Tips for new teams

One of the hardest things about VEX is the learning curve in the first year. So, what are some good tips, building, programming, or competition wise, that could end up really helping new teams?
Please share any tips that helped you, and I’m sure many others will benefit from what you have to share.

Everything will go wrong, especially the most essential part of the robot, and it will go wrong more than once. Have backups for EVERYTHING.

Do programming skills at regional competitions. It’s usually the easiest way to qualify for states, because (at least here in AZ) not too many people do programming skills at regionals, and the ones who do often double qualify.

Note that this year, what qualifies for states is the Robot Skills, which is now the sum of the Programming and Driver’s Skills Scores.

Ehhhh… I forgot about that, thinking about what I’ve done in previous years. Still, you should always do skills.

Even if your robot is not fully perfect - participate the tournaments anyway. We learned tons at the tournament. Plus, we learned by just talking to the other teams. We got so many tips that we may never have gotten otherwise. Tournament experience is key - and fun.

To me, best thing you can do is get something built, get to a competition and compete. Don’t worry about whether you have the “perfect” robot or not. Just go. It will fuel the students enthusiasm and they WILL learn a LOT. Have your students talk to other teams in the pits, most, if not all, teams are wiling to answer questions and help out if your students run into an issue. Then go back and apply what you have learned. Then go compete again. VEX Robotics is a continuous improvement model.

Do a search for VEX Starstruck on YouTube. Watch some of the matches already played. Copying is the sincerest form of flattery! It is learning how to properly execute a design. Over time, there is some design convergence as the most successful designs tend to be emulated by others.

Training…be sure everyone has a good foundation. Don’t dismiss the Clawbot because it is so simple, go ahead a build it, and learn to program it. You can even compete with a clawbot, at least in the early season, and not do too bad. At the Monroe County Fair Qualifier, a standard Clawbot ended up as the 3rd alliance after qualifications, just because it was quick as shoving stars and the cube under the fence (and it was driven by a veteran driver too).

If you have time, or want to get more serious, build the Super Clawbot and learn to program it. By initially building a couple robots from plans, you will learn-by-doing many of the basic skills needed to design and build a good competition robot. The Clawbot and Super Clawbot provide many examples of how to do things: using bearing, gears, high strength chains, direct drive and indirect drives, lots of screws and standoffs, “out-of-the box” applications of parts (on the super clawbot), as well as many of the sensors and LCD display.

Watch the McCallum Robot’s training videos on You-tube too, but don’t be afraid of going to an event with a Clawbot or modified clawbot as a first-time competetor. The GDC does a good job at making sure even a trainer can add value to an alliance and score points.

Build something simple and easy. Then spend lots of time practicing with it. Steer clear of complicated or harder to build designs. Make sure you spend plenty of time testing and practicing or you’ll have problems at competitions.

One of the most important things I’ve found is to be outgoing. At competitions, talk to other teams, congratulate them. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll be one of the first teams they’ll think of for alliance selection.

Learn to properly unscrew screws, if you don’t know how to you will strip screws and waste lots of money in the long run.

screws are the cheap things to waste money on! wrecking a joystick is far easier and expensive. Please unclip from the cat-5 cable connected to the tower. Or you’ll now have a nice expensive partner joystick. Yes it can work as a primary joystick, but not when you want it to. :slight_smile:

+1 to drive practice. Build something that drives and learn to drive it while you continue to build the rest of the robot. It will help you tons in the long run and keep your interest along the way as you learn.