We aren’t likely to forget our first competition…

28 Apr

Fortunately, a friend had prepared me for this very moment…

Just one week before the SeaPerch competition, schools all over the Philadelphia metro area had competed in the First Robotics Competition. My friend who works as an engineer at Boeing and mentors a high school FRC club was updating me on his team’s performance at the meet, and I mentioned the SeaPerch event. I shared that it would be my first time participating in this type of event and I asked if he had any good advice.

Lucky for me, here’s the advice he shared…

Steph. I’ve competed at and mentored for a lot of robotics events. What you need to know is that things rarely go as planned. Whether it’s this year, or next year, or five years down the road, one day you’ll show up at your event and nothing will work. When it happens, know that its part of the engineering process. It’s not because you were a bad coach, or because your team didn’t try or because you didn’t prepare, it’s just the way it is. When it happens, know that your job as coach is to make sure the kids don’t quit and that they just keep trouble-shooting the problems right up until the moment the day ends. And know that at most of the smaller regional events, the judges just want the kids to have a positive experience. They’ll work with you. Just stay positive and be prepared for lots of noise and mild chaos.

And so, with his message fresh in my mind I looked up at the kids and said, “We can handle this. You kids grab a crew and get up to the triage table. I’ll talk to the judges and see if we can push back our pool time. Come on! We can do this.” 

I wish I could report that the problem with the motor was a simple fix and that within minutes we were ready to try again, but I can’t. The kids spent the next hour and a half working with three college engineering students at the triage table. Twice a few of the kids who were down watching the competition came to tell us our name was called and that we had missed our window to compete. I just came saying, “Don’t worry about that. You stay focused on fixing the ROV and preparing for the presentation.”  

At 11:00 a judge came by to talk to me. He wanted to know whether I thought we’d be able to fix the problem to get it in the pool or not. Clinging to my optimism, I said, “We’re almost ready.” As our High School team had decided not to attend at the last-minute,  I asked if we could take our afternoon High School pool time. “Sure”, he said, “but you’ll have to meet compliance by the end of lunch and your kids will have to be fine competing along side high school students. We just want them to get a chance to get in the pool. Good luck!”   

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2 Responses to “We aren’t likely to forget our first competition…”

  1. Daniele Tedesco May 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm #


    You did a great job on this competition and I was very happy to help. I learned as much as I taugh during this experience. It was a ton of fun. Keep spreading the word about engineering. Engineers have the most exciting and most important jobs (second to teachers). We keep the world turning.

    I look forward to helping out again.

    • missgreer May 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

      Thanks Dan! I’ll keep spreading the word about engineering and you keep spreading the word about teachers. Volunteers like you help to empower and inspire teachers like me. 😉

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