Tournament timing

What I originally intended as a routine reply to this post in the San Ramon thread:

has morphed into full-blown rumination on our region’s event situation, justifying a separate thread. It’s my hope that tournament organizers will consider these comments when planning their events to serve the teams more efficiently. Organizers, we appreciate what you do; I know that you are often constrained by the availability of facilities and the school calendar, and don’t mean to seem ungrateful.

In our area (Northern CA and the Central Valley) I believe that there is a sufficient number of events, which include:

Bellarmine 10/31
Fairfield 11/7
Central Valley originally scheduled for 10/31, postponed to 11/20
San Ramon 12/12
Central Valley second event 2/20 (recently announced)

However, many teams (including mine) are registering for and attending multiple events. Going to multiple events was not our 2 teams’ original intention. Since we live in the Central Valley, we had targeted the 10/31 Central Valley event as our only event of the year (unless we advanced to somewhere). Targeting October as our only event was non-ideal due to the short build time – the veteran team had good ideas, but took shortcuts in learning with disastrous results. They wanted to use a scissor lift and holonomic drive, concepts that they might have learned and mastered given enough time, but could not make practical in the short time available. I concentrated mostly on helping the rookie team, and ironically, as the day drew near, it was the rookies that had the only functional robot.

When the first Central Valley event was postponed, the team decided to take the rookie robot to the Bellarmine event (same day as our original event) because 1) several students were unable to attend on the new date, and 2) we had received a notice asking for more teams to register, since only 10 were registered at the time. However, under normal circumstances, we would have preferred to leave that spot open for another team to attend.

The postponement bought time, but the damage was already done – the veteran team had spent the previous 2 months building, rather than investing in the deep conceptual learning foundation that was needed for building a robot at a higher level than they had done before. After 3 more weeks of panic building, they had a highly sophisticated, non-functional robot that could barely drive and couldn’t score at all. Two days before the Central Valley event, they made the decision to scrap it, start from scratch and build what they were comfortable with: 4-wheel drive and tank treads. Given the circumstances, the robot performed better than expected.

Our team plans to attend the second Central Valley event, providing motivation and time to develop and explore more advanced designs. A few members have decided to take one more stab at a holonomic drive and are actually spending time poring over smartkid’s tutorial, something they should have done 3 months ago.

I fully understand why teams want to attend multiple events when the first event is early – the teams don’t feel like they really did anything close to their best and want another chance to try again. On the other hand, I feel a bit bad that our 2 teams will probably use a total of 4 event spots when we could have gotten by with 2, especially if there are teams out there that aren’t getting a chance to register at all.

If events are late enough, the teams have adequate time to prepare, and there is reduced desire for teams to attend multiple events. While some teams like to attend multiple events regardless of timing, I imagine that there are other teams like ours that are content to focus on one event each year. That leaves more openings for teams that may not be as well connected.

What I would consider ideal event timing:
Oct-Nov. – Scrimmages
Dec. – Feb. – Regional tournaments
March – May – Championships (that require qualifying)

In previous years (with the first event December or later), we spent the first month in leisurely learning, a luxury we missed out on this year. However, I was pleased to hear more than one student say, “After this competition, I want to take the time to learn to do a scissor lift and holonomic drive properly and make them actually work.”

I agree it’s tough when you are trying to match up Robotics with the school year. Our teams are made up of 40 new roboteers and 6 returning members. So there is very little of “been there, done that” skills on the teams.

Our season is in two 12 week parts. The first part starts in September where we lay the foundation (righty tighty, gear skills, platform bases, arms, grippers) and let them build a game robot. It ends with the PSU / Abington Bank Scrimmage, held in the first two weeks of December. The classes in the first 5 weeks gives the roboteers a chance to get the basics down. As a side note, we use ManicMechanic’s materials and guides as the foundation for our training cycle. This leaves about 7 weeks for them to build and refine a robot.

At the PSU / Abington Bank Scrimmage there were 21 robots including our 8, and I’d guess that a good 2/3 of them were only able to score by rolling green balls under the wall. By the end of the day they were all able to play at a decent level. More than one team brought a box of loosely assembled parts to try to finish it that day.

Our 8 teams had a good experiences, our All-girl team, Pegasus, played in 12 matches and racked up a pretty good record. One of our teams was barely moving in their only match (last match of the day). Had this been our only event of the year it would have been disappointing from a “win” view, but it was very very good from a “learn” view.

Our second 12 week session starts in January, with us going to 2 events (Dock’Bots 10 - 23 January and Eastern PA Regional - 13 March). I’m going to guess that we will rebuild all the robots for Dock’Bots and be in pretty good shape to play at a decent level at that event. It then gives us 6 weeks to rebuild one last time before the Eastern PA Regional.

While in theory the release of the new game in the spring should allow us to build a robot and have it ready in October (and many teams do that) it does not work for us. I don’t know how many returning roboteers we will have or how many new ones we will need to be absorbed into the teams come September. And to be honest by the end of the second 12 weeks the roboteers and their parents are done and ready for a break. We run a much reduced program for the last 12 weeks. We also face school testing in May and the start of the spring sports which competes for time and attention.

I like the proposed schedule:
Oct-Dec. – Scrimmages
Jan – March – Regional tournaments
mid to late April Championships (that require qualifying)

If you look at robot events for our area (VA to NJ) that is how most of them fall.

Hm…I see what you guys mean, and I know that veterans can slack off as much as any other type of student, but the tournament schedule you have proposed strikes me as problematic.

Team 1261 runs a dual course. In the fall, we do VEX based competition, and in the Spring, we do FRC. In the past years, we have had a team dedicated to VEX that carries on the entire year. They build through January, and attend competitions in February.

This past year, the leadership chose to take another route. They felt that our human resources are a bit depleted and it would be much better if everyone focused on FRC, and so now our program runs is that from August to November, everyone builds on VRC. We split up into roughly 5 teams and then build. Needless to say that meeting once a week for 4 months isn’t enough, but we get the robots done.

So now we’re ready to channel our resources into FRC. Our teams are going to a couple of events in January, but on an only competition basis. Meaning that all teams have to have a competition ready robot by January 9th, or else their registration will be void.

The proposed schedules above, might have to be done by region/state than nationally. I know that GA FTC runs their schedule like the proposed ones, becase they’ve hit some large growth in the south eastern area.