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Monday, November 12, 2012

A Coach's Responsibility

The table sat barren. An obvious oddball in a gymnasium filled with tri-fold display boards, buttons, stickers, and other evidence of hard work and dedication. Our table sat dejected and alone. A void. It was a black hole filling the oval of failure on a standardized test. A test taken by the coach. A coach has a responsibility to prepare his team for competition, and the coach of our First Lego League (FLL) team failed in this most basic requirement.

We were excited about our first ever robotics team. In fact we were instrumental in getting it started, securing a grant, bringing in guest speakers, and organizing the ordering of t-shirts. However, we were not in charge. It was a school team so a teacher was assigned to disperse the grant money.  Of course, coaches are responsible for the finances of the team. Our coach apparently deposited  the funds into his own bank account and then would forget to bring his check book whenever we needed money for the shirts. He also failed at the simple task of procuring snacks for the meeting.

He also failed to procure the facilities and materials necessary for the team to function. Early on, another parent provided the coach with a coupon for an additional robot. It was not redeemed. The coach promised to build the practice table for the robot. It did not materialize. We informed the coach that we would need a dedicated computer for programming the robot.  When it was not forthcoming we brought our own laptop that we had recently purchased for our son. The most vital of all materials, of course, was a lesson plan. Amazingly enough this was provided. It consisted of a single word. "BUILD."

Our editorial staff has decided that a caption is not necessary.

The team built the robot and many of the pieces needed for the missions, but without a basic understanding of the competition it was like being handed a bag of baseball equipment and being told to go out and play a game. The lesson for the last meeting before the competition did not even meet this minimum standard. It was basically "Well, ummmm, guys." The coach then repeatedly told team members that they would not have to be at the competition all day. We were just going to go and observe some of the other teams. He also asked the team of 4th graders to arrange some carpooling.

Astonishingly most of the team arrived, without the benefit of carpooling, on time. We walked into the gymnasium and were confronted with the empty table. We were carrying a shoe box containing the robot and a laptop computer. It became obvious that this was not a casual affair. We were in fact at the qualifying round. This was the competition. If we fail here, the season is over. We were in uniform, but did not have the game ball or even a basic understanding of the rules.

The low point of the competition was when the team had to present the research they had done to provide a solution to a problem facing senior citizens. We had nothing. So a group of twelve fourth-grade students stood in front of the judges in silence. Luckily for them they are not as self-aware as the judges and managed to survive the embarrassment of entering a contest without a submission. After this initial setback the parent volunteers pulled the team together enough so that we could compete.


We actually ended up with 70 points, but my wife and I are the only ones that know that because by the end of the competition the entire team had gone home. We needed to compete in the final round of the robotic challenges and the only person left was my son. I had spent most of the day explaining to the parents that we were expected to stay all day, but since the coach had told them not to worry, most of them had made other plans.  The story does not end there however. In fact, it makes a hard right into the realm of urban legend. The coach left. He left before the competition was over because he had an appointment at 2:30 on a Sunday.  This strains credulity more than a hook-handed killer on Lover's Peak, Bloody Mary, or an alligator in the sewer.

Our son was absent when the exodus occurred, but when learned that he was alone, he freaked out. I went to the administrator's table to inform her of what happened with the intention of forfeiting the competition and  going home. The coordinator though immediately went hunting for someone from another team to lend moral support. She found someone from the same team who had earlier lent us one of their mentors and a box of Lego parts so we could at least put a robot on the table. So, with the help of another team, we were able to finish the competition. I would equate it to Lightning McQueen helping "The King" after the crash, or the softball players that carried their opponent around the bases. It was a wonderful moment of sportsmanship and humanity made possible by an absolute failure by our coach.

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