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General Information

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a team-based activity that works with the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics kit to build and program robots, tied to a real world theme that includes a research project and presentation. Each year, a new challenge is released and challenge details are announced by the FIRST organization in September.

Teams participate in four equally weighted phases of competition:

  • Performance - Robots have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete missions on a 4' x 8' playing field. Teams earn points based on the robots performance in each of these missions.
  • Technical Judging - Team members interact with judges to explain robot design and programming approaches. Judges ask questions to determine team member roles and their individual understanding of the technical process.
  • Project Judging - A presentation topic is announced that ties to the Challenge theme. Teams perform research and prepare a presentation to present creatively in front of a team of judges. Judges ask a variety of questions to determine their understanding of the research topic.
  • Teamwork Judging - Teams are also judged on their teamwork skills and interactions. Communication, respect, responsibility, and problem solving skills are part of this competition.

In Northern California, there is 1 division for all teams. This page is designed to answer some of your basic questions about how to get started and how the season will unfold.

FLL Overview FLL Season Getting a Team Started
Team Expectations Registration Expenses/Supplies
Training Tournaments Additional Resources
FIRST: How It Works: PDF (lo-res, hi-res)
FIRST: At-A-Glance: PDF (lo-res, hi-res)

Important information about FLL, tournaments and registration deadlines are sent out to the NCaFLL yahoogroup and not to individual coaches. The message volume is generally pretty low (during the FLL Season, around 20 messages per month, much lower at other times). Every team should have at least one representative on the yahoogroup list. Every FLL interested person is welcome to join - it is not a closed list.

To subscribe, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NCaFLL or send email to NCaFLL-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

If you have other questions not answered by this page or the FAQ, please do not hesitate to contact Playing At Learning (the Northern California FLL partner) or FIRST.

FLL Overview

FLL stands for FIRST LEGO League and is a partnership of FIRST and the LEGO Company.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in New Hampshire. FIRST runs several programs beyond FLL including: FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition), FIRST Place, and newly announced JFLL (Junior FLL) and FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge).

FIRST LEGO League has teams in every US state and the District of Columbia. In addition, there are teams from 40+ countries. All teams work on the same theme-based challenge.

The Northern California FIRST LEGO League partner is Playing At Learning, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in the city of Fremont. We were founded in May 2004 after 2 years of coaching FIRST LEGO League teams. We were inspired to found Playing At Learning after direct experience with seeing the impact that this program has on our youth.

We believe that each and every FLL participant is a winner when sportsmanship, cooperation, collaboration, and risk-taking are valued as part of the FLL problem solving experience. The full benefits of the program occur ONLY when kids can feel a sense of accomplishment from knowing that their FLL efforts come 100% from their own minds and hands. This feeling of accomplishment and empowerment is what FLL is all about.


FLL Season Schedule

May 1 Team Registration opens
mid-August Field Setup kits begin to ship
September 5 Challenge Details announced
early September Local/Regional Tournament Detail announcements start
mid/late September Team Registration closes*
early October Tournament Applications accepted**
Nov - Jan Northern California Tournament Season

* Team registration closes when the maximum team capacity is reached or on September 30th

** More information is coming on the exact dates for tournament applications and the tournament sites/sizes/dates.


Getting a Team Started

Playing At Learning staff is available to answer questions and support coaches/teams interested in FLL. We are not in a position to find teams/coaches for interested participants. If you are interested in getting involved, we encourage you to get a coach and then to plan an informational meeting for prospective team members, parents, and additional coaches.

Kids between 9 and 14 years old can compete in FLL. The younger age limit is not strictly enforced, but experience has shown that students below 5th grade have a significantly harder time keeping on task and have problems with team work. Your experience may vary. The upper age limit is enforced - participants must be 14 or younger on January 1 of the competition year. For the 2007 season, this means that you must be 14 or younger on January 1, 2007. Or another way to say the same thing is that your birthday must be after January 1, 1992.

You are not required to join as part of a school or any supporting organization.

Please note that national registration is open between May and September. There is a maximum limit on the number of teams, so teams are encouraged to register as early as possible.

Teams generally consist of 4-6 participants, a maximum of 10 allowed.

You are required to have one adult as the coach. You are allowed to have additional coaches and mentors for the team, but you can list only one coach on the registration page. Note that the email address of the listed coach can expect to be sent several emails over the course of the FLL season, so make sure that you list an email address that is read at least somewhat regularly.

Teams are most often from a school, neighborhood, home-school, church, or organization (i.e. Girl Scouts, GEMS, etc.), but are not required to be part of any organization.

We do not separate out the younger versus the older teams - all teams compete in the same "division".

Team Expectations

Once the coach or coaches are in place, a follow up informational meeting for interested parents and team participants should be held by the coach. This meeting should generally cover team member selection, registration information, required forms, participation fees, practice schedules and locations, training dates, tournament information, and team operations.

This meeting will help each participant decide if this is the right program and team for them. Note it is important to make sure that the all team members have a similar outlook and view of the time and interest to put into the team. The amount of time spent on FLL can vary greatly - based on the team dynamics and coach - and it is important to understand the level of commitment needed.

Practice Schedule

Teams generally meet an average of two times per week, 1 - 2 hours. Practice times are often added as teams get closer to the tournament portion of the season. Teams usually begin practicing as soon as the school year begins. Each team approaches the practice schedule differently based on participant and location availability.


General Registration

Registration for the program involves three steps.

