Team Roles

This is not a technical issue so I apologize if this is the wrong place to ask. My son joined a robotics club and was very excited in the beginning. There are three members to the team – started with 5 but 2 members of the team dropped out. The captain of the team does 90 percent of the building – he takes the robot home with him each week and works on it by himself. During the weekly build nights, my son gets told not to touch the robot and when he asks if he can help, gets told no. The team members often do not respond to him and do not speak with him. The parents of the two other team members are there during every build night and also instruct my son not to touch the robot and do not direct the team to listen to each other or work together. I work nights and cannot attend regularly. My question is, is this typical of middle school teams where potentially parents are more involved? My son says he gets frustrated and bored, but doesn’t want to be a bad team mate and leave the team. I am thinking about telling him to try joining again in high school, when the parents may not be as involved and he might be on more equal footing. Has anyone ever dealt with a similar situation?

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Hopefully I can help. I started vex in 8th grade and it was a mess. I didn’t stop having team dynamic issues through about halfway through 9th grade. Part of what makes vex so good is that there are so many options for things you can do. This is also one of its flaws.

In the mean time, if the other members of the team won’t let your son build, he can be learning important skills like coding (I am always willing to help so feel free to PM me).

This is a very immature attitude on the part of the other team members.

I would recommend making sure the other parents are aware that there are rules in the manual that prevent parents from building and being too involved in the design process.

My advice would be to reach out to the mentor/coach/sponsor of the program and see if he/she can help. The parents shouldn’t be running the program. Personally, I would join another team in your organization (if your school has one) if things can’t be resolved.

If the mentor isn’t willing to step in and you can’t join another team, I would suggest making sure your son is as knowledgeable as he can be and takes up a critical role such as coding, the engineering notebook, or tournament strategy.

Hopefully you can resolve everything! Good luck.

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This is probably more common than what anyone would like, though depressing that the parents are either the source or backing the exclusionary behavior. You know more about the actual dynamics than anyone on the board, but I would suggest potentially you approaching the other two parents to discuss what’s going on and come to some agreement. If the parents are not receptive, you’re probably best off finding this out now and find a better situation for your son.

Edited to add: Also remind your son that he’s not the one being the bad teammate, even if he were to leave the team

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My experience might be relevant to provide an alternative.

I started in 6th grade. The then director of the program was very set on his policy that students do not take robots home. I agree with this decision and we still use this rule. The reasoning for it, from my understanding is primarily because of the REC Foundation’s very specific rules about being a student-centered program. (See the above link and in the game manual (Page 20 in the 2.0 Edition of the Manual)

This seems to imply contradictions of the REC Foundation rules. Teams really work together much better without parents being involved. While I don’t know the situation your son’s team has with coaches. In my program, parents never attended practices. We were just barely able to get enough coaches to run the program and most of the teaching new members was done by the experienced members.

The culture at my school’s team has always been constructive and seeking participation from all members, especially in middle school.

I recognize that this may be practically challenging or impossible in your situation. My intention is to present this dynamic that worked well for me. From my experience, the situation you’re describing is not normal. I would feel the same way if I was in your son’s position.
It’s possible that if your son was more assertive his team would be more receptive. It’s also possible that talking to the other parents could help.

This is certainly important. Your son is trying to help and isn’t given opportunities to.

Another note: There are several other roles on a team that do not involve building. While everyone who wants to help build should be given the opportunity to, there is also programming, driving, logging the team’s process in the engineering design notebook and other roles.

I agree with this. As stated above, in my experience, parents running the program is not ideal.

I really hope you can get this resolved. If I was in this situation when I started, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Hopefully, if you can find a solution, your son can lead teams himself and model teamwork himself in the future.

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Thank you for your insights and advice – it is greatly appreciated. I should clarify that I do not know anything about robotics and so when I said he isn’t able to build, I meant he isn’t able to do coding, designing or building. I wasn’t present for the early stages of the design so I cannot speak to how those conversations went. He was told that he couldn’t code because another team member is doing the coding. His suggestions on design and strategies for tweaking the robot for the next competition were ignored and neither teammate responds to him. He was going to do the design notebook but the captain said that he was doing that. He is a backup backup driver but during build nights he is not allowed to drive and he would only drive during a competition if the other two teammates could not be there.

The club has three coaches and then also asks for parents to be mentors for each team. I’ve been worrying about this since it’s something my son really wanted and he’s been so disappointed S

Thanks again for the advice. I’ll try talking with the parents and depending on how that conversation goes, I’ll either help him assert himself, or if it doesn’t go well, let him quit .1
unfortunately he cannot join a different team at this stage of the season.

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Would it be possible for your son to be able to join one of the other teams your organisation?

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We also have a rule where everyone has to have a job and help out in some way. I would say get help from the coaches, and wait until next year if it doesn’t go well. Next season your son can probably get his own team.

Another way is to get an early start on the robot and start designing it during the summer, or whenever the video comes out for next season. I started designing it in June this year, and my team started a month and a half early before afterschool was approved.

Also, have your son approach the coaches about this, and have him put in extra work over the summer. Another perk of starting early though is your get to choose your teammates usually. In some cases, you might not be able to do that.

Good Luck to you and your son, I hope things work out.

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i have dealt with a similar situation, i just learned how to program better than the other teammates, making myself irreplaceable in the team. i fell in love with programing and i am still the lead programmer 4 years later (1 in middle school, 3 in high school)

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Well, this is very sad news but I would urge your son to stick with it. Even if he gets stuck programming he can still become an invaluable asset. And while teams with poor teamwork generally won’t do well this is a chance to improve your skills. And maybe on a later date he could join a more functioning team. But sticking with Vex even when it gets hard is how we grow in the robotics field. Also how on earth does the coach let him take the robot home with him?

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Through my experience teams in middle school will have parents who will want to be heavily involved. The only way to get around this is to have a strong head mentor who is able to get them out of the room and a lot of the time this still doesn’t fix the problems. In high school the parent involvement will step back but this can cause the program to become unorganized. Overall, I would talk to the parent/ teacher mentor in charge of the program about how the program is run and go off that. If there isn’t a mentor then that isn’t the best sign but I would still encourage him to join as VEX is an incredible fun experience and program. But at the end of the day if the program is not run well it can ruin a good experience and he will not enjoy it.

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Hi again, just wanted to thank all again for your advice. I did speak with one of the other members’ parent. I was told that the robot was chosen when my son was not there – we were out of town. Apparently the robot is a very complicated design without a manual and they had to watch the video and sketch the design. I was told that my son was not interested during this time and did not listen to the ‘technical advice’ of one of the parents and would become frustrated and be on his phone . The other parents suggest I come to the build nights and keep my son engaged. My son says that he couldn’t see the screen on the computer and when he attempted to move the screen or review a particular moment on the video he was told not to touch the computer and use his eyes. Now I know that my son is at the age where he thinks he knows everything, and he tends to get lots of ideas and wants to tell you them. I also know that if you let him finish his thought and then explain the reason for your point of view, he will listen, since I cannot be at every build night, I will let him quit. This club is not affiliated with a school and I’ll eat the cost.

He is still into coding so the plan is for him to develop those skills in the next year and then join the high school team.

Thanks again - you have shown what a truly supportive community vex can be. My son just needs to find the right fit.

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