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First Lego League Coaching Secrets Part I - How to effectively grow future math & science engineers

Updated on October 17, 2013
BrainyBots Top 2nd overall at KY State tournament
BrainyBots Top 2nd overall at KY State tournament | Source
BrainyBots competed at National Open Tournament in San Diego, CA!
BrainyBots competed at National Open Tournament in San Diego, CA! | Source

What makes me think you should read my article?!?

First Lego League (FLL) is a competition. Kids compete on 4 main areas at the competition. They are research presentation, teamwork, robot design and robot run. If you think about it, this is a lot of WORK on your part as well your kids. Competitions are tough because you never know what unexpected would happen. As such, placing in top awards at various competition is REALLY REALLY hard work. Ok, enough.

We have two Lego League groups, BrainyBots and Jr. BrainyBots. For the last few years, they have become known in Northern KY area because they constantly have placed in top awards at both regional and state competitions. Here are their awards:

Brainy Bots (Gray Middle School):
2013 Open National First Lego League Tournament Qualifier (San Diego)
2012-2013 Top 2nd - Overall, First Lego League KY State Tournament
2012-2013 Top 2nd - Overall, First Lego League NKY Regional Tournament
2011 Top 2nd - Inspiration Award, First Lego League KY State Tournament
2011 Top 2nd - Overall, First Lego League NKY Regional Tournament, Award of Excellence - Core Values & Research Project Presentation
2010 Top 2nd - Research Project Presentation, First Lego League KY State Tournament
2010 Top 4th - Overall, First Lego League NKY Regional Tournament

Jr. Brainy Bots (New Haven Elementary School):
2012-2013 Top 2nd - Inspiration Award, First Lego League KY State Tournament
2012-2013 Top 6th - Overall, First Lego League NKY Regional Tournament
2011 Top Mechanical Design Award! Top 8th - Overall, First Lego League NKY Regional Tournament

This is exactly why you should read my articles because they will help your group be more competitive and win awards at your next competition! Some coaches may think just enjoying the FLL process is what counts. We agree!! but if kids win something, then kids get more motivated, and will potentially try harder next year, right? It has been the case in our group, and I hope that will be the case for you as well.

Enough said!!

Younger kids like them can make a miracle!
Younger kids like them can make a miracle! | Source

Who am I??

I and my fellow co-coach have been coaching local First Lego League for the last 6 years.

There are a lot of great First Lego League coaches out there, and there may be others who would like to be involved in the First Lego League in the near future. I was one of those nearly 6 years ago when I was introduced to Junior Lego League. My kids grew up and naturally (?!?) went onto First Lego League.

I plan on writing our endeavor (I and my fellow neighbor coach, she is excellent by the way! as well as our supportive parents) to transform what it seemed like "We are nobody team" to "We are somebody team" in just several years.

It is my hope that these articles I write will encourage potential future coaches to start getting involved, and provide helpful insights on what is really involved, what is needed, and how to create award winning groups while making sure kids enjoy what we do in Lego League.

Where do you start?

That's a great question! In fact, there are so many things that you as the coach have to do, and you get soooooooo overwhelmed. I have been there, and if you keep reading my articles, you will know exactly what to do.

I assume your school (Elementary or Middle) already has Lego League activities, and you have volunteered to coach a team (GOOD FOR YOU and THANKS FOR YOUR VALUABLE TIME!!). In case of Boone county in NKY for instance, most schools already have Lego League going.

But what if your child's school doesn't have one? Then, it's probably time for you to create the first Lego League group in your school!! Right??

Oh, you don't want to take that much responsibility?!? Ok... that's no problem. Other coaches in Boone county are very willing to help out!! So here's your secret number one you have been waiting for!!

Tip 1. Do NOT give up even though your school may not have any Lego League group. Your kid can actually sign up at another neighboring school's group. So don't be frustrated if that's the case for your child. Opportunities are around you if you look carefully.

