Thursday, November 14, 2019

Coaching FIRST, Coaching football

It's been a long time since I've written to this blog. Largely this is due to my kids having lost interest in the robotics team(s) and life getting busy. There's a lot of desire to pursue robotics and automation projects, but time and energy are fleeting.

I'm thinking about retooling this place to something more general. Perhaps about robotics and automation or perhaps just cool pics and videos of technology? Maybe I could tout some products? Maybe this could be just about coaching philosophy in general? I'm not entirely sure, but it may be a hodge-podge of a lot of things. I am kind of streaky like that.

I've been coaching a lot of (american) football these last couple of years and absolutely love it. I think one big difference between football coaching and the FIRST experience is that football coaches are typically "in it" with the players. That is, we tend to call the plays, we put in our schemes and we coach based on what we have learned.

Coaching FIRST was a bit different. For a hands-on guy like me, it was really tough not to try to do the work for the kids. Indeed, the FIRST coach is meant to be more of a facilitator and administrator; leaving the actual technical work to the kids and only helping "from the sidelines". With the younger groups I was working with (4th-6th grade) this is nearly impossible. It really requires a couple of the kids to truly captain and champion the team. Incessant prodding won't get the job done and surely won't result in good scores.

Just like in football, it's a good idea to play to the strengths of your team. Maybe the robot competition takes a little bit of a backseat to the presentation? Maybe the team divides in some weird way with one kid doing a lot of the programming, but everyone tinkers on the mechanical side? Maybe they just want to have fun and the competition is secondary overall? I think that's the thing that I got lost on occasionally. It was really just supposed to be something for the kids to do and hopefully enjoy. I think some of them did enjoy it immensely, but I can be a competitive soul. I'm also not the best at understanding childhood development and what to expect.

Perhaps some literature to the sort will help future coaches breathe easier. I do think having a teacher involved would have been very useful as well. Many of the teams were more school-based. It was even a tech-ed class for some.

That said. Like football, a lot of practice and work time is needed. In hindsight, one or two nights a week just wasn't enough and holding those meetings for 2.5 to 3 hours was too much for younger team members. If I were to do it again, and I just may, I'd recommend four or five days a week. Maybe a longer Saturday session and 90 minute long sessions during the week. Perhaps not even with all the kids each time.

Structure to the sessions is also a great way to keep things moving. Beating on one thing for too long will often result in resistance to that thing. For a 4th or 5th grader, changing things up every five to ten minutes may even be necessary whereas an 8th grader can probably grind on programming for two or three hours straight.

Anyhow, these are just some musing about what I might have done differently, and suggest doing in order to keep things moving with my/your next FIRST lego league team.

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