How can my son/daughter/niece/nephew/cousin participate in a robotics competition?
The really cool thing about this question, is that the answer is very tangible. In this article, I’m going to tell you the exact three steps you can take to join a robotics team.
Set aside a couple of hours, and you’ll be well on your way to participating in robotics competitions!
Ready to get started?
How to join a robotics team in 3 steps
Like I mentioned, there are three steps to joining a robotics team. You may be here because your school doesn’t offer robotics or you’re part of a homeschool and don’t know how to join a team.
Before we dive into the 3 steps, I want you to really think about WHY you want to join a robotics team.
Some reasons could be…
- You’re already building robots and enjoy it
- You heard about it from your friend Sally, and she says it’s the COOLEST thing EVER!
- You want to become an engineer and being on a robotics team would look AWESOME on your resume
- You’re obsessed with tech and want to find a way to meet likeminded people
- You enjoy being competitive & solving problems
- You’ve crushed it at other sports, so why not crush it at robotics?!
- You’ve tried playing sports and you’re crappy at them, so this is probably a better fit
Whatever your reason(s) may be, just make sure you understand your purpose for joining a team before aimlessly joining one. If you have no desire to work on robots, wire up circuits, and write a bunch of code, this is probably not the right fit for you. Some robotics teams meet 20-40 hours a week (outside of school), so make sure you are ready for the time commitment.
On the other hand, if the thought of working for hours and hours perfecting a robot for competition sounds WICKED AWESOME, then CONGRATS, you’re in the right place!
3 Steps to Join a Robotics Team
Now, let’s talk about the three steps to join a robotics team.
- Choose a League and an Age Division
- Find Teams Close to Your Home
- Create a Robotics Resume & Send it to Local Coaches
1. Choose a League and an Age Division
For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST)
In 1989, FIRST was founded by Inventor, Dean Kamen. Today, there are four FIRST programs that reach over 400,000 students, annually.
FIRST’s mission is to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators by engaging them in … programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills…”
There are four divisions of FIRST:
- FLLJr: FIRST Lego League Jr (Grades K-4)
- FLL: FIRST Lego League (Grades 4-8)
- FTC: FIRST Tech Challenge (Grades 7-12)
- FRC: FIRST Robotics Competition (Grades 9-12)
Each year, FIRST releases a “game” that each division competes in. The reason there are four divisions is to accommodate the varying age groups and level of complexity. You can read more about each of the leagues by clicking on the links above.
FIRST requires an annual Team Registration which can range anywhere from $300 to $6,000 per year. This doesn’t include the costs associated with travel, food, team shirts, and optional items.
Now, let’s talk about VEX Robotics Competitions.
VEX Robotics was founded by Tony Norman and Bob Mimlitch. It all started out of Tony’s garage in Greenville, Texas (outside of Dallas). Their passion for creativity and problem solving quickly turned into a global movement.
The robotics competitions are presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation. There are over 20,000 teams that compete in 40+ countries. “In 2016, the VEX Robotics World Championship was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the World’s Largest Robotics Competition!”
There are two different VEX divisions that you could join:
Similar to FIRST, there is a new robotics & engineering challenge released each year. Classroom STEM concepts are put to the test. Participants can expect to learn lifelong skills including teamwork, leadership, communications, and more!
How to Start a Successful Robotics Program
Decisions, Decisions – Which league should I choose?
Both FIRST and VEX competitions provide the opportunity to work on robots, play with tech, build valuable life skills, and more!
Go to each of the websites and read more about the different leagues. You can easily narrow down your search by age group. So, if you’re trying to find a team for your 10-year-old, the FIRST Lego League and VEX iQ are probably the best places to start. Pay attention to the types of robots and equipment they use.
Here are a couple questions you can think about as you’re reading through the websites:
- Which robots would you like to work on more?
- What teams look like fun?
Frequently students will see a particular robot, and it’s an instant decision.