In fact, this has happened in our Jr. BrainyBots group. One member's elementary school currently doesn't have any Lego League groups, and luckily his is part of OUR group!! He has been with our group for the last two years, and certainly he has been a large part of our endeavor. We are very glad he is part of our group.

In many cases, parents coach Lego League group because their children are in Lego League. So if you want to coach a team, but your kid's school doesn't have Lego League group, then you can potentially assist another school group to get started (and let your child join).

See getting started may not be as hard as you might have thought!!

Now let's review some overview.

Kids are good at inventing! Are you?!?

Do you have to do everything by yourself?

Not at all! Here's another tip.

Tip 2. Find a fellow coach (or coaches)! This can be one of your best friends, etc. whoever can responsibly take some tasks to oversee how kids do. This seems like a "duh" item, but it is pretty important. More importantly, find somebody that has skills you don't posess!

Historically, our groups have had two coaches, me and my fellow coach. I come from strong math, computer science and robotics background, so naturally, I am responsible for overseeing the robot mechanical design and programming, and the actual robot runs. My fellow coach does an excellent job on all the research and teamwork activities. We take half and half. This team structure has worked so well, and I personally consider this is one of our best secrets.

Recall again those 4 areas, research presentation, team work, robot design and robot run. You may be good at a certain area or areas while you may not be as good on other areas. Find a partner coach that can help in your weak areas, and things will work out better. Coaching takes a lot of patience and your effort, so the more you are familiar with the area(s), the better and easier things will be on your part.

Base robot from a few years ago
Base robot from a few years ago | Source

A lot of configurable Lego parts available!

Isn't Lego childish?

Take a look at the picture above, and see if you have changed your mind.

I actually hear from time to time that parents or kids say "Oh, Lego League is just playing with Lego blocks." Does the robot in the picture look like just playing with Lego blocks?!?

This small robot offers much more than just playing... It is more like true kids' ENGINEERING high tech learning device!!

Ok, so we will go through some components on the robot to start with. This is based on Lego MindStorm NXT device. Remember this is an overview, we will discuss more details in our future articles, specifically how to use those components, and some difficulties you may face.

Major components:

- 3 * motors
- Up to 4 sensors
- Tires and other Lego blocks.

Easy enough, right?!? They look rather easy, but a properly built robot with these items can do pretty slick stuff!!

Oh, before I forget... your kids will program these robots in an easy GUI programming language called LabView. Though you can't use another programming language for competitions, there are projects on the Internet that let you hack your NXT to run Java programming language! If you haven't heard Java, it is a widely used computer programming language that is pretty versatile, and you can program it to do almost anything. I will cover more LabView programming soon.

Here's another tip.

You should seriously consider getting the Lego MindStorm NXT Education pack. This pack includes rechargeable battery (This is a MUST! as Lego requires 4 * AA batteries or rechargeable one), and more Lego blocks.

Show some actions!

Ok, you have been patiently reading this for a while, so let's have some fun. The attached youtube video shows some of what Lego MindStorm robot can do. Isn't this pretty cool or what!!!!!! I am sure if your kids can do something similar, your face will be smiling!

What do you get at competitions?

Kids are usually looking very forward to this moment. I remember our first year in KY state tournament that kids didn't get anything. They looked soooooo sad even though they might have been somewhat expecting they wouldn't get anything.... Whatever the case might be, kids are always expecting the slight chance of winning. When they do, their excitement and smile are indeed priceless!!!

I just can't forget those kids smiles and that's probably why I and my fellow coach still coach kids like we do now.

Oh, so what do you get? At state level, you get these big trophies!! Pretty cool, huh?


Will you coach a Lego League team?

See results

Until next time

This article only covered the surface of what experience you will have as a Lego League coach. Thanks for fully reading it, and next time, I will discuss what the actual competition robot run looks like. Stay tuned!!

Now are you ready to start coaching your Lego Team? Please take a vote!

© 2013 Masaru Ryumae


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