VERTEX Advice Series: FIRST 101 Overview

What is FIRST?

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a global robotics program dedicated to inspiring students to become the STEM and technology leaders of tomorrow. The nonprofit runs five major robotics competitions to accommodate students anywhere from 4 years old to 18, including the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the FIRST LEGO League Challenge (FLL), FIRST LEGO League Explore, and FIRST LEGO League Discover.

Why should I join or create a team?

You don’t need to have any experience with robotics to start: the whole point is to learn! Moreover, FIRST isn’t just robotics. It’s much more than that. Joining FIRST at any stage provides you, your teammates, and the hundreds of thousands of other students in FIRST with a safe, productive, and most importantly, Gracious Professional environment. 

⚠️ What is Gracious Professionalism? Gracious Professionalism is a main theme of FIRST, and it’s one of the main parts that sets it apart from all other competitions. In practice, it means that everyone competes not to knock each other down, but instead to build each other up and bring the best out of every team. Only when we respect others can we all advance!

In addition to Gracious Professionalism, joining a FIRST robotics team will allow you to experience the thrill of competition while being able to help your community through community outreach. You’ll make new friends, establish new connections, find networking opportunities, and work with role models and mentors (you can even be a mentor!). FIRST will help you build new skills, including teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving. Additionally, FIRST provides many scholarship opportunities to help you pursue your passions!

Which robotics competition is for me?

There are five different competitions organized by FIRST:

FLL Discover

  • For students in grades PreK – 1st grade
  • Students create builds out of LEGO Duplo Bricks
  • Great for young and curious minds ready to combine play with solving real-world problems!

FLL Explore

  • For 2nd-4th grade students
  • Robots built out of LEGO bricks and LEGO Education WeDo 2.0
  • This is the ideal introduction to robotics for elementary students with no prior engineering or robotics experience

FLL Challenge

  • For 4th-8th grade students
  • Robots are built of LEGO Mindstorms parts
  • More complex and robust robots for competitive competitions
  • Perfect for middle school students ready for an awesome robotics competition before entering the high school robotics stage!


  • For 7th-12th grade students
  • Robots can be built from parts from a variety of sources (with some restrictions and size limits), allowing for more freedom than before
  • A bigger field and more complex tasks allow for an opportunity to learn about advanced programming skills!
  • A great place to learn about engineering and programming methods, while requiring less time and money that FRC might


  • For high schoolers (9th-12th graders)
  • Does unfortunately require quite a bit of funding to build robots and compete, however there are many opportunities for sponsorships!
  • FRC robots allow the largest amount of freedom thanks to the variety of robot parts
  • FRC has the largest robots and field (up to 28″ by 38″ by 60” before in-game expansions)
  • An increased number of competitors doesn’t mean less fun, as one can quickly see in FRC! FRC has the largest community of teams, allowing for a more fun, engaging, and productive learning environment.

Learn more at FIRST’s Website!

What is the VERTEX Advice Series?

Building a robot is hard, but what’s arguably even harder is building a robotics team. We know the challenges of starting teams, finding resources and help, and improving all aspects of robotics teams. That’s where we, team VERTEX 15534, come in! The goal of our advice series is to provide a reference for teams at any stage about robotics and what it takes to bring your team to the next level.

Do you have lingering questions, concerns, or ideas on what would be helpful for you? We want to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment below or contact us through our Instagram (@ftcvertex) or email ([email protected]).

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