Table of Contents
101 Things You Should Know Before Your First VEX Tournament
Copied from a VEXforum post1)
- The robot should be no more complicated than necessary. “Keep it simple, make it fun, keep it safe.”
- You can never finish your robot too early.
- Plan out everything before you start.
- Reliability is the best robot feature of all. You can’t win if your robot doesn’t work.
- A day of testing is more important than a day spent cramming one last feature into your robot.
- Always give your programmers a lot of time to test if you want a reliable robot that works.
- Test your autonomous code.
- Get the whole team involved in the planning and building process. Everyone's opinion matters.
- Engineering decisions should not involve feelings. Don't worry when your teammates don't like your idea.
- Adults should keep their hands in their pockets when work needs to be done.
- Remember that the measuring box is an absolute, not a guideline. It’s better to have a small robot than to fail inspection.
- Crazy ideas sometimes work, try them out, but remember that most crazy ideas are crazy for a reason.
- Zip ties are the duct tape of robotics. Make sure you have lots of them in all legal sizes.
- If the code doesn’t work, check the robot’s wiring, sensors and mechanicals first.
- Tighten your screws tightly. You don’t want stuff falling off during matches.
- Make notes and take pictures.
- Ordered List ItemCheck your batteries with a voltmeter; faith is a bad tester.
- Make sure that your batteries are charged, fastened securely, plugged in, and most of all, that your robot is turned on.
- Use a battery clamp, Velcro strap, or otherwise firmly secure your battery. Batteries don't help you if they're lying on the field or dragging behind your robot.
- Make sure all your batteries are labeled and numbered and that you swap them after each match.
- Don’t use your oldest, scruffiest battery in the finals.
- Make sure there are always batteries on the chargers.
- Build a battery charging station, and have someone in charge of your batteries for the entire competition. Your team’s Battery Boss can win matches for you.
At the Tournament
- Don't panic.
- Always expect the unexpected.
- Safety first! Follow safe procedures and don’t forget your safety glasses.
- Expect everything on the robot to break at least once. Have replacement parts for everything.
- If something goes wrong with your robot, don’t stress out too much. There will always be someone willing to help, and chances are that one of them will know what's wrong.
- If you want to do well at the tournament, pick your drivers ahead of time. The qualification rounds are no time to test new drivers.
- Give your drivers a lot of practice before and during tournaments.
- Have a neatly organized pit area. It is easier to get repairs done on a tight schedule if you don’t have to spend time looking for tools, and judges and your guests will appreciate your tidy work area.
- Never be afraid to ask for a spare part even if you’re sure no one will have it.
- Have a clock in the pits.
- Sometimes a team that you were barely paying attention to can end up being a really great alliance partner.
Remember as friendly as robotics competitions are, the other side wants to be a winner just as much as you do, and they will do every legal thing to win.
- Don't ever lose hope. Even if you're dead last after qualifying, there is still a chance to make it to the finals. Keep working to make your team the best it can be.
- Label your personal possessions, especially when you leave things in the stands.
- The best, most powerful teams are frequently the ones who are most likely to help those in need.
- Designate team members to be team spokespeople in the pit and then be sure they are always there to be spoken to.
- Your opinions and statements reflect on your team and its reputation.
- Bring your own extension cords and power strips.
- Shoot video and take pictures.
- Something will happen beyond your control. Don’t worry about it – that’s robots.
- Keep the same drive team and coach for every match.
- Develop excellent communication between the pit crew and drive team.
- If you're the coach, don't be afraid to do whatever you have to in order to get the drivers’ attention. Drivers need to be reminded who is in charge.
- Drivers, you shall listen to your coach and do what he says; coaches, you will give clear, concise, and calm instructions to your drivers. Arguing and yelling is for after the match – not during it.
- Make sure you turn the robot on before the match.
- Learn what every flashing light on the controller means. Check those lights before each match.
- Check all systems before every match. Use checklists. If it's good enough for NASA, it's good enough for robotics.
