Anyone have experience with the First Lego League?

My daughter has been on a First Lego League team for the last two years, and we’ve loved it. She has a fantastic coach and team, but I’m curious if anyone else has had experience with that organization. My son just turned 9 and wants to join a team, but we don’t have one anywhere nearby. I’m considering forming one, which means I’d be the coach. I’m a bit nervous about taking on more responsibility, because I already work two jobs and lead his Cub Scout den (along with my wife), but the experience was wholly positive for my daughter and I’d love for my son to have the same.

I’d especially like to hear from anyone in New Jersey who has had experience with them, since that’s where we live.

(For those who’ve never heard of it…in FLL, the kids build robots out of Lego and program them to complete challenges, and compete against other teams. There’s actually a lot more to it than just the robotics competiton though; the girls have to do research and presentations at competition, etc.)

My Number One Nephew is on a team, and loves it. I filled in when my brother and SiL couldn’t take him to the competition, and their teacher who was their coach tried the hard sell on me to be their coach next year (I’m an engineer, yes, but a chemical engineer. build lego robots: No. dissolve lego robots: YES.)

Anyway, from what I gather it’s quite a bit of a commitment. You’d need to get the Lego Mindstorms kit for a start. Then be available for the kids to meet and work on their projects several hours a week. Plus, set up the other projects they’ll need to do – my nephew’s team interviewed some seniors to come up with suggestions about how to maintain mental facilities (turns out, they should play more Wii and Nintendo DS).

From talking to the other parents at the competition, most of them just dropped the kids off for the weekly sessions. So it sounds like the teacher/coach had no backup, although she was able to use their school’s facilities to store stuff (the Mindstorms kit, the mat they had to navigate with their robot, etc.). But all of them agreed that their kids loved it and benefited greatly from it.

I think it’s great if you’re able to do this, but plan on a significant time commitment for a big chunk of your year. And I’d try to get a commitment from someone else to co-coach, just to have some backup. Despite my nephew’s coach’s opinions, it didn’t seem like the coach needed to be someone with a technical background, although it would probably help in answering the bazillions of technical questions the kids dreamed up (yeah, I wasn’t able to answer 'em either; although they were intrigued by the idea of dissolving legos…)

Thanks…I’m aware of the comittment of time, as I’ve been assisting my daughter’s coach for awhile. I’m not going to be able to do it unless I can find at least one other assistant that I can rely on, and I’m fairly certain I’ve got one lined up. Next I have to figure out how much it’s going to cost and see how we can get the money together.

The FIRST Lego League (FLL) is organized by FIRST. I’m not familiar with the FLL, but I know the FIRST family of competitions. Our school district has all three levels, and I help with the FRC.

Website is located at
Learn how to start a team at
Some costs

The whole FIRST organization has a large group of volunteers to help people like you get started. Mostly to guide you through everything, but also show you fund-raising methods and sponsorships. The Senior Mentors is your best contact, and have local people in each state
There are also the FLL Partner for each area at
There is also an FLL forum
Locate local teams and events

The FLL season starts with a new competition “Kickoff” September. “Build Season” is October and November, and Tournaments are November into February. Registration for the fall begins in May. Now is a good time to do all the groundwork – school contacts and space to work, learning how to use the kit, and maybe trying out previous years challenges. If there is a “technology” teacher in the high school he/she may be a good inside source of school connections, and maybe supply students in the fall to help after school.

It is tough getting parents to help, especially directly after school. If you treat it more as adults guiding the students and keep them focused and the work fun, and less as teachers doing the work, that helps. Ask the parents to come in and see what their children are doing and let them show off their creations. Say you really need a second adult to be around. Most adults are afraid of breaking something or not knowing what to do. The kids are supposed to know what to do (with your help); the other adults are just to keep them focused.

There are two other levels of FIRST robot competition. FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), for upper middle school into high school grades have larger robots but are still mostly kit-built, and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for high school, where you get into more “real world” engineering and construction, and get to build large robots. The reason I mention FTC and FRC is that those teams are encouraged to support younger teams and (if local) come help with the technical issues. After all, they may have originally started in FLL! The locate local teams link can help you find them. (For some reason, the FLL teams aren’t listed.)

The FTC has a similar season as FLL. The FRC is now in the middle of their build season, and will start competitions each weekend in March at different locations all over the US and the world. The enthusiasm at a FRC competition is intense, a mix of sports and science fair with much geek-level socializing, each with around 50 high schools attending. It is free to the public to attend, and you’re allowed to visit the pit area and see the robots up close. Ask questions with teams in your area and you may find a team to help you. Good luck!

My son was on a team for three years, here in NJ. I wasn’t a coach, but I and some of the other parents were there for most every meeting and practice. The toughest part for me, and I"m sure for the coach, was standing back and letting them solve problems on their own. Sometimes the solution to a problem is so obvious to you, but you can’t just give them the answer. Rather, you have to give them the tools to be able to find the answer on their own, and then maybe just give them a little nudge if they’re truly stuck. Of course, this whole aspect makes it all the more rewarding when you watch them figure things out and succeed.

thanks …I’ve contacted a few people through the FLL website in the past, but for whatever reason no one has ever gotten back to me. I’ve got a good mentor anyway (my daughter’s coach), and at least two or three other kids seriously interested in taking part. The hardest part about getting started is finding a place for us to meet, on a day that’s convenient for all of us…I’m still mulling this over. I very much want my son to have an opportunity to be a part of this, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give it the time and attention it needs because of other committments.

batsto – I’ve sent you a PM with the NJ Senior Mentor address. Just remember, they are volunteers – dedicated, but still volunteers – so there is some time delay. They also mentor for the FRC teams this time of year. Nate can help you with connecting with other teams and getting started, and also getting a kit to get started with for the summer.

Talk to your son’s principal about a meeting place (next September). Really all you need is a table in the lunch room. He/she may be able to connect you with the high school “technology” teacher for HS students to help.