In a word: GO
In 3 more words: NO MATTER WHAT!Do it yourself : How To
Many teams have informal scrimmages with just a small handful of teams. We would very much like to let our referee pool know about these so that they can also use these for practice.
if you are scheduling one so that we can have tournament referees come, if at all possible.
For the rookies out there, PARTICIPATE IN A SCRIMMAGE! It is invaluable to the team, honestly! Even if their robot doesn't do anything - they will learn so much from the experience!
Also, for those that are interested in going to a scrimmage but don't have one to go to - just do it yourself!
In all cases, we greatly appreciate when these are publically announced (even if you can't accept more teams to participate). Please post on the Community Site's Event Calendar or as a blog post or similar.
What is a Scrimmage?
A scrimmage is a chance before tournament season to have "real" timed runs of the robot game portion on a full challenge table with other teams present, some distractions and someone as a referee (could be a coach or one of the tournament referees).
Most scrimmages are free or very low cost, most do not hand out any awards, they do not do judging and most don't pre-schedule or formally schedule the rounds. Scrimmages that include "practice" judging sessions are typicall called "community tournaments". Scrimmage and Community Tournaments are listed by FIRST LEGO League generically as "Community Events".
Setting up a scrimmage is very easy! You invite a few teams to come - 8 is a good number - with each team bringing something like a challenge table or similar. Teams sign up for slot(s) when they arrive and then you start running matches.
You don't have to have a finished robot to participate in a scrimmage - the lessons that you are learning at a scrimmage are not only about the robot but about the team.
Having the team experience running their robot with different mission models than your own is EXTREMELY valuable - or even having other teams use your mission models. it is so hard to see a team on the morning of their first tournament and have them go up to the challenge table for their first run and only then see that the team built one of the missio models wrong - YES, it happens, even with non-rookie teams and it is so hard to see and difficult for the team to adapt.
The primary goal is to gain an understanding before your first tournament of how the team will react under both time pressure and a crowd (albeit a small one).
The kids get really excited about showing what they have completed and often they find solutions or new ideas to help with their struggles. For rookie teams, scrimmages give a taste of what the tournament will be like. Often they get to meet the Refs that will be at their tournament (see above). Scrimmages can be a real motivator for teams who are feeling stuck or stagnant. We have all taken teams to scrimmages and watched their whole strategy change and revitalize.
Some things that we have seen learned at a scrimmage:
- which 2 team members are going to be at the table
- how/when are the team members changing positions;
- what and how to pick up a "run away" robot;
- how to re-build robot under pressure :-(
- what order to run challenges;
- under what conditions should the team re-run the same program if it didn't work first time around;
- how to manage attachments
- figuring out what to say to the ref ahead of time about what might happen (e.g. that we need the ref to move a mission object out of the robot's next path)
- figuring out rule misunderstandings and wrong interpretations: knowing which rules might be interpreted differently by the *ref* is important (esp. aiming devices, stray objects, housekeeping rules)
- we learned the value of bringing printed versions of the mission description, rules, and game rulings (Q&A). Refs are human too, and the kids often know the relevant topics backward & forward.
As one coach relates: Our rookie year's scrimmage was an invaluable focusing experience! The kids got more done the week before the scrimmage than the 3 previous weeks. ... I doubt we would have had as many missions solidly working without the early deadline and confidence-boost of the scrimmage. Our 2nd and 3rd year we didn't know of any local scrimmage, and we sure could have used one! This year (2008), with much trepidation, I organized a small scrimmage on very little notice. The scrimmage was a great success -- for the teams and the refs. Other teams brought field sets & tables, we brought sawhorses & sign-up sheets, got our school's kids to sell snacks, and arranged for two FLL refs. I was VERY surprised at how little work it was to prepare. In retrospect I truly wish that I had had the courage to organize one the previous years.
As a second coach relates: Until the first scrimmage, our rookie team couldn't visualize what the whole competition process was like or what the point was. After they came back, they were newly excited and really threw themselves into the process. Also, a scrimmage taught us about the problem of variability. The team had designed a robot without sensors that relied on rotations and friction to provide repeatability. The scrimmage challenge table was different and they got completely different results, so they had to go back to the drawing board to figure out what was wrong.
Additional logistical learning that can happen at a scrimmage:
- the need for a container for holding robot and attachments safely
- robot's battery died in the first round ... yet the robot wasn't designed to be taken apart quickly
- which team members have steady hands under pressure, e.g. when changing attachments
- Is there a mission that fits each kid's personality e.g. who's a quick-change artist, who is good at aiming?
- who is good at triage -- if something goes wrong, what to do, whether to re-try a mission, etc.
- if team members get stressed, what does each person need i.e, whom to leave alone to de-stress, who gets intense, who relaxes with a joke, a hug, etc.
- what to put onto a pre-tournament checklist for the team
- the value of some relaxation-aids for the team -- a frisbee, cards, or a joke-book
- And, last but not least, the importance of assigning a non-coach parent to bring *team snacks*
In alot of teams it is important that each member have the joy of running the robot for part of the round. We use the 'real' round nature of the scrimmage to get motivated to figure out which kid for which missions, and how to organize "the dance" of kids' shifting roles at the table and switching with teammates.
BUT WHERE TO HOLD A SCRIMMAGE ??
With so many teams that operate out of their house, the question leads to "where to hold a scrimmage".
Hosting a scrimmage of 4 to 16 teams is easy. One large room (cafeteria?) and one complete paired (ie 2 tables back to back) competition table will do. Two pairs of competition tables is even more fun. Set up regular scrimmage intervals on a white board and let teams sign themselves in. Just remember to set a time limit to the day :)
If you have a parent group (PTA/PTO) at a nearby school willing to host you, most elementary / middle schools will rent you their multi-use facility or cafeteria on a Saturday. You will typically have to pay for a custodian. Assume $30 per hour charged by the school and a 4 hour scrimmage (enough time) and 12 teams. That is $10 per team to participate.
The experience is incredibly valuable as many many folks have learned!
If you can't leverage the parent group (PTA/PTO) and it really comes down to the fact that you need a general liability insurance certificate to get a site, contact Playing At Learning. It isn't free for us to generate one but is cheaper than having to get your own (typically) - liability waivers will be required.
In sum, three key take-away points about scrimmages are:
- if you can go to a scrimmage, GO! Even if your team only has a tiny fraction of what they think they need to have done
- if you don't know of one to attend, YOU really can organize one yourself; it's surprisingly easy
- when you organize one, DO advertise it to give more teams a chance to attend
Thank you to Karen, Lucy, Brian, Dave, Joel and all of the others that host scrimmages each year and gave great input on scrimmages.
Originally published 2009-06-11. Updated for 2013 season.