FIRST 101: Gracious Professionalism and Team Challenges

1. Gracious Professionalism

“The mission of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

– FIRST Mission Statement. 

One of the aspects of FIRST that people realize when they join is that building a robot is not the only part of robotics competitions. FIRST emphasizes the soft skills just as much as the hard skills and the robotics setting in which these soft skills grow. One of the philosophies and life skills that FIRST stresses is Gracious Professionalism. If you have watched any FIRST videos or have browsed the FIRST website, you probably have heard of this term. Gracious Professionalism is an important concept in robotics and is one of the main aspects that set FIRST apart from other competitions. In practice, it means that everyone should compete not to knock each other down, but to build each other up and bring the best out of every team. Only when we respect others can we all advance!

What does it mean to us and FIRST?
Gracious Professionalism means working with each other and learning without showing poor sportsmanship, a bad attitude, or selfishness. Teams are at their strongest when every member is a vital part of the team. To us, Gracious Professionalism is more than about following FIRST guidelines. It also means going above and beyond, such as helping teams who ask for robot parts and being professional when your alliance partner’s robot makes a mistake. Gracious Professionalism is closely related to “coopertition,” another term important to FIRST that is a combination of cooperation and competition. Even though teams compete with others, the main goal of robotics is not only winning the competition but also about learning to work with others, and showing kindness and respect. Overall, there should be a balance between competition and courtesy: “With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions… Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.” (FIRST,

2. Team Challenges

Challenges within Subgroups

There are three main subgroups in FIRST competitions: mechanical, programming, and outreach. For a team to be successful, each subgroup must achieve their goals and work together before and during competition. Each subgroup should have both general goals and personal goals. A general goal would be what the end product should look like after meetings, and personal goals check that every person contributed to the general goal. 

One main challenge that team members face is feeling left out when they don’t know what to do and have not been given any work from the subgroup leaders. They may feel like they cannot do much if the subgroup leaders control everything that happens. It is just as important that the subgroup leaders allow others to contribute as it is for other members to show initiative. This is important for many reasons. First, it brings team members closer together. Second, the diversity of thought brings out the best product, and this applies to every subgroup. People should confer with other team members to get more ideas. 

Another challenge is dealing with people who have differing opinions about going about a certain task. You must have good communication with your peers and your mentors. Every subgroup is crucial in FIRST and should be working together. This is especially important for hardware and software. Hardware changes influence software changes. In addition, each subgroup should set goals and timelines for finishing their work. For example, a mechanical subgroup should give ample time for the software subgroup to test the robot. 

3. Summary

Gracious Professionalism is an important part of the FIRST process and robotics in general. In a general sense, it means that everybody should have a good attitude and work together to achieve the goal of learning. We can employ gracious professionalism when encountering team challenges. Subgroups should work together and have a good division of responsibilities for certain tasks. No subgroup should criticize the work of other subgroups. Instead, they should work together and exhibit Gracious Professionalism. 

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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