FTC Tip #6: Tournaments – Teams

All team members are expected to participate in tournaments—this is what you’ve spent months working towards!  If you are not available for a tournament, make sure to let your mentor know as soon as possible so they can prepare for your absence.

Arrive with plenty of time to be ready for your Interview, Inspections and Practice Matches.  Generally doors open at 7:30am and Interviews start at 8:00am. Check the High Tech Kids Website (Minnesota ONLY) for each tournament’s specific schedule.  Information on concessions, directions and other tournament details can also be found here.

Be sure to be in your team uniform!

Make sure you know what your lunch plans are and make sure you have money with you if it’s needed.  Competitions have concessions stands where you can buy food and some competitions have “Meal Deals” that you can buy ahead of time.

Your Mentor will check the team in.  Students can head straight to their pit table and begin setting up for the day.

Your Pit
• Each team gets a 10’x10’ space with a table.
• Feel free to decorate your space, but keep it clean, try not to leave food and beverages laying around.  (Treats for visitors are fine)
• Always have a team member present to greet Judges and other teams—even during matches.
• Help other teams who are looking for parts or tools.  Make sure to label tools and parts with your team number in Sharpie if you’d like to get them back at the end of the day.
• No messing around – you are always being watched and the Judges are everywhere!  No games or electronics (unless you are working to solve an issue with your robot) in the pits!
• Always think about Gracious Professionalism – Judges ask around about whether people have seen acts of GP or poor behavior during the tournament and this does affect the outcomes of Awards.
• Visit other pits to meet teams, find alliances and get ideas to improve your team’s presence.

Interview (See FTC Tip #8 – The Interview)

Hardware/Software Inspections
• Before the day of the tournament, teams should review the Robot Inspection Checklist.  Print a copy and bring it to the Inspection with you.
• You need to bring your robot, phones, controllers and your computer with the programming on it to the Inspection.  A simple cart is nice for this.
• At a minimum the Drivers and Coach must attend the Inspection, Builders and Programmers are also needed in case changes are required by the inspector.
• The inspectors will look at the robot to make sure that the parts used follow the game rules and that the size of the robot is within the 18”x18”x18” sizing rule.
• The inspectors also look for anything that might damage the playing field and elements and any unsafe items.  If issues are found you will have a chance to bring your robot into compliance and it can then be re-inspected.
• Team numbers must be displayed on two sides of your robot; the numbers need to be 3” tall.


Practice Rounds
This year each team gets 2 practice rounds before their 5 qualification round matches.  The practice rounds help teams try out their robots on the competition field before it counts.  If you have problems make sure to work with the FTA’s (Field Tech Advisors) to understand any issues you have and listen for any ideas they give you to fix any issues.

Drivers Meeting
• Held just before the Opening Ceremony, the location will be announce.
• Both Drivers and the Coach must attend the Drivers Meeting.
• You’ll be given instructions on how the tournament will run and any special instructions for the day. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask the Referee’s any questions that you may have.
• Drivers and the Coach will receive their badges at this meeting.  Badges must be returned at the end of the day to High Tech Kids staff.

Opening Ceremony
All team members and mentors should attend.  It’s OK to leave the Pit unmanned during this time.

• Pay attention to what matches you are scheduled for and what matches are currently being played.  Know which color alliance you are on and where you will be starting (based on where your alliance partner starts) and get the appropriate Autonomous program ready to run.  Your drive team, coach and robot should be in the queuing area ready to go during the previous match.
• Use your time in the queuing area to meet and work with your alliance partner on match strategy.  If possible, help them if they are having any technical issues.  Positively mentor less experienced teams and learn from more experienced teams!

How to get help with your robot on the Playing Field?
Call “FTA!” – Field Technical Advisors are in attendance at each match (they will be at the competition floor and will be wearing yellow volunteer polo shirts, make sure to learn who they are during your practice rounds) and are there to help teams with technical issues, but you must ask for their help and you have to get their attention.  They are the only people who can possibly touch a robot during a match.  You can also ask for their help before a match starts if you are having problems with your robot.  There are times when FTAs may ask the Head Referee to replay a match due to technical issues.  While rare, replays do happen, usually they happen at the end of the currently scheduled matches.

