Coaching can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You are helping your team members see the fun in science, technology, engineering, and math. Whether or not your team receives an award at a competition, team members win just by participating. If it is your rookie year, enjoy it for what it is: a learning experience. Your goal should be to simply experience FIRST® LEGO® League Challenge for the first time. With a fun experience and meeting realistic goals under your belt, you and the children will be brimming with ideas about what to do next year.
THE TEAM'S FOUNDATION
At its most basic level, an FLL Challenge team consists of 4 to 8 team members and 2 adult coaches. That’s it! We encourage you to recruit more help, but remember that you can always keep it simple if you need to.
tHE TEAM MEMBERS
Your FLL Challenge team may include up to 10 children, and team members may participate on only 1 FLL team per season. All children must meet the age requirements.
As the Coach, your team needs you to give them guidance and provide structure, encouragement, and most of all, a fun experience. Lots of people make great Coaches: parents, teachers, engineers, college students, scout leaders, and more. You must be willing to meet with your team 1 to 3 times per week for about 8 to 10 weeks.
You are also responsible for guiding the team in developing its goals and timeline, as well as the planning and scheduling of meetings, visits, and trips. You are the liaison between team members, Mentors, parents, and Volunteers. It is important that you inform children and parents about what is expected of them in terms of their commitment to the team each step of the way.
Coaches differ in how much instruction they give their teams. A successful FLL Challenge Coach controls the process, not the content. A rookie team might need help learning how to use the programming software, understanding engineering concepts, or learning how to do online research. You and other adults can help your team learn these skills or concepts as long as you do not tell the children how to solve the Challenge. You are a facilitator to help your team complete its work and improve the way it works together.
Team members must make all decisions and do all the work on the Robot Game and Project. This includes deciding on strategy, building, programming, researching, choosing a problem and innovative solution, and presenting at a tournament.
Does this mean you should stand idly by while your team struggles? Absolutely not! Instead of telling the team how to solve a problem, try asking questions like:
“What would happen if...?”
“How will that affect...?”
“What information do you need to answer that question?”
Children become problem solvers by finding solutions themselves! We understand that adults can be just as passionate about FLL as children, but adults must always remember that the children come first.
A Mentor is any person who works with the team in his or her area of expertise for at least one team meeting. Mentors help expose your team members to potential careers in addition to helping them learn the skills necessary to complete the FLL season. The most important quality for a Mentor is someone who enjoys working with young people and wants them to learn.
When recruiting Mentors, consider their ability to work with the FLL age group. They need to be role models and commit to the FLL Core Values and Gracious Professionalism®. Talk to them about:
Adapting their knowledge to an appropriate level for the team members.
The team’s goals, the timeline, and structure of the meetings.
Guiding the team to find the answers to their own questions.
The importance of acknowledging all team members, getting everyone to contribute and participate, providing positive feedback, and encouraging responses.
You may want to consider recruiting someone like:
Engineer – Teaches skills the team can use to design their robot or complete the Project.
FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®) or FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®) team member– Helps the team work through a practice programming challenge, shares strategizing methods, serves as a possible youth role model.
Science Professional– An expert in this year’s Challenge theme, presents real examples of science in practice, advises the team on the Project, describes existing solutions, and recommends new sources of information for the team to explore.
Graphic Artist– Provides advice on the team logo, T-shirts, and presentation material.
Programmer– Teaches the team about programming principles and helps the team troubleshoot programs.
Potential sources for mentors might include:
Companies in your community. Many companies encourage their employees to volunteer, and some even have formal programs to match volunteers with groups in the community.
Service-oriented organizations. There are many social organizations with a focus on community service. You probably have some in your town (for example: Rotary Clubs or Senior Corps).
Parents and relativesof your team members!
PARENTS AND GUARDIANS
Do not forget about parents and guardians of your team members. Their cooperation and support are invaluable. As a Coach, you can perform all of the planning tasks for your team, but sharing the workload will make your team more efficient, reduce stress, and increase team spirit among all adults involved.
Parents and Guardians may be able to assist your team by:
Serving as a Mentor if they have relevant skills or experience.
Planning and holding fundraisers.
Leading team building activities.
Planning field trips.
Providing a place for your team to meet.
Making travel arrangements.
Or one of the most important tasks – planning snacks so your team never runs out of fuel!
Tip You may want to hold a meeting for team parents at the start of the season to set expectations and recruit their help. Parents may provide valuable help, but remind them they need to let the kids make decisions and do the work themselves.
