Definitely some good stuff there.
I’ve had the same issue with our program (VexIQ Middle and Elementary). We have 5 teams (all with 3 to 5 students) but only one top tier team. In-house scrimmages aren’t really effective for the top tier team. They are a lot of fun for the other teams though.
We do Monday after school for 2 hours. Those are 10 minutes opening thoughts and plan for the session, 90 minutes of activity, 10 minutes of clean up and 10 minutes of wrap-up and notebook. The top tier team also does some weekends. Our main issue is “competing” for students with sports. We are a small school with only 25 students per grade. Boys sports are Monday and Wednesday, girls sports are Tuesday and Thursday. So only Friday is actually conflict-free, but as others have pointed out the kids are wiped out on Friday. With competitions on Saturdays, scheduling is tough.
We change the practice regimen as the season progresses, especially for the top tier team. In the start of the season they are mostly making large scale changes to the robot as they hunt for a good strategy. These need documenting in the notebook and that documentation is time-consuming. So at least one member is on the book, one or two are building prototypes of proposed improvements and the others are working on integrating into the robot and field testing.
Later in the season the focus shifts to more fine-grained changes, driving practice and to programming (both efficiency functions - i.e. one button that performs several time-consuming or coordinated actions) and autonomous. This is where I have the team build a new robot that is essentially a copy of the robot as it exists at that point. This has two effects: 1. it allows the team to work on autonomous mode and on efficiency, driving and fine-grained tweaks separately, and 2. They usually make some structural improvements in the process that they wouldn’t have done otherwise (“Major Surgery” is what we call it when you have to do that on the existing robot). The downside is that the team spends time keeping the robots in sync and that usually has the effect of making the autonomous (new) robot the “tournament robot”, and the other robot the experimental platform.
We’ve found that this removes the fear that a robot won’t be ready for a tournament the next weekend. Which means we can increase the tournament schedule in January and February to increase the chances of making it to State.
As a program, I’ve found that the hardest thing to keep up is the Notebook. The students hate the notebook. They’d much prefer to tinker with the robot and practice driving.