Don't forget that every table, home practice and competition, is built a little bit differently. We've seen dimensions off up to 1/2". Also, knots and bumps can show up in the most inconvenient places. Mats can be newly unrolled and still be wavy the day of your competition.
Give your robot a little challenge by first turning your own mat around on your table - this will test out a different part of your table. You will be able to see if those differences change the way your team's robot performs. If you have time before your tourney, trade off with another team in your area- you take your robot to their house/meeting space and vice versa for some testing.
We have had our share of surprises at tournaments with mats that are not aligned properly - meaning not against the south wall, centered east to west. If your robot follows a wall or uses a wall for a landmark, mat placement can make a difference.
Also, have someone on your team in charge of checking the mission models on your competition table to see if they are built properly. We have always been glad we've done this - we have found models with problems at local, state, and international competitions.
When you arrive at your tournament venue, you'll check in and pick up your registration packet. Open it right away, it should have your pit assignment, a diagram of the pit area, judging rooms and competition area. It will also have the schedule for the day. Schedules, pit assignments and other important information may be posted on walls or computer screens around the venue as well. The schedule will tell you the times, tables, locations and rooms of your team's rounds on the table and the three judging sessions.
Take your schedule out immediately and see where you might want to reserve practice table time if you think you need it (and even if you don't think you will, it's better to have it reserved just in case, than to need it and all slots are filled). Every tournament has one or more tables set up away from the competition table area for teams to put their robot through its paces before their table rounds. Most venues let you sign up ahead - some won't let you reserve more than one slot at a time. Each slot is between 5 and 10 minutes long. Go right to the practice table area (a coach can do this or a parent) and block out the slots you can work into your schedule for the day.
Add those times to your schedule. Decide when you have time to eat lunch, have snacks, get some fresh air and have some quiet time (see the other articles for more info on these). Have a parent copy down the schedule to keep at the pit table and make sure the coach has the other schedule.
Set up your pit area as quickly as possible and the team should get ready for opening ceremonies. The coaches are usually at the coaches' meeting so they may not be able to make the opening festivities. A parent can be in charge of getting the team to the right location while the coaches are busy.
Try to have two coaches at the coaches meeting to make sure you get all the information and also to make sure you get all your team's questions answered (see Judging Session Tips article).
Whenever you have an unscheduled time, go around and introduce yourselves to other teams. Ask them about their season, ask them about their research topic. Share some information about your project and invite them to your pit. This is a great time to meet new FLL friends and can ease the feeling that the other teams are your opponents. They are just like you, hoping for their robot's best performance and hoping their judging sessions go well. Supporting other teams makes the whole day more fun!
What to Bring to Your Tournament
Many rookie teams are not sure what to bring on competition day. One thing you do NOT need to bring is your mat or mission models. The exception to this statement is if your tournament organizers have asked you to bring them for use on the competition or practice tables for the day. Most tournaments we've been involved with have specifically prohibited teams from bringing their mat/models for practice purposes.
Here is a list of things you should bring to get you started:
1. Your robot and it's attachments or "manipulators"
2. Box or bin to carry the robot in and to store it in next to the competition table
3. Kit of parts - extra LEGO pieces you might need to make minor changes to your robot
4. Charging cable for rechargeable NXT batteries
5. Laptop computer with all your programs on it
6. Flash drive or SD card with all your programs backed up on it
7. Download cable just in case you want to tweak your program
8. display board(s) (if you have one, though not required) for your pit area
9. All research presentation props including extension cords you may need for power point or other device that needs power
10. Power strip and extension cord for your pit area for charging batteries and running a laptop if needed
11. Any give-aways you want to share - from a bowl of hard candy to brochures about your research project to buttons, beads, etc. (fun but not required)
12. Water - keep your team hydrated. It will be a busy day and you may not be able to have water and food in your pit area (out of 16 tournaments we competed in, only one allowed food in the pits)
13. Lunch and snacks (see above) or find out if your venue is serving lunch and if you have to order ahead.
14. If the weather is cold, bring a bin to keep under your pit table to stash jackets. Also, put your jackets on at least once during the tournament and get outside for some fresh air - even for just a few minutes - it will re-energize your team.
