The state tournament for the FIRST Lego League Robotics program was this past weekend in Dayton, Ohio. I coached an elementary school team this past fall (rookie coach + first time team = probably not the ideal choice). I did not plan to be a Lego Robotics coach; I did not attend the back-to-school “information meeting”, which was probably my first mistake. I did not know it was the Coach Nomination Meeting. Had I been there, I could have provided an animated and persuasive argument for why I was NOT the person to take on a team, no matter how badly the school needed just one more parent volunteer coach. After all, I made it through a decade of legos strewn around the carpet of my home without ever developing the tiniest inkling to actually build something out of them myself. As it was, I sent my engineery husband instead. I promise you, this was the logical choice, given the two people involved: hmmm, let’s see… science, technology, math, engineering, team emphasis, coaching experience — he was perfect!
He decided I was just the person for the job. Traitor.
I put myself through a needlessly gut-wrenching process of self-denial, self-deprecation and self-induced drama before I got my act together and just worked with the kids. (Gosh, it sounds a lot like writing — is there a pattern here?) The nine kids were a joy to work with, and they hardly seemed to notice that I did not know what I was doing. The FIRST Lego League Robotics program has a wonderful website with tons of tools, advice and support. I stopped crying by October and was able to bumble along for the whole season. Because I had three wonderful fellow parents who stepped up and coached with me, I never actually had to touch a lego (although I now know, I can do it!) Plus, one of the experienced area teams mentored the kids, and those experienced coaches took me under their wing, and everybody helped everybody, and it all turned out great. It was, despite my lousy starting attitude, a fantastic experience for me personally. I hope the kids have no emotional scars — they looked like they had fun and learned something and gained confidence in themselves too. I honestly loved working with them, and it was worth all the hours of volunteered time and work. (I could have skipped all the hours of worry – lesson learned.)
Because when it all came down to it, here’s the deal: the organization has an impressive mission, and one that I want to celebrate. The FIRST Lego League Robotics Program provides kids an alternative avenue to hear the cheers of a crowd. Of course, youth athletics are an outstanding, well-recognized way to learn teamwork, dedication and the payoff of hard work; but there are other alternatives for kids to learn equally valuable life skills, and this program is one of them. The vision expressed on the FIRST Lego League website from founder Dean Kamen — “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes” — says a lot in a world where sports heroes are repeatedly shown to be great athletes, but not necessarily great role models for kids. Any chance we have as parents to develop and challenge the whole child, whether through athletic or academic programs, is worth celebrating. Having experienced a gymnasium packed full of fans cheering loudly — about teamwork-based science! — it is an exciting scene to witness.
I’m proud to have been a part of the whole thing. My team, Team G.E.E.K., did not qualify for the recent state tournament, but we sure had fun. (Not that that means that I am already volunteering for next year, because I am not ready to commit…) By the way, our G.E.E.K stood for Global Energy Engineering Krew. At first, the kids were not sure about being known as “geeks”, but they soon embraced the slogan that “geek is the new cool”. It’s OK to be smart and other kids can and will respect you for it.
BTW, author Marybeth Hicks’ book and website are so worth checking out — she promotes GEEKS as Genuine, Enthusiastic, Empowered Kids — so cool!