A Plea to FIRST

Last week, FIRST’s directive for events to be more strict regarding robots getting back to the field after timeouts became very clear. FIRST has expressed to event volunteers that if robots aren’t on the field when T=0 on the timeout clock, they aren’t to be allowed on the field.

We saw the results of this strict directive at the Great Northern Regional. Two teams were 55 seconds late in getting their robot cart to the field gate, and 11 seconds behind their last alliance partner to be loaded onto the field. You can see the action play out here at 42:40.

This post has nothing to do with the local volunteers at this event. They did a fantastic job throughout the week and I along with my team couldn’t be more appreciative of their efforts at GNR, or the many other events that roughly the same group of people help to run.

This post is a plea to FIRST to give your local volunteers a new directive. To have some faith in your local volunteers to make decisions regarding their events. FIRST, please issue a new directive to your volunteers such that they can determine whether to let a team on the field or not.

There are many factors that would go into this decision for a local volunteer. Whether or not the event is running on schedule, how late a team is getting out to the field, if a team is consistently late and has been warned repeatedly, etc. Particularly the first factor is critically important. Volunteers and teams alike make plans around the posted event schedule, and events deviating from a posted schedule needs to be limited as much as possible. But the local event staff knows that, and they have all the information they need in order to make an educated decision as to how flexible they are with their time. If FIRST stands by their strict directive to volunteers, then there’s nothing the local volunteers can do.

FIRST, you have the potential to improve the team experience for teams in future events. Is an 11 second delay to the event worth sending 80+ parents and students home feeling like they had the carpet ripped out from under them? Is an 11 second delay worth students putting the blame on themselves and feeling like they let their teammates down? Is an 11 second delay worth the emotional stress these actions cause students?

To get an idea regarding how this experience affected our team, you can see a podcast with reactions from some of our team members here. As a TL:DR, it was completely our responsibility to get out to the field on time, and the actions taken by local event staff were in line with the directive from FIRST. We appreciate the heck out of local volunteers.

I’m confident that if FIRST’s directive were different, that the outcome of this situation would’ve been different. An 11 second delay, which turned into a 9 minute and 11 second delay as the event volunteers figured out how to handle the situation, and proceeded to make an announcement about the situation to the audience… was not worth it. The event could’ve actually saved 9 minutes of delay by just allowing all the teams to enter the field in this case. I’m confident that would’ve been the result if the message from FIRST were different.

To be clear, there are situations in which it makes sense to disallow teams from entering the field. Significant delays, repeated delays, and lack of a good faith effort to be to the field on time are all great reasons. None of those were present in this case.

TL;DR: FIRST, please change your directive regarding how strict volunteers must be when deciding whether to allow teams to enter the field late or not. Have some faith in your local volunteers to make the right decision. Save teams from this stress and disappointment.

101 Likes

I agree whole heartedly.
The time out is for the team to work on their robot. The travel time form the pits should not be included in the time out.
If FIRST wants to be strict, they should watch the team and make sure that the work STOPS when the timer runs out, then allow them to get to the field as quick as possible.
Some work has to be done in the pits because it’s hard to bring the whole pit to the arena.
Some work can be done near the arena.
The 11 seconds could have been them trying to get through the hallways from the pits.

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Just another case of HQ not caring about the customer from my point of view.

47 Likes

I agree with the apparent, genuine care for teams here. That being said, the exceptions are difficult. I’ve witnessed rules being applied based on favoritism (or lack thereof) far too many times at events. I think, when possible, we should take some discretion away from local volunteers to avoid the risk of such favoritism.

Team A is running to the field and is 55 seconds late. The field volunteers like Team A because they’re friendly, etc

Team is running to the field and is 55 seconds late. The field volunteers don’t like Team B because they’ve been rude to the field staff.

Both of these teams should be treated the same (though Team B should probably be nicer in the future!).

My question is:

How do we allow local events leeway while simultaneously ensuring fair treatment of all rules across all events? This is obviously a bigger problem than this one rule, but an interesting discussion nonetheless.

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I’ve been at events where teams who are late to the field were allowed on, and teams who were late to the field were not, and that kind of capricious enforcement is pretty gross and, IMO as a customer of FIRST, unacceptable.

At Champs in 2010 we were thirty seconds late. We put our robot on the field, set up our driver’s station, and then they made us take our robot off the field and vacate…which took significantly longer than just starting the match. Several matches later, one of our alliance partners was more than a minute late, got their robot on the field, and were allowed to play. To this day, I am certain that because we were a bunch of first-time nobodies and they were a consistent top-tier performing team, they were given deference that we were not.

That said, you could probably avoid some of this by just changing the rule so that the team has to be moving toward the queuing area and not working on their robot at the end of the time out.

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I’m going to play the devil’s advocate for a moment.

Team A breaks down. They are given extra time to fix their robot.
Team B breaks down. They are given extra time - but can’t fix their robot in time.

Team B is almost certainly going to be upset because they weren’t given enough time. How much is enough? Who gets to decide?

Without a hard rule stating what the time limit is and what the consequences are, we will have a totally different problem. People will cite other instances “team A was given 9 minutes, but we were only given 8. How is that fair?” And they’d have a very good point.

