Lessons I Learned While Coaching Robotics

My son and his partner watch their robot maneuver the field.

My son and his partner watch their robot maneuver the field.

I just wrapped up my second season as coach of our school’s FIRST Lego League Robotics team. I won’t go into details here about what this program is. If you’re interested, look here. I’ll just say it’s a phenomenal program that teaches children 9-14 about science, technology, engineering, public speaking, teamwork, research skills and more.

That’s not what this post is about. This post is about what it and the kids taught me.

  1. Challenge yourself: Don’t be afraid to tackle projects that you aren’t an expert in. I’m pretty good at a lot of things. But, there are a lot more things that I’m not so good at. Building robots is one of those things. I can’t look at a box of parts and “see” a robot. I just see a bunch of parts. On the surface that means I’d probably be an ineffective coach for a robotics team. Likewise, I had kids on my team who excelled in one area or another. No one was an expert in everything. But they all worked on everything. They all learned. They all succeeded. They all had fun.
  2. Ask for help when you need it: See point number one. So I’m not great with the robot part. I recognize it, I’m not afraid to admit it, I seek the advice of those who are good at it. Sometimes other parents, sometimes books, sometimes the internet, sometimes the kids. Same with the kids. They learned from all those sources and from me. They especially learned from each other.
  3. Look beyond the physical: One of our team members is wheelchair bound. I found myself worrying I would say the wrong thing or he’d be excluded because we weren’t making things accessible enough for him. My son, and others on the team, didn’t seem to notice the wheelchair. This boy was just one of them. They were respectful of “the chair” but didn’t let it, in any way, define their relationship or interaction with this boy.
  4. Work together for the greater good: You won’t always be friends with the people you have to work with. Deal with it. Get over it. Focus on the task at hand. Be professionals. Get the job done.
  5. Laugh at yourself: I was looking for a cart. A parent asked what kind of cart I needed. I said, “one with wheels.” My wheelchair bound student said, “I’m on wheels.” If you can laugh at yourself, life’s hurdles are so much easier to handle.
  6. Recognize when you’ve over-extended yourself: This lesson I learned from a girl who didn’t return to the team this year. She made the decision on her own that she was involved in too many things. If she was going to do any of them well, she needed to pare down the list. She dropped robotics. She’s wise. I, too, have realized I’m over-extended. I can’t do it all. Some of the volunteering I do will have to be pared down as well. I’m dropping robotics.
  7. Above all, have fun: We put in a lot of hours during the last two months. It was stressful, frustrating, hectic. But, it was fun! If you can say you’ve had fun, and you’ve learned something, too, then you’ve succeeded.

I’ve enjoyed it immensely and will still be very involved as my second child will be joining the team next year. I just won’t have the word “coach” on the back of my shirt anymore.

P.S. The team did take home a trophy for their Innovative Solution to this year’s challenge.

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