We closed out our rookie season at the Ohio State Championship Tournament which is a great accomplishment in and of itself. Out of the 450 FIRST LEGO League teams in Ohio, we were invited to State with 51 other teams. We were fortunate to be exposed to a lot of great teams, individuals and robots/projects that inspired for this coming fall FLL season.
None of us expected to have made it this far when we registered our team on September 30th, the day of the registration deadline. No one had programmed a LEGO Mindstorms robot or had any experience with the Technic outside a few odd pieces that come in general LEGO kits. We had a wide range of age from 8-14 years old and came from 2 different elementary schools, the high school and home school. We were mostly strangers to each other 5 months ago yet came together as a cohesive and well-functioning team.
The one NXT robot we had at the start of the season was a severe limitation on how much everyone could learn and how fast we could progress. As a Coach and teacher this was my biggest frustration since the Robot Competition is such a hands-on experience. In mid-season, we switched from the NXT to the eV3 in hopes of gaining better sensing from the gyro and more accurate sensors (color/light) which entailed a tremendous amount of work (with little payout… yet).
By the time our FLL World Class Field Kit arrived in early October and we had assembled all our mission models in week 3 one veteran team was already posting a 588 point score on YouTube video (which I didn’t share with you at that time for obvious reasons):
Our FlopBotZilla coughed up hairballs on Sunday. The morning of the robot competition it exhibited new and unusual problems (raw motor sensors started periodically reading negative infinity and stripping gears when it was programmed for a simple fixed rotation). FlopBotZilla couldn’t even drive relatively straight to solve our most reliable missions. Before these problems arose we were seeing scores well above our season best on the practice table in the hotel room. Once these problems began in the hours just before competition we logged the lowest scores of the entire season.
We didn’t have resources for the strongly recommended backup robot, an extra working motor and our eV3 software crashed on our laptop resulting in losing hours of our latest and most important updates. Of course we didn’t have an extra laptop or robot to enable more team members to help solve the problem in parallel or mirror our code. A number of rookie mistakes (automatically scheduled backups) and lack of resources combined with an unfortunate series of events (likely an irreplaceable mission critical motor) to teach us some hard lessons that day.
As frustrating as our robot performance was, we nearly aced the Project Presentation and the Core Values. We stood out in these two areas and walked home with some hardware to add to our rookie season – the E.P.I.C. Trophy. That was a wonderful redemption for everyone and the hard work they put in.
“What we discover is more important than what we win.” That’s one of the eight Core Values of FIRST LEGO League. In this case, you have the opportunity to learn more about yourself than gear ratios or MyBlocks. A hard defeat offers the opportunity to learn resilience, fortitude and a drive that no victory can. This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to stay on top in any field.
Our frustration with the robot competition was summed up well by Solvi, “In soccer I feel I have some control over the outcome”. Perhaps the biggest lesson from our rookie season is that the robot challenge is mostly about engineering and designing around the inherent and unpredictable errors of the Robot Competition. It’s a statistical certainty that we were not the only team to suffer at the whims of the the Mindstorms Gremlins. In fact, I spoke to other coaches who suffered a number of unexpected failures as well.
In this, FLL does a far better job of modeling the vagaries of life than the simple and unambiguous rules of a sports match confined to a rectangular field of play. Just like in life, FLL ultimately rewards those who try their best, face failure, and get back on the horse undeterred. Here is a beautiful rendition of one of my favorite songs that encapsulates this life lesson:
I hope this song resonates with you given our shared experience this FLL season. I also hope you are frustrated and driven enough to come back and do even better next year.
Congratulations Gambier GigaFlops on your outstanding Rookie Season !