Top 10 Differences Between High School Sports and Robotics

Top 10 Differences Between High School Sports and Robotics

As a father of two active boys, I’ve spent countless hours at my sons’ sporting events of one kind or another, both as a spectator and a coach. But this weekend I attended my first high school robotics competition — a FIRST Robotics regional competition in Central Illinois. I was surprised at the similarities between sports and robotics. But I was amazed at the differences. And it left my experience with sports wanting in some very important ways. Athletes, parents, and coaches, take note. THIS is how to prepare kids for life.

The tournament itself was like a combination sporting event, dance contest, NASCAR pit crew competition, costume party, and rock concert all in one! Thirty-nine high school teams came from as far away as Istanbul, Turkey.  Each spent the last three months working every day after school and on weekends to design and build their own robots, and then hone their skills to compete in speed and accuracy performing tasks in center court.

Like in athletics, these kids were learning sportsmanship: how to work hard, be team players, and learning to compete strongly but fairly. And in both sports and robotics, the events themselves are filled with excitement and tension, including last-second, game-winning plays at the buzzer. But I couldn’t help noticing several very telling differences worth sharing. Here’s my top 10:

#10 The fans – If you spend any time in the stands at a basketball or football game, for example, you can’t help but notice the constant barrage of verbal abuse hurled at the referees (“Hey, that’s a foul!” “Get your head out of your a–, ref!” “Are you f-ing blind!?!?”) and at the players (“Yeah, in your FACE!” “Is that all you got?!?!” “You suck, #21!”). That kind of disrespect is completely absent at a robotics event. The only thing you’ll hear are shouts of encouragement.

#9 The role of girls – At a typical high school sporting event, the only role girls play is to cheer for the boys. In robotics, girls are part of same team as the boys, play the same roles, and they all cheer for each other. Yeah, I know there are girls sports teams, too. But they’re girls teams, so there aren’t any boys on them. And that’s the point. Life is not segregated by gender unless you’re going to the bathroom.

#8 Learning skills they’ll actually use later in life – According to the NCAA* only 3% of high school basketball players go on to play in college, and only 1% of those make it to the NBA. That means only 0.03% of high school basketball players will go on to make a living at basketball, and 99.97% will not. The numbers for football, hockey, and soccer are not much different. But 55% of FIRST robotics participants** go on to major in science or engineering in college (double the national average) and therefore are more likely than not to directly earn a living with the skills they develop in robotics.

#7 “Coopertition” – Unlike most sports, in life there is much to be gained by cooperating with others in your field. So it is with robotics. One of the ways teams can earn points during the tournament is to actually cooperate with their opponents during the match. Teams can earn 40% or more of their final points by by playing with and not against their opponent.

#6 Language on the field – As any parent of an athlete can attest, their kids learn some of their most offensive and “colorful” words from their opponents on the field during a game, or in the locker room from their own teammates after the game. The kind of words they’re more likely to learn in robotics are ‘arccosine,’ ‘relay-switches,’ and ‘servo-motor.’

#5 Treatment from coaches – You won’t catch a robotics coach in an angry, red-faced tirade yelling at their players or slamming clip boards on the ground. Certainly not every sports coach behaves that way. But we all know many that do. Where in life is that ever the norm of behavior or an acceptable way to get things done? Nowhere. And that’s why you won’t see it at a robotics meet.

#4 Brain injuries – Concussions are all too common in contact sports. And we’re now learning of the unfortunate life-long impacts of those injuries. The only time a robotics participant’s head hurts is from thinking too hard.

#3 Playing time – By the time they’re in high school, only the very best at any sport will actually make the team. And of those that do, the vast majority of the playing time goes to the few starting players. The rest spend their time sitting on the bench wishing the coach would put them in the game. In most cases, everyone that wants to be on the robotics team can be. And everyone plays an active role — either driving the robots, performing maintenance in the pit, competitive reconnaissance of the other teams, or the marketing and management of the team.

#2 Fighting – it’s not uncommon in baseball, basketball, football, and hockey to see a fight erupt on the field.  Sometimes (most notably at college and professional levels) it escalates into an all-out melee with every player sprinting from their bench to join the fracas. In robotics, the only time the entire team leaves their seats and rushes to the court is to collect a trophy.

#1 Humility – There’s just something about sporting culture that seems to foster a self-congratulatory arrogance and bravado. You have to look no further than the most common chants of any little league team to find it (“We’re number one! We’re number one!”). But I found the atmosphere at the robotics tournament this weekend remarkably absent of anything like that. Every team cheered for every other team when it was their time to compete. And there was certainly no booing. Despite being comprised entirely of teenagers, the participants showed a self-awareness and humility that normally takes decades of life to develop. You can see that demonstrated quite creatively in this video produced by team #1448 from Parsons High School in Kansas.

I sincerely hope my son continues with robotics, and not just so I can keep going to events like this. Oh, I’ll continue to go to whatever sporting events my boys participate in as well. And you should for your kids, too. My goal here isn’t to denigrate or turn anyone away from sports. They can be a wonderfully positive part of any young person’s upbringing. But after this experience, I’ll almost certainly be holding the athletes, coaches, and fans to a higher set of expectations, now that I know what’s possible. I’ll also be inviting them to support their local robotics team as well.

I encourage you to do the same.

[Update for 2017: #11 The role of the family – In most sports, the role of the family of the players is to attend the game as spectators and cheer them on. Occasionally, you’ll have a mom or dad who are the coach or assistant coach or team administrator for uniforms or scorekeeper. But in robotics, entire families can play and do play an active role on the team. This year I served as a team mentor during build season. And for the competitions themselves, my wife, younger son, and I all three served as scouts during the matches, assessing the skills of the competing robots to help determine which ones we wanted to have as alliance partners. Of course, we had time to cheer on our team as well. But we did it as part of the team, not just as spectators. Robotics is a family sport!

PAS square profileParentingWthStoryCOVER smallPaul Smith is the author of Parenting with a Story: Real-life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share.

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123 Responses

  1. Another thing that people don’t see from the stands, is how if a robot fails or breaks on the field, how other teams will come together to try to help them fix their problems. Other teams donate parts, time & expertise to help other teams at the same event!!

  2. Two things surprised me:
    1. That the issues with sports weren’t obvious to you before
    2. That the real issue here is the parents. They are often the one driving the ‘win at all costs’ atmosphere of sports from T-ball on up. They yell rude comments at opposing players, coaches, and referees and berate their own kids for a poor performance. So the the fact that apparently they do not do that at robotics competitions is very interesting and I think more instructive than the behavior of the teens.

    1. Thanks, Mary. Good points. As for it not being obvious, I think the behavior was obvious to me before. What wasn’t obvious to me was how much better it could be. I didn’t have anything to compare sports to. Now I do, and the sports suffer by comparison. Or, as you point out, the behavior of the participants and their parents at sporting events suffer by comparison.

  3. I was researching this very subject after my daughter’s second robotics competition, and I have to say you nailed it. Can I suggest another update for 2018/2019?

    The role of the coach is far different in robotics compared to traditional sports. In robotics, the coach does not call the plays, the kids do. It’s their job to innovate and to think outside the box, not to listen to the direction of an adult coach.

    Similarly, the emphasis on innovation means that the kids figure out the best way to do things. I remember when I was in high school baseball, there were endless clinics on how to slide, hit, catch, sprint, run, what form to use, etc. In robotics, the kids need to learn how the machines work, but outside of that, they are responsible for making their plans come together.

    I wanted to point this out because at a robotics competition today, our team’s coach was criticized by a parent for “not coaching enough.” The parent had a lot of experience with team sports and was trying to bring that experience to robotics. When the kids totally bombed a challenge today, the parent suggested that the coach “do more coaching.” The coach patiently reminded the parent that he was there to support them during practices and he was not allowed to step in and solve the problems for them. The parent was aghast, as the notion of the coach not solving the problem was a truly foreign idea.

    1. Very insightful observation about the difference in coaching. Thanks for adding that to the discussion. My son has graduated and so is no longer part of robotics. So, I probably won’t be doing an update. But your comment adds much to the permanent conversation here. Thanks!

