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.
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:
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. In the next few sections, we’ll break it down and give some guidance for teams with different levels of experience.
Everything that happens at a team practice or a competition should be considered a learning opportunity for the students. Students should have complete ownership of how their drone is programmed and used at competitions. Adults should teach instead of tell, and help students build the skills they need to work independently.
Ultimately, the students learn the most when they are given opportunities to test their own ideas, fail, learn from those failures, and try again. Often in stressful or competitive situations, it may be easier or faster for an adult to solve the problem or fix a drone, but by doing so, the adult has missed providing a learning opportunity for a student. Coaches, mentors, and other adults must never:
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:
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:
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.