What to do if you disagree with how the Referees scored the match?
• A single student team member can go stand in the Question Box on the field floor (It’s marked with a “?”).  Adults are not allowed to question the refs.
• The head referee will talk to you about your question.
• Students cannot show the Referees video or pictures from a match.
• Remember Gracious Professionalism! (See FTC Tip #1)

Final Alliance Selection
• After the qualifying matches, alliance selections will begin.  Each team at the tournament will send 1 student to the competition floor.  The top 4 teams from the qualifying matches will be the Alliance Captains.  Alliance Captains can ask other top alliance teams to join them, so it is possible for the teams ranked in 5th, 6th and 7th positions to become Alliance Captains.
• For most tournaments, each alliance will consist of 3 teams.
• All teams finishing in the top 7 should be ready to build an alliance based off of qualifier match performance, scouting information, and previous experience with other teams.  Have a list of teams that you’d like on your alliance.
• Certain phrases are used during Alliance selection:
1. Alliance Captain ask teams to join them by saying something like “Team #xxx would like to invite Team # to be our Alliance partner.”
2. The appropriate response to the above question is “On behalf of Team#, we graciously accept (or decline) your invitation.”
• The reason to decline would be because you are an Alliance Captain and you would like to build an alliance with other teams or if your robot isn’t working and you don’t want it to cause the other teams to possibly loose matches because of this.
• If you are an Alliance Captain, choose the teams that you feel have the best chances of helping you win the tournament.  You are not required to choose teams from our district unless you feel like it’s the right decision for your team.

Final Rounds
• Play starts with the semi-finals.  This is a best two out of three format.  The Alliance Captain team will play a match with each of their Alliance picks and then the 3rd match (if needed) can be any of the 2 alliance teams matched up.
• Next the winning alliances play in the final matches with the same format until the tournament winner is decided.

Awards Ceremony
• Please stay for the Awards Ceremony.  It really is disrespectful to leave until teams have been recognized for all of their hard work, and you never know if you team is going to win something!
• If your team wins an award, all students on that team should go to the line of tournament volunteers to collect their award and to high 5 the group of adults in the yellow polo shirts.  Please celebrate your accomplishment but do it with Gracious Professionalism.  Return to your seats for the rest of the ceremony.
• Make sure to take a team picture with your award!

Retrieve your Engineering Notebook after the Awards Ceremony

Packing up
• If you are not part of the Final Alliances, you can begin packing up your pit after the Alliance Selection. This will help you so you can leave soon after the Awards Ceremony.  If you are part of the Final Alliances wait until your matches are over to begin packing up.
• Make sure to get all tools and parts you may have borrowed to other teams.
• Don’t forget team banners or anything else that you hung on a wall.
• Make sure your pit space is as clean (or cleaner) as it was at the beginning of the day.
• All team members are expected to help with clean-up and carrying all of our equipment out to cars or buses.

FTC Tip #5: Communication Issues

If you are having issues getting the Robot Controller phone and the Driver Station phone communicating with each other please read this interesting forum post.


It says that the versions of the software on the robot controller and the driver station need to be the same version AND that version needs to match with what is being used from the Android Studio SDK that was downloaded from GitHub.

The most recent versions of the driver station and robot controller are 1.25.  If you load both of these on the phones but don’t have the most up to date SDK, when you connect the robot controller phone to Android Studio and transfer your programs to the phone, it will replace the Robot Controller Application on the phone with the one from the SDK.  So now your versions won’t match.  The first time you do this Android Studio provides a message stating that the version on the Robot Controller App is newer and that if you continue it will replace the version on the Robot Controller phone.

To fix this, download the latest version of the SDK from https://github.com/ftctechnh/ftc_app/releases, then save your opmodes to another directory and totally replace the ftc_app-master folder on your computer.  Then copy your opModes back to the directory, update the FtcOpModeRegister and then when you transfer the new Opmodes to the phone, it will be on the most recent version 1.25.  The first time you transfer to the Robot Controller it might give you a message that the versions were the same, but the signatures were different,  just press OK to continue.

The new version of the SDK also had gotten rid of setChannelMode and replaced it with setMode.

After these changes, the phones should communicate more consistently.

Photo Jan 21, 9 36 00 AM

To find this screen, click on top right button (three dots in a row) and go to About.


After further testing with matching 1.25 versions on the phones and the SDK, I can confirm that the communication issues are improved.  The 1.25 version of the robot controller program seems to handle communications with the USB controllers better than the older 1.2 version we were running.  You need to update your SDK to get to the new 1.25 version of the robot controller program.