  4. This is our first year with robotics with our son. Our daughter was very athletic (still is) and we did all the usual parent supporter things…yes, did see red faced coaches but, fortunately, never hers. Just volleyball coaches that did not think that a 5′ 1/4″ girl could play but, they learned that ballet gives one an incredible vertical leap!
    That whole scene is just not my son’s bag…he has the size but not the coordination or desire. So…when he came home saying he wanted to join the robotics club, I was happy he wanted to join something, anything. Little did I know what we were getting involved in. Soon, my husband was mentoring the electrical team and I was cooking for the late evening build sessions and being the team “unofficial” nurse. Then came competitions and WOW!!! First of all, I never knew we would be traveling so much and so far. But, then our team became a Division Champion and went to State, won State and just came back last weekend from Houston and, through it all, I saw good sportsmanship from every participant. If one robot lost a motor, several teams jumped in with theirs and with help to get them back up and running, helping another team who’s programming went haywire to get it fixed before the next competition and, in general, doing whatever it took to get all the teams into the competition. We even had a small, first year team that won a place at State but could not afford to go and other teams, including ours, helped with funding so they could go. When is the last time you heard a sports team do that? Our whole family just can’t wait for next year.

  5. I must apologize 1st for my english. There is Another very important difference between sports and robotics. The both “opponnents” on the FLL robot table must cooperate while they compete (within one robot game round) to achive really good result, and they have to think about others while they are programming and design their robot!

    1. Right. And that’s the point I was trying to make with #7.

      1. It appears everyone is wearing their special goggles….Robotics Goggles…Sports Goggles..some are even wearing Blinders.

  6. I love this article. My daughter has been robotics for six years and competes with FIRST & VEX. As a high school senior this is her last year of competition but this has been an educational and amazing experience for our family and friends. The kids truly learn to “different” kind of competitiveness that will enhance their personal, behavioral, academic & professional lives. I’m so proud of my daughter’s academic achievements & because of robotics, last she was accepted into Project ENGAGES at Georgia Tech where she has been doing research for a year. Also, she will attend the University of Kentucky in the fall of 2017 were she will major in computer engineering. This is a special can of sport that will positively lead our children and their future.

  7. Great article! As an shop teacher and a parent of two robotic students, your article was spot on. I just watched my first robotics regional competition in Flint MI this past month. I was extremely exciting and fun to watch. The kids and fans all got into the matches. At times it was crazy. Only negative I can say about first robotics is the cost of competitions is outrageous to say the least. Not sure how economically challenged schools have a chance to do this with such a high price tag.

  8. My robotics team completed here (MetalCow Robotics)!!
    I’m glad to see an article on this, usually we have problems with students joining because of sports (usually volleyball, basketball, and indoor soccer). It’s difficult not to try and explain how beneficial STEM can be compared to “traditional” sports. While talking to two interested students, their parents told us that, “Our children are more interested in useful and important sports.” Maybe one day…

  9. What a wonderful article!! My sons spent 7 years with 447 Team Roboto. Life changing for them both. So thankful for the opportunity to see “Nerds on Parade” doing the chicken dance!!!

  10. Why does the competition fee is $5000 ? Where is the money going when all the time and venues are donated by the educational institutions and volunteers ?

    1. I do not know the specifics but that fee gets a Team the basic KIT OF PARTS….router,computer,wire,channel,electronic,wheels,lights,camera…..
      And while perhaps a few venues at schools are donated a bunch of the events at arenas and the like cost above $100k. That is why sponsors are so important, sought after, and loved. For a cost example picture the typical 100 volunteers at an event for 3-4 days….we have to eat, right?

    2. Not all the venues are donated, and even with donated space a lot of pro equipment is rented

      1. The cost is crazy and we ask our students to peddle the streets begging for money. Take a look sometime at the salaries that this organization makes!! Woodies is crazy. I think regional is $5,000 , then states is another $5000 , and worlds is another $10,000. We are asking kids to raise $20,000 just for entry fees and they still have to pay for transportation, lodging, buy robot parts etc!!!! Just my 2 cents!

        1. They are expensive and judging by what you said you are in a district state, so lets break it down, the field, is not provided by FIRST the district is responsible for that. The AV and Power Setups, the food and most expensive of all insurance, even when venues are paid for FIRST often has separate and incredibly expensive insurance.

        2. I know that this is an older post, but to contribute to the conversation, there are other FIRST programs that do not cost as much as FTC, such as FTC, where these benefits apply equally.

  11. Thank you. Great points. From my experience, I’d only add a) volunteers are a community of like-minded friends/family who model, not preach, Gracious Professionalism themselves, b) kids do the work but are encouraged to seek out and ask experts for perspective or ideas, c) almost all team members are involved in things outside the team, too, both individual and group, such as sports, community service, and faith-based youth programs. FIRST recognizes it is only one part of experiential preparation for an adult life of multi-tasking and time management.

    1. As a robotics mom of two sons for the past several years, I can not believe how much this experience has opened up my boys to the future. After a robotics competion in Denver, my now college son (Mechanical Engineering Major) posted the following on his Facebook page to the younger team members. And I just feel like sharing:

      This weekend was simply astounding. To watch on as Team Driven returned to the place where it all began, Denver, Colorado. Ten years ago 1730 traveled as a rookie team out to Denver to try their hand at this FIRST Robotics Competition that they had recently got themselves involved in. Their first ever match they were aligned with a team from Boulder, Colorado, 1619 Up-A-Creek Robotics. Little did they know that roughly seven years later two beloved mentors would move out to Colorado and join 1619. But, even more obscure, that 2006 Team Driven had no idea that ten years later they would travel back to Denver, compete in the same arena, reunite with loved ones, and play through eliminations with 1619 and eventually win the competition in an extraordinary fashion.
      Personally, I was not around in 2006, but to sit with Team Driven and watch them come full circle in their 10 year span was nothing but amazing to me. During my short tenure on the team I learned the value of being Driven to Succeed and developed a love for not only engineering but for the people that I interacted with on the team.The mentors taught me so much beyond just CAD or design, they taught me how to overcome heartbreak and how to rise to any challenge set before me. 1730 gave me the two best years of my life so far and to watch on like a proud big brother, which I am in one regard, brought me the greatest joy I have ever experienced. To all of the students on the team, I hope you know how amazing each and every single one of you are. Each one of you contributes to this team in a way that rises Team Driven to such a high level. From being finalists and winning Engineering Inspiration at Greater Kansas City to winning the Gracious Professionalism award and winning the regional itself at Colorado, you students have set a foundation for yourself that you most likely do not realize. But us alumni, coaches, and mentors can see that every one of you will one day become extremely successful in wherever you choose to go in life.

      Thank you for letting me come along for the ride, and I’ll see you all in St. Louis in a few weeks!

  12. Paul,
    Thank you! Thank you for summing up in 1 article all the wonderful reasons & heart of FIRST Robotics. I’ve had the pleasure to have my family in FIRST Robotics for 4 years as team members & mentors. My daughter has helped one of her teams (FRC & FTC) attended the FIRST World Championship 4 years in a row (including this year). We live in a small farming & dairy community that has a hard time understanding robotics. We have to fight with our local schools to get our team members robotics absences “school excused” because it isn’t a “traditional” school sport. Most of those making the rules won’t even take the time to see what their robotics kids have done or do during a season.

    If it’s ok with you, I’d love to use your article to help teach our area about robotics.

    Thank you again! ;0)

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Trachelle. Please feel free to use this however you want. And good luck with your team this year!

  13. Thank you Paul for your wonderful insight. I am a mom of three wonderful artistic children. I have tried over the many years to explain to our local sports orientated high school that not everyone is a jock. They need to be more supportive of other initiatives for their students. My older daughter was an arts major and long time member of the Glee club. I fought for recognition of the arts only to be defeated. Now three years later my son is at the same high school and has joined the Robotics Team. I as well attended my first competition last weekend here in Ontario and it was fantastic just how everyone came together to help one another. Not to mention how involved and supportive the on lookers were in the stands. There was no yelling and cursing. We are off to another competition next weekend and I am looking forward to it. Whats is really nice about the whole experience is that everyone is accepted for who they are and not shunned. There is no special requirement for Robotics. There are no tryouts and discouragement. No coaches yelling at you and you are a part of a team, not just benched for not being a great player. More people need to stand and up and take notice.

