Thinking of starting a FIRST Robotics Competition Team?
(To register a new team, scroll down to “Next Steps” – or jump to the FIRST site to register your team!)
Thank you for your interest in FIRST! Starting a new FIRST Robotics Competition team will take some organization and fundraising effort, but the deep satisfaction of knowing that you helped make possible the students’ exploration and excitement around STEM and robotics is a feeling difficult to match elsewhere.
The steps and knowledge needed to start a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team might initially seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that every team has gone through this and that many people are eager to help you.
While the robots eventually do compete on a scored field-of-play, you’ll find that the FIRST community has “Coopertition®“as a key concept blending both cooperation and competition. (For example, it is quite common for teams to borrow spare parts or tools from other teams at competitions!) The other existing teams won’t view you as an additional cut-throat competitor but rather as a new member of the family that they will eagerly share experiences and grow in knowledge with.
Welcome to the FIRST community!
If you haven’t already been on the national FIRST website, www.firstinspires.org, the About section has great descriptions of the organization’s history, goals, and the FIRST Values of “Gracious Professionalism®” and “Coopertition®”. While you’re there, take a look at the “FIRST sponsors”, “Alliances” and “Sponsorship” sections and you’ll see that there are hundreds of corporations that support these programs along with 180+ scholarships totaling over $25 million available to FIRST students ranging from modest amounts up to full scholarships. These show that the academic and personal benefits of FIRST are recognized by many people. While teams compete, it is all in an environment of fostering the students’ interest in the STEM fields and helping them to achieve collegiate and career excellence.
Most people who have started teams first start with a long list of questions and unknowns. If you are at this confusing point, relax, you are in good company. Our Regional Director, Patricia DePra, is happy to talk with you at any point in your consideration to answer your questions and help you understand FIRST and what starting a team entails. As your plans progress, connections with other teams in the area and/or a mentor to help you will be set up.
When is the best time of the year to start a team? Any time of the year, but the earlier the team is registered the earlier you can start receiving informative email blasts from FIRST and get support from existing teams. Registering a team does not commit you to anything at this point. There are no financial commitments until payment is due for the first competition that the team has signed up for (the due date is typically just after Thanksgiving) and even then, a team that withdraws before the Kickoff kit is shipped receives a full refund. Official terms and details are here.
There are, of course, some practical deadlines for your new team to be able to participate in that year’s robot build and competition cycle. However, we eagerly invite anyone interested in starting a team, or any team formed “too late”, to attend that year’s events as a guest to see the process first-hand to be better prepared for the team’s first year of full participation. Simply put, there are no unworkable times of the year to start a team.
The FIRST website has a lot of good information about starting a team at www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/start-a-team. You’ll see that a rookie team’s registration fee is $6,000. Since the hardest time to fundraise is while forming a team, there are special grants available to help rookie teams overcome first-year hurdles. Again, please contact the Regional Director Patricia DePra if you want additional information including rookie grants and the cost of starting a team in general.
A common question about the “Pricing” page is why the registration fee is $1,000 higher for rookie teams than for returning, or veteran veteran teams. At Kickoff, teams are given a “Kit of Parts” that includes basic parts they’ll be likely to need to build their robot. Rookie teams receive an additional kit of specific parts that can be reused from year to year, and so aren’t needed by veteran teams. That’s why the registration fee is higher for a rookie team.
Remember that there are many people who are willing to help you be successful at starting the team. Call Patricia and find out just how welcoming and supportive this community can be!
1st Step – Register your team!
The first key step in forming your team is to create an account on the FIRST website, and register your team. Even if you don’t yet have all your team’s details worked out (and most people don’t when they register their team), registering lets FIRST know of your interest, puts you on the email distribution list so you can start receiving useful information from FIRST headquarters as well as from local FIRST leadership.
2nd Step – Tell us!
The sooner you let us know that you’d like to start a team, the earlier we can help you. Most rookie team leaders have never started a FIRST team before, and have as many questions as you likely now have. We know that and have a wonderful group of people already lined up who are willing to help you. We want to help your team be successful and the sooner you tell us the good news that you’ve started the team, the sooner we can help.
You can contact us via the contact us page or by calling the Regional Helpline at 724-997-1578.
Are you on your own after two years? Not at all. You’ll find the FIRST community to be quite friendly and helpful. By the time our region’s formal two-year help program runs out, you’ll have so many contacts with other teams that you’ll likely consider our formal help program to be quite secondary to you.
Third Step – Start Reading!
The main FIRST website has a great page loaded with pointers to good introductory information. Reading this information will give you a incredible head-start in planning and organizing your team. As you’ll see in the descriptions, many of the resources pointed to come directly from teams who were once where you are right now. Of particular note is the pointer to the Chief Delphi forum. This is a very active discussion site where people from, literally, around the world will be willing to answer your questions or give you suggestions from their experience.
Fourth Step – Take a breath and relax.
Having a lot of resources at your disposal is helpful, but it can feel overwhelming if you think that you need to understand everything in every document or that you’ll fail if you don’t understand every topic in the forum. Relax. No team starts without its share of hiccups and you’ll forget all about them the first time you see the team’s robot out on the field competing with the team’s students beaming with excitement over their creation.
Are rookie teams at a disadvantage compared to other teams at competitions? …yes and no… Every year, teams lose seniors to graduation and have new rookie team members. Also, while other teams might have more years of overall experience with FIRST, the challenge for each year’s competition changes significantly. Therefore, every team is a rookie team to that year’s challenge!