enough about their job as to pose thought provoking ideas and sometimes challenges to their current mindset about the problem. Basically you are always engaged but it isn’t always directly with the bot, a lot of the time you will need to be the voice of reason, the conflict resolver, and the GLUE of the team basically you need to help build a team not the bot. Hopefully this helps.

Even though we don’t officially elect team leaders, I think I do the same because I often step up as the leader.
Just during ITZ I was able to turn my ragtag group into a state-qualified team via Excellence award (not to Worlds, though). I learned then that I need specialists for team members; I had to do a lot of programming and building. Don’t be like me lol

Simply put, don’t be controlling (team will just stop listening to you), know when to have fun and when to work, trust your guys to do their job but double check them if they don’t completely know what they are doing, and most importantly don’t get mad, stay clam, talk out the problems

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Make sure your team fulfills their role entirely. If you have one guy that just only shows up but doesn’t do much work or do anything at all, kick them off (with proper warnings and meetings and such), it makes the team look bad and it makes you look bad. Just make sure it’s kind of a mutual thing as well. Make sure to set initiative for the team as well. There’s always a goal to achieve on the team no matter what. Make sure to also meet up and kind of have a team discussion on things like design and strategies and such. Last thing: be acquainted with your team and know them well and just have regular conversation. It doesn’t always have to be about Vex, it can be about simple topics or anything that’s on your mind. Just be friends with your team and all know what you’re doing. (This is just from leading two different teams in 3 years, going on 4).

In my opinion, there is no way to overcome team laziness. If a team member doesn’t want to do something, then they won’t do it regardless of how hard you work or what incentive you give them. And unfortunately, we can’t simply kick them off the team if you’re in a public school team. If you have the option to choose who will be on your team, go for that. It is more important that you have people who are actually interested and are willing to work rather than choosing your friends. Something that I have observed from teams who choose only their friends is that they end up screwing around 50% of the time having “fun” and then complain that their robot sucks and they’re not winning anything. These teams typically pour all their workload into the one person (typically the captain) who was actually interested in actually building robotics and the rest just screw around saying that they’ve already “contributed” to the team when in reality they put in like one screw and spent the rest of the meeting screwing around with whatever they can find. I’ve done the “lead by example” thing for 2 years now, and never has it worked for me. In fact, it made my team lazier because they were pouring work that they were supposed to do into my hands. It’s so frustrating and it made me super angry and depressed sometimes.

Last year, I wasn’t the captain of my team but I might as well have been. I elected my captain too, thinking he was knowledgeable about VEX, but it turned out that he had no idea what he was doing and was only acting like a super robotics genius because he had 2 older brothers who also did VEX. I was a “programmer,” but that title soon soon expanded to be builder, notebooker, and driver as well. My team literally did nothing no matter how hard I worked and tried to improve our robot. For example, I presented to them a simple gear mechanism. I ask them to replicate it. I check back 30 minutes later after notebooking the mechanism, and they haven’t even begun constructing it and were still in the process of “finding” the parts when really they were messing around, playing computer games, throwing around NBN balls, you name it. So, I was forced to build it myself because it needed to be done and they wouldn’t doing it. Oh, and then a few weeks later before states I stayed up until 1 AM building/programming the entire new robot , and they didn’t even say thanks. They just looked at it and said “wow” and then went back to screwing around. My teammates weren’t jerks though, they just weren’t interested and hence they didn’t really care. And that’s something that no one but themselves can control.

This year was much better, as I was able to choose teammates who were mostly interested. Workload was more evenly distributed, and I was actually able to use their individual talents because instead of screwing around, they actually showed me what they could do because they wanted to have a relevant position on the team and not be ignored. However, despite that, I still received many personal complaints from both parents and team mates alike (although less than last year). Looking past that though, we did really well this season (we won a total of 14 awards in one season and brought back 2 awards from Worlds, that’s the first time anyone in my school and has ever done that, and I commend my team’s efforts. I hoped that what we accomplished this year will spark the interest in robotics at my school, as my school is similar to yours in that there’s not many people actually interested in doing robotics, they just join the club because it “looks good” on their resume (it’s the dark truth).

This isn’t to say that I’ve done everything perfectly as a captain. Maybe it was my incompetence as a captain that led to me experiencing all these issues. Maybe I’m too hard of a captain, which is why my teammates sometimes complain a lot. Maybe I’m too obsessed with perfection, which is why sometimes I only notice all the things that my teammates do wrong and fail to acknowledge the things they did right.

TL;DR, the best advice I can give you is to find teammates who are really interested and are willing to put in their heart and soul into robotics. If you have non-interested teammates, you experience will be like my first one. If you do have interested teammates, you will do well so long as everyone puts in the time and work needed. And one more tip, as captain try to get yourself familiar with all aspects of robotics (notebooking/documentation, building, designing, strategy, etc). That way, should one part of the team need guidance, you can help them. Typically that’s the coaches job, but do it just in case you have a coach who’s not very robotics savvy (like my coach, although he is a great coach in the sense that he knows how to remotivate us in times of despair). And also, if you can, try to encourage your team not to bring their cell phones to the meetings. I’ve had especially bad experiences with teammates being stuck on their phones this year.

Anyways, that’s my 2 cents. Remember, this is coming from someone who has only done robotics in a small public school. Robotics team from an organization/homeschool will more likely have a much different (hopefully better) experience.
Good luck this season!

this is kind of like a semi-rant

I’ve been the team captain of my team for the past 5 years, and the biggest advice I could give is take initiative. You must make sure that the team is always on track. You need to direct your team in the direction to succeed. If you fool off or don’t pay attention, your team won’t either. It is also very important to make sure that no one at all feels that they are alienated from the team, as these are the people that will slack off. Furthermore, no one likes to feel isolated from their own team, so make sure that everyone is included and wants to be in the club.

One of the key factors of a successful team is everyone desperately wanting to do robotics all the time (or at least really loving it). The sole reason for our success in the future including multiple excellence awards (under a different team number) was that most of us really cared about the team. It was never about just doing your part on the team. It was about doing everything that needed to be taken care of, because in the end, it is your team. If someone else fails to do their part or messes up, it affects you and the rest of the team as well, not just the one person who messed up.

Another thing, that many people may disagree with me on, is that you will be involved with everything. This doesn’t mean that you should take over the whole robot and not let anyone else do anything. That is the exact opposite of what you need to do. However, you will have to ensure that the build is going well, notebook being done correctly, programming is on task, etc. If something is not being completed or done correctly, take care of it yourself or at least ensure that someone else is able to do it in the near future.

Everyone should also have knowledge about every part of the robot. Everyone doesn’t need to be able to explain everything about it, but it is imperative that if a judge asks a particular student a question, they are prepared to answer. Whoever built that component can then elaborate.

I have more to say, but I must go study for exams right now. I will post more tomorrow. :slight_smile:

I’m no team captain but I liked my captain last year for how he was kinda in charge but was a little too controlling. He did some things that we didn’t even know what he did. So maybe tell your teammates what exactly you’re doing consistently? Oh gods, my grammar sucks.

Don’t act like a captain unless it is completely necessary to do so, act like a equal, everyone’s ideas are important and should be taken into account. You may be the captain, but you are still a team member

As a long time team captain i’d say the one thing is to make sure that everybody shares the same vision for the robot. Team members that don’t know what’s going on will have trouble working on the robot.



All of this advice is amazing. I will definitely take all of it and use it to become a better leader!