While in Texas, cheering on my kiddos as they competed in VEX Robotics World Championship or “Worlds” as it is known in the community, I started making a mental list of everything I’d do differently if we were to ever wind up at Worlds again. Below are the top ten items of that list for your enjoyment.
1. Bring camp chairs. Bring a camp cot if you can (heck, bring a travel pillow, eye mask, and blankie). There are only two chairs provided in the “pit” area. Both little and big people need a place to crash. Sitting is great, but the days are long and the need to lay down and stretch out was high. I saw people with inflatable couches in their pit (I may have even sat in a couple), but I think a little more structure and durability is helpful. I thought lovingly of my collection of camp chairs and cots frequently, especially around 2pm, and wished I’d have the foresight to stuff them in our minivan.
2. Plan extra time for transporting those robots at the beginning and end of each day, the VRC robots especially. Robots (at least for our teams) had to go to a hotel every night. The convention center does not allow people to carry carts, roller bags, or the like on the escalators. The elevators get very backed up in the morning. The line was a solid fifteen minutes when I waited in it. It all starts to press in when you have to get to your pit and your first match of the day is at 8:30 am. Plan accordingly.
3. Pack an umbrella. Weather in Dallas can be unpredictable. We experienced heavy rain and some impressive thunder our second day at Worlds. People were talking about hail. Having an umbrella handy is a good idea. You may need it even if you are just running out to pick up a sandwich.
4. Carry a cellphone charger with you. Always. There was no Wi-Fi at Worlds (they claimed it would interfere with the robots), so my phone burned through its data and battery like the world was ending. I needed to literally recharge my batteries twice daily. Every pit has an electric outlet, but bringing a power strip would also be very handy. It literally came to hunkering down on the grody carpet wherever I could find an open outlet.
5. Wear comfy shoes and prepare to be on your feet all day. The convention center is massive. It is not an exaggeration to say that I could have used my bike. I saw a girl on roller blades(I think she made them out of VRC parts; they were incredible) my first day and was jealous. We walked over 8 miles daily in just the back and forth. Pack your comfiest most supportive shoes and a few pairs of compression socks (Mr. Trent got “Disney Rash” after the first two days). I’ve heard stories about parents going out and buying new shoes after the first day of the competition, but we didn’t have the energy or the time to do much of anything after the day ended.
6. Dress in layers. The AC is robust in some places, and in other places my daughter got sweaty in shorts and a t-shirt. I was wearing a Pikachu onesie for part of the competition and sometimes it felt just right in the frigid AC air and other times I was sweating buckets.
7. Bring noise cancelling headphones. My second to last day of the competition I was struggling hard with sensory overload. Worlds is loud. There are flashing lights. There is visual clutter everywhere with robots, decorated pits, and people in costumes/uniforms. You can’t walk in a straight line without rubbing shoulders or shuffling around more people. In the VIC elementary division the support in the stands is enthusiastic and constant. Overloaded, I popped on my son’s swanky Bose Noise Canceling headphones and some sunglasses and felt so much relief. You don’t realize how overwhelmed you are until you get a reprieve. Bring headphones, sunglasses, a hat, whatever helps you and yours deal, and insist they take sensory breaks and use their gear.
8. Good swag doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s a tradition to give away swag at the “pits.” Teams print branded stickers or bracelets or find some other creative goodie to hand out that ties in with their team or where they are from. Some swag is impressive (printed canvas tote bags with a manga-styled illustration of the team on one side and the VEX logo on the other side comes to mind). Some teams opt to just hand out candy. Either way, it is a lot of fun for the kids to go on swag hunts and meet teams from around the world. I could have hugged the team that was giving away fresh bananas with googly eyes. Fresh fruit was hard to come by at the convention center (I finally found it on my second to last day–they hide it behind Starbucks and make it seem like you have to stand in the coffee line for hours but you don’t, just walk in, and don’t leave until you find it), and eating something nutritious was a godsend. Another team painted clothes pins and had fun “trolling” their alliance partners, clipping them to the hems of t-shirts.
9. Bring tape, zip ties, string+needle+scissors, something for getting your pit decorations up. People decorate their pits at Worlds. I saw so many balloon arches. I also saw some really fun DIY decorations. Someone made a tin can robot for displaying their swag–it was pretty cool. Streamers, balloons, team banners and flags–people print them out and haul them to Worlds and then forget that they need a way to hang them. Lucky for us, a dad had gaffers tape in a pocket of his cargo shorts and some extra hooks stuffed in a tool box. Before he was on the scene, I had resorted to sewing our banners and flags to the black curtain backdrop the convention center provides.
10. Bring fidgets. I’ve talked about this before, but even neurotypical adults need a way to keep it together when life is too much. I handled my overwhelm, dead phone, I-can’t-even by making a robot cross stitch. When people asked me what I was doing I told them, “This is my fidget.” There is both a lot and also not enough downtime at Worlds, so finding snatches of time to cope is helpful.
Robotics is a lot of fun and a lot of a lot, but if you ever have the opportunity to go to Worlds, GO! And if you happen to see a mom/author in a bucket of fried chicken costume, don’t be a stranger.