I am a very generous mother. I have given my son the gift of failure 3 years in a row. But I can't really take all the credit, the first 2 years were unintentional. There are plenty of stories about winning and books on how to have a winning robot, but this is the story no one else is telling and I am proud to have experience it so that I can share it with you now.
Year One. I was VERY naive my first year coaching. I dropped the ball on getting my son registered for the school robotics club so by the time I found out, the only way he could be included was for me to be a lead coach so another team could be formed. How hard could this be? I love Legos, my degree is in Electrical Engineering, I started programming when I was 11-years-old AND I had 5 years of experience teaching Computer Science at ACC. I was more prepared than anyone I know to take on this challenge.
What I didn't realize is that 9-year-old children get distracted within 30 seconds of you lecturing to them, they think they know more than you and will ignore everything you tell them to prove it, and they feel no need to hide it from you when they are bored (with a few exceptions). Out of utter despair a month before the competition, I started inviting children for one-on-one coaching in hopes that someone could get points on the board (surely this teamwork think was a pipe dream) and I committed the ultimate sin. I did some of the work (okay, I did a lot of the work, but I did let them do some of it).
Well, I don't have to tell you how that turned out, but I will. The children that I *coached* on how the robot worked made absolutely no mention of the design features during the robot design interview, and the children that ran chaotic through my meetings were very well-spoken, could answer the judges questions directly and even rescued the project presentation when one of the kids forgot his lines (though it's possible he never knew them). But mostly they were really good at just winging it which wasn't enough to make much of an impression on the judges.
I never back down from a challenge. After I went through my 5 stages of grief, I emerged more determined then ever that I would fix everything that went wrong the first year.
Year Two, First Reboot. This time I started a private club because I wanted to make sure I didn't have any equipment issues (from 5 year laptops that had no WIFI, bluetooth or USB ports) and that I could remove children that weren't there to learn robotics. I had good intentions, and I knew that I could not help do any of their robot design or missions for them, which I am proud to say is probably my only achievement that year. But my ultimate sin is that I still wanted to win and once again started getting too involved in the Project presentation and in the process probably alienated some parents (most of them don't speak to me anymore). I realized my error at our last rehearsal before the competition when the boys weren't very focused and a parent directed them to "show that you did the work" and her son said "but we didn't." I knew all was lost at that very moment. Perhaps their disinterest wasn't that they all had ADHD, but that they didn't feel any ownership of something they didn't work very hard for. And they couldn't feel gratitude for the help that they didn't really request.
Okay, I learned my lesson, I can't do any of the robot work AND I can't do any of the project work. How can I possibly get it wrong again. I was going to be ready for year three.
Year Three, Second Reboot. This time I would insist that they did all of their robot work and project work, but I had a lot of energy and determination to spare, so I busied myself planning workshops and scrimmages. I had already judged at multiple events at the end of my second season to gather as much knowledge as possible so that I could *advise* my team. I was going to coach the core values team that knew intimately what Coopertition meant. But as I hosted each event, my teams ran and hid in their rooms to play. I had no pictures of them helping to build the 15 competition tables for the league, because they didn't (though their parents did help and for that I am very grateful). I started the season with no expectations of winning that year, but had at least hoped that they would have lots to talk about in their Core Values interview. They didn't. Because they didn't do any of the Coopertition work, they didn't find any of it worth mentioning.
A week before our qualifier after my son had spent most of his meetings goofing off because as he puts it: "I thought you wanted me to have fun. That's a core value right?" and all their missions were broken because they had made so many changes without retesting, I finally told him to go ahead and program as many missions as he could alone since we didn't figure out how to do it as a team. We were unlikely to qualify, but wanted to see what he could do if there was no pressure to perform. He finished 110 points worth of missions 3 days later.
As we had our last meeting the night before the qualifier I heard him say to his teammates, "Why weren't we programming since Week 1?". We went to our qualifier and scored 65 points out of the possible 110 that he had prepared and did not qualify as I expected. The difference is that unlike previous years when he felt no ownership of the work and hated losing and didn't want to participate again, this time he came away from the event inspired (it helped that the Immortals showed them their project and also asked them about his project). His eyes had been opened. He presented his own work, but realized he could have done better and couldn't wait to prove to himself that he could. He asked me when he would age out and was excited that he has 3 more tries to get to World.
Trying to put a positive spin on it, I told him he was very close, had he been able to execute on his planned missions he could have qualified. He replied, "I don't want to qualify on the robot score alone, it has to be the whole picture. We need to meet next Friday and start preparing for next season now!". We will at least wait until after the holiday.
There are only 3 categories of judging. I am totally ready for year 4. Rebooting now...
Stay tuned for the rest of the story, we have 3 more years to write it.
FLL Coach since 2015