Before I begin, I first have to thank every coach I’ve ever had growing up, from ice skating to various soccer coaches.
I also have to apologize for “being that kid” at one point or another. Sorry Coach Julie, you were right. I was wrong.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of coaching a First Lego League robotics team at a tournament in Kettering.
It’s my third year of helping a team, which is sponsored by the Waco Historical Society’s Learning Center. Trust me, the children aren’t the only ones who learn through this program.
But I also can assure you I had nothing to do with the “robotics” component, which I left to our very skilled and talented team members who were assisted by Coach Emily, a mechanical engineer extraordinaire. I helped the team manage their research project and team building components.
First of all, volunteering to coach a team, including your own child, makes one appreciate all the time and effort all those coaches you had when you were a child or teen. It also brings back memories of the times you weren’t so coach-able. Trust me, the karma came back full circle several times over our short season, but we persevered.
For several weeks, our “WacoBots” practiced their First Lego League Core Values, scoured the Internet to support their research project to alert pet owners when their animal was in distress and of course, designed and programmed a robot using LEGO to navigate several challenges on the game board.
Each team member had the opportunity to learn to program the robot, help one other determine their game strategy as well as keeping their spirits up when things didn’t quite work out as they were supposed to. They wrote their skit, designed their poster boards and did all of their requirements on their own. As a coach, we guided them to figure out the requirements on their own.
Not always easy with a group of students ranging from 9-13 years of age. Yet, I was impressed by each and every one of them.
On Saturday, we had a few nervous WacoBots, especially our newbies, during the judging sessions. What I really enjoyed was watching the “veterans” pull their team together and go on their own to each session as Emily and I paced outside the doorways.
All season long, we reminded the kids “It’s your work. It’s your project. It’s your team.” And we threw them in the arena.
The robot game was the last challenge of the day. It was a roller coaster ride of emotion. The first round, well, didn’t go as planned. The WacoBots scored three points. There were devastated looks. There were some tears. Then, the determination came through from our seasoned WacoBots.
Seeing them rally together to improve their robot, as well as their own morale, was probably my proudest moment of the whole day.
The second round, they mustered together 66 points, tying them for first place at the top of the scoreboard.
They went from tears to cheers folks. Their third round ended up being a bust, with many mishaps and do-overs. They didn’t care, they were excited to hold the tie for first throughout the rest of the tournament.
Their strategy and robot was simple, especially compared to other teams’ robots. Folks, there was a team who used compressed air tanks on their robots. I kid you not. Yet, as the WacoBots (OK I did, too) drooled over these fancy machines, it was their simple design of a hook and scoop that kept them on top of the leader board. What a lesson in mechanics!
While waiting on the judges, all 10 teams played a scavenger hunt game and had a dance party. Another highlight of the day was seeing kids just being kids. I had one parent of a newbie comment that she had never seen her daughter smile so much in one day. As we watched them dance and run around with other teams, I teared up. These kinds of moments make all the hard work and trips to the Dollar Tree worth it.
And while the WacoBots didn’t advance on to the next level of competition, I wiped away a few more tears of disappointment. Yet, my WacoBots rallied once more and resolved to do it better again next year.
And as a coach, that was my greatest compliment of the season.
So to all my former coaches, thank you for your time and dedication. I’ll be paying it forward one season at a time.
“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. We are the WacoBots from Troy, Ohio and we love snacks.