The steps we found that most consistently got the 2 phones to communicate and not get any red errors on the Robot Controller phone were:
1) Exit the program on the Robot Controller phone, so that you are at the main phone screen. You don’t need to reboot, just exit the program.
2) Power on the robot, without the RC phone plugged in to the robot.
3) Once the robot is fully powered up, give it 30 seconds or so, then plug the phone into the robot. It should then automatically open up the Robot Controller program and find the USB Controllers
4) On the Driver Station phone, most times it automatically recognized the Robot and went into a ready state waiting for selection of an OpMode. Occasionally, we had to exit from this program and re-start it.  This seemed to work better than restart robot.
5) If we had to remove the phone, we didn’t even power off the robot, just unplugged the phone, compiled a new program and made sure before we plugged the phone into the robot that we were at the main phone screen (don’t have the program running when you plug it in the robot!).  The program should start automatically once the phone is plugged in.

Hopefully this helps other teams that might be having communication issues with their robot!

FTC Tip #4: The Engineering Notebook


§  Read the rules for the Engineering Notebook in the Game Manual 1 Section 7.3 – it tells you what is required – It’s just a few pages to look at.  There also some specific requirements for the awards listed there.

§  There is a new document on the FTC site named Engineering Notebook Guidelines that goes into more detail on the Notebook and provides examples.

§  Team Name and Number need to be on the front of the notebook.  It literally says in the guide that if that is not there, the notebook should/will not be considered, which essentially locks you out of nearly every possible award.  Also note, you should include a team picture and a picture of the robot.  Having those pictures makes judging easier and your team more memorable.

§  Teams may choose to record their season with either handwritten or electronic documents. There is no distinction made between handwritten and electronic Engineering Notebooks during judging; each format is equally acceptable. (Make sure whatever form you use, it is neat and professional.)

§  All pages must be numbered and in order.

§  Use photos and drawings to show your team in action!

§  There needs to be a clearly marked and tabbed “Engineering Section”.  It should include the daily notes, drawings, relevant CAD printouts, etc.  While it has a “journal” type structure to it, this is not a diary.  A list of people in attendance and then a one-liner about “we worked on the robot” or complaints about someone picking on someone else is not sufficient.  Here are the guidelines from the manual.

  • This journey goes beyond recording the day to day “here’s what we did” or just listing “we met today”. It explores questions like:
    · What is the agenda for today?
    · Why are you meeting?
    · What are the goals for today?
    · What decisions did your Team make in forming the Team, creating the robot, writing the program, the outreach projects, etc.?
    · Why did you make that choice when building your robot, coded the software that way, chose that group of individuals to outreach to, etc.?
    · What was the impact on your Team, robot, or community when you made that decision?
    · What is the next step?

§  There needs to be a clearly marked “Summary Narrative” page right at the front of the book.  This explains in a small handful of paragraphs (should fit on one page, think of it as an essay question on a test) who the team is, what they are trying to accomplish this year/season, what the strategy is for the current year’s robot/game, and finally, a final paragraph laying out thoughts about what the hoped for future of the team is will be appreciated.  Be sure to mention prominently that you are Rookie teams, especially in the case of the Raptors and Ciphers (you have lower numbers that make you look like you’ve been around for a while).  Drive this point home with the judges, it buys you a little leeway that you are going to need to have a chance against teams that have been around for 3, 4, 5 years (or more).  Add information on Flagged pages that the judges should review to see the big days in your season.

§  There needs to be a clearly marked and tabbed “Business Plan” or “Strategic Plan” section.  This can be as little as 1-2 pages, but it needs to be there.  Including a season/team budget in this section is helpful: being able to talk to that idea with the judges in the morning interview is even more important.

  • Some general talking points:  Mentioning that you asked for and received financial assistance, as well as charged an activity fee.  Mentioning any sponsors that your team brought in or any grants that you applied for and received (FTC Transition Grants, PTC grants).  Rookies and school-based teams often suffer in the interviewing because the kids have no clue about the team finances: we should be able to easily surmount that issue with a brief amount of effort and coaching.

§  There should be a clearly marked and tabbed “Outreach” section.  This is a section talking about non-robot build activities the team has been involved with.  Generally, each event should be listed with a date, title, brief description, and a picture from the event if at all possible.

  • Another outreach related item that can be quickly/easily created and impresses the judges: some kind of promotional material for the team.  A brochure, buttons, business cards: anything that shows that the team is trying to create a way to get their name out into the community.  This should be handed to them by the team during the interview as well as on-hand in the pits for any judges or other people who visit the team there.

