The FIRST Robotics Competition is a competitive league for High School students internationally, to compete in yearly robotic challenges. The challenges usually involve building a full size robot to complete several tasks both autonomously and with a driver. The robot is built from scratch by the students and mentors of the team. The team is also responsible for fundraising, marketing and running the team like a business. They treat their sponsors as investors/stakeholders and are responsible for keeping them happy with long term growth planning, and short term goals. Winning the competition, or awards at events are short term goals.
This doesn’t mean to say winning some of the awards isn’t a multi-year effort. It is. But when compared to other goals, it is a short term goal. Most awards can be won in a single year, during just the Build/Competition Season. But now that we are on the subject of seasons, let’s talk about the FRC season schedule. The season extends far beyond the actual competition days and schedule. The season is broken down into four main parts: Pre Season, Build Season, Competition Season, and Post Season.
Since many FRC teams have links or ties to a school system, preseason usually begins the first day back to school in the fall. Even though we don’t know the game for the upcoming season, there is plenty to keep teams busy during this time of year. The first thing to do is to get the team organized. This includes getting the team’s website up to date, restocking supplies and preparing for new members. The team should also be working on fundraising and sponsorships. This is a great time to get the team’s name out there and start building relationships with new potential sponsors.
Another big part of the pre season is training and team building. Every year in the fall, clubs and teams all start their recruitment drives. Teams should be at these new student open houses, pep rallies, and other events to get the word out about their team. This is also a great time to get new mentors and parent volunteers involved. New students like to hear about the team from other students, so it is important to have current students at these events and not just coaches or parents.
Getting your team together is half the battle, getting them to accomplish complex tasks together is the other battle. This starts with making sure all members of the team, new and old, are trained/retrained on the team’s processes and procedures. This can include, but is not limited to, safety, tool usage, and team management. It is also important to make all members feel valued and welcome. No one wants to join a team of stuck up jerks who don’t treat them with respect. Be a gracious professional and let others in on the fun!
On the First Saturday of every year, the FIRST Robotics Competition Game and Rules are announced. This is the day known as Kickoff, when teams can start building their robots. Kickoff events are held at local colleges or large spaces, and teams will get their kickoff kit, watch the broadcast and tour the field. Teams can also do their own private kickoff events at their own meeting spaces and have their kickoff kit shipped for a fee. Both groups of teams will have the same amount of time to build their robots, and the same game to play. The only difference is when you get your kit in hand. The kit contains game elements and some starting pieces, but you can start without the kit if it arrives late.
The build season is the most challenging and stressful time of the year for teams. Teams have from the kickoff day until their first event to get everything built, coded, tested and ready to go. This is a very short amount of time, and teams will be working long hours to get everything done. In addition to the robot related tasks there are also additional awards, activities and tasks needed to be focused on at the same time. These include safety, strategy, outreach, and logistics. Small teams will really have to focus on their time management and prioritization skills to get everything done.
Finally also during this time teams will select drivers, operators and drive coaches. These members should get lots of time with the robot and some accurate practice field pieces to try out different strategies. The world’s best designed robot is nothing more than a pile of parts if the drivers can’t use it. The drivers should also be trained on the rules and game elements, so they know what they can and can’t do. Scouting teams should be watching drive practices and taking notes on the drivers and their strategies. This will help them when they are scouting at events.
If a team did all of these things well and managed their time correctly they could attend some scrimmage events or arrange to practice with other teams in their area. Practicing alone is fine, but at the competition you are part of an alliance of 3. Learning how to talk with other teams and drivers in a stressful situation is a skill that can only be learned by doing. It is also a great way to get to know other teams and make new friends as well.
The competition season is the time when teams travel to events and compete in the FRC competition with their robot. Events start on “Week 1” and normally run for 5-6 weeks before “District or Regional Championships” are held. Teams in the district systems will usually compete in 2 district level events and then based on the results compete at a week 6 or week 7 district championship. Teams in the regional system will compete in 1 regional event at least and based on their status move on. Teams that make it through either system will then compete at the “World Championship” in April. In some years there are two world championships, and other years there is only one. This depends on the number of teams that are competing.
At events teams will be go through a standard schedule of events. This is listed below:
These events can be spread out over multiple days. A FIM (FIRST in Michigan District) event would typically have an evening setup day and then two full days of competition. Regional events and championships can run one extra day of competing. Each events schedule will be different, but the general flow of the day will be the same. Their unique schedules will be posted on the events page on FIRSTinspires.org. Event staff also will contact coaches with an itinerary of the event and need to knows.
