If you’re reading this, you probably have a student who has joined or is interested in joining a VEX Robotics team. Congratulations! The VEX Robotics competitions will introduce your student to coding, engineering, real-world problem solving, innovative thinking, and communication skills while giving them opportunities to build lifelong skills and friendships.
The Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation sparks interest in STEM by engaging more than one million students in hands-on, sustainable, and affordable curriculum-based robotics programs. These robotics programs enhance students’ academic journey to build a talented workforce in various STEM-related professions.
Each spring, the REC Foundation releases new games for VEX IQ Competition (VIQC) elementary and middle school students and VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) middle school through college students. These games immerse students in hands-on robotics and STEM across the United States and around the world.
In VEX Robotics competitions, students do the work to build and code the robot they will use at competitions. VEX Robotics coaches guide teams through the season, helping them find and use resources and tools that will help them grow; mentors share their knowledge, skills, and/or experience with student team members to help them learn and grow.
Whether your student’s team is associated with a school, run through another organization like the BSA or Girls Scouts, or is made up of a group of neighborhood friends and families, there are opportunities for parents to help. Teams may have specific rules for parent volunteers, so be sure to check with the coach about any procedures you’ll need to follow.
Ways to Support Your Student and Team
The most important thing you can do to support your student and their team is to help your student cultivate a learner’s mindset. People aren’t born knowing how to build and program robots; it’s a set of skills that takes lots of time, practice, and repetition to get right. Your student will have to learn that failure is an important part of learning, especially in robotics. You design and build something, it fails, and you learn from the failures as you rebuild toward success. Some ways to encourage a learner's mindset are:
- See challenges as opportunities to learn
- Think about what didn't work, and what you can learn from it
- Add "yet" to statements like "I can't do it," or "I'm not good at programming"
- Understand that even experienced roboteers can learn new things and grow their skills
More Ways to Help
- Bring your excited roboteer, ready to learn and work at every practice
- Learn the basic rules of the season’s game challenge
- Read the team’s handbook, if there is one
- Read the REC Foundation Student-Centered Policy and Code of Conduct
- If appropriate, help your student understand the importance of sportsmanship and teamwork in a competitive environment
Things You Can Provide
Check with the team’s coach to see which of these options might help, and which fit within the guidelines of the school, organization, or club.
- Expertise. There’s a misconception that VEX Robotics coaches and mentors have to be 100% hands-off, and let the students learn everything entirely on their own. Adults aren’t allowed to do the work for team members, but they’re an essential way to help students learn how to grow their own skills. Common skill sets that you can share with students include mechanical design, coding, testing, communication, documentation, and presentation. The coach might also need another adult to help manage team practices.
- Funds. Robotics can be expensive, and resources are critical for a club that hopes to be competitive. Help the team reach out to corporations, local businesses, and other potential sponsors with the hope of forming long-term partnerships. Sponsors and donors can be recognized on websites or with logos on team banners, shirts, or robots depending on the club’s rules.
- Space. For clubs that are not school-sponsored, finding a long-term practice space can be a challenge. For a small team, the loan of a basement could be a big help. For a larger team, you might know a business that has spare space. If you have connections that could help provide a venue for a tournament, it’s a great way to connect with the regional robotics community and earn money for your program.
- Support. VEX Robotics games are challenging. Teams work season-long, and issues will inevitably come up among the team members. Parents can be a positive force in resolving these conflicts. The most valuable gift your student will get from robotics is learning how to work as a member of a team to overcome disagreements or failures.
Ways to Help at Tournaments
Support and encourage the students, volunteers, and coaches. If you’re in the stands, actively cheer for your student’s team and others during their moments in the spotlight. Be sure your cheering is encouraging and not too distracting to the participants. Help your student find achievable goals for the tournament—like scoring points in a new way, or improving the team’s programming skills score—that are under their control to accomplish. Celebrate every single success, and remind them that failures are expected and can be learned from.
Although it’s exciting to watch your student compete, being a volunteer truly gives you the "best seat in the house." Consider helping as a Judge, a Queuer, or a Scorekeeping Referee. Most volunteer positions at VEX Robotics tournaments require little or no experience, and most event hosts (volunteers known as Event Partners) welcome volunteers with open arms and immense gratitude.
Check with your team’s coach about how to sign up as a volunteer for upcoming events. Many events ask that each team provides a volunteer, so it’s another great way to help the team. If the coach isn’t sure about volunteer opportunities, you can find all official VEX Robotics competitions online at RobotEvents.com. From the home page, click on the block for your student’s competition then use the search options on the left side to narrow the list down to your area. Each competition listing includes a Volunteer tab, which usually describes how to sign up to help.
Teams that provide volunteers at events are often welcome, even at hard-to-register-for events. “We can make space for you,” is what your team mentor may hear when they call and offer experienced volunteers. As a volunteer, you will make lifelong friends and avoid spending a long day on a hard bleacher.
For a full list of tournament volunteer roles, visit REC Foundation Resources -> Volunteer.
Teams must be supervised by adults during competitions, and for clubs with multiple teams and a single coach, it can get tricky. Some coaches ask parents to chaperone or supervise in the team’s assigned workspace (known as pits).
You can support your student during tournaments by being a calm voice in a high-pressure environment. Robots will fail on the field, and drivers will make mistakes. Volunteer referees and judges might make decisions that you or the team disagree with. As a non-competitor, you can help your student and their teammates remember that we’re all just human, and that humans can make mistakes.
The best approach is to assume good intent from everyone involved.
It’s important to realize that there’s a huge variety in VEX Robotics teams, and the resources that are available to each team. Some school-based clubs can only meet 2 hours a week after school and only have access to basic parts. Others meet 10+ hours a week and have access to every conceivable part and tool. Time is a team’s most valuable resource, and a high-performing robot is probably evidence of a team with lots of time, a variety of mentors to grow student skills, and a good selection of equipment. If you look at a team and wonder how the students accomplished the advanced design, build, or programming of their robot, do it with trust that we’re all working under the same rules and the same student-centered policy. Helping your student’s team improve access to any of these resources will directly affect their ability to compete.
Things Adults Must Never Do
Everything that happens at a team practice or a competition should be a learning opportunity for the students. Students should have complete ownership of how their robot is designed, built, programmed, and used at competitions. Adults should teach instead of tell, and help students build the skills they need to work independently.
Ultimately, the students learn the most when they are given opportunities to test their own ideas, fail, learn from those failures, and try again. Often in stressful or competitive situations, it may be easier or faster for an adult to solve the problem or fix a robot; by doing so, the adult has missed providing a learning opportunity for a student. Coaches, mentors, and other adults must never:
- Provide a robot design (other than those from VEX Robotics)
- Build or fix the team’s robot without active involvement and direction from a student
- Write, or revise the team’s code
- Provide a team’s match play strategies
- Tell any team what to do during a match, step-by-step (including sideline coaching)
- Discuss the score or outcome of a match with the Referees (the team has to handle it)
- Tell a VRC team who to choose during alliance selection
- Tell a team what to say in a judging interview
- Interfere in or contribute to a judging interview at an event
- Write, create, or edit any portion of the team’s engineering notebook
Your Help Makes a Difference
Thank you for giving your student the opportunity to learn and grow through the VEX Robotics competition. The help and support you give to your student and their team will have a direct and positive impact on their robotics season. Your students and the community will thank you.