Advice from Jack

 

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Getting Started - Advice from Jack


9-5-2013   Teams: Not sure what you are supposed to do? Here it is:
 

1. Form a team. No team, no fun. A team is at least 3 kids and at least one coach.

2. Register your team with FLL (http://www.firstlegoleague.org/challenge/startateam). Soon, or you won't be able to this season. You need at minimum 1 team registration and 1 field set. For 2013, this is around $300. If you don't have LEGO robot sets that you need, you can order them at the same time.

3. Decide who is going to host your team meetings. This host will need: a. A computer to program the robots, b. Space to put out the practice field, and c. A lot of LEGO. You should plan to meet at minimum once a week for 2 hours.

4. Start signing up for tournaments. Yes, you need to do this soon as you can. They fill up. In Massachusetts, you need to get into a qualifier to have a chance make it to the state championship. Once you are registered with FLL, you will get emails from MA-FLL.

5. Sign up with SYRA. To do this, fill out an SYRA Team Roster form, and submit to Jack Gregory with $75 (for 2013). This allows your team to participate in the Monday meeting practice rounds.

6. Have all team members read the rules, including updates, several times a day.

7. Start thinking about how you are going to solve all the missions.

8. Learn how to use the software that programs the robot, and make the robot do things that you want. It is harder than it sounds.
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9-3-2013  Be aware that you should not wait until our first meeting to get your teams organized and particularly registered with FLL. This message is primarily about answering the frequently-asked questions "How can I get my child on a team?" And "How do I start a team?".

Before I answer those questions, some background first.

The Sharon Youth Robotics Association (SYRA) is an informal association of teams. We do not form teams ourselves; we do not sign up individual students; we only sign up teams. This is not like Youth Soccer or Baseball.  However, we DO consider helping new teams form as one of our important roles as an organization. We know what it takes to form a successful team, and we can advise and bring people together. But do not expect the typical soccer experience where all the kids have to do is show up. Most of the work in FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams is done at home, and teams meet at SYRA meetings to practice, see other team's practice, and collect a lot of information which then can be used at home, where the actual building and programming of the robots, and all the work on the project and other aspects of the competition is done.

A team is typically 3-7 kids and at least 1 coach. Smaller teams of older students can get by with one coach, but younger and larger teams need 2 or more coaches. The FLL age range officially is 9-14 years, but it is unusual to have that range within a single team unless siblings are involved. Ideally, the kids on a given team should be friends, go to the same school, like spending time together and get along. Early on in SYRA's history, we tried the "youth soccer" approach, but it was not successful. It is essential to form the team around the kids, let them control who is on the team or not. Coaches are there to guide and educate and do some riot control. Coaches should largely abstain from team decisions. There is a large amount of information available on team details in the FLL Coaches Handbook that I won't repeat here.

Now we can answer the questions:
 

1. How can I get my child on a team?
The best teams are formed by friends. Same school/neighborhood/social group. Ask your child to recruit friends they want on the team, or ask onto existing teams. Some teams exist for years as different siblings and friends cycle through. These "experienced" teams are great resources. But if you don't have such a team around, the next best thing is to form one. Finally, assuming all other options are exhausted, you can add your child to the list "Students Seeking Teams" that SYRA tries to maintain. We do NOT do this on our public web site, only via email. This is the last resort, because teams are typically already getting going before they even see the first list.
 

2. How do I start a team?
A "team" is not just a group of kids who invented a name and signed up with SYRA. SYRA teams must be signed up with FLL, have registered their team and ordered the Field Set and possibly robot kits. The parents/coaches need to administer the team with FLL and MA-FLL to enter tournaments, pay fees and so on. All this happens outside of SYRA. At minimum, it is $300 or so, with additional costs to enter tournaments or buy LEGO. Then, when that is done, SYRA must charge for its expenses, which for 2013 will be $75 per team. This pays for our field set used at the meetings as well as a donation to the providers of our meeting space. If you need help signing up with FLL, see our web site www.syraweb.org, or the FLL website www.FirstLegoLeague.org. You must do this soon, or you won't have a team for 2013! Once the administration stuff is out of the way, you will need a computer to program the robot, space for the practice area, and in most cases will need to obtain or build a practice table, which is large (4x8 feet). You can get by without a table for a bit (by setting up on the floor), but you will eventually want to simulate a tournament setup, and this requires a table.
 

As you can see, there is a commitment needed to start up a team, and it can seem daunting. However, once the startup costs and big decisions are made, it becomes easier.



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