  14. Thank you Paul for so beautifully sharing the same vision I’ve had for the 14 years my husband and I have been mentoring a FIRST FRC team. Although our kids have long since graduated we’ve continued supporting FIRST. More than one student has come to us and said, I never thought I was smart enough to go to college (or become an engineer) but now I believe I can do it. We really are changing lives for the better! And the gracious professionalism attitude of parents, students, and mentors is a joy to experience and a far cry from what I remember from when my husband coached a little league team (think…fist fights between parents behind the dugout – for real!) If you haven’t experienced a FIRST event, please go. You just can’t appreciate it until you’ve seen it. You’ll be amazed not only by the high school kids but also by the ones in Lego League. Events are free and open to the public. Even better, volunteer to help out!

  15. Paul,

    What a great blog post! Thank you for articulating so well what we saw this past weekend at the Sacramento competition. I have already shared the link with our team parents and sponsors! We have been involved in FIRST robotics for two years now and everything that you mentioned is so true. It’s been a great experience for kids and parents alike and we look forward to being part of FIRST moving forward. Our goal next year is Top 10 and to get more team members (GIRLS) involved as well. Most people think you have to just be interested in science, math and engineering to participate and we’re trying to change that perception.

  16. I’m a senior member of a FIRST robotics team and have written several essays for school regarding this very topic. I have avoided posting my remarks here as I feel the controversy over this article is very frustrasting and has further proven my point, however I think there are a few key things that need to be stated. The spirit of this article was certainly not to diminish sports as many have pointed out. ALL kinds of activities that give kids a reason to be passionate are incredible. And along with that comes with strong opinions. Anyone passionate about sports is going to feel attacked by this article, and understandably so. I am just as much to blame with negative views about robotics. Yes, sports and robotics are different and the same in many aspects. Sports is the socially praised event and that will never change, and we recognize that. However, robotics is amazing and should never be considered less important; or as I put it in my paper “cool.” There is absolutely no denying the benefits and effects of robotics. I have watched countless students and community members be completely changed by the FIRST experience. To say that only geeks interested in engineering join robotics is a complete lie, atleast for my team. We have students from all kinds of activities on our team including the captain of the football team and half of the soccer team. I spent 2 years leading the middle school FIRST Lego League team, and continue to watch those kids grow through this program. For me personally, I never would have considered any career in STEM. When I joined as a freshman I had no clue what to expect. Jump forward 4 years and I owe everything to this program. The opportunities and skills we gain are incredible, and the bond and friendships irreplaceable. My senior year I have been blessed to intern at a fortune 500 company and will be receiving college scholarships specifically for my FIRST involvement. I can now proudly say I will be a woman in engineering studying industrial engineering. To quote my essays:

    “Anyone who doesn’t see that kind of success as desirable, should rethink their definition of “cool”; after all, “Cool is what you make it.”

    “The other kids will never consider what we do “cool” or even understand what we’re doing and why; but that is okay with me. All that matters is that I enjoy doing it, because I hold the pen to the pages in my story. I chose not to be predictable: I want to write a story with a deeper meaning and fill it with plot twists. People may never pack the theaters to see the movie, or even chose to open the cover, but I will still leave a legacy. Every word will be mine, each crafted to create a unique work of art. Will you choose to write your own story? Or will you choose to simply be another book on the shelf?”

    1. Extremely well said. I do, however, question the spirit of the article – between saying that “this is the way to prepare students” and then go on to list all of the positives of robotics and the negatives of athletics is intellectually disingenuous. The article is written to elicit an emotional response – ‘Yes he’s saying very eloquently exactly what we the oppressed nerds have always felt, so I must defend this vehemently’ or ‘he hates sports and is putting down every athlete that ever competed’. As you can see by the comments, he did succeed in dividing us. Which is sad. My kids in basketball, marching band, and robotics have all learned extremely valuable life lessons and are better people for it. I’m not just going to go enjoy my kids sporting events or band competitions, I’m going to go scream my head off in encouragement for them. Just like we do for robotics. Because life shouldn’t be about dividing us and pointing out why this is better than that, it should be about celebrating the unique story each of us is writing. (See what I did there? Love the quotes from your papers 🙂

      I do hope, someday, the kids on the robotics teams I mentor have the same experience you had, and they come out better people. Thanks for sharing your words and best of luck pursuing your goals!

  17. I agree! I am a 15 year old girl on FRC 2375. It is my first year in robotics, but it has taught me wiring, programming, self confidence, spirit, public speaking, social skills, and more! It has also helped me to make friends! Before robotics, I was used to being bullied for being smart, and often times being alone. Now I have tons of friends that share my same interests. My team also does FTC (a smaller version of FRC) and helps with FLL teams, so i got to start from the beginning for a bit. However, i could not have ever been prepared enough for my first FRC competition. Everyone was cheering and loud. People wore costumes and tons of spirit. Teams even wore buttons, stickers, or accessories that advertised the other teams. Kids were free to be weird. I’ve seen dresses, tails, and wigs made from caution tape, or cow ears, and all sorts of things. Teams cheered for everyone, not just themselves. They were just interested in a fun game. You also have to share ideas all season, because you’ll never know who will be on your alliance. It is easily and honestly, the BEST thing that has ever happened to me.

  18. Interesting read….I’ve got no kids in Robotics…wish I did…STEM seems to be ruling the world. But I do have a son who plays high school golf….probably one of the most gentlemanly sports out there. You don’t hear alot about concussions, or obnoxious fans, or playing time issues…and your skill can be used for life. How many business deals are conducted on the golf course? I think you are generalizing too much when you speak of sports…and I’ve heard some horror stories and backstabbing issues out of robotics. Best probably not to call one better than the other.

  19. I could not agree more. Both my son’s are into Robotics and it has been the best thing to ever happen to them. It truly exemplifies that all round education is not just about gaining knowledge, it is also about learning values that matter. The creativity, spirit of cooperation, respect for other teams and like the author said, humility are all rewarded at the end of the event and every team feels like a winner. Moreover, every one in the audience, kids and parents, have skin in the game, and this all inclusive participation by everyone present, changes the dynamics of the event for the better.

  20. Our school has 6 FTC teams and 1 of our school teams is no different then most sport teams. As a read your differences, I realized as long as a school has a winning team, bad behavior is allowed. I will however wish that team the best of luck at super regional west.

  21. Hahaha too bad robotics is for losers like you. Do something physical and get off your darn computer.

  22. Paul,
    I have been a Robotics mom for 8 years and the trip to my first competition was amazing. I was hooked and loved going to them all. The music and dancing was just fantastic; where else can kids be kids and find themselves dancing next to teams from all over the country? Cheering from the stands for all teams is a proud moment; you just know how hard each team member has worked to be there.
    We have all had the experience of having robot pieces on our living room tables and floors and finding screws, gears, and other painful metal bits when you stand on them. I have never been so delighted to go out and buy my daughter her own soldering kit, cordless dremel tool and tool bag for Christmas.
    My daughter is now refereeing Vex competitions and mentoring her old High School team. It truly is an outstanding experience for any child.

  23. Bummer that you had a bad sport experience. I believe a spectrum of activities are valuable rather than pitting kids groups against each other. Fortunately my kids robotics group welcomes the athletes and vice versa. (as well as the band, choir, theatre, etc…). Same crazy parents at all though, even 100% “cooperatition” band, so lucky you to find the rare group with no nuts.

  24. Paul, Having coached FIRST Lego League robotics for 5 years, and even having the joy of seeing my team compete in a World Robotics Competition, I can’t say enough about the amazing benefits of being involved with a robotics team. Two of my daughters have spent a combined 5 years in FRC and yes the competitions are fascinating. The most rewarding part of FRC that I saw, as a parent, was the mentoring and mutual respect that occurred between my daughters and real-world engineers who mentored for their teams. I noticed one reply mentioned her student’s sports scholarships. Just an FYI, FIRST offers a plethora of amazing scholarships. High dollar rewards to top-notch schools. My daughter is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at one of the best, and she earned almost 100% in financial aid and scholarships thanks to FIRST (and her own high school transcript, of course) and her amazing mentors from the team who went out of their way to offer references/referrals/letters.

  25. I volunteered as a referee for the first time this year and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I do not have a kid in the program, but it’s the kids who participate that motivate me drive the many hours to comps and stay on my feet through 20+ matches. They are great kids!

