Transitioning from FIRST LEGO League Challenge to FIRST Tech Challenge may seem rather frightening. It is normal to be scared of something new, but FIRST Tech Challenge brings its own awesome opportunities. Last year our team moved from FIRST LEGO League to FIRST Tech Challenge. It may seem like a big jump, but the programs are remarkably similar!
This article discusses the changes and similarities between FLL and FTC in the team structure and formation. We will post other articles outlining other differences, such as the robot game, the actual robot, competition structure, judging, awards, and advancement. Stay tuned!
Basic Team Changes
Team Age Range
FTC is considered grades 7-12 in most areas (ages 12 years old through high school graduation). In many regions, this means that the FTC age range can actually overlap with FLL on the low end and FRC on the upper end. Schools and community teams may choose to participate in one level of FIRST over another, based on budget, resources, student interest, etc. There are a few areas, such as Michigan, that narrow this range. If you have any questions, check with your local FTC Program Delivery Partner (PDP).
In FTC, teams can have as many as 15 team members, which is higher than the FLL team size limit of 10 members. Many teams build the largest team they can with 15 members. That said, many teams are also successful with smaller, FLL-sized teams. We had 3 members on our team and made it to the World Championship last year as a rookie team and walked home as a Think Award finalist (we will discuss the award categories in a later article). We achieved a lot with a small team; you can too! Find a team size that works well for your team.
Coaches and Mentors
Just as in FLL, your team is required to have 2 coaches. These will both need to pass the same Youth Protection Program screening as in FLL on the FIRST dashboard. Coaches can be anyone: teachers, parents, scout troop leaders, or community volunteers. Coaches do not need technical training to become a coach. Of course technical experience may help, but coaches can learn the design, build, and programming skills along the way with the student team members. Once you have two coaches in the system, you can create an official FTC team and begin to invite students and mentors to join the team.
Mentors were already a part of FLL, but in FTC, mentors take on a greater significance. Your team will be partially judged on the recruiting of different mentors from the STEM community. You will be expected to reach out to find mentors, much like finding professional resources for the Innovation Project.
What do mentors do? Mentors are not expected to be at every meeting but mentors should talk to the team at least more than once. Your team can recruit mentors to give advice on specific areas, such as advanced math, 3D-printing, effective planning, using a type of software, etc. You could recruit a mentor for helping out with all your work in FTC or just a specific part of your robot build or programming; he or she does not have to be involved with all of the parts of the robot or design processes.
Mentors are very similar to a professional resource for the Innovation Project. You seek professionals from the STEM fields related to your robot and code to give you feedback on what you have done and what you have planned to do. Just like successfully getting in contact with professional resources in FLL regarding your Innovation Project, recruiting mentors is a trying process. Remember to persist and keep going; you will find professionals willing to help you!
Rookie teams have a lot of up-front expenses for items that will be reusable in future years of competing. You may be lucky and be able to share some of the costs with a sister team or be able to have items donated to you from retiring teams. Otherwise, in general, new teams can expect to spend around $3,000 (USD). Please note that some of these items will be reusable for subsequent seasons. Some of these itemized costs are found below:
- FIRST Tech Challenge team registration (US & Canada only): $295
- Local registration for meets/tournaments: check with your local region for cost ($375 for our region in 2021)
- FIRST Tech Challenge Control & Communication Set (reusable): $265
- REV Control Hub (reusable): $282 (for 2022, see FIRST’s note about supply chain issues)
- Kit of Parts — Choose only 1 for your team (some are metric, some are imperial —> not perfectly interchangeable). We will discuss different types of robot kits in greater detail in next article.
- Available through FIRST dashboard there are 2 options (at a discount versus the public price):
- Other companies have also made their own FTC kits of parts. These are also good and should be considered, but you cannot buy them through the FIRST dashboard (and thus cannot use FIRST administered grants on them).
- FIRST Tech Challenge Partial or Full Game Set for the Year’s Challenge (mostly non-reusable): $290 (partial)
- FIRST Tech Challenge Field Soft Tiles (reusable): up to $259 (could choose to buy cheaper foam tiles elsewhere, but the official tiles used at competition will be the “Soft Tiles” brand)
- FIRST Tech Challenge Perimeter Kit (reusable): $659 (could choose to build your own perimeter walls, and a DIY design is provided by FIRST, full size and remote)
- Other optional expenses: other miscellaneous robot parts based on build, team shirts, snacks, travel expenses, equipment (tools, 3D printer, etc.), etc.
Grants and Sponsorships
FIRST provides some videos and example business plans, sponsor packets, and ideas for sponsor relations in a “Team Fundraising Toolkit.” Check this out for ideas about the process for teams.
FIRST offers a grant platform for teams to apply for various grant opportunities. Some of these are restricted to teams in a certain geographic location or to teams having a coach/mentor employed by the funding corporation. Due generous sponsorship (this year by the DEKA foundation), there is also a need-based rookie grant for first year FTC teams. Definitely apply for this rookie grant your first year before paying for your team’s registration. Veteran teams may find other applicable grant opportunities through FIRST starting in the summer and continuing into the fall. You may have heard about FIRST allowing “regrants” to teams if they paid out of pocket for items/registration and later received a grant. In 2022, this was changed to allow no regrants from FIRST to FTC teams. So, delay registration if you are waiting to hear back about a grant application via the FIRST Dashboard.
In many ways, contacting possible sponsors seems a lot like contacting professionals for the Innovation Project, as well. Your team prepares nice, possibly long letters or emails to a gazillion different companies… and most times hears nothing back. That is to be expected. Companies have their own agenda and budget and may not be able to support your team. That said, some companies are searching for opportunities to support the community, so send out as many letters or emails to companies! The worst they can tell you is “no.”
When you contact companies, also ask for mentorship and inform them of volunteer opportunities. Although they may not be able to support your team financially, they may be able to help you in these other ways, which can help your team learn, as well as aid in judging (we will cover judging in a later article).
Don’t wait too long to apply for grants and ask for sponsorship. You need them most at the beginning of the season, and both are most available early on, as well.
Now you should know a lot of the basics of what an FTC team is, as well as some tips for rookies. We will discuss the FTC robot game in the next article. Then, we will talk about the physical robot, so you may want to wait before you start ordering all of the items we listed on the budget. 🙂
For a sneak peek as to what the robot game portion of FTC looks like, watch the video below from our League Tournament Finals Match 1 for the FREIGHT FRENZY 2021-2022 season.
We know this is a lot all at once. However, once you get started, you will realize that FTC is really not that different from FLL Challenge.
If you have any questions about this article or would like to see another part of FTC clarified in an article, feel free to contact us.
We hope you learned a lot!