We created some quick tips so other rookie teams can start their FIRST year (pun Intended) with a head start, avoid some common mistakes, and have a better chance at the FIRST competition. Good luck, and happy FIRSTing!
Before the Season
Make sure to organize your team efficiently and fairly (Either by committees, roles, etc.) and give roles to each member so that no one is doing nothing.
Apply for various Grants and find some sponsors as soon as you can in order to have some money for your team. Many companies would be more than willing to endorse your team in exchange for their name in documentation, T-shirts, and other media.
Skim over previous game manuals and see what stays the same over the years. This may be a good indicator of what rules may stay the same next year (This is not always the case however.)
Begin reading into the different Awards and their requirements qualifications and create some of the requirements that you can already make in order to save time during the build season.
Make a team website and social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Etc.) that contain info about your team for others to see. These help spread your team name to potential alliances and sponsors, and spread the FIRST message.
During the Season
Have the whole team read all the rules thoroughly before doing anything else.
Come up with a good strategy as a team for scoring and what elements of the game to focus on.
Come up with many designs for the robot (The more, the better!) and encourage all team members to create a design. That way, your team has a lot of options to choose from and everyone has a contribution. Provide constructive feedback as a team towards each design (What is good, what can be improved, etc.) and don’t shoot down ideas.
Make a realistic timeline for what should be completed and by when, and stick by these deadlines. For example, if you set aside 2 weeks for coming up with a design, and you have not completed it by then, make the best you can in the time frame and move on (It’s better a decent robot than an unfinished robot).
Set up once or twice a week meetings to keep everyone updated and to make sure that deadlines are being met.
Be safe, and always wear the appropriate protection and clothing for the task you are completing (Safety Goggles, Gloves, long pants, etc.)
Before the Competition
Prepare all materials and tools for competition. Pick what you need wisely to avoid taking too many parts (Spare screws, spare motors, some scrap metal, etc.)
Go over preplanned strategies and ensure that the current robot can achieve it. Make changes if necessary.
Designate a few people to be drivers (They will alternate to alleviate stress) and practice driving your robot a lot.
Designate some members of your team to be part of the pit crew, but make sure that your pit crew has people from different areas (Programming, Building) so that any problems can be solved quickly.
Make some costumes, a team T-shirt, buttons(Other teams love these) or other forms of media. Design a fun pit crew area that will attract teams and judges. This goes a long way for team spirit and getting your team recognized by judges.
During the Competition
Try to keep the area where people are working on the robot clear of too many people and organized. Tools and materials should be easily findable and returned to their proper place when done. This will maximize efficiency and avoid issues with trying to find the right tool when something breaks.
Remember the most important rule in FIRST: gracious professionalism. It is ok to want to work on the robot, but do not let this get in the way of inquiring teams and judges (Some judges are in disguise to judge this). Always treat everyone respectfully (Especially your own team), and be humble in both wins and defeats.
After the Competition
Reflect as a team on what your team did well, and what you need to improve on. Make whatever changes are necessary. You can begin preparing for the next year's competition by making media and pit area designs so you don't have to worry about them when build season comes around.