  26. I agree with many of the [positive] statements stated previously.
    I can think of 2 other differences between sports and FIRST robotics.
    1) I’ll start with money in FRC. I am wondering if, for each team, $15K+ for 15-30 minutes of “play time” (on the field) is an appropriate, sustainable return on investment; and an additional $15K for 15 more minutes at a Championship? Nevermind the competition sponsor $’s. Maybe there should instead be Grade 7-9 Jr/JV FTC and Grades 10-12 Sr/Varsity FTC leagues – with different Awards judging criteria?
    2) The calendars are very different, in my opinion. For FIRST robotics, the practices are very limited – these are the formal training sessions in CAD, programming, etc. The robotics competition is the Awards Banquet where the work of the season is celebrated. The “games” are everything in-between. Every meeting, the brain and muscles are challenged, new skills and personality traits are discovered and developed, split-second and thoughtful decisions are made, the team is bonding as life-long friends, there are successes and failures, the clock is ticking down, superstars are made, etc., etc. – this is the important part of the season!
    For those parents [and even students] who think that the competition is the most important part, remember Dean’s famous quote: “The robot is just a ‘vehicle'”. Focus on the quality of your time and talents at each and every meeting instead.
    For those parents who do the stop-drop-and-roll (or sometimes don’t even stop) at the meetings and miss the priceless opportunity to mentor their (and/or someone else’s) child, you’re missing EVERY ONE of your child’s games. And games where you’re not cheering from the sideline – you’re playing on the field with the students!

    FRC Mentor 2003-2013 seasons
    FTC Mentor & Coach 2013-2015 seasons

    1. I am a bit confused by your question… I am the “money mentor” for our team and we run our entire FRC season on $15K (or less) with money leftover. We attend 1 regional. After 4 years, on that budget I have money in the balance for a bid at Championships…hoping we make it! I know teams with much larger budgets, but you CAN do it for a lot less. We have purchased a trailer to haul with, a 3D printer, and some other extras in that budget too!

      1. i think our team runs on around 8k every year but that’s reusing material that’s been sitting in the shop for years

      2. One of the hardest things for a FIRST team to do is raise funds for competition and building needs. We run at around 7K budget (goal is to increase next year) but it can be depressing for the kids when they compete with teams that have $76K and $100K budgets (actuals that we saw just last weekend!). I personally think there should be a limit of number of regional competitions you can enter to try and qualify. For the teams who cannot afford more than one competition it isn’t quite fair.

        1. I am the finance director for on of those teams you are referring to with the massive budgets, and i will be upfront and say it is not fair, but it is also part of the off season game, and it allows for interesting tactical decisions, do you fund raise more even if it means taking rookies out of other training, and even if it results in a more burnt out team by the beginning of season, or do you rely on less money and better/more rested people/

  27. One other time you’ll see the team stand up and rush the area next to the field. Line dancing. I can’t say how many times I’ve seen the guys and girls from the teams all up dancing
    Good luck in Rochester 1155(SciBorgs) and 2265 (Fe Maidens)

    1. Hey great point…dancing is often pretty big at these events. See you in St. Louis!

  28. Where are you sending your kids to school? I was a college athlete. Track and field, I earned a degree in in chemical engineering. The majority of my teammates were science and international business majors. Our team GPA was a 3.56 where the general population was about 2.3.

  29. Hi Paul. Im a robotics mom too and our team is off to the world championship in St. Louis next month. I will be proudly cheering on our team from the stands and support the kids in any way I can. This has been a whole new learning experience for me and I’m happy to say that it’s been fun. Great post!!!

  30. As a second year FIRST grandparent who has helped our local team, I agree with Paul Smith’s observations. It seems to me that much of the criticism aimed at his comments is based on reactions to “trigger” words rather than on contemplation of the whole context and spirit of what he has written.

    The one disappointment I have with his comments is that he could have gone further with some of it than he did. For example, the whole concept and practice of “gracious professionalism” that is an essential aspect of FIRST cooperative competitions. Off the playing field, all of the competitors become friends and the friendships expand and grow through successive years as they reconnect at the competitions. At the beginning and between matches, the various teams help each other – with spare parts, mechanical expertise, programming, repairs and strategy. Why? because the teams are partnered in alliances – three in each alliance – and these alliances compete against each other in matches. New alliances are created for each match. A team that is a competitor in one match may very well be an alliance mate in the next match. So, it behooves every team to help every other team in the manner of “gracious professionalism” which is unique to the way FIRST robotics works. And that is exactly what they do, with lots of smiles and laughter along with serious consideration, thought, planning and effort to do their best.

    Our world could use a lot more harmonious cooperation as a real and sustainable survival of the fittest skill, rather than promoting survival of the ones who can beat the opponents down until only they are left at the top of a heap of failures. For any of us to truly thrive in life, we all need to thrive, otherwise we ultimately will all lose.

    1. Great comment Carl: coopertition and gracious professionalism are what set FIRST robotics apart from sports competitions. As I write, our FIRST team is busy preparing for a bake sale to help raise money to support the other teams in our region that are advancing to the World Championships (our team did not make it that far). Would be hard to imagine sports teams helping their “rivals” advance to the next level, but why not? It shows respect, admiration and support for their accomplishments. It is true sportsmanship. You see this more in professional sports. While high school sports competitions have their merit, the robotics experience is so much more.

    2. Good major points Carl, and thanks to Paul for the whole article. I completely feel the same as you have described. Certainly a few of the responses have been ‘off’, probably best to just ignore those, perhaps like the best approach when sitting near a badly behaved booing fan at a football game….
      I certainly see that other high school sports have great qualities but the whole set up for FIRST robotics is just so unusual. Really where else do you play hard AGAINST your opponent…..and then a few matches later you pick that same opponent for your team and play hard WITH them. Sure there are a few rivalries but the coopertition component of FIRST never gets escalated up to the ‘occasional’ anger/hate behavior one sees at some other sports. I have yet to see a fight break out at a FIRST event between adults or students or fans. This component is just so refreshingly rare, helpful, hopeful,and positive. Compete at your/their best. Yeah. Whoo Hoo!

  31. Thank you for describing this so eloquently. I will be sharing this as FIRST themselves did. My oldest son started in FIRST robotics his freshman year and is now a senior. My entire family traveled that year to their regional competition in Utah. We were amazed and you have described everything we saw. My husband said it was like football for geeks. I have now been to that same regional 4 times and have heard an occasional boo and a couple of things that go against some of what you said but it mainly comes from one team who is very mentor(coach) driven. We are hoping that we get a local FIRST regional competition next year, as is in the works, so we can try to attend two events, one local and travel to another one. If we get a local one, I can guarantee you I will get as many of my friends and family out there to see just what you described. Last year my 2nd son joined the team and this year my youngest, my daughter, joined the team. Originally she was just going to do PR/marketing, cheering but she learned to solder and did help with the robot a bit and she’s not a mechanically or engineering inclined student. It is an amazing program and I am proud to be team mom to team 2594 NASKCOrpions. I know we will be involved for at least 3 more years until the youngest graduates, but I have a feeling we will stay involved with FIRST in one way or another for years to come.

  32. This is my son’s first year with robotics also and I can relate to everything you mentioned above. To be sitting in the stands was exciting……and to cheer every team on was such a wonderful feeling. The crowd cheered for every team that did well and felt bad for every team that didn’t. It was such a positive experience, that I too hope my son continues next year.

    I love that one of the mentors told the boys on the team: “This is the only place you can talk to girls about robots, and they’ll actually listen to you!”

    Thank you for writing this! It explains exactly the way my husband and I feel.

  33. An excellent expansion on Woody Flower’s speech at the Pioneer Valley District Event.

  34. As a student on a team i believe this blog/post/ whatever you want to call it, to be extremely truthful. I have been to plenty of school sport events and was on the team once but found that people were not grateful for you only being good at throwing but not hitting, however, the the first day i walked into a team meeting the mentors and other students have been helpful in making sure that everyone knows how things work and the actual terms for them.

    Along with that is all the insults that get thrown around at SCHOOL EVENTS by the PARENTS. There isnt the proffesionalism at those events as there is at the robotics competitions.

    And for those of you who say that you werent impressed with FIRST all i have to say is this… I wasnt extremely technically inclined until i joined the team. All you have to do is remember the saying that is said by many upon many of the mentors ” you will get out of this program what you put into it”. And i found this to be very true, i am only on my first year on the team but i stayed later than most and helped even when not asked, and with all of that i was put on the drive team a few weeks before our first competition.

    And as for drive team another aspect that first lets you do is that my team has a completely student led drive team. We make the plans with other drive teams, which isnt something that you see much of in any other sport because they dont even have you work with people that you may have never met, which happens a lot in the real world( and yes i know what im talking about as i do have a paying job that this has happened a few times).