15. Camera(s) - still and video; designate a team photographer for the day - preferably a parent who can capture all the great moments for you to review later - the day goes by so fast.
16. If you have a script for your research presentation, make sure you bring a copy even though you all have memorized your lines
17. If you have presentation boards with photos or other images/titles glued on, bring extra tape, glue or glue dots to make any quick repairs - if things can fall apart, they will
18. Make sure someone on your team has a watch to keep track of time during the day (maybe your team's Time Manager).
19. Once you have your schedule, plan in some quiet time for your team - find a hallway or corner where you can sing your team song or review lines or just take a breather
20. Team hats if you have 'em (not required)
21. Team banner if you have one.(not required)
22. A copy of your team's software programs or a computer to show the technical judges
Remember FLL Core Values
"We do the work." Make sure team members, not coaches, handle all aspects of the robot. If something doesn't go quite right or if you need to make some programming adjustments - make sure the team does those things, NOT the coaches. If the coaches are handling the robot, the perception of the judges (and you don't know when they are observing you outside of judging) is that the team didn't do the work. Ask your coach politely to stay in the background and let the team shine.
Keep all FLL Core Values in mind the whole tournament day (as you have all season long). Especially the last one - have FUN!
Judging Session Tips
The judges won't hold up a heart card during the session (see image above), but they will smile (usually but not always) and be pulling for you to do your best.
However, before you get to the tournament, you should decide who will come in with your team during judging sessions. At most tournaments, the planners leave it up to the teams to decide - especially for research judging.
Remember that every additional person in the room adds to the risk of an unexpected cough (which could be misinterpreted by the judges as a coaching signal), an innocent nod, not to mention some team members might be nervous and looking to parents for encouragement and can lose their focus. We've even seen parents go into judging with babies in strollers. Talk about unpredictable. Anyway, don't decide outside the judging room, plan ahead.
During technical judging, our experience is that there are always space limitations and therefore, limitations on spectators. Sometimes coaches are the only observers allowed. For teamwork, many times the judges just want team members - no coaches or parents.
Early in the tournament day there will be a coaches' meeting. Don't miss it. That's where the details of the day will be revealed, any changes will be discussed, awards categories and which awards qualify teams for the next level of competition, and also, coaches will be able to ask questions. If the issue of who is allowed to go into judging isn't covered, ask. That's one less unknown your team will have to face.
Remember that the 5 minute research presentation usually includes set up time and coaches are not usually allowed to bring in props or help with set up. Make sure your team can do it all by practicing carrying in and setting up props during team meeting time until the team can do it in a matter of seconds. - every second spent in set-up comes out of the 5 minutes you have to share your cool research project with the judges.
Also ask if judging sessions can be videotaped. The answer has always been yes at our tournaments.
Find out ahead of time, if you can, where observers will be standing. That will reduce distractions for your team with people moving around once they get into the judging session.
For technical judging, have the team plan to demonstrate their most reliable, coolest mission. There will usually be several teams being judged in the same room (by different sets of judges) so it can be noisy. There will be a game table for each team. Ignore what is going on at the other tables, bring your robot right to your table and set up for your mission. If you are using a computer to show your code, make sure it is up an running before you enter the room.
Usually, you can bring a presentation board into technical judging. Don't bring one if you aren't going to use it. We think it's better to get the judges to look at your robot and programming than to have them look at a board - but that will be your personal decision as a team.
Usually, just bring your team to teamwork - no props or presentation boards. The teamwork judges know what information they are looking for and it doesn't usually include looking at displays. Expect a 5 minute teamwork activity to start with. The judges will explain the activity, give you time for questions, will observe your team's interactions (it'll be tough to fool them if you haven't been team building throughout the season), and will spend 5 minutes afterwards asking questions about the activity and about your teamwork challenges and successes during the season.
Speak up - especially in technical where it can be noisy. Make eye contact when it's your turn to speak. Courteously look at your teammates when they are speaking. Smile, relax and have fun - remember you are the experts when it comes to your robot, your research, and how your team has mastered teamwork skills.