Updated: Jun 27, 2020
This season was definitely a lot more well documented from my part, and as such, what is written below was from my feelings at that time as a high school junior getting to grips with staying committed with all the various activities going on in my life. Also, as a high-schooler, and most importantly an adolescent, the competition was my everything and my thoughts reflect that. As such, my thoughts and opinions were quite different back then, so take this as a step on my journey. Without future ado, let’s dive in...
On more of a personal note, I have to admit that I am quite disappointed with how I pictured the team in my life for this season. In my first season, the new experiences were visionary and I fully immersed myself with growing and learning. Unfortunately, my second season on the team consisted more of just frustration and apathy towards the process of learning and being inspired. My main focus, whether or not I made it openly known, was to win and achieve tangible success, which for me was making worlds again. I’ve realized that winning is not everything as there are countless factors that make achieving this goal a challenge. With the aforementioned statement that there is no losing, only winning or learning, I have come to the epiphany that regardless of the failures we experienced as a team this season, they will only serve to make us stronger and better equipped to face future problems.
The build season wasn’t really too hot for me and I would change my choices if I had the chance to do it over again. I took my foot off the pedal and focused more on school, viola, golf, and the other things going on in my life. I went from having one of the largest time commitments to flat out third to last on the team (yikes). There were definitely a lot of new faces on the team as some old faces opted not to return. Once again, it was fun getting to do the rounds of shenanigans with the new group. There was that one time my friend Steven and I tried to balance ourselves on either side of a makeshift seesaw made out of spare plywood we had. That experiment ended with me planting my “insert that part of the human anatomy” into the driveway, but it was moments like this where all you could do was just laugh. Due to my lack of commitment throughout the build season due to other activities, the competition season caught up faster than I imagined.
I present Charging Champions' first AND only spray painted robot...
I present to you...our 2018 FIRST Power Up creation...Caliente!
Flagstaff would probably have to be the more disappointing of the two competitions. Although we performed at an average level, I felt disconnected from proceedings as a result of my decision to only come on the competition days. Personally, I regret that decision as I feel that I let my team members down just by not being present. As a team, you stay as one unit until the end. Moving on towards the actual occurrences at the event, there was foreshadowing of our lack of preparation and focus. When you are in a robotics competition, the last thing you want is for the robot to be plagued with continuous issues. As the matches took place, there was always the lingering feeling that we were behind on something, whether it be hardware issues or software issues. I observed the experienced, successful teams such as team 254 bring a functional, well maintained robot to the cue on schedule. When you are constantly on the back foot and playing catch up, there is no time for relaxation or a break, which can lead to stress and impacted performance levels. These problems, in fact, can be traced back further to the design process where I’ve come to learn that consideration for DFMA is essential to making a great product, whether that be a robot, an HVAC system, etc.
On a tangent, the emergence of a crucial component in the team, the Scouting and Strategy subteam, brought a sense of improvement from last season with massive improvements also being made in Outreach. I have to say that until the last few weeks leading up to Flagstaff, I wasn’t really able to connect with my teammates and I generally kept a reserved demeanor for the most part. I think this is where my health both in FRC and in the everyday swing of things started to go by the wayside. As I mentioned in the previous season, my sleep issues were quickly catching up to me. I didn’t openly share this with my team or even my family, but there were many nights during competitions and even throughout the entire build season where I couldn’t sleep. When I did grab some shut-eye, it was usually between 1 to 5 hours. There were several factors that definitely played into this: stress and anxiety among others, but there was also the fear of waking up with back pain and cramps. For most of my junior year and early senior year, there were very few painless nights of sleep. The freezing temperatures at Flagstaff didn’t really help my case of trying to keep my back muscles relaxed and activated. Once again, my teammates were there to unintentionally stay up late with me as we did the round of shenanigans as usual, playing group video games or watching Korean dramas. I don’t think I’ve ever told any of them how grateful I was for doing this, but I really did appreciate having company when I couldn’t sleep. On a side note, this competition also started my habit of packing heat packs for my back so that I could get through the hustle and bustle of competition days.