    All im saying is this was a great way to sum up a vast majority if not almost everyones view of FIRST, and that for those of you who are saying you didnt have a good time to look back at the way you spent your time on the team and to see how much of that may have been your lack of effort to help your team.

    Member of 1918

    1. I have been a FIRST Judge both in FTC & FRC for 15 years & I am stil impressed with the enthusiasm & talent of the ‘kids’. I have interviewed many of them, & its is clear that the team is important. “Gracious Professionalism” is not just a trite sentence it guides the participants in their interaction with others. I have been told many times by senior managers of technical companies that having FIRST on an applicants resume will always make them take a second look.
      As the organization has grown the number of scholarships awarded has too. In San Diego Qualcomm is a big supporter & has & is employing many of these students. As Dean Kamen, one of the founders of FIRST, said (paraphrase) “We should treat FIRST just as important as any sport.”

  35. Just a clarification: please read the word in number 7 again. It is “Coopertition” which is a word unique to FIRST. “Cooperating in competition” is what it stands for and it means to work with your opposing teams to better every one involved! It is a unique concept in FIRST Robotics. Is there another sport where opposing teams work together to make it better? Possibly! But none that I can think of off hand! That doesn’t mean that sports do not teach cooperation between team members. Of course they do or the team would not work. This is between opposing teams which teaches the kids that sometimes you have to work with opposing sides to make things better for everyone. I think everyone can learn from that!

  36. So to clarify…When participating in sports:
    #8: You don’t learn skills you’ll use later in life? He’s right, I’m not a professional tennis player – or softball player. But my experiences did provide me the opportunity to learn to lose, work hard at something to get better, not quit even when I wanted to, and work as part of a group. I think those are valuable skills I’m required to use daily. So while hitting a tennis ball is no longer part of my everyday life, I took away so much more than just that finite skill.
    #7: He’s right, I never helped the other team win. But I did learn to cooperate with my teammates. We won as a team, lost as a team, hung out as a team, liked each other despite differences, and worked hard TOGETHER. I think that ALL qualifies as cooperation.
    #5: Treatment from coaches. Apparently all coaches yell and scream and you NEVER come into contact with those types of people in your adult, “real” life? Learning to tolerate this behavior is a life lesson in itself. Whether it’s a tough-love boss, some moron in the grocery store mad about such and such, a co-worker or whomever – we need experiences with all sorts of people to become well-adjusted adults.
    #3: Here it is, the common theme of all youth activities these days. Playing time. In robotics everyone gets equal playing time. Just like in real life. Everyone gets their dream job, makes their dream salary and lives in their dream world. I have no words.
    #1: Humility. Yes sir, you learn absolutely no humility in sports these days because it’s a non-event if you lose. But if played with winners and losers, you can learn a lot of humility. I still remember losing a tennis match to a foreign exchange student from E’ville that no one knew. I was devastated. Embarrassed. Crushed. And then I picked up my rackets, walked off the court and moved on. What other option was there? I learned in that moment to be gracious in defeat. I also learned that when I won, to give my teammates as much credit as I received. Be humble. Know that without them, you wouldn’t have gotten the win. Know that they make you better, push you harder and are there not just in victory but in defeat as well.

    I’m not criticizing the robotics world. Heck – I hope my daughter aspires to do this one day, along with sports. But let’s not get caught up in putting it against athletics. Why can’t they both be great experiences?

    1. I have to agree here. I am not an athlete. I never watch or participate in any popular sporting events. My children do. They also have learned other technical skills as well. I believe that our children need a vast array of skills and knowledge and experiences in order to deal with all life will challenge them with. This world of ours is hard, cruel and unforgiving. They need to know that and they need the skills and mental fortitude to deal with it. It’s not all please and thank you and fluffy teddy bears. What’s going to happen when little johnnies dreams are smashed by the corporate accountant who doesn’t think Johnny or his department are adding enough to the corporations bottom line. Johnny will be crying ” But I helped the opposition to succeed and do better” and he’ll be told to go see if the opposition is hiring… I’m saying don’t feed them too many pie in the sky dreams when we all know all too well that it isn’t that way.

    2. This is the best reply I’ve seen so far. The points in the article are very much pointing out the worst in sports and the best in robotics. Having a daughter playing at a very highly competitive level of basketball and mentoring my sons FTC team (now 3 teams) I’ve seen the best and worst of both sides. Heck let’s throw marching band in there as well as I have two who perform with a grand national finalist marching band. So let’s be intellectually honest and compare the best of the activities, and not use backhanded language to build one up and put one down. they aren’t the same – they give different benefits to different people. Some kids thrive in athletics, some don’t. Some kids thrive in robotics and some don’t. Neither is better or worse than the other, they are just different. And kids should find what they love and pursue it.

      One point that really bothers me in this article though is the coopertition piece – you don’t see Ford running over to GM and helping them fix their assembly line. Coopertition is built into FIRST as part of the game. Let’s not fool ourselves and say the companies these people will work for will coopertition with their competitors. Athletics is a competition by definition, just like business is. FIRST is a coopertition by definition, which business is not.

      The worst thing for me with this is the comments. Our world has become so divided, it saddens me deeply that we are using robotics to continue to divide. I know a lot of people feel like they have to fight to defend robotics because it doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but we really shouldn’t be pushing the jock vs nerd division. They aren’t the same. They aren’t intended to be the same. We shouldn’t denigrate over the differences, we should look to embrace them.

      I’m starting to think Rodney King was wiser than I ever gave him credit for – can’t we all just get along?

  37. […] 37 teams from all over the US and 2 from Turkey descended into Peoria for 3 days during the FRC Regional in Peoria.  FRC is the world’s largest robotics competition, aimed at helping high school students get interested in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.  Here’s a parent’s thoughts on attending this Regional, their first one ever. […]

  38. Fantastic post with great observations! As the lead mentor or “coach” of a team that I’ve worked with for 8 years this type of observation is appreciated and something we will share with administrators, students and parents of new teams. Our goal is always to get new people to a competition to see what FIRST is really about! Well done Sir!

  39. I’m fairly sure that girls’ roles at sporting events isnt ONLY to cheer on the boys.

    1. I believe what Paul was trying to say was that both girls and boys participate in the same activity as equals, not seperate based on gender. While there are both girls and boys sports teams, FIRST does not seperate them which is more like a real life environment.

  40. After reading many of the above comments on the article, I find it necessary to add my two cents. First, I would like to commend the author for sharing HIS experiences. I agree with his statements, as they are also MY experiences. This does not make what you felt or experienced wrong, just different. Through my experiences though, I have become very passionate about a program that is run internationally with hundreds of thousands of kids having positive experiences on a daily basis. We do not live in a perfect world and I am sure that with numbers that large NOT every kid/parent will say it is the best thing they ever were part of, but I promise you, the VAST MAJORITY will. There are many comments about about diversity and team dynamics. This leads me to share about my team. Four years ago, my son convinced me that we could start a robotics team in our VERY rural county. We are NOT affiliated with a school, so I can say easily, without hesitation, that our team is diverse and dynamic. We take EVERY kid that walks through the door. If being the mascot is your dream, so be it! If you want to program with JAVA, we will train you. Learn to use a waterjet? Put your safety glasses on! We have kids that are in chorus, band, marching band, on the soccer team, football team, swim team, drama club, stage manager, 4H Club, shooting sports, bowlers, baseball players, boyscouts, girlscouts, publically schooled, privately schooled, home schooled…you get the point? The point really is, our kids are NO DIFFERENT than yours, they just do robots and they do it with the following core values ALWAYS IN THE FOREFRONT AND WITHOUT QUESTION…
    •We are a team.
    •We do the work. …
    •We share our experiences and discoveries with others.
    •We are helpful, kind, and show respect when we work, play, and share. …
    •We are all winners.
    •We have fun!
    This carries forward from our first introductions to each other to every competition, person to person, team to team, region to region.
    I have sat at more than my fair share of soccer games, hockey games, football games, swim meets and I have heard all of the things mentioned in this piece ad nauseam. Yet never at a FIRST robotics copetition.
    As for the comments about perpetuation stereotypes and not being “gracious professionals” I do take offense. Stating a position based on ones experiences is not perpetuating stereotypes it is just being honest with ones self. If one were to read the piece to the end, they would also note the gracious professionalism involved in saying (paraphrased) — I will continue to attend my son’s sports games…. I truly do not know how this VERY WELL WRITTEN piece that I have shared with 500 people today alone, became so controversial… Scary world we live in. I look forward to my team’s experiences at their regional competition this coming weekend. Maybe I will write a blog about it too. Thanks again Paul for sharing.