A separate one to two page tabbed section with a diagram including some math, geometry or physics can be a big plus.  For example, a diagram showing how to calculate the distance a scissor lift can extend, or showing how long an arm can be and yet still fit within the 18×18 cube.  Just a quick hand drawn diagram with the basic calculations written out can be impressive if you get on the short list for any of the engineering awards.  Even if you feel it’s unlikely to happen, just including it and pointing it out during the interview might get you put up for a Judges Award.

FTC Tip #3: Control, Promote and Compass Awards

FTC Tip #3: Control, Promote and Compass Awards

Typically teams don’t submit entries for these awards and because of this, they aren’t even given out at many tournaments.  These awards are relatively easy to apply for and they are great tasks for those team members that feel like they don’t have anything to work on at a meeting!  Teams do not typically qualify for State or other higher level tournaments from winning these awards, but they do gain name recognition by other teams and judges, and it’s a great way to start your team’s trophy collection!

  • Award descriptions can be found here: http://www.firstinspires.org/sites/default/files/uploads/resource_library/ftc/award-descriptions.pdf
  • Criteria and Topics for this year’s Control, Promote and Compass Awards can be found in Game Manual 1 Section 7.  Promote and Compass Awards – Videos for both the Promote and Compass Awards must be submitted no later than Monday prior to the event. Teams may only win this award once at the Qualifier Level. YouTube links will not be accepted.
  • In my opinion, teams should send in a Compass Award video at each tournament they participate in.  There is always someone to be recognized for their volunteerism!

Below is the text on these three awards:

7.5.7 Control Award
The Control Award celebrates a Team that uses sensors and software to enhance the Robot’s functionality on the field. This award is given to the Team that demonstrates innovative thinking in the control system to solve game challenges such as autonomous operation, enhancing mechanical systems with intelligent control, or using sensors to achieve better results on the field. The control component should work consistently on the field. The Team’s Engineering Notebook must contain details about the implementation of the software, sensors, and mechanical control.  The submission form can be found at the end of Game Manual 1 or here.

Required criteria for the Control Award:

  • Team must demonstrate respect and Gracious Professionalism toward everyone they encounter at an FTC event.
  • Team must apply for the Control Award by filling out the Control Award Content Sheet, located in Appendix C.
  • The Engineering Notebook must include an Engineering Section that documents the control components.
  • Control Components must enhance the functionality of the Robot on the field.
  • Strongly suggested criteria for the Control Award:
    • Advanced software techniques and algorithms are encouraged.
    • Control Components should work reliably.

7.5.8 Promote Award
Many decisions, but choosing FIRST was easy! This judged award is optional and may not be given at all tournaments. Please contact your tournament director to determine if it will be given at an event you attend. The Promote Award is given to the Team that is most successful in creating a compelling video message for the public designed to change our culture and celebrate science, technology, engineering and math. Teams must submit a one-minute long public service announcement (PSA) video based on the PSA subject for the season.

Required criteria for the Promote Award:

  • Video cannot be longer than 60 seconds.
  • Video must be of a high quality, as submissions may be used at a later time to promote FIRST.
  • Team must have rights to music used in the video.
  • Video must have strong production value.
  • Video must be submitted by the designated deadline.
  • Team must present a thoughtful and impactful video which appeals to the general public.
  • Creativity in interpreting the annually assigned theme is required.
  • Follow video award submission guidelines.

7.5.9 Compass Award
A beacon and leader in the journey of FTC. The Compass Award recognizes an adult Coach or Mentor who has provided outstanding guidance and support for a Team throughout the year, and demonstrates to the Team what it means to be a Gracious Professional. The winner of the Compass Award will be determined from candidates nominated by FTC Team members, via a 40-60 second video submission, highlighting how their Mentor has helped them become an inspirational Team. We want to hear what sets the Mentor apart.

Required criteria for the Compass Award:

  • Video cannot be longer than 60 seconds.
  • Video must be of a high quality, as submissions may be used at a later time to promote FIRST.
  • Team must have rights to music used in the video. o Video must be submitted by the designated deadline.
  • Video highlights the mentor’s contribution to the Team and demonstrates what sets the mentor apart.
  • Follow video award submission guidelines.

FTC Tip #2: Tournament Spectator Etiquette

FTC Tip #2: Tournament Spectator Etiquette

§  Please follow signs for entering and exiting the competition area, they are there to try to keep the tournament flow moving.  Better flow means getting to go home on time!

§  You (everyone) must wear safety glasses in the pit area and on the competition floor.  This is for your safety and to show your kids the right way to be around machinery.

