MD FLL States RobotGames 20170225 13 20 26 IMG 9466Lessons Learned from 14 Years of FLL Qualifiers, Mentoring, and Running Events

FLL is now entering tournament season when many states and regions run qualifiers to promote teams to the state or regional tournaments. So here are a few simple tips to help your team be certain they will do as well as they can.

If you have a good tip you think should be added here send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Be sure to include your name, team number, and location.

  1. HONOR THE VOLUNTEERS:  Even a small FLL event requires up to 40 volunteers. State/regional events may has many as 200+ These are adults are willing to give your students 12 hours or more of their time to make the event is a success. Please be courteous and polite and appreciative and cooperative and encourage your students to do the same.

  2. REMEMBER THE ADRENALINE FACTOR: It will effect every part of your day. Students get excited in the craziness of an FLL event. That means you have to account for this in your planning. Make sure your project runs 4:30 instead of 5:00 minutes. Make sure the robot has extra time to get setup and run. Missions that ran perfectly won't.

  3. INFRASTRUCTURE: Don't count on it.
    1. Do not count on WiFi or even cellular hot spots to work. FIRST events are dense with technology and few schools can provide the amount of connectivity generated by a tournament. Same for cell phone data. The cell networks can get saturated and many commercial buildings substantially restrict cell phone signals.
    2. So, make sure you have key files on your computer or portable drives.
    3. Don't depend on any internet connections for presentations. Bring everything to the local computer.

    1. AND PARTS:  It is essential that you begin carefully storing, in a secure fashion, your robot, it's attachments, and jigs. Why? I have talked to so many teams that at the last minute found their robot disassembled, parts missing, attachments pilfered, etc.  This is particularly true in multi-team environments, but also happens with single teams. Identify finished work and make sure everyone knows not to touch it.
    2. AND STRUCTURE: Make sure every part is well attached and secure.  Why? We have seen may great robots that literally fall apart, even on the table, and particularly if dropped even a short distance. Follow the basic rules and don't depend on friction to hold major components together. Use girders and pins. While most robots will not survive a drop to the floor, you should do a short drop test, about 6-8 inches, which could easily happen on the table during an event. Same is true for attachments.
    3. AND FUNCTIONS: Practice and drill.  Practice and drill. Make sure your students have repeatedly drilled the table challenge to time (2.5 minutes). Look for time wasters like endless attempts to line up the bot, or find a program, and add an attachment. Video practice runs and evaluate. Charge all your batteries. Make sure they are fresh for each run.
    4. AND SCORING:  Make sure what you can do you can do.  The single most discouraging experience for a team is to score 0. And it happens. Whatever missions you have working make sure they work and practice practice practice.
    5. CHECK THE RULES AND GAME UPDATES WEEKLY:  Make sure your robot and missions are compliant.

  5. PROJECTS:  The project is a critical part of the FLL experience which is why almost all events require you do present to compete. Here a few simple guidelines.
    1. Gather your Goods: Like the robot, make sure all your work, research, boards, props, etc. are secured and stored.
    2. Drill Drill Drill:  In most states the clock starts running when the first nose breaks the plane of the door. Every second wasted in positioning and setup is time taken away from the presentation.  Drill having your students enter a room and do the presentation.
    3. Don't Guess on Time:  It is very discouraging for the judges to have to cut off a team at 5 minutes when they have more to say. Make sure your presentation is between 4:30-4:45 to allow some buffer time.
    4. Plan on Nothing Being There Except Power (sort of):  You cannot depend on any resources being available. You don't have time to setup projectors, tables, etc. Make sure everything you need is transportable and can be carried in. If you need power setup everything on cart, roll it in, and run and extension cord (bring a long one). If you need to boot a device, have it running on a battery backup. Need a table? Bring your own small table.
    5. Check on Spiffs:  Make sure anything you plan on bringing for the judges is allowed in the facility.
    6. Have a clear team info sheet and project summary for the judges.
    7. Be sure to check and be aware of rules concerning mentors and cameras in the judging rooms. Please honor this and don't complain. If you are allowed in, be "Harvey" and be invisible. Anything you do, even a harrumph, could jeopardize your team's scoring.

  6. Simulate Loud, Chaotic, Situations (like a real tournament!): [from Cathy with team 3054 in Marion Iowa] In the last two weeks of practice we play loud music, scream and yell, cheer and make announcements while the team members do the robot run. That way they get used to being distracted and have practice staying on task. We do the same with the presentation, but have the kids stand at one end of an empty school cafeteria or gym and do the presentation to see if they are loud enough for us to hear at the other end.

  7. THE PITS:  Your team can have a great time!
    1. ELIMINATE PHONES AND PORTABLE ELECTRONIC GAMES:   FLL events are busy days, but there is some downtime.  Bring interactive board and card games instead.
    2. BRING HEALTHY SNACKS:  Don't load your team up with sugar. Bring veggies, water, healthy crackers, cheese, etc.
    3. DISPLAY YOUR PROJECT:  Put your project board or display on your table and invite other teams to discuss it with you.
    4. MOVE AROUND:  Don't let your team sit all day. Take them around to the other teams to learn about their experiences.
    5. KEEP YOUR AREA NEAT:  'nuff said.

  8. TOURNAMENT: Know your day.
    1. Be sure to review the day's schedule carefully.
    2. Isolate your team's judging and table times.
    3. Make sure the students and adults know when and where the team needs to be.

  9. INTERVIEWS:  You will present your project, do a team work exercise, and have a technical interview.
    1. Review the Rubrics:  Just read them and know them. It's that simple. Adjust your presentations as required.
    2. Practice Teamwork and Technical Interviews:  Get some mentors to do the technical interviews. Ask hard questions. Do at least 10 teamwork exercises. Help you students work well together.
    3. Look at the judges or the speaker: It is very distracting to have a student just looking around or seemingly not knowing what to do. Make sure everyone has a role in each of the three judged areas.

  10. TechBrick2017ShirtsGET YOUR ID TOGETHER:  Teams love to look good.

    1. Make shirts (and have extra in each size for the inevitable accident).
    2. Create a banner stand (Use the $40 solution from eSigns:
    3. Have a team flyer.
    4. Our previous shirts for FLL, FTC, and FLLJr are show at the right. Click on the image for a larger version.
    5. See also our marketing/fundraising page here.
    6. You can see many of our logos from the past here.
    1. Make everyone knows when and where.
    2. Load the days before and triple check everything.

    1. Make sure you get a good record of your day. Download the Photo Guide for FIRST Events and Other STEM Competitions for tips:
    2. Even though everyone signs a photo release, be sensitive:  If you want to use another team's images, projects, etc. in your presentation, ask them first.
    3. Get pictures out quickly:  Parents love pictures of their children. Don't wait weeks or even days.
    4. Don't Block Others:  Be careful during the table challenges that you don't block the view of other parents.
    5. Obey Restrictions:  Don't go beyond the barriers or interfere with the challenges.

    1. Make sure you know where all your programs are.
    2. Make sure they are named correctly.
    3. Remove all old versions.
    4. Test Test Test!


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Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD USA

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