Roles for teams of 5+

So for mentors, teachers and coaches who have one team of 5 or more students, I have a question for you.

Next year, or really this summer I’ll be starting and being the primary coach of a team. They’re all students I’ve mentored in VEX IQ before for the past 2 years, so I know them fairly well.

I want to know how you all divide up your roles for your students, as before this team kicks off I know the parents of these kids have come to me with this same question.

If I’m judging by their roles last year, 1 of my students was the main driver because she was head and shoulders above the rest, she was our best. The other 2 were also very solid and had no issue switching every couple of matches. Those 3 also formed the main part of building the robot, but others contributed to it as well, and they all could explain parts.

Two students were my programmers for the team, and both did it well and they enjoyed it and I believe they want to continue with that.

The last of my students was not on the same team as the others, but I’ve noticed her hard work on each of her previous 2 teams. She was also one of our fill-in drivers when we were shorthanded at a competition in Philadelphia and performed great, learning how to drive the robot in just a few practices. I know how good she can be and feel she’d provide value to the team.

My thing is, that’s 6 kids, and having 2 teams of 3 isn’t feasible at this time. So I want to know how you guys divide up the roles and what not of your teams, across any level. There’s only one robot.

We normally have 2 drivers, one for the base, another for the manipulator. Then a strategy person/keep score. That makes up the 3 on the field. The score keeper can load/keep track of strategy/and score. This is useful for SP tracking and scoring for the opponent team. (this can also be done off the field if they can communicate)

One other teammate has the pre/post match checklists that we keep. They have to fill them out and sign them before a match and immediately after. It keeps them on track with connecting/disconnecting batteries, selecting autonomous modes/partner, alignments, tighten screws, check wires, etc…

The last couple can work to interview alliances before the matches start and fill out that paperwork. They fill out paperwork about what the alliance for each match is capable of and how we can best partner with them. Setting up strategy early in the day.

Our drivers are the programmers for now, just works out that way.
The parents do need to understand that some kids are the foundation and some are the drivers. They will not all b on the field. That’s just how it is.

We have found 5 to be the upper useful limit on a team. Beyond that you have too many kids with idle hands. Idle hands is the number one thing to avoid. All kids should have something to do or they will not be getting the same out of this endeavor.

Being on the sidelines too much of time turns to boredom and then disengagement. You must keep the kids engaged and building and driving.

Some of our teams have successfully done 6 kids but they can really break down the subsystems well and act semi-independently for a while.

Drivers, 1-2 depending on what they prefer.
Coach, 1. Counts down time on the field. Counts SP. Can tell driver what to do.
Programmer, 1-2. While you might have more than one programmer you might find that sometimes the way they program might with clash each other causing problems.
Scout, 1. Just watch matches, take down autonomous notes. Bonus points for printing out the field and drawing the path of the autonomous.
Pit runner at events, 1. Ever been queing for a competition and realized you forgot your safety glasses at your pit? You won’t believe how useful this position will be at events.
And in a perfect world… someone to document everything. While we all hate engineering notebooks they are useful and while in my studies at Drexel we use a similar system when designing video games, so yes, that stuff is used in the real world. :stuck_out_tongue:

With all that being said I believe that the best number of people on a high school team is between 2 and 3.

For 3921 we have three teams, and roughly 12 students that for sure stick to robotics all year.

Our teacher typically lets us decide our own roles in the club as we find different aspects of the game that we enjoy.

This year, I plan on leading our B team, along with another student. Our roles will play out as:
2 main drivers: 1 for base, 1 for scoring object manipulator
Backup driver: 1 for base, 1 for scoring

That brings us up to at least 4 people. These 4 people also typically help work on the robot equally.

Also, one of our drivers (me or another person) would be a programmer. We are working on making sure everyone that is part of our team can program our competition robots.

Since we are based at a college and career academy, we normally have several other students that will help pitch in with constructing our prototypes for the competition bot throughout the school day.

My suggestion to you is to let them decide what they for sure want to do, but make sure they will stick to it, but also have someone else that could back up their spot if they drop down out of the team.

Last year, we had 4 team members, which was too few, IMHO. This year we have 7. I don’t believe in drivers. I don’t believe in promising roles to students. Each member will contribute where they can help the team the most. However, students typically gravitate towards roles they are good at, and they tend to excel at things they are interested in, so it all works out in the end. The only possible exception to that is driving, because I think in most cases “everyone wants to drive”, which is why I don’t believe in it.