Teams will arrive at the event and check in with the event staff. They will be given a pit space and a schedule of events. The team will then have to set up their pit space and get their robot ready for inspection. This is a great time to meet other teams and get to know the layout of the venue. Teams should also bring the following items to the event for check in and inspection:
|Robot||The robot can be worked on at the event, but it should be complete and ready to go before arrival||Yes|
|Driver Station||The driver station is the computer that the driver uses to control the robot. It should be set up and ready to go before arrival||Yes|
|Team Roster||The team roster is a list of all the members of the team. It should be updated and include all members of the team||Yes|
|Safety Manual||The safety manual is a document that outlines the safety rules and procedures for the team. It should be in the pit space and available for inspection||Yes|
|FIRST Consent and Field Trip Forms||These forms are required for all students and mentors to attend the event. They should be filled out and signed before arrival||Yes|
After the team has set up their pit space, they will be inspected by the event staff. The inspection is to make sure that the robot is safe and ready to compete. The inspection checklist can be found here:
LRI (Lead Robot Inspectors) are amazing volunteers that do everything they can to make sure teams make it out onto the field. They are very knowledgeable and will often be called over when FTA’s (Field Technical Advisors) have questions. There priority is to get your bot inspected and out onto the field, they are NOT there to make your life miserable. If you have questions about the inspection process, ask them. They are there to help you.
After the inspection is complete, teams will be allowed to practice on the field. This is a great time to test out your robot, calibrate vision and other sensors and get a feel for the field. Teams should also use this time to practice their strategy and get to know their potential alliance mates. Since the match pairings are randomized, teams will not know who they will be playing with until all teams are checked in. Get some practice in and show off your robot to the other teams. Scouters will be watching and taking notes, making mistakes during the practices is okay, during the real matches it’ll cost your team much much more.
Practice matches will run on the real field, use the field radio system and be scored by the field. If you have never connected to the field before, this is a great time to get some practice in. The drive station laptops connect to the field with an Ethernet Cable. The field has a wireless network setup that all of the robots connect to. The robots data is then shared only to the team with the matching driver station. During the real matches field staff will want you to get setup and also teardown quickly. Practice matches are less rushed so you can take your time and get the process down.
Finally, one thing to note and not get used to is the quiet. During practice matches, the stands will not be full and you will be able to hear the people on the other side of the field. During the real matches, the stands will be full and the noise will be loud. Your team will need to be good at communicating with each other loudly and clearly. Also think about the viewing angles you have of the field. Being behind the driver station glass will make it hard to see the other side of the field. Coaches are free to move around and get better views and relay information to the drivers. Practice this during practice matches so you are ready for the real matches.
Starting on the second day of the event, teams will compete in qualification matches. These matches are the main part of the competition. Teams will be paired up with other teams and compete against them in 3v3 alliances. The alliances are created by a system called Matchmaker (there’s tons of documentation about this if you care). Teams will meet up with their partners ahead of match time and coordinate. Typically teams will have preferences for what tasks they can focus on, where their robot needs to start, and what their strategy is. Bring a field strategy sheet and whiteboard to the event to help you coordinate with your partners. Teams also laminate the following sheets and bring them to the event By laminating them, you can draw on them with dry erase markers:
Those sheets all came from the ‘2023 Strategy Board’ topic here on Chief Delphi. They are a great resource for teams to use and share.
During the qualification matches, teams will be competing for the highest score possible. The breakdown of the scoring from REV Robotics and the 2023 game manual can be found below:
|Game Pieces - Bottom Row||3||2||-|
|Game Pieces - Middle Row||4||3||-|
|Game Pieces - Top Row||6||5||-|
|Link - 3 Nodes in a row contain Game Pieces||-||5||-|
|Robot Docked and not Engaged||8 (1 robot max in AUTO)||6||-|
|Robot Docked and Engaged||12 (1 robot max in AUTO)||10||-|
Teams are ranked throughout the competition. The top 8 teams at the end of the qualification matches will be selected to be Alliance Captains for the Playoff Matches. Being a captain gets you extra points towards earning placement for the Championship events. While the scouting data teams have matters, the actual RP’s earned during the qualification matches are what is counted first by the actual ranking system. A full breakdown of the ranking system can be found below:
|Order Sorting||Tie Breaker|
|2nd||Average ALLIANCE MATCH points, not including FOULS|
|3rd||Average ALLIANCE CHARGE STATION points|
|4th||Average ALLIANCE AUTO points|
|5th||Random sorting by the FMS|
Remember all of that “Scouting” stuff your team did? All of the note taking, pain staking analysis and data collection? Well, it’s time to put it to use. After the qualification matches are complete, the Alliance Captains start to pick partners. Captains should be keeping track during selections of who is picked and who is not. This will help them make decisions on who to pick. The order they pick in is based on who best complements their team and partners. This may not be the same order as the ranking system. Teams who had great matches during the qualification matches will likely want to group back up again. If you are a captain you should have a list of all of the compatible teams from your scouting data.