FIRST competitors regularly complain about rules that aren’t crystal clear. They also complain about rules that aren’t enforced. But in this situation, changing the rule to some subjective measure and amount of time means that it will be applied even more unevenly than the current rule.

I don’t feel like 11 seconds is enough of a reason to ruin an entire competition for a team. At the same time - I want all the teams to know where they stand and have the same rules apply. Until someone can suggest a better solution than the current system that can be written as a hard and fast rule and applied across the board, I’m going to have to stick with supporting the current rule.

Note that our team has been bitten by this rule as well - on several occasions we have fielded a non-functional robot.

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Perfect example of a situation in which “consistency” in rule enforcement can have a negative outcome. Allowing for judgement to be utilized in the application of rules has some serious positive potential.

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Sadly another example where the team experience is thrown out the window. Schedule is King at FRC events and until FIRST gives their events more leeway to use common sense in these situations, students will occasionally be extremely disappointed when they didn’t have to be.

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I agree here, I think judgement calls aren’t the correct fix here, I prefer if in the rules they explicitly leave the time out for actual robot fixes and then movement time.

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If a team has a representative on the field, perhaps with some* robot parts, at the end of the timeout, would that be sufficient to meet the requirement and allow the team to load the rest of the robot in a timely fashion?

*for instance a battery, and perhaps a set of bumpers

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Continuing to be the devils advocate. Won’t this result in this exact same discussion when the team doesn’t start moving on time, or they put just one more zip tie on the robot and get DQ’d?

(tongue in cheek) After all, it was just one more zip tie. A team shouldn’t have their event ruined for that, right? (/tongue in cheek)

What’s your proposed solution here then?

I have to agree with you here. FIRST is trying to take the favoritism out of play, and there is a learning moment here. Yes sometimes volunteers will stray away from the FIRSTs directive, but if FIRST gives leeway we will have a post about how my robot wasn’t allowed and yours was.

Additionally it is a huge learning opportunity. My project doesn’t get done on the deadline, I get punished. Do I work extra hours early on in the next project to make sure it’s ready to go? Does my out team spend the next “downtime” where someone doesn’t have a task in the pit tightening bolts and looking at wear parts…

Maybe let teams know that time out time limits will be strictly enforced in all cases? And then do it.

14 Likes

I absolutely believe FIRST cares about the team experience. I believe the team experience is why they made the decision to define a hard and fast rule for these situations. The only way to provide consistency across all events is to crack down on enforcement of these rules. I completely understand that stance, and I respect FIRST making an effort to improve the team experience.

I just happen to believe that this particular rule would benefit from flexibility. Allow the circumstances to dictate how this is ruled on a case by case basis. I trust the local volunteers running an event to make the best decisions for their events. All the volunteers I’ve met care deeply about the team experience, and will do everything in their power to maximize it.

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I wholeheartedly agree with this suggestion, it is especially valid for champs or DCMP where the difference in time to get to the field from the back of the pits vs. the front of the pit area is quite literally 1-2 minutes of fast walking without a robot Last year we were in the very back row at Detroit , it is really difficult to quickly navigate down an aisle dodging slow-walkers and robots.

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This whole topic was hashed out in detail last year,
here
And here
and this is probably the result of that discussion.

As for giving the ref “leeway” lets me ask this:

Suppose the NFL or NCAA came out and said they were going to give football refs “leeway” in enforcing the play clock. Right now, if you don’t snap the ball before the play clock reads zero, you get a five yard penalty. How would the game be affected if the refs could decide whether or not to enforce the rule?

I don’t understand the mentality where the rules don’t matter. “Let them do what they want. It hurts their self esteem if we enforce the rules.”

I have an idea, lets allow police to decide whether or not to enforce laws.

I’m not saying I like the timeout rule, I know it could be made better. What I am saying is that if a rule exists, it should be enforced equally on all parties at all times.

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It’s not that the rules don’t matter, but rather that we can entrust our volunteers with using their judgement in applying the rules to the infinitely variable set of circumstances that surround them.

Police use their own discretion at deciding when to arrest, detain, or cite and individual of a crime or violation. Police will let people off with warnings under the right circumstances. Even if arrested, district attorneys are then permitted to use their judgement to decide if an individual will be charged with a crime or not, and which crime they will be charged with. Our legal system involves tremendous amounts of individual decision making.

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Sir, this is a high school robotics competition.

I think there are plenty of teams that have never experienced this and until it happens to your team, you don’t care. Put yourself in that team’s shoes - the drive team is exhausted, the pit crew has worked their butts off for 3 days straight. The gates close on them as they walk up to the field 30 seconds late and effectively their season is over. Why on Earth would we want our program to be like that? That’s not inspiring. It’s demoralizing, it turns kids off to the program.

Let our event managers do what’s best for the students and give them the power to make these judgement calls.

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I won’t even begin to legislate on the rules, but if we;re going to call the last line of the blue box of C7 explicitly, can we please move it out of the blue box and be explicit about the penalty then? In short, make C7 say this outside the blue box and remind all teams of this during alliance selection? That way even if the execution changes teams have a higher chance of knowing this isn’t a “note” but an actuality of how the rule is being called?"

C7. Be prompt/safe when coming to and going from the FIELD. DRIVE TEAMS may not cause significant or repeated delays during the event to the start of a MATCH, the FIELD reset after a MATCH, or