- Make sure your robot has the correct code loaded.
- Make sure your PWM cables plugged are into the right ports and are seated tightly.
- Make sure your communications are working before every match.
- A minute on the field waiting can last an hour or more. A minute during a match lasts about 10 seconds.
- Really – make sure you turn the robot on before the match. Important enough to state twice!
Strategy and Judging
- Always coordinate strategy with your partners.
- Have a scouting plan. Losers build robots, winners scout.
- Scouting is about finding great robots for your alliance which may not be the ones with great records.
- It’s hard for a VEX team with only five or six members to do a thorough job of scouting. Get parents to help collect scouting data, and work with some other teams to gather information. Analyze it on your own, but share the collection work.
- When you go into alliance selection have a ranked list of at least your 25 favorite robots in the tournament.
- If you are picking, you will find that someone else gets your top five choices so you need a good depth chart.
- Sometimes a great team with a good robot will outperform a weak team with a great robot. Evaluate the entire package – not just the hardware.
- Sometimes a lesser-known team will be a better choice than a “famous” one. Famous teams weren’t always well-known.
- Make sure your scouts are your team representatives for alliance picking. They will know who to pick; drivers usually only see their own matches.
- Bring white boards and markers. Use them to go over strategy with other teams and for posting match information in the pits.
- Judges aren't scary people, and you'll be surprised at how much you can tell them about your robot. They'll love it.
- Practice for judging just like you practice with your robot. Have a mentor run a mock judging session for you.
- Each person should know the whole story of your team and your robot.
- When talking to judges be enthusiastic and coherent.
Life at Events (Especially Multi-day Tournaments)
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Wear jeans, but bring shorts.
- Have fun! These competitions are supposed to be a blast, not a chore. Don’t be afraid to look like you are having fun, either. At least 20% of the people there are less cool than you.
- Drink lots of water even if you aren’t thirsty, and don’t forget to eat.
- Bring lots of water. No one wants to pay $4 for 16 ounces of water.
- Bring earplugs of some sort. Tournaments can get very loud.
- You will lose your voice.
- Jedi robes or pirate costumes make any team instantly cool.
- Get cell phone numbers of as many people on your team as possible. Put these on a list and distribute to your team BEFORE the event.
- Network. You never know how friends you make in robotics will influence your life later.
- Meet other people from other teams - they have a lot to teach and a lot to learn.
- Caffeine is essential.
- Caffeine is no substitute for sleep.
- Wash or sterilize your hands with alcohol. Don't get sick!
- Yes, kids really do cry when their robot loses. Adults sometimes do, too.
Marketing and enthusiasm
- Be aggressive in your onsite marketing. If no one knows who you are you might not get picked for eliminations.
- It’s impossible to bring too many buttons.
- Be enthusiastic. Yell, cheer, chant, and dance. Act foolish.
- Your team’s banner can never be too big.
- Bring a lightweight color printer to the tournament. Being able to print marketing flyers on the spot can be a big help.
- Get out of your pits and meet other teams. Otherwise, you might as well watch a webcast.
- Wear distinctive shirts.
- You are NOT too cool for a giant conga line around an arena.
- Don't be afraid to look around and learn from other teams.
- Have a lot of fun, remembering that sometimes fun and pain go hand in hand.
- Don't burn bridges. You'll find that standing alone on scorched earth isn’t much fun.
- Get everyone involved. Even the newest team member can have the one great idea.
- You don't have to be a genius to be good at robotics, but hard work and enthusiasm is always a winning combination.
- Help others as much as you would like to receive help from them.
- Specialize. Despite what Robert Heinlein said about insects, you can't run a team where everyone is responsible for everything.
- If you are good at only one thing, learn another.
- Your second year in robotics is your first year as a mentor. Always be willing to teach any skills or knowledge you have, even to people on other teams.
- Speak up when it comes to a major decision about the robot.
- Never let a problem with another team member get in the way of both of you having a good time.2)