STEP 1: The first step involves national registration with FIRST. Completion of this registration step and payment of the required fees gives a team access to the Challenge and the Field Set up Kit (mission models and field mat). Your LEGO Mindstorms Robot kit, and extra supplies for team participation may also be purchased at the same time or you may purchase these items elsewhere.

Shipment of the field setup kit will not begin until mid-August and will only be sent after payment is received. IMPORTANT for school-based teams: We have seen a problem at some schools where an invoice was not paid timely and the field setup kit was received very late.

STEP 2: The second step involves registration with the Northern California tournament. This step will happen in October. We will make sure that all Northern California teams have a qualifying regional tournament to attend. Details on the qualifyng tournaments will be available usually starting in mid- to late-September on the ncafll.org website.

STEP 3: The final step in the registration process involves the completion of required forms. Coaches must also complete a team registration form. Parents of participants must complete a publicity and liability release form for their child. The team competition registration form and publicity release are due at the Qualifying Tournament.


Fees cover national and state registration and program operations. Basic expenses for a start up team that do not have any equipment are generally $700-800. Fees may vary for returning teams depending on what new or replacement supplies are needed.

Teams may choose to build a challenge table for practice. This table is not required, but the team may find it very helpful to have access to one, particularly as their tournament approaches.

Teams will need access to a computer or laptop to program the robot. Some teams add fees to cover snacks, t-shirts, etc.

The teams and/or coaches may want some training.

Teams determine how to cover fees. Some teams receive support from PTA/PTO, district funding, community organizations, or family supported participation fees.

Detailed Costs

Required: FLL Registration $265 includes program operations and support, access to this year's Challenge and 1 field set up kit.

Required: LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Kit (includes original RCX or a new NXT kit) ~$325 is necessary for team participation. The Robotics Kit is reusable from one season to the next. Programming software is included in the kit.

In FLL, teams are also able to program using RoboLab (~$70) which is available from Lego Education.

Most teams build the 4' x 8' table (~$100) with sides for practice. Most teams do not install the light bar. Detailed instructions are on the FLL site.

Teams will need access to a laptop or computer to program robot. Costs vary. One computer that can be used throughout the season is preferred as the programs are not that portable from computer to computer..

Training fees vary for various coach and team training classes. Training is optional and most teams do not have any formalized training other than doing the tutorial that is included in the robot kit.

Generally, you will need to change batteries several times during the FLL season. The controller takes six AA batteries. The NXT robotic kit has an optional rechargeable battery that can be ordered.

Replacement robot parts are needed from time to time. Playing At Learning is looking to setup a replacement parts pool for Northern California teams - contact us if you need help. We do have new RCX bricks available if you need one and don't have time/money to switch to the NXT equipment.

Tournament Fees vary depending on local resources and fund raising efforts. Generally, each tournament will vary between $25-$100 to register. You are not required to participate in a tournament, but it is fun and exciting to share and participate with other FLL teams that each have approached this year's challenge from a different perspective. Each team may participate in only one qualifying tournament. Based on the results of the regional, a certain number of teams from each qualifying regional will be invited to participate in the state tournament.


Training is available. A variety of lesson plans and support information is available on line. Coaches are encouraged to attend to understand and learn about the Challenge, rules, and FIRST values.

Contact us if you need coaching, robot building, programming, research, or teamwork training.


Playing At Learning is a big advocate of building community - in that spirit, we encourage teams to work with each other [what FIRST calls: co-opetition (co-operative competition)].

In addition, every tournament needs help to make a successful event - everyone has something that they can contribute. Needs range from helping to get food donations to feed volunteers to folding tournament programs to helping to raise needed cash donations. Every bit helps the larger community.

Finally, outreach is a very big part of community building and we encourage every FLL parent, team member, mentor, volunteer and coach to help spread the message of the impact that FLL has had on them and the youth. If you have an offer of help, please do not hesitate to contact us.


In Northern California, we have a qualifying system. This means that teams from Northern California must first qualify at a first round tournament. A percentage of the teams at each tournament are offered a place at the Championship Tournament.

In general, qualifying tournaments take place in November and December. Qualifying tournaments take place normally on Saturdays or Sundays. These competitions generally start at 8 a.m. with closing ceremonies and awards scheduled to end around 5 p.m. Smaller tournaments ( 12-16 teams) will either begin later and/or end sooner. The top teams (not just top robot performance - but top in all 4 areas) may receive an invitation to the Championship Tournament. All championship tournament invitations are at the discretion of the tournament director.

In 2004, we had 6 qualifiers and in 2005 and 2006, there were 10 qualifiers. In 2007, we expect ~12 qualifying tournaments.

Tournament schedules are still tentative but will be announced in the mid to late September timeframe. The Championship tournament typically takes place on a Saturday. Last year, team check-in started at 8 a.m., with closing ceremonies and awards scheduled to finish by 6 p.m and the event was held at San Jose City College in mid-January.

Note that FLL teams are free to register to attend any 1 championship tournament but only one. In California, we have 4 championship tournaments. The others are Central California, Los Angeles, and San Diego (LEGOLAND). Acceptance to any championship tournament is decided by that respective tournament director and will vary. As a coach you are obligated to let us know if you opt to compete in a different championship tournament and we do appreciate knowing early so that we can do a better job at capacity planning.


Additional Resources

FLL program information can be accessed at the FIRST LEGO League website. More resources are here.

Join the NCaFLL Yahoo! Group discussion list by visiting http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NCaFLL or sending email to NCaFLL-subscribe@yahoogroups.com


Educational Enrichment Through Play
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Last Updated: 05/05/2009 7:01 PM