    1. >I truly do not know how this VERY WELL WRITTEN piece that I have shared with 500 people today alone, became so controversial

      Because it’s biased and dishonest

      1. Biased and dishonest claims he was not sharing his actual experiences… It was not a research paper, but his personal experience. But, thank you for sharing your opinion, as with his, we do not all have to agree.

        1. It might have not been a research paper, but he included some extremely misleading statistics in #8.

          1. Did you happen to notice the * and ** The statistics are “cited”. But, again, you are entitled to your opinion.

          2. I didn’t say they are incorrect, I said they’re misleading. 55% of FIRST robotics students majoring in engineering is not showing the magic of FIRST, it’s just showing that students who are already interested in engineering already are deciding to be on the robotics team.

          3. Correlation doesn’t equal causation… Unfortunately for you, this is a two-sided street, and does not ensure that “…students who are already interested in engineering already are deciding to be on the robotics team.”

      2. Are your OPINIONS biased and dishonest as well? Why do you get to tell someone that they are being biased or dishonest if this is how THEY feel from their experience? Were you there? Are you them? Let them have their opinions. You can politely say you don’t agree but don’t say they are being biased or dishonest! It is THEIR opinion. Just as your opinion is yours and you have a right to it.

        1. If I posted something this false and inflammatory on the internet you better believe it would get attacked.

      3. Chad: Your denigration is unsupported and irrelevant.

        Paul: Wonderful and uplifting story. I do not have a child in robotics, but have seen some of the same dynamics in other non-sports activities. Thank you for sharing your experience and giving parents everywhere a thought-starter for raising participative and collegial young adults.


        1. Nice comment Jeff. Seems like a stretch to label a fairly balanced Opinion as INFLAMMATORY. But as some have politely pointed out ‘everyone is entitled to their opinions and feelings.’

    2. Well written Marlene!!1 Great article!

  41. I did FIRST robotics for 4 years, and I loved it. But I also played sports. This article makes me want to puke!

    10. There are bad eggs in every basket. There are absolutely going to be inappropriate spectators at robotics events.

    9. Some girls want to be cheerleaders! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! If boys and girls played on the same team the girls would not be able to keep up. In my senior year of highschool the girls soccer team did really well and everybody was cheering hard for them, boys and girls.

    8. Just because I did robotics doesn’t mean that I use that in any way in my day to day life. And majoring in engineering doesn’t necessarily mean much. I guess I’m technically part of the 55% since I started as an EE but I switched to CS a year in. I never even wrote a single line of code until I was 19 years old. Most of the work I did for my FIRST team was machining and animation. Even if I stayed in EE my FIRST experience would have had little to do with my course work. I guess you can say there are tangential benefits but that’s extremely dishonest. There are more benefits to playing basketball than ending up in the NBA.

    7. Not really a benefit? Kids want to win. Also within a football team there is a great amount of trust necessary (say within the offensive line). When that cooperation breaks down it’s absolutely devastating, your quarterback gets his face ripped off.

    6. I agree that there is a lot to learn from first (even if it won’t affect your career at all down the road) but I imagine the amount of swearing is comparable to a soccer team. Maybe I was on a rough team, idk.

    5. The real world isn’t nearly as nice as FIRST. Life is brutal, wear a helmet. Also if your driver parties hard the night before a big match and ends up doing poorly he better be getting his head ripped off.

    4. Yes it’s true. But there are plenty of noncontact sports out there. Also brain injuries are far less common at the youth level compared to the pro level.

    3. When you get a team to have 80+ members there are going to be a lot of them doing nothing. Also during the competition itself there is going to be a lot of downtime for a lot of the team. In my last two years of highschool football I only ever got in on special teams or when we had a big lead. I still loved it.

    2. Fights aren’t that common. It really feels like you were reaching here. Maybe the list should have been like 7 items instead of ten.

    1. Everybody wants to win. Winning a regional, being on the #1 alliance is way more awesome than watching someone else win. Maybe the team members who didn’t do much wouldn’t care, (see number 3) but the kids and mentors that put their blood sweat and tears into the robot? They’re going to be absolutely crushed if the robot performs poorly in competition. Learning how to lose is an important life lesson of course, but acting like everybody is a winner and the points don’t matter is totally ridiculous.

    Sports are awesome. I never really liked sitting around all day in school. Running hard and sparring with my teammates at practice was almost always the highlight of my day. Physical activity has so many benefits that you’re just discounting. Running hard and yelling makes you feel alive.

    1. People post this link on robotics related groups and get “robotics fan’s” to read this article. Post it and spread news to sports teams and let them have themselves comment on this article. Soon there’ll be more people who comment hate speech over positive comments.

    2. This was my daughters first year on the robotics team. Althought I love this experience for her I agree with everything mentioned. She was on the business side of the team and complained many times about feeling like an outsider…like her ideas didnt matter.

  42. Thank you, Paul. I love to experience these events through the eyes of a “FIRST” timer. You hit the nail on the head in everything you said. I will be sending your article to several people – thanks for putting so eloquently what my husband and I have tried to tell people for years. We have been involved in FIRST for 20 years now. We are charter members of team 111, WildStang, who competed in this event. As is true in your case it seems – we have to get people in the door and they quickly understand the FIRST mentality. Thank you for your wonderful article. Dottie & Al Skierkiewicz

  43. Wow, you can’t be more wrong on every single point. My son bowls for high school and has earned thousands in scholarship money. He will always be able to bowl on the weekends for the rest of his life and put cash in his pocket for placing or winning. Not every sport has yelling, swearing, abusive coaches, etc. As for unequal playing time, robotics has the same thing. There are plenty of benefits that sports has over robotics. Each has its benefits and to make a blanket statement that robotics is so much better in all of your points is just ignorant. Robotics isn’t for everyone, just as a particular sport isn’t for everyone. To trash high school sports is not very gracious of you at all. So much for the “gracious professionalism” idea. I have plenty negative views that I could share with you about robotics but I won’t. No sense in perpetuating the stereotype…

    1. By perpetuating the stereotype, I mean the robotics stereotype.

    2. Can he really be wrong for stating how he viewed this event? A simple opinion on the events that HE experiances does not make him ungratious. Also Paul never said that robots was better, as he even stated that he continues to support those sports. He is just saying that other sports can learn from some aspects of robotics and the same can go the other way. What are the negative views you have about robotics and what is the robotics stereotype? As a member of a team as a student for 4 years and a mentor for one I would gladly discuss what problems you have with the FIRST programs. The only way to improve is to know how to improve.

      -Thanks, Ryan

  44. That being said, I’m sure many robotics teams are awesome and that 55% stat is awesome. Robotics is a wonderful thing, especially for people who have their heart set on engineering. For those interested in the health professions, public policy, humanities etc. sports is often a much more time-feasible option.

    1. My daughter is going to be a pediatrician. She is on the robotics team, ROTC and her EMT major. For her the engineering part of robotics has her wanting to go into bio medical engineering. She wants to know the science behind the treatment of the kids. Sports would definatly not fit her schedule.

  45. This article reeks of self-righteousness and sounds like it was written by a robotics team nerd who never made friends in high school outside of his or her robotics team. Why not just publish an article on just the pros of robotics? Why do you have to trash high school sports through stereotypes? I’ve done both and am now very accomplished academically and high school sports has done way for me than robotics. Might as well say what this article doesn’t about the cons of robotics and pros of sports coming from a first-hand experience:

    Cons of Robotics:
    Robotics often neglects less active members of the team. It often caters to those who understand concepts/programming immediately. It is absolutely not a team-building activity in which everyone is involved. In our school which won the regional FIRST competition my freshman year, our team was run by two engineers and only senior members who knew programming were able to make a major contribution. The rest of us just tightened screws. I literally learnt nothing.

    2. The time commitment is grueling. I’m sorry, but on top of multiple AP/IB courses as well as other extracurricular options, robotics is too much of a time sink. At our school, we were mandated to be there 12 hrs/week. That’s too much time. Sometimes students neglect the basics and focus too much on their extra-curricular. This is a prime example.