§  If you are not a team mentor, student member or a tournament volunteer, do not go on to the competition floor or to the queuing area (the area where the teams wait to setup for their next match.)  I know tournaments are exciting and sometimes you just want to help, but team mentors have been working with students for months to get ready for this and we should respect their commitment by letting them work with their team.  If you have lots of ideas—make sure to help mentor a team during the design and build sessions.

§  Even in the pit area, let the team and their mentors do their work.  I have personally cleared all non-students from my team’s pit area before due to parents telling the kids what to do or getting upset about tournament performance.  I will support any mentor who feels the need to do this.

§  Please keep your students at the tournament until the Awards Ceremony comes to an end.  It’s never obvious who is winning awards, and it’s a bummer when your team wins an award or qualifies to go to state and only a couple kids are there to celebrate the achievement.  I know it’s a long day, it is for all of us, but we’ve put in tons of hours and so have the other teams.  Let’s stay to cheer those commitments!  I also expect everyone on teams to finish cleaning up and making sure that all equipment is put away or loaded into the appropriate vehicles.

§  Do not offer video of bad ref calls to students for the sake of challenging decisions.  One student from a team can go to a special challenge box on the field to discuss a ruling with the head judge, but they cannot ask the judge to review video.  Adults are not allowed to challenge rulings (this includes mentors/coaches).  Mistakes happen, but the Refs want the teams to do the best they can while keeping things fair.  Remember Gracious Professionalism.

§  Do the tournaments seem long and boring?  Why not volunteer to help at a tournament?  The day will fly by!  Both technical and non-technical volunteers are always needed.  Training is provided for the positions that need it, and it’s a great way to learn about the current year’s game.  Check out http://www.hightechkids.org/first-tech-challenge-volunteers or e-mail Caitie at volunteer@hightechkids.org to get started! (Minnesota ONLY)

§  At the end of the day, celebrate what your child has learned this season—it really is amazing!

FTC Tip #1: Gracious Professionalism

FTC Tip #1: Gracious Professionalism

Students will hear this phrase over and over, “Gracious Professionalism”, but what the heck does it mean?  Here is FIRST’s description:

Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It’s a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.

In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

To me, this means that we work hard, play fair, do what’s right and we strive to make sure that every team gets a chance to do their best on the competition floor.  In this light, we should learn a lot and have lots of FUN!

How can mentors show Gracious Professionalism?

  • Have fun.
  • Remember that the goal of our program is to improve students’ knowledge of robotics,  engineering and life in general.  Students are choosing to do this in their free time and we want this to be enjoyable for them.
  • Listen to the students.  They have great ideas and the robot that they bring to competition should be theirs.
  • Make sure that team schedules are made available to students and families as soon as possible.
  • Do not build the robot or write the programming.  Mentor-bots don’t teach the students anything.  A robot that they build teaches them a lot—even if it doesn’t work, it gives them the opportunity to rethink things and try again.

How can students show Gracious Professionalism?

  • Appreciate your fellow teammates.
  • Be respectful to the program mentors.  These are volunteer positions and it can take quite a bit of an adults free time.  They are giving up time with family, friends, work, hobbies and relaxation to work with a group of kids.  Most meetings are at times when the mentor has already worked an 8 hour day, rushed home to have dinner with their family and then they come to spend a couple hours with students.  The last thing they need to do is fight for your attention.  I can’t tell you how important our mentors are—we couldn’t have teams if adults didn’t volunteer to help us out!
  • Be on time.
  • Take responsibility for yourself.  If you say that you will do something for your team, do it.  If you run into problems and need help or ideas—ask others!
  • Use your time wisely.  If you are at a meeting and you don’t think you have anything to do, see me or your mentor.  There are always awards that we could be working towards, documentation that could be added to the engineering notebook, or even organization or cleaning in the shop.
  • Respect the facilities and equipment that we are allowed to use.  It takes a lot of work to line up classrooms/work spaces, robot parts and money—don’t do anything that increases our risk of losing any of these resources.
  • Share resources with other teams when needed.  It’s more fun for everyone when teams are competing at their best.
  • Congratulate others for their successes.
  • Be gracious winners – don’t make other feel bad.
  • Be gracious losers– everybody has a bad day sometimes.  Please use the opportunity to think about how you can improve the situation and recommit yourself to building success.  Judges and other teams notice how you handle adversity—leave them with a positive view of you and your team.  They say engineering is 99% failure and 1% success, failure isn’t the end of the world–its the start of your next try.
  • Have fun!