The Role of Mentors in FIRST Robotics Competition

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Every year, the same question is raised: “How much involvement in building the robot should the mentors have?”

Every year, the answer is the same: “However much is needed to inspire the youth on the team.”

Our mission is to create programs that give young people skills, confidence, and resilience to build a better world, and mentors are a key component to that in FIRST® Robotics Competition.  Adult mentorship is part of what makes FIRST® so effective, and it’s been core to our programs from the very beginning. This is also true for the support given to teams by non-technical mentors in areas like logistics, business planning, fundraising, and outreach.

Like I said at Kickoff last year, the level of involvement of mentors on a team will vary team-by-team and often year-by-year. For example, a team may have a student or group of students with enough CAD skills to largely create the CAD model of their robot with limited mentor guidance and oversight. The same mentor may need to take a more hands-on approach the next year if those students graduate and no other students have those skills yet. And, in some cases, team or school rules may require adults to handle certain tools. 

Part of being successful as an organization is knowing what you are and knowing what you aren’t. FIRST Robotics Competition is not a program where youth build a robot exclusively on their own to compete against another robot built exclusively by youth. It is a program where youth work both with each other and with adult mentors who help them learn new skills and grow as individuals.

Technology has made being a FIRST mentor much more accessible than it was when I was a student team member. The FIRST Mentor Network has more than 1300 mentors, technical and non-technical, ready and willing to help teams regardless of their location.

Remember that FIRST is about Inspiration. It’s about being to STEAM what the NFL is to sports or Taylor Swift is to music. Team mentors have been a key part of that mission from the beginning, and we don’t see that changing.

Two other notes on mentors:

There are no plans to remove the ability for adults to serve as a drive team coach. I think that some of the greatest mentoring can happen in the tensest moments, including right before, during, and after a match. High school sports have adults actively coaching during gameplay, and FIRST Robotics Competition is no different. 

Being mentored doesn’t stop when you graduate high school. Some of the most impactful mentoring I received happened early on in my own mentoring and volunteering journey post high school.

Finally, it just so happens that January is National Mentoring Month in the United States. To all the FIRST mentors who are changing lives and transforming communities – we thank you.