It’s one of the most valuable things that you can get out of FIRST. Trust me, building connections and friendships with these other teams will change your life. There’s just so much to learn from other teams, and so much to be shared within teams that all you really need to do is ask for it. There are sooooooo manyyyyy teams out there that are 1000000000% willing to help and answer questions! Experienced teams know so much, and as rookies (with the learning curve being so steep, espeically with the technical side of things), having veteran teams mentor or help out will really be nice. I know that older teams can be intimidating sometimes, and you might feel like you’re not good enough to talk to them, but teams are literally the nicest people out there! Most of the teams I’ve met are super duper excited and easy to talk to. The first thing I always recommend rookies do is to create a Twitter account and start following/connecting with other FTC teams. There is a giant network of FTC teams, and it helps in a tremendous way to be a part of it.
2. Things are going to go wrong, and that’s okay.
There’s a saying in FIRST, “anything that can go wrong-- will go wrong”. And yes, that’s totally a hyperbole, but it’s there because there will be times when you’ll feel that way. Especially the week/night before the tournament, it’ll feel like utter chaos and that so many things are going wrong. And that’s totally normal. Most teams have extremely late nights before the tournaments and are almost always scrambling to pack and prepare. Things are going to fail, I guarantee you, and the way to handle that is to stay calm and start trying out different ways that you think might fix it. Freaking out will literally just ruin the fun and will get you nowhere (trust me, I’ve tried). That’s also another thing I love about FIRST, is how much of the real world you get to experience- the failing part. Before I joined FIRST, I never realized how failing is actually a good thing. As a straight A student, I couldn’t stand failing, but now, I embrace it. The only way to really learn and understand something, is to fail first. That way, your mistakes are memorable and you won’t make them again. The biggest advice I had towards this is to keep learning, keep trying, and never ever give up. Constructive criticism is your best friend.
3.Tournaments are stressful, but so much FUN.
Everyone is a winner. You might think that sounds super stupid, considering only a few teams actually advance to the next tournament, but trust me when I say, everyone is a winner. You are a winner no matter what because of the wonderful experience you got out of FIRST, the friends you made, the skills you’ve learned, and how much you’ve grown as a person. FIRST changes people for the better, and just gave you an unforgettable experience, so no matter what, you are a winner. Tournaments are extremely stressful, espeically for the technical team, who’s trying to last minute debug autonomous code, fix issues with the robot, and still make it on time to their next match. It’s hard to describe, and no matter how long I describe it, you’ll never realize how much fun it actually is until you go to one yourself. It’s stressful and hard, but boy, oh boy, is it a ton of fun. “The hardest fun you’ll ever have” lives up to its name.
4. It’s not only the robot.
I know we’re in a sport called “robotics”, but there’s so so so so so so much more than the robot and the technical side of things. I work on building, programming, and CADing on our team, so I very much love the technical side of things, but there’s so much that I have got out of FIRST than just learning new technical skills. It depends on your team if you want to be more of a robot team or an awards team (outreach focused)-- there have been both types of teams that do extremely well, so there’s no right answer. I would highly recommend doing both as much as you can. Doing outreach is extremely eyeopening. Learning the process of how to cold call companies to set up demos, tours, and sponsorship presentations and especially being able to go to these super cool events and tell people about how much you love FIRST is just such a furfilling feeling. I love seeing little kids and honestly, people of all ages get excited about driving a robot and asking me questions. These outreach events have really helped our team in judging, but also help each team member grow as a person.
5. Weird little FTC robot tips (that I wish I knew)
This is just a random list of some weird FTC tips that I wish someone had told me when I was a rookie.
- Most likely be last minute programming at the tournament
- Have utility code prepared even before builders are done
- Make scouting sheets (or at least be prepared to scout) for tournaments
- Stay active on social media/e-mail year round to not miss outreach opportunities
- Find experienced mentors or FIRST alumni to listen to your judging presentation
- Don’t forget “Deans List” exists
- Remember to talk slowly during judging
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