I have been doing robotics for six years, and I have lots of wonderful things to say about it. I was lucky enough to start really young, and with the support of my brothers (I have one older, and one younger). When I started with VEX Competition Toss Up, I was in candy land, and I enjoyed it so much. Competitively, I was terrible, but as a young kid not knowing much about robotics, I was just there for fun. I was mentored by my older brother a little, we had two separate sister teams, and those were the glory days.
In the start of my third year with VEX, my older brother graduated high school, and just like that I didn’t have someone to help mentor me like he did. I decided to become competitive. I wanted the awards, but I had no idea how to get them. It took me two years of hard work to come up with a universal strategy that personally helped the team I lead win consistently. We went from winning very few to winning all the time. And I’d like to share the strategy with everyone so that hopefully I can help out some new teams that want to become competitive.
I call it the three-legged stool. I imagine it as without all three legs, the stool won’t stand, and thus all three components are extremely important to be successful in every area of the robotics competition.
- The Tournament – This is the main component of the three, and the most fun too. However, it does require the most luck. One thing goes wrong and you’ve possibly lost the tournament, which is why the other two are crucial. The robot you design must be prepared for the tournament at hand. This means the autonomous must be finished and consistent prior to the competition, and the robot needs to be practiced tried and true. Strategies and mock competitions help immensely.
- The Robot Skills – This is the second component, and almost as important as the tournament. The team I was part of valued skills to the highest degree, and respected it. We practiced skills so much, and in doing this we became an offensive powerhouse. Practicing scoring skills matches improved our tournament performance so much, and it could also get us an award as well. It’s a win-win. The programming skills part of this also helped our team programmer (which happened to be my younger brother) excel at it. Although very difficult, and this also relies on luck as well, this component is very beneficial to the tournament and can help you win as well.
- The Engineering Notebook – This component was the hardest for the team to master. A good engineering notebook and judge’s presentation required a lot of work, and I had no idea how important this component was when combined with the other two. Follow the VEX Design Award rubric (Posted online via VEX) to see what things your engineering notebook and judge’s presentation should have, and don’t be afraid to add a little more. I usually had a slough of things to talk about so I could tailor to the judges interests based on what interested them, and I had enough so that I could deliver three completely different presentations to the judges about the robot, the robotics program, and the process we went through with our design. When the presentation and notebook are as good as you can make them, this component should succeed when all else fails. If the tournament didn’t completely pan-out and you lost in the finals, and you just got beat out in skills and got second place, but the notebook and presentation are awesome, the judged awards are likely to be given in your favor.
With all these three components I was able to get out of almost every competition with an award. If you’re really interested in seeing my results, I encourage you to look at team 709S RoboEagles in my final two seasons, In the Zone and Turning Point. As I am not on the team this year, I thought I would share my strategy and I hope it works for you all too!