They can pick each other, they can pick the bottom ranked team, or they can pick any other team. The Alliance Captains take turns picking until a total of 8 alliances of 3 teams are selected. The remaining teams are out of the playoffs, but they are eligible for many other awards still. The tournament is just part of the event, there are many other things teams can win. The top teams that weren’t picked are also asked to be ready to be an alternate for any of the other teams. If a team is unable to compete, the TOP ranked team next in line will be asked to join the alliance. If you are on an alliance in this manner you get all of the bonus RP that they would earn as well. This goes towards getting to the championship events.
The playoff matches are the final matches of the event. The 8 alliances play against each other in a Double elimination bracket system. The picture below shows the bracket system.
Now this year there will also be awards breaks during the final matches. This is in an attempt to actually speed up the overall event time. We will see how this pans out. Either way this is what everyone has been waiting for. The final matches. The matches that will determine who is the overall winning alliance. There are scenarios where there are ties and other things that can happen. The full rules for the playoff matches can be found here. Ultimately the matches are more or less the same as the qualification matches. The only difference is that the alliances are already selected and they wont change match to match, Teams will have limited time between matchs and will have to bring some of their pit tools to the field. Most of this information will be covered with the drive teams at the events.
The last part of the event is the awards ceremony. Normally this was done after the final matches had ended, as stated in the previous section, now the awards are done in between the final matches. Teams will see video submissions from award winners, hear descriptions and explanations of the awards, and then the awards will be given out. When a team is called for awards they usually all go down to the field, collect a medal, get high fives from the judges and gather at the back of the field for a team photo. Other teams are all cheering them on and congratulating them. Usually the judge explanations contain hints and puns and its fun to guess who is going to win. All of the awards are listed below and the full descriptions can be found here.
This is also sometimes called the offseason. Usually this would be a time teams can lay back and relax, but really there are so many useful things you can do during this time. OCCRA is an offseason competition for FRC teams in Oakland County Michigan, but similar programs exist elsewhere. This is a great way to get some more practice in and get some more matches in. This can be valuable teaching and training time for new team members.
This is a great time to get out and do some outreach. There are many summer camps and other events that are looking for STEM activities. This is a great way to get your team out in the community and show off what you do. This is also a great way to get new members. You can also do some outreach at your local library or other community centers. Teams have also used summer camps as ways to get funding for the team by charging for the activities. If your team has FLL equipment, knowledge and a coach, you can also run a Lego Robotics summer camp. This would also be great PR for your team and count towards stuff like the Impact Award or Sustainability Award.
When going to a competition your pit becomes the home for your robot, drivers and a rotating mass of students constantly asking if they can help after each match. With the post season you are fresh off of competing and can think back to what worked and what didn’t. You can use this time to make improvements to your pit. You can also use this time to make improvements to your shop. This is a great time to get some new tools, or to organize your shop. Your pit should be modular, adjustable from 8x8 feet to 10x10 feet and be able to be set up and taken down in 30 minutes or less. This is a great time to make sure your pit is ready for the next season.
Things to consider:
This is a great time to get to know your team better. You can do team building activities, team bonding activities, or just hang out and get to know each other better. This is a great time to get to know your new members better. Team field trips to sponsors work sites, robotics companies, and more are also great ways to get to know each other better and take advantage of the extra time. As you visit all of these places as a team you learn more about each other and you learn more about the world around you. You ask questions, you learn, you grow. New experiences also helps a group of people bond together, even the unpleasant ones.
This is a great time to do some fundraising. You can do some fundraising events or pound the pavement and talk to local businesses and community members. Students can do bottle drives, car washes, and more. You can work on team merchandise, sell products in partnership with vendors see Batthawk on andymark. FRC team 1720 created a voltmeter for battery reading, NOT testing, but they sell it in partnership with andymark and it is a fundraiser for their team. We use these on FRC 453!
Training and teaching new students takes up so much time, but the post season means you just got tons of free time! This is a great time to mentor other teams. You can mentor other teams in your area, or you can mentor teams from other areas by writing content for here, docs.wpilib.org or other online resources. Film video lessons to have ready for the offseason and to share with other teams. You can mentor other lower level teams like FTC, FLL, FLL jr and even VEX or other competitions. Any time spent teaching robotics is time well spent!
Test out all of your crazy ideas you cant take a chance on during the competition season. Try out swerve drive, home brew some new navigation tools, shift some paradigms! Mainly this is a low risk and low speed time where you can try out new things, read up on the winning teams and see what they did you want to also do. Study up on designs, mechanisms, and more.