FLL Startup Guide

The guide applies to all levels of FLL (Discover, Explore, Challenge).

Introduction to this Guide

Lightning Robotics FRC team 862 is a high school robotics team made up of students from Canton, Plymouth, and Salem High Schools in Canton, Michigan. We started with just a handful of members but have grown to include over 160 students, 30 mentors, and many great sponsors. We support our community through our many outreach events, including robot demonstrations throughout Plymouth and Canton, raising funds for cancer research at the annual Relay for Life, and hosting our annual Robots in the Park event that encourages attendees to discover different areas of STEM!

We created this guide as a reference for new teams or new leaders of existing teams about FIRST LEGO League (FLL) overall, as well as specific information on what it takes to start and manage a team.

If you have any questions about – or would like to recommend – a topic that isn’t  covered in this guide, please contact us at https://www.lightningrobotics.com/contact-us! We would like to hear from you as we  continue updating and adding onto this document!

What is FIRST?

FIRST is an international organization that creates and supports robotics programs for K-12 students around the world. They promote hands-on experience with STEAM and leadership. There are many levels of FIRST, separated by grade level. The grade level requirements for students to participate in a certain level of FIRST differ depending on state/country, so be sure to find the information for your region. For example, teams in Michigan should refer to the FIRST in Michigan website for specific information about regional/state competitions, grade levels for each  program, and more; whereas broader information can be found on the FIRST (general) website.

What is FLL?

FLL (FIRST LEGO League) is a level of competitive robotics, guided by adult coaches and mentors, where students build robots out of LEGOs and participate in a different challenge every year based on real-world STEM concepts such as energy, hydrodynamics, recycling, etc.

FLL (FIRST LEGO League) is split into 3 levels based on the grade level of the student:

FLL Discover: PreK - 1st grade (preschool in Michigan)

FLL Explore: 2nd - 4th grade (Kindergarten - 3rd grade in Michigan)

FLL Challenge: 4th - 8th grade (4th - 5th grade in Michigan)

There are 2 other robotics programs called FTC and FRC, also dependent on the student’s grade:

FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge): 7th - 12th grade (only middle school in Michigan)

FRC (FIRST Robotics Challenge): 9th - 12th grade

Team Structure

Teams must have at least 2 kids and as many as 10 kids, but we recommend 5-8. Additionally, kids from different schools or districts can be part of the same FLL team, although it may be more difficult to meet in-person.

All FIRST programs and levels require two adult coaches to guide the team. The two coaches must register through FIRST (detailed instructions under the How to Start a New Team section), and complete the Youth Protection Program and background checks. Additional coaches who go through this process are considered coaches affiliated with the team, but aren’t considered official leaders when it comes to official communications/actions between FIRST and the team. A team administrator is not required.

How to Join an Existing Team

If you don’t know whether there is an FLL team near you, you can check the Team and Event Search page on the FIRST website. However, it should be noted that, sometimes, this page doesn’t show every team in your area. In this case, you can contact your principal, secretary, or other administrators to ask about FLL teams near you. Groups in your community such as libraries, youth organizations, and parent-teacher associations may also be able to provide information. If you are in the Plymouth / Canton area in Michigan, you can contact us at https://www.lightningrobotics.com/contact-us, and we may be able to connect you with a team. 

To join an FLL team that already exists, you can contact the current lead coach(es) of the team and ask if they are open to more people joining. If so, you will need to create or sign into an existing FIRST account. Once the coaches invite you to join the team, you will be able to do so through your FIRST account. After completing the necessary forms and steps, you will be considered part of that team. Be sure to communicate with your lead coaches about meetings, events, and any other happenings within the team!

How to Start a New Team

Note: For a video walkthrough of the following process, click here


This table provides a breakdown of purchases for starting an FLL team, some of which are optional, while others are required. An asterisk (*) indicates our estimates based on average costs for local Michigan teams before reimbursement; all other figures are taken from the FIRST website

Grants and Reimbursement

Many grants are available to FLL teams. Some grants can be used to reimburse you for certain initial out-of-pocket costs while others are paid directly to FIRST and applied to purchases made through your dashboard. Be sure to check the details of each grant. Some grants are only available to rookie teams (teams that have just formed). For example, the FIRST in Michigan (FiM) Rookie Grant covers a rookie team’s out-of-pocket costs for the initial purchase of the FIRST FLL Challenge registration fee, challenge set, and SPIKE PRIME Kit. It offers reimbursement up to $926, and the deadline to apply is November 1, 2023. 

Additional grants can be viewed here. Be sure to use the filters at the top to select the correct location (state/country/continent), type of team (rookie/veteran), FIRST program (the specific level of FLL your team belongs to), and be aware of the application deadlines. After applying for a grant, the reimbursement will be funneled through the school/organization you’re affiliated with, and you should receive a check.

Meeting/Storage Spaces

FLL teams may meet at the location of the school/organization that they’re affiliated with. Be sure to reach out to principals, secretaries, and/or administrators for approval before doing so, as a staff member or approved parent/mentor should be present to supervise the meeting, as well as unlock and lock the building as needed.

You can also meet in other public places, such as libraries and municipal buildings, or ask other teams in the area (even FTC or FRC teams) if you can meet in their facility. For example, our FRC (high school) team, Lightning Robotics, meets in Canton High School and allows several FTC (middle school) teams in the area to meet there as well. 

Finally, you can meet in a coach’s or team member’s house/residence. Regardless of where you choose to meet, contact officials to make sure you’ll be able to meet there (if applicable), and communicate with your team members, mentors, and parents/guardians where you will be meeting.

Supplies (robot parts, game field, supplies, engineering notebooks, etc.), can be stored at a coach’s house or a school/organization building (as long as the organization approves of such).

The number of times your team will need to meet per week and the duration of each meeting will depend on what you need to get done, as well as the availability of mentors, meeting locations, and more. 


All FIRST programs and levels require two adult coaches to guide the team, although individuals filling the Coach 1 and Coach 2 positions can change as the team sees fit. Both coaches must register through FIRST (instructions can be found in the How to Start a New Team section) and complete the Youth Protection Program and background checks. Additional coaches who go through this process are affiliated with the team, but they aren’t considered official leaders when it comes to official communications/actions between FIRST and the team. Head coaches may reach out to parents and other adults to request their mentorship, or parents/other adults may reach out to head coaches to volunteer to mentor. A team administrator is not required. 

Mentors are expected to manage communications within the team, handle team finances and registration, come to the majority of meetings to guide students, and complete other administrative tasks that must be done. 

Season Timelines

PDF Version

FLL Startup Guide Publish.pdf