Since you have your league and division picked out, it’s time to find teams in your area.
2. Find Teams Close to Your Home
If you’re still unsure which league you want to join, it’s ok! The decision might be made based on which teams are located near you. FIRST and VEX are becoming more common, so there should be choices within 25 miles of your home.
There are two tools that you can use to locate a robotics team near you.
FIRST Robotics Event and Team Locator
Tool #1 is the FIRST Event and Team Locator. This tool helps you search for FIRST teams nearby. Select the age group and country using the sidebar on the left. You can also type in a Zip Code and search radius to find the teams closest to you.
VEX Competitions & Teams Map
If you’re looking for VEX competition teams, you can find them using Tool #2, the RobotEvents Map Tool. Choose your program and location on the left sidebar. Then select “Teams” for What and “Future” for When.
Make a list of 5 to 10 teams from your search. Include the Team Name/Number, Location, and league. If there’s contact information, be sure to write it down. We’ll use this list in the next section.
Also, check to see if the team has won any competitions. This will give you an idea if the team is kinda competitive versus very competitive. If you’re new to robotics competitions, then it may be beneficial to find a team that isn’t die-hard robotics. This will give you time to get up to speed without feeling pressured to know everything.
Finally, I recommend looking for nearby public schools with teams. If you’re paying State taxes, you might be able to join a public school team. You can reach out to charter and private school teams; however, they may only allow students who are enrolled to participate. Check with your local administration for full participation rules and regulations.
3. Create a Robotics Resume and Send it to Local Coaches
League and age division, Check!
List of nearby teams, Check! Now, let’s work some magic.
This step is twofold. First, I recommend creating a “robotics resume.” Then, you can use your list from step #2, and contact local teams.
What is a robotics resume?
Before contacting teams, I recommend putting together a list of all of your technical skills. This could include programming languages, prior experience with robots (courses, camps, clubs, etc.), building & prototyping, electronics, soldering, etc.
Now, you don’t NEED to write a classic resume. This isn’t a career fair.
I think it’s beneficial to have a list of skills that you can communicate with future coaches. If you ask to join a team that happens to be regionally or nationally ranked, then you may have a harder time getting a spot if you’ve never participated before.
On the other hand, if you’re new to robotics and are looking to build technical skills, then this is also VALUABLE to note. Some teams are actively seeking new teammates, regardless of your skill level. You don’t have to know everything about robotics to participate. It’s good to connect with teams, learn more about their goals, and see if theirs align with yours.
Gather your robotics resume, and now let’s contact some coaches!
Connect with Coaches & Teams
Remember that list we made in step #2? You’re going to want to make that handy now. I recommend running a quick Google search of each robotics team on your list. Expand your list to include Contact Names, Emails, Phone Numbers, Social Media names, etc. Once you have all the information, it’s time to reach out to the team.
Reach out to a coach, first, because they’re typically the ones managing team logistics.
You can use my sample email template below.
Sample Robotics Email Template
Hello Ms. Smith,
My son, Johnny, is very interested in joining a robotics team, and I saw that you’re the coach of Team #1234, the Golden DragonBots. Johnny has recently taken a summer camp where he’s learned to code in Python. He also loves playing with LEGO’s.
Do you have any spots available on your team for the upcoming season of FIRST Lego League? We live in Atlanta, but East Elementary doesn’t have a team yet.
Let me know if we could stop by your next team meeting! We’re eager to participate in robotics competitions!
Notice that the email includes the name of the student looking to participate (Johnny), a couple of points from the robotics resume (Python and LEGO’s), and a quick reason for inquiring (his school doesn’t have a team).
Try sending out 5-10 of these emails (or reach out via Phone or Social Media). You may not hear back right away, but keep trying! There’s a spot out there for you!
Follow these steps? Let me know how it went!
If you tried these steps, and you’re now on a robotics team, let me know your experience! Post a comment below!
I wish you the best of luck in your upcoming robotics competitions!