We’ll skip ahead to our second and last regional of this second season, Ventura. Where to begin... the drama, the excitement, the stress, the frustration, the nearly achieved success, this competition was genuinely one of the most straining yet thrilling regionals I have been a part of. Rather ominously, the practice day was in reality, at least for our team, a day of unnecessary compensation for things that should have been tested and perfected way before the competition started. There were plenty of fixes to be made on the robot, and it seemed like the initial plan of attaching on changes or making improvement would have to wait until the fundamental parts of the robot, such as the drive train, could be properly fixed. Now that it has been mentioned, it might as well be addressed, the drive was arguably the bane of the competition as it seemed to never stay intact. There always seemed to be a problem, whether it be loose chains, broken chains, incorrect alignment, missing shaft collars, incorrectly placed cam chain tensioners, or unattached wheels. Yet this calamity, and other improvements/fixes would have been unnecessary if the robot had been built with the same desire for perfection as in the pits during competition. There were plenty of mistakes involving a lack of attention to detail or nonconforming parts that were left uncorrected. While we can say that we made all our matches and generally extracted some level of performance from the robot, the truth is that our actions could hardly qualify as normal competition. We were scrambling before virtually every match, save a select few. The strain of playing catch up combined with the strenuous fixes, which were growing into a chronic issue, began to physically and mentally wear down the team, especially the drive and pit crew. Personally, as one of the pit crew, I felt exhausted at the end of both competition days and my recurring back pain only worsened. A major positive was the progress that scouting and outreach were able to achieve during this competition. The scouting & strategy team was key in promoting a shifted focus towards a new game element: the vault. This shift in strategy arguably carried our team into the knockouts as we were picked because of our vault prowess. It is only unfortunate that this strategy was not proposed earlier during flagstaff. There were definitely plenty of things we learned from this competition that we improved upon next season, such as better time management, addressing build issues earlier on so that we weren’t scrambling to participate in matches. Outside of the competition itself, it was the end of an era as our first batch of seniors would be graduating and moving on. As is life, we don’t often accept change as it can be uncomfortable at times and for us returning members, the seniors had been a pillar that season, ensuring that we didn’t fly off the rails. So quick shoutout to Jason, RIthik, Anish, Alex, Jun, and Ganesh. Once again, I found myself pondering whether I could step it up and take responsibility as I would be a senior member next season. I certainly still felt a lack of self-confidence in my abilities, and as such, I found myself spending the next few months debating whether to return to the team or not.
Although this season definitely didn’t go the way I would have liked, it was a necessary wake up call for the team in order to improve in the coming seasons. Personally, this season really helped me to see how much I enjoyed simply being able to work on the robot during 12-16 hour build days over anything else in my life. My lack of commitment to the team and appreciation for FRC this season (I’ll get to this later) ended up motivating me to dedicate more time to the team for next season and to take more responsibility (Spoiler: I decided to stay lol).
Ultimately, as a reflection on the above reflection, while all these desired tips and improvements made me into a more organized leader and product developer, in relation to the robot, I feel like I was missing a lot of the other aspects of leadership, which involves creating a positive team atmosphere and chemistry where everyone can contribute and people can feel part of something bigger than themselves. A lot of these external factors were things I didn’t necessarily consider at this stage of my time in FRC. In terms of recruitment, while my thoughts for new implementations were on the right track, my motivations behind them weren’t. I wanted to create an atmosphere of familiarity in the team by trying to get as many of my friends to apply without regard for fit or time commitment. Looking back, I have to say that was pretty foolish of the junior year me and it turned out that the people we ended up recruiting went above and beyond what was initially expected of them in terms of commitment and ability. The important thing to takeaway for the rest of my career is that it’s important to be able to build up valuable relationships and connections outside just your circle of friends, change and unfamiliarity is what makes us grow and become better people. This means building meaningful relationships at work or in the other activities you come across. These first two seasons made me realize that it was amazing to be able to form new memories and experiences with both my existing and new teammates. For any future FIRST participants, your teammates will eventually become part of your circle of friends that you can rely upon as you continue on your journey in life. At that time, I was still stuck in the “win at all costs, all business” mentality, which isn’t a healthy mindset and I’m glad that I realized this towards the end of my second season and heading into my third and final season in FRC, which I will get to, but that’s a blog for another time.
BONUS: A very Charging Champions' Christmas...