Congratulations, and thank you for coaching a team of students that are interested in drones, STEM, and being part of a team. Coaching an Aerial Drone Competition team can be an intimidating concept for some new coaches, but we are here to support and encourage you on this journey.
Coaching a competitive drone team is a rewarding experience, and you don’t need to have drone experience to be a coach. Coaches guide teams through the season, helping them find and use resources and tools that will help them grow. Coaches also recruit mentors to help teams learn and improve skills. This article addresses some common misconceptions about what a coach is and does, and addresses what a team’s adults can and cannot do to help students.
Who can be a coach?
Anyone with a passion for helping students.
We see many different types of coaches that range from educators in a school environment, to a parent who is coaching out of their living room, to a high school student helping younger teams. If you have the desire to change the life of a student, you can be a coach.
What kind of experience does a coach need?
Being a coach doesn’t mean that you are an expert in flying, coding, or even selecting a strategy for your team! No drone background or previous experience is needed. We have the resources and support staff to assist you, every step of the way.
Responsibilities of a Coach
As a team coach, you’ll probably be the person who handles all or most of the behind-the-scenes tasks for your team. Many of the things you need to do while forming a team are covered in the article Starting an Aerial Drone Competition Team, and it's worth a read. During a competition season, you’ll have a variety of administrative and educational responsibilities, including:
- Assembling and registering a team
- Buying equipment
- Finding space for the team to program and practice
- Recruiting mentors
- Communicating with team members and families
- Registering teams for events
- Supervising teams at events, or recruiting adult volunteers to supervise
- Helping students find and use resources
It’s that last bullet that we’ll focus on in this article, because it’s the task that will take most of your time as a coach. It’s also the most rewarding and fun!
One of your first jobs as a coach will be to find more adults to help. Mentors share their knowledge, skills, and/or experience with student team members to help them learn and grow. There’s a misconception that 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 are expected to help guide students in finding the right resources and grow their own skills.
At REC Foundation competitions, teams of students showcase their knowledge and skill in designing, building, programming, driving, and strategizing during match play and skills challenges. The Student-Centered Policy assures that all these activities are completed by the students with minimal adult assistance, but it’s sometimes hard for new coaches, mentors, students, and parents to understand exactly what it means for them. Before continuing in this article, make sure you’ve read through the Student-Centered Policy.
Adults may assist students in urgent situations, but adults may never repair or program a drone without students on that team being present and actively participating. Students must be prepared to demonstrate an active understanding of their drone and programming to judges or event staff.
In the next few sections, we’ll break it down and give some guidance for teams with different levels of experience.
Coaching Novice/Rookie Teams
Novice teams have a limited skill set, and are probably new to competitions. Although they probably have skills that will benefit the team—communication, using video game controllers, building from kits, writing, etc.—they probably don’t know much about how to program, test, and compete with a drone. These skills have to be learned by the student, and taught by a coach, mentor, or other resource.
As students begin to develop their skills and confidence, coaches and mentors should begin to remove or limit the support they provide for novice teams. Coaches and mentors of novice teams can:
- Demonstrate how to repair a drone. For example, a coach or mentor can run a workshop that teaches students about flight dynamics and principle or how to change motors and propellers.
- Describe programming concepts and debugging techniques that a team might want to use. For example, a mentor can teach a team how to comment out sections of code to simplify and target troubleshooting efforts. A mentor can also help a novice student learn how to use a programming interface or language, and then help develop a program’s flow using pseudocode or flowcharts.
- Help teams understand the rules. Mentors can help teams review the rules for understanding. If a team disagrees with a score or referee ruling at an event, it’s their job to advocate for themselves and work with the Head Referee to resolve the problem. Coaches and mentors can help students plan and practice ways to communicate respectfully with an adult when there’s a disagreement.
- Help students understand game play and event mechanics. Mentors can talk through a game with novice students to help them understand approaches to game play. Novice teams may need more hands-on help from coaches and mentors at events to understand where they need to be and when.
- Provide practice in speaking with adults. Coaches and mentors can help novice teams practice and gain confidence in speaking with adults about their team, drone, and programming to prepare for interviews with judges. They can also help novice teams review and understand the Team Interview Rubric, and can conduct mock interviews.
- Guide students in how to use a competition logbook. Coaches and mentors can help teams understand what should and shouldn’t be added to the team’s logbook. They can also help novice teams review and understand the Competition Logbook Rubric.
Coaching Advanced/Veteran Teams
Advanced teams have developed flying and programming skills sets, and most team members likely have one or more years of experience in competitions. They’re probably comfortable with one or more of the typical roles on a team, but individual members may want to grow their skill set in a new direction with the help of mentors. These teams don’t need much help with the day-to-day tasks of the team, like analyzing the game, preparing for interviews, and learning programming concepts. They’ll probably still need some guidance from coaches and mentors from time to time. Coaches and mentors of advanced teams can:
- Provide troubleshooting strategies for mechanical and programming problems.
- Teach programming fundamentals that students can later apply to their code.
- Review game and scoring strategies with the team.
- Cheer for teams during matches, and discuss matches with teams after they’ve happened.
- Conduct mock interviews and provide feedback based on the Team Interview Rubric.
- Review a team’s engineering notebook using the Competition Logbook Rubric, and suggest ways the team can improve it in future entries.
Building Student Skills
Coaches and mentors turn novice students into experienced, confident engineers. By helping students learn the skills they need to compete in Aerial Drone Competitions, coaches and mentors prepare them to confidently learn and grow throughout their future careers. As a mentor’s role shifts from teaching to providing feedback, students learn how to confidently use the design process to solve complex problems. Years later, team members probably won’t recall which matches they won or lost, but they will remember and use the communication, documentation, and skills that mentors helped them develop.
How do I get support?
The REC Foundation, along with our partners, provides support to coaches. Who provides that support depends on whether you need assistance with your team, event, equipment, or curriculum.
The REC Foundation
The Robotics Education and Competition Foundation (REC Foundation) is a non-profit organization that provides coaches and event partners with managers to aid in the development and sustainability of teams and events.
Our partners design, produce, distribute, and support all the hardware, software, and game elements for the Aerial Drone Competition. Our partners include:
- Robolink: Ordering, support and curriculum for an official Aerial Drone Competition drone, the CoDrone EDU
- Drone Competition Gates: Ordering and support for official Aerial Drone Competition competition fields, game elements, and trophies
Game Design Committee
The Aerial Drone Competition Game Design Committee also creates the game manual, enforces rules, and supplies the REC Foundation with support to ensure the success of event partners.
Where should I start?
Go to an event
Experiencing a competition first-hand is an indescribable opportunity. Look at teams’ pit areas and take notes of interesting or fun ideas to bring back to your organization. Watch matches and look at drones to learn some best practices for flying, programming, and witness student-centered drone competition in action.
Talk to other mentors and students
Each team and organization runs differently, and each can teach you something new. Set up a visit to talk with another organization’s coaches, and bring your students to network with members of their teams. You can search for teams and events in your area at RobotEvents.com.
Read though the articles in the REC Library
This platform is designed with you in mind. Topics include subjects like registering a team, competition event formats, judging competition logbooks, coding your drone, and so much more.
Reach out to your Aerial Drone Competition Support Team
We are coaches’ advocates and the go-to source of support for all things team-related, including registration, grants, and general team support. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.