How to Prep for an Event

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It is well into the FIRST Tech Challenge Season and events are in full swing. If your team has not done so, make sure to connect with your local Affiliate Partner and register! If your event is just around the corner, this blog post is for you.

Events can be stressful, not only for Rookie teams, but also Veterans. You may ask yourself, “Do you have all the tools you will need? Do you have your Engineering Notebook? Did you remember to pack the Robot?”

What to Pack

When asked what to pack, the same response is often given by Veteran teams, “Pack everything… and just in case, pack it twice.” The point they are getting at is that at an Event, you never know exactly what you will need. Your Robot could break down during a Match and you will need spare parts; the code you have been working weeks on may not initiate properly and you will need your laptop to proofread; your team may want to show off their team spirit and pride with team swag, banners, and an exciting pit display. To ease things, here are some areas you want to keep in mind while packing:

  • Tools
  • Spare parts
  • Safety glasses (enough for team, mentors, parents, friends)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Extra surge protector
  • Phone chargers
  • Battery chargers
  • Gamepads
  • Phones
  • Laptop
  • Engineering Notebook
  • Team Swag and pit display
  • Your Robot

How to Prepare

  • Practice, Practice, Practice – Test, Test, Test – Practice your presentation, practice for your judge interviews, practice driving your Robot; test your programming, test your autonomous mode, test every part of your Robot. Practice and Testing are how top teams prepare for their events.
  • Understand the Rules – Make sure your team has read Game Manual Part I and II. Not only do they include the game and tournament rules, but they go over the criteria for each Judge Award. The more you understand before Event Day the easier your Event will go.
  • Understand Judge Interview Process – Judge Interviews occur first thing for Events (with the exception of League Meets). Download and review the Team Judging Self-Reflection. Practice in front of friends, family, and strangers to help prepare for your Judge Interview. Remember to keep current on your Engineering Notebook (review the Engineering Notebook Guidelines) and continue even after the Event concludes.
  • Pack – How are you traveling to your Event? That changes how much and what type of packing you will be able to do. Traveling by Car?  Truck and trailer? Airplane? How far away your event may also play a factor into your packing plans. Make sure to plan ahead and pack the essentials. Create a packing list for both checking everything is packed away (and where they are located), as well as to make sure they return home with you.
  • Get Excited! – Everything you have worked hard for is here. Get excited and make sure to have fun!

FTC Tip #8: The Interview

• Relax.  Smile.  Enjoy the experience.  The judges are usually involved as mentors with other FLL, FTC and FRC teams.  They are not expecting perfection from you; they just want to understand what you have learned, what your robot can do and what your team is doing for the community.  These volunteers want you to have a positive experience while gaining experience with public speaking.

• Interviews last about 10 minutes.

• Be on time, interviews cannot be rescheduled.  Interviews take priority over other scheduled tasks.  You can always go back to Inspections after your interview is complete.  If you arrive late for your interview, do not expect to be given the full 10 minutes!

• Plan to have a 5-minute presentation ready, and be ready to answer Judge questions afterwards.

• Everyone on the team is expected to speak in the interview.

• It is perfectly fine to use paper or note cards during the interview.  Try not to read directly from them, but use them to make sure that you talked about the important stuff.

• Have a ‘Point Person’ who will lead the interview for the team.  They will introduce different team members and functions, and they are responsible for watching the time to make sure that everything that is important is talked about in the time given.

• Topic examples that different members can talk about:
– Design
– Engineering (can break this down by parts of the robot, drive system, arm, etc.)
– Programming and Electronics
– Outreach
– Notebook (refer judges to look at certain pages in the notebook that you want them to take notice of, give them time to see the page before telling them about the next page you’d like them to see.)
– Social Media
– CAD (bring examples of 3D Printed parts and hand them to the Judges while you are discussing what your team has created.)  Make sure to know where CAD files came from if you got them off of the internet, or if it is a team designed part, talk about where you got your ideas from.)

• Judges may ask you any questions, whenever possible don’t say “I don’t know anything about that, Bob can tell you.”  Answer the best that you can, if Bob feels like chiming in after your response is completed, that’s OK too.

• Don’t lie!  It’s not that hard for judges to check out what you are saying.

• If you don’t know something, it is OK to say it, but answer with a positive reply like, “That’s a great question and I don’t know the answer right now—but, I’m looking forward to learning the answer as soon as I can!”  Follow through with learning the answer before your next competition as it is possible to get the same Judge at multiple tournaments.

• Keep things positive.  Don’t bring up negative ideas, unless you are specifically asked about them, then be truthful.  Attitude counts for a lot here.

• Mentors may attend the Interview, but they must not speak or give the team clues on how to answer questions.  I try to sit in a spot where the team can’t easily see me so that I don’t accidently influence them.  Take notes to offer suggestions for improvements for next time.

• Teams are getting more savvy on ways to leave a lasting impression on the Judges.  FTC Team 7588 has left pens and buttons with our logo on them for Judges, and Retired FTC Team 7655 – The Q is Silqent from Eagan, MN has left the Judges with “Q-Tips” (Q-Tips are short robotics tips/ideas taped to lollipops.)

• You will be leaving your Engineering Notebook with the Judges at the end of your interview.  They will be reviewing it as it applies to the various awards.  You will get your Notebook back at the end of the Awards Ceremony at the end of the day.

• If you are applying for the Control Award, make sure that your submission form is included with your Notebook and that you mention to the Judges that you are applying for the Award during your interview.  This should be the job of the ‘Point Person’.

Thank you to Retired FTC Team 7655 – The Q is Silqent (Eagan, MN) for these tips and experiences!

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.