Grit, Persistence and a Meaningful Life


This year I will ask each team member and their parents to sign a Participation Agreement to officially join our GambierGigaFlops FIRST LEGO League team.  This contract will set out the expectations and requirements to join and remain a team member in good standing and what they can expect in return for their efforts.

There are three reasons why I have introduced a Participation Agreement this year.

First, despite successfully ending our rookie year at the Ohio State Championships this past February we were run ragged, had a sub-par Robot Challenge performance at State and were generally burned out by the end of the year.  Some of this was the inevitable consequence of a rookie team making State despite switching platforms mid-season.  Nonetheless, my biggest concern going forward is avoiding the joylessness and dread we collectively experienced in those final frustrating weeks.  That bitter ending to our season defeats the entire point of FLL in getting kids excited and interested about Robotics and STEM.

We had errors in management and execution by both coaches and team members.  An unacceptable amount of our precious meeting time was wasted in large part because we didn’t have the experience to know where and how to focus our efforts.  Due to resource and other constraints, much of our team was left idle and unable to contribute in parallel towards the many demands we faced.  As the season unexpectedly carried on with each tournament win, FIRST LEGO League became an extracurricular of declining importance for several team members and even a burden.

This year we will have expectations from every team member to attend meetings and perform their assigned roles/homework outside meetings to the best of their abilities.  Everyone considered for our team can contribute in some meaningful way.  This is more about commitment and effort than ability, and it applies to coaches as well as team members.  We absolutely need to optimize every cycle of every person.  Given our specialized roles, interdependent teamwork and our lofty goals, non-performers will be an unacceptable disaster and lead to a repeat of last year’s failures.

Secondly, we will be drawing upon the efforts and goodwill of a number of people during the course of our FLL season, especially for our Research Project. This includes not only hardworking teammates, parents and coaches but also external supporters and experts.  It would be an affront to these parties to waste their time, effort and talents by failing to live up to the promises and representations we make to them.  In a wider sense, our team members and responsibilities extended far beyond just GambierGigaFlops.

A large part of FLL is developing a sense of responsibility, self-motivation and teamwork so we can achieve great things far beyond what we can as individuals.  I would hope that this becomes an emotional as well as intellectual obligation we feel towards each other and the sacrifices everyone makes.  For example, Jean-Pierre and his father (in financial terms alone) will invest thousands of dollars in setting up a remote Robotic Lab in Costa Rica and traveling to and from Gambier this coming year to help our team succeed.

( Being Perfect & Teamwork, starting at 0:18 )

Finally, I want buy-in from everyone on the team about our mission as an aspirational model for ourselves, our families, our schools and our community at large.  There is the potential we can create something of tangible, outsized and lasting value that will stand the test of time.  My hope is that it will also prime everyone for success along a wide vareity of paths in many years to come.

My wife and I founded and underwrote the first open community-based FIRST LEGO League team in Knox County last fall after several years of my unsuccessful efforts to bring Tech/Programming enrichment programs to the area.  The day I registered our team I had plans for spreading the FLL program throughout the community and began this blog to serve as a reference for future local coaches and competitors.  A month into last season I took on a new assistant coach with good connections into the local community, and we secured funding from Arial to create a robotics/FLL program accessible to interested kids in the community via 4H and the SPISpot which he now leads.

I chose to continue to fund the GambierGigaFlops because I believe that our community needs an aspirational model as well as the open access model funded by Ariel’s generous grant.  In general, there is more flexibility for small, self-funded community-based team like  GambierGigaFlops, and such teams consistently dominate FIRST LEGO League competitions at the highest levels.  In a word, teams like the GambierGigaFlops can afford to be selective in a way teams tied to an institution or foundation generally can’t or shouldn’t be (selective for some = excluding others from educational opportunities).  Our aspirational model is only morally viable as an adjunct to the broader open access model made possible by Ariel.

Humans are aspirational beings.  If GambierGigaFlops can continue competing with and winning against the best schools in the state (and possibly country/world), we raise the prominence of education in our wider community and inspire academic excellence (especially in STEM).  This is how it widely works for athletics, but only works for academics in a few of the most prestigious communities.  If we can succeed in demonstrating to local kids that no aspiration is too high, we can shift our culture which would be our ultimate and lasting accomplishment for our community.

( Change It, Embrace It, Improve It, Make Your Mark Upon It )

With my background in a variety of STEM fields, diverse industry experience and international and Silicon Valley tech start-up experiences I believe I can guide a local group of very dedicated kids to the fulfill this aspirational role for our community (especially for our Research Project).  However, FIRST LEGO League is centered around and driven by a team of kids, not their coaches.  If we everyone shares this common vision and commits to it 100%, we will achieve amazing things this year.


One thought on “Grit, Persistence and a Meaningful Life

  1. I would love to see the student and parent agreement you drafted. We had a student/coach responsibility chart that we referred to suring the season but I think an agreement at the outset and a parent portion that lays out expectations would be helpful for everyone. We also had a rookie team that made it to state and I think that by the end many of the parents and kids were very surprised by the effort involved. Setting expectations at the beginning would help everyone pace themselves and plan better.


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