    3. Kind of related to another point, but robotics at our school is like your dad doing your elementary school science project for you. The top teams seem to have mentors that do more than just mentor. It’s a good way for sponsors to get publicity I guess.

    Pros of Sports:

    1. Exercise. Simple, but people don’t realize how necessary this is with childhood obesity rates climbing.

    2. While there’s lots of bullying that goes around I feel like it just build mental character and makes you be able to relate to the common person, rather than the self-absorbed nerd who thinks he’s the bomb because he knows a programming language.

    3. They’re fun. I don’t care how fun people think robotics competitions are. They’re nothing compared to a soccer game where you have a role on the team and the rush of it.

    1. RoboticsSports- I am sorry that your experience may not have been everything that you should have received. Maybe my team is unique in it’s approach to how we guide our kids but I would like to think that we are in the majority of teams that are there to teach and guide. Our team is lucky enough to have the facilities in house to mill, turn parts, CAD, weld and wire. Our students are invited to travel throughout the sub-teams to find their niche. They are not given a set amount of hours in which they have to be at the school. If they have to miss a meeting for sports, music, plays, dance, we do not hold it against them. Our build season IS grueling because we only have 6 weeks to make it work. We are a team that does year round work, in the sense that in the off season, we do list of our community service and demonstrations. We want our students to be well rounded, not over whelmed. Once again, I can only hope that we are like a majority of the teams and not the minority.

    2. RS – What you have seen is a textbook example of engineer driven teams. They exist. FIRST unfortunately does not discourage it. However, this is not how all teams operate. To pretend that is the case is either ignorance or spite on your part. I’ll let you decide which.

      The teams I am involved with are making great inroads into changing this philosophy. For longer than I have been involved the robots are designed by the kids, built by the kids, and win or lose by the kids. The coaches and mentors are just there to keep kids safe and provide guidance. The kids do all the actual work. That is why our kids get great scholarships and end up in STEM programs. My oldest son went into 9th grade wanting to play hockey. Now he is finishing his Freshman year at Purdue and going into Mech E. He has a summer job at GM headquarters in Warren. He’s already had a ton of CAD word, 3D printing, and CNC manufacturing of parts – all while still in high school. He is light years ahead of his peers and it shows.

      This is how it should be done. Until FIRST recognizes this and makes it standard policy, there will be an unfair advantage for engineer driven teams. But it also teaches a lesson – life isn’t fair.

      1. Well said Chris. I mentor a kid driven team and it is sometimes frustrating to see nothing but mentors surrounding a bot at a competition but it is within the rules and in the end, our kids are learning more.

      2. Yes there are mentor driven teams. Yes there are student driven teams. There is also a mixture of teams. I have watched as mentor driven teams have changed over time to a mentor/student driven team. The best thing that can happen is when students work side by side with the mentors. In that scenario both sides learn a lot and the knowledge base grows. I have personally worked with at least 6 different teams. Two teams I was full time when with them and I visited regularly 4 other teams during my 13 years with FIRST. Every year there are new and different students joining the team. Some have a lot of experience, some don’t know the difference between a wrench and pliers. There are those that want to get involved and those that sit back and watch. As mentors it is our responsibility to get all students involved and growing. I’m sorry if you had a bad experience but most students think the world of FIRST. Me, I love the program and love to see the growth of each and every student. I am not an Engineer, Teacher or parent of a student that ever attended a FIRST team. I work as a technician and use 4-6 weeks of my vacation to attend events as a volunteer. My belief is that if you attend a competition, go into the pit area and talk with the students, you will come out a different person and will want to get yourself involved.

    3. Scoring a goal in soccer is better than sex

    4. “Self-righteous nerd with no friends”? Why the insults? Paul isn’t anti-sports. He even closed with “They can be a wonderfully positive part of any young person’s upbringing.” At the Virginia Regional Competition one high school’s football team came out to cheer on their robotics team. That was awesome. Paul didn’t mention one important fact about the students in the stands. They’re not just spectators cheering on their “heroes”. They all contributed to the success of the team. Programming, CAD design, fabrication, electrical controls, photography, business plans, marketing, etc. I’ve been working in industry for over 30 years & can attest to the fact that a successful company works a lot like a successful FRC team. About the 12 hour commitment: I assume to be on a school’s varsity football or soccer team requires a similar time commitment. About bullying building character: This has no place in FRC or a civilized workplace, and I’ve seen employees terminated for engaging in this crude behavior. About sports helping reducing childhood obesity: you’re absolutely right! We need to do more basketball or Frisbee breaks during our build sessions.

  46. I’m sorry, but there are many other differences in favor of high school sports teams that were neglected. One of which being the fact that First Robotics cannot provide a true team dynamic. When everyone can simply join a team it is impossible to foster the same kind of brotherhood/sisterhood and comfort with other people that sports does.
    I understand that you are pro-Frist Robotics, but seeing as you have implied to be smarter than the community of students that plays sports, It would only be fair to consider the bennifits from both sides before publishing an artic.

    1. Robotics CAN and DOES provide a true team dynamic. Our team strategies TOGETHER. They learn the game together (might I add that it is a totally different game EVERY year) They build TOGETHER! And when they win, they come together and celebrate TOGETHER. They are ALL disappointed when we lose. Our veterans mentor our rookies which creates the Brotherhood /Sisterhood that you say it lacks. Our team members play other sports and I can guarantee you that they would say that this is just as much a team as any of their other sports. No one person could do it alone. Allowing anyone to join has offered. MANY students a place to fit in during years when they struggle to find themselves. Three of our students who play other sports and are the team leaders for our team are ranked 1, 2 & 3 in their class of close to 400 students so we are in NO WAY saying kids that play physical sports are less smart. The biggest point I believe Paul was trying to make was the fact that the atmosphere on the robotics field is way different than on a physical sport’s field. There are benefits to all sports including Robotics.

    2. FIRST robotics can and does provide the team dynamic. I was on tam sports in HS and I can tell you that my teams were not as close knit as my kids robotics team. In sports you are together for a season then again the next season. My kids robotics team meets 52 weeks a year, they put in more time than any sports team to be the very best that they can be. During the 6 weeks of build season they are at the school sometimes 44 hours a week above the time spent in school. They are held to the same academic and behavioral (though our lead mentor holds the kids to an even higher level) standards of any sport. Some of our kids are the smartest kids in the school, most are average just like on any team. The biggest difference I find between sports and robotics is that the robotics team is much more flexible with the kids schedules. If they need to miss a meeting due to a game or even a competition because of a commitment to a team they can, sadly all to often that feeling is not reciprocated by the sports coaches.

      1. In an effort to try recruiting more team members, I approached some students I thought would enjoy the experience of Robotics. They are also on sports teams and were concerned about conflicts. I approached one of their coaches who responded before I could even finish “He’s one of my best players and will not be missing any practices.” So basically, don’t even talk to him because our robotics district championships and worlds are after said spring sport starts. Too bad. I don’t think what is best for the student entered his mind. Very few HS athletes get financial assistance to attend college, but I know first hand that Robotics can lead to over $150,000 of financial assistance to attend a top rated engineering school.

    3. @Mike,
      You’re partly correct that it’s not the same “team dynamic” of a traditional sports team, it’s much more. FIRST teams are inclusive because they offer so many roles (leadership, business, engineering, communications) so students aren’t cut from the team, they are simply reassigned to find their specialty. This greatly reduces the exclusive atmosphere that can be engendered by selective organizations. Students that excel in math or software work side by side with the mechanics, electricians, graphic designers, project managers, sales, and leaders. The dynamic in robotics is closer to the enterprise team that exists at a successful company rather than the one typically present on a recreational sports team.
      In FIRST Robotics we build more than robots, We Build Careers.