Most FLL Challenge teams meet for about 8 to 10 weeks after the challenge is announced. They may meet for as little as 1 hour or hold multiple meetings up to 10 hours a week. It is up to you and the team to decide what your meeting schedule should be. A rookie team has more to learn and typically needs to meet more often than a veteran team. Some meetings will run like clockwork and others will be more challenging. You should plan to have some of each.
Create a reasonable schedule to start the season. We suggest starting with 2 meetings per week that are 2 hours long. You can add or subtract meetings if you need to. Research when your first tournament will take place, and plan backwards from that date. Don’t forget to consider holidays and school events. As the Coach, you may need additional time each week to prepare for team meetings. Spend this time coordinating help, maintaining equipment, communicating with your Mentors, sponsoring organization(s) and parents, purchasing supplies, and registering for competition.
ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES
Child Safety As the Coach, you are responsible for the safety of the children while they are in your care. Due to the age of FLL team members, Coaches, parents, and guardians are essential to team and child safety. Adults need to educate team members and each other on how to recognize situations that may put a child at risk, and take measures to ensure that adults who work with your team are reliable.
The Team Discuss team member responsibilities with the whole team. It is important for you to be specific when talking about each individual’s role and responsibilities.Team members will usually have ideas about what they want to do, such as: programming, building, research, marketing, etc.
Encourage team members to push the limits of their own comfort zones. Rotate roles so everyone has an opportunity to try different things. Children often discover that they enjoy a task they wouldn’t have volunteered for on their own. This can also prevent boys and girls from falling into stereotypical gender roles.
Work together with your team to carefully consider how you want to divide responsibilities. What would happen if someone had to leave the team or was sick on the day of the tournament? Would someone else be able to step in? Be sure to think through how this decision will affect the team as the season develops.
Here are examples of the roles or sub-teams you may want to establish within your team:
Researching – gather information about the Challenge theme, related real-world problems, and existing solutions. Invite professionals to share their knowledge with the team.
Community Sharing – consider who in the community might be impacted by or interested in your team’s problem and arrange to share your findings with them.
Presenting – design a creative presentation to show the judges your team’s work on the Project.
Strategy Analysis – analyze the robot playing field and formulate various methods for accomplishing the missions. Lead the effort to establish a consensus on the final strategic plan and think about risks and rewards of different strategies.
Building – make decisions about building and work to form consensus on the mechanical design of the robot among team members.
Programming – make decisions about programming and form consensus on programming for the robot.
Project Management – get everyone focused, make sure everyone’s ideas are heard, find compromises, and keep everyone on schedule with a timeline.
Marketing – design and create a team logo, T-shirt, or banner. Write a press release and contact the local media to increase public awareness of the team and how the team benefits from the FLL experience.
TOP 10 TIPS FOR ROOKIE TEAMS
From FLL Team: The Inventioneers, NH, U.S.
Remember, you don’t have to be an engineer to be a great FLL Coach.
Work with team members to come up with rules for your team at the first meeting. A few examples:
Respect others’ ideas.
Help others. If a team member is an expert in robot-building, she should be willing to help teach others this skill.
Identify ways to encourage each other.
It’s everybody’s job to make sure the whole team participates.
Let the kids and parents know that the kids do the work.
Practice asking questions to guide the kids to their own answers instead of telling them your ideas. Ask probing questions such as:
What’s another way to do that?
Everyone watch the robot this time – what do you see?
Where can you find more feedback to increase reliability?
Don’t try to do everything alone:
Contact veteran teams and Coaches for support and ideas. The Inventioneers are committed to providing training, Project feedback, and guidance to new teams.
Will you need to charge dues to cover startup costs?
Can the parents’ employers or other local businesses provide funding?
Get the team committed to a meeting schedule before the season starts. Members who can’t attend meetings make it hard for the whole team.
Make sure all parents have roles – even rotating ones (Assistant Coach, snack provider, fundraising lead, photographer) so that they become invested in the progress of your team.
Use good time management. Put tournaments on the calendar as soon as the dates are released. Keep the kids focused on how much time they have to accomplish tasks. This way, everything doesn’t pile up just before the tournament.
Keep it FUN!!! This is the most important tip for all teams, rookie and veteran. The kids will learn to handle frustrations and deadlines better if the element of fun is in the mix. Coaches and parents will be less tempted to “help” too much if there is an atmosphere that emphasizes the joy of learning and exploring new ideas.