I feel that driving is the absolute easiest role to find someone to fill, and to do it well. I think there should be at least four drivers (two primary, two backup), but they are not named until the robot is built and everyone has a chance to practice with it. Those positions may also change during the year. Everyone who wants to drive at practice gets to (though time may be allotted differently depending on role). I also readily make the robot and field available if someone wants to practice more than just at an official meeting.

This year, going from a smaller team to a larger one, we divided into workgroups (design, build, programming, on-line challenges, etc) so that we limit the size of each workgroup and keep people where they are most interested in working. As the year goes on, I fully expect to not meet with the whole group at once all of the time and to focus meetings for particular workgroups.

HOWEVER, the student with the most driver practice, and higher stress tolerance, will naturally be a better driver. I think that assigned drivers are absolutely necessary.

In my rather unimportant opinion, I think the most people you can have meaningfully working on a single robot is 3-4. People dedicated to things like PR or online challenges don’t count towards this, but if a team member doesn’t even get to work on a robot then I can’t see them hanging around for long anyway. If you have more than 4 then the amount of conflict of opinions simply makes it impossible to settle on a design and work together, and the team breaks into 2 smaller teams with separate designs (aka. 2 teams).

Everyone should have input on the robot design, everyone should contribute to the build, and one of your primary builders/designers should be the programmer. If the programmer never puts a hand in on the design or build, then they are frustrated that their requirements as a programmer weren’t met (number of sensors and accuracy of build), and the rest of the team are frustrated that the robot can’t magically do what they picture it doing autonomously in their mind. This alone is enough reason for everyone to also have an overview of how the programming works.

In fact, in my opinion, everyone on the team should have a part in every piece of the robot. This means that strong personalities and ideas will overrule the ideas of quieter members, but welcome to engineering. There is a reason well-performing teams never seem to have internal issues, everyone knows each other well, which makes it easy to discuss the pros and cons of ideas without it turning into a full on fight. If you have two personalities who absolutely can’t work together, then forcing them to work on different aspects of the same robot won’t help, and it’s probably time to get a second team.

That said, I know there are large top teams who break into sub-groups, and perform very well, they just seem to be in the minority to the top teams who have a small focused group (or even a single person), who knows and contributes to every area of the robot. Credit to these teams for having that level of organisation and cooperation. Obviously this isn’t possible for teams with few parts and large number of interested, inexperienced members. Know your resources, and decide what kind of team you want to run based on them.

Driving is the number one hardest role on a team, it requires the most natural ability, the most practice, the most dedication, and is under the most pressure to perform perfectly 100% of the time. If you don’t have an amazing driver you simply cannot hope to win on a world stage, and there is a reason why the drivers are the rock-stars of the top teams. When I first started Vex, no one on our rookie team wanted the pressure of driving, and we ended up voting someone in simply because they had the most natural ability. He then practiced for hundreds of hours over two years to become one of the best drivers in Vex. The drivers who opt-in despite having no practice, without taking any thought for how much responsibility they carry for the team, are never going to be better than casual educational teams (which isn’t a bad thing, just a different set of goals). There is a reason why the robots skills winners correlate so strongly with the top teams in vex, and the value of an amazing driver should never be underestimated.

Also, I agree with the many people who insist that a single driver is better than two. No matter how well two people communicate, it will never be better than the neurons inside a single brain, and every disagreement in judgement between the two will slow you down. There are very few robots that are technically difficult enough to require a second driver just for extra fingers, it is simply a case of more practice. I think the only time two drivers are justified is when there are two independent set of decisions to be made (e.g. Tether bots.)

P.S. I don’t consider myself a top driver, not even a competent driver. I have simply had the opportunity to work with, and talk to, many of them. If you had seen the amount of time they have to put in, and the amount of pressure they work under, I’m sure you would see my point.

EDIT: Remember that VexU teams are in the unique position of being able to help their local regions a lot, mentoring, volunteering, and general organisation can all contribute a lot to the kids in a region, and you don’t need the most experienced members to do it, the more the merrier. You just need members who are enthusiastic enough to give up a few weekends for robots.