    4. Mike,
      Can you define what you mean by ‘true team dynamic’? The team I mentor is a small very cohesive team. Every member of our 7 person team is an integral part of the team. As I understand the definition of brotherhood (an association, society, or community of people linked by a common interest, religion, or trade) most of the robotics teams I have worked with meet and surpass that definition. Team members work long hours for many weeks to accomplish their goal of creating a robot in the allotted time. Late nights and long weekend days bring many disparate people together in brotherhood and fosters the comfort with each other that you imply only sports can foster.
      As to implying that he is smarter than the community of students that play sports, he did no such thing. Actually he stated that he has been a member of that community both as a parent and a coach. You seem to think that Paul has in some way insulted high school sports. He stated that he did not intend to denigrate high school sports and continues to support them. He just thinks that high school sports can learn from robotics competitions about behavior, courtesy, and safety.
      About the only disagreement I have with Paul’s article is #8, learning skills which can be used later in life. High school sports teach some valuable skills that can be used later in life. The two that leap to mind are ‘how to be a member of a team’ and ‘strategy’. Very little in this world is accomplished alone. Being part of high school team teaches players to work together and accomplish more than they can individually. Every player is also taught how to look at opponents and develop a strategy to deal with them. As every businessman can tell you, this is a valuable skill. Sure most high school athletes will never play college and professional sports, but that does not mean they did not learn valuable lessons while playing high school sports. All opportunities in life possess the ability for one to learn life lessons.
      So Mike, what other differences in favor of high school sports do you think Paul neglected?

    5. Mike Honcho – I am sorry but nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen teams with a level of brotherhood that cannot be touched by sports. The reason for this is that they understand that they sink or swim because of the team, not because of the individual. In high school and below, it’s about the team. At the collegiate level it is about both. At the professional level, it is all about the self. And they are some of the most selfish people I have ever seen. Not so on a robotics team.

    6. This is my first and final year in robotics on team 2883. I would do it for many more years but unfortunatly, I am a senior. The different kinds of kids that joint First is crazy. We have 3 sport athletes that enjoy robotics just as much as the kids who are fully committed to robotics. I play two sports (track and swimming) and anyone can join those sports as well. The family that I have gained on my first robotics team is unbelievable. Building a robot in 6 weeks, fundraising, volunteering, reaching out, mentoring, being involved in other activities, school and a job (most kids balance all of this on my team) has helped us grow so close. We are going to St.Louis this year and honestly I am more excited about it than I would be going to the state swimming competition. I sat in the arena of my very first regional and just let the good vibes and positive energy a of every single little family (I mean robotics team) sink in, because those events are once in a life time and I would not trade them or my family (I mean my robotics team) for the world. Every student is welcome and every studnet has a job. Now that, my friends, is a damn good program to put your kids in.

  47. I think this is a good article. It makes me wish that I could have been on a Robotics team in high school. With that said, I disagree with some of the points brought up here. Number 8, for example, is not a great point. I learned a lot about myself playing sports that I have continued to use in everyday life, like how to overcome adversity, how to push myself to become better, how to work together as a team (that’s where cooperation comes into play is sports), I learned that life is not fair (some people don’t have to work for anything and they are still better than me), and how to be a gracious winner/loser. Thanks for the article though, I don’t think sports is better at teaching these lessons, I just had to point out some points I don’t agree with. I think I will look at robotics when my kids get a little older.

  48. Thank you for providing a brief summary of the differences. My son was a team member in FIRST for seven years (FLL and FRC Team 578) as well as playing a modified, JV and Varsity sport. As a 15 year old he recognized that he would never play sports professionally but could easily “go pro” as a mechanical engineer. As a 2nd year ME student at RIT he now returns to mentor the students and “give back” to the community that helped him grow. Parents need to carefully consider what character traits are important in their child’s life to help them realize their career aspirations and what activities promote development of those skills.

    1. One additional difference. In robotics the students are the leaders of the team. Students develop the mission for the organization, define the strategy for the game, the tactics for activities and events. Faculty and Mentors provide the framework and are there to offer advice and guidance but willingly give the students as much authority and decision rights as they can responsibly handle.

  49. I am in my 3rd year as a robotics parent and I cannot agree with you more. In what other sport do teams help each other to be the best you can be. When a team has difficulties there will always be people lending expertise, parts, tools, and in some cases extra robots to help rookie teams have some driving experience before having to jump in and build their own robots for their first competition. Let us add to the list the many teams that are advocating with their state and federal governments to increase funding for STEM education. All in all you would be hard pressed to find a better group of kids and adults than are involved in FIRST. A proud parent from Team 1511 Rolling Thunder

  50. bravo!
    My two boys have been in sports most of their lives: Baseball, swimming, football. They are also both in Robotics at the high school level (FRC). It is a wonderful ‘sport’ full of spectacle and intrigue as well as plan ole hard work. I’ve seen so many kids make their college choices based upon which school offers the best engineering opportunity for them- and it truly makes a difference in their lives. Robotics: The ONLY sport where everyone can go pro.
    Shout out to our team: Bedford Express 1023!

    1. Wooo Hooo Bedford Express!! We have played with you at States, GEMS 4362 parent here!!! I’m the bumper cover mom for our team! Great “sport”!! My son has been the operator on the team for the last 4 years. Graduating this year, bittersweet, knowing high school years are coming to and end, but all the relationships we have built with other parents on the team won’t be coming to an end and be a near memory in the future! We are sticking with FIRST and my son is coming back to mentor!! Love FIRST Families, they become family!!! Go, GEMS!!! Go, Robotics!!!

  51. I completely agree. My son spent 4 years on Team 1511 eventually becoming lead programming subteam member and an on-field player and coach. During that time virtually all of the “adult” skills her learned came from his time on the team – not in the classroom. His accomplishments on the Robotics team helped him get his dream college placement in Interactive Media Design (computer game design) at USC SCA – the top college in the world for that. I am convinced it was the many things he learned in FIRST Robotics that got him there, from programming skills, to presentation skills, leadership, making a pitch, working in teams, agile techniques, and game strategy. Others from his cohort became engineers working at NASA and other exciting engineering careers. FIRST Robotics should be the model for how all courses are taught.

  52. THANK YOU, Paul! I have been a “Robotics Mom” for the past 9 years when my, then 6th grade, son said “Mom, I want to join the LEGO League Robotics team!” I had no clue what that meant and for the last 5 years I have been lucky to be FIRST FRC Team 340’s lead marketing mentor. The memories that I have made with my son and now my daughter have been some of the best I will ever have! When describing FIRST, people often say “you are REALLY excited about this!” And I say how can you NOT be! These kids are AMAZING! They learn yo problem solve and work together. They learn to be “Gracious Professionals” and treat others with respect! They help other teams fix, build and program so that they can perform at their best! And yes, they go to win, but not by annialating the other teams! My son is now a mechanical engineering major and he comes home to mentor his team as much as his schedule allows! I couldn’t be happier that he choose the “Sport of the Mind” to be a part of! Thank you for putting into words every thing that FIRST teaches their students and what every sport should try to emulate!

    1. How very inspiring, Ellen! Sounds like you’re a fabulous “Robotics Mom.” And thank you for reminding me about the “gracious professionalism” they are taught in robotics. It makes a sharp contrast to the language on the field in #6 above. 🙂

    2. Ellen, sounds like when I get excited telling people about FIRST!

      1. Jane, I have been very pleased with my FIRST experience and after seeing what it did for my son and many other students on our team, I would recommend it to every parent to encourage their kids to get involved. That is a big part of what I mentor our team on. Doing demonstrations to get other students interested! I enjoy that part immensely!

        1. This past year was my first as a robotics mom. What a great experience! I loved it and lamented the fact my daughter was a senior in high school and would not be involved next year. But she has decided to return as a mentor next year and now I am really excited! I can’t wait for the next season.

    3. Congratulations to your team for their success at the Tech Valley Regional. It was fun to watch the team and their robot work together.

    4. I want to follow up and say Congrats to GRR team 340 at the Northeast Regionals at RPI. We were all moved at their win, their spirit and their aspirations. When talking about the FIRST experience I get teary-eyed and my chest swells from pride in being able to participate as a volunteer Judge

    5. I was going to comment about the gracious professionalism of robotics but you beat me to it. At the center of FIRST Robotics is the idea that gracious professionalism is more important than any other aspect of the competition. That’s just not something you’ll find anywhere else and it’s great that the young minds learn it early on to be better citizens later in life.

  53. Paul
    Well done and so well said! Here’s to “cooperatitions” like the Robotics one you describe to build relationship with each other & respect for each other. Perhaps the Robotics team can teach some of the other teams this empathetic behavior (the parents sometimes need it more than the students) 🙂

    1. Great idea, Kristin! I think if every athlete and their parents participated in robotics just once, they would approach their sport much differently.

      1. Actually the exact expression is “coopertition”: competition+cooperation!

        1. Right. Coopertition. Isn’t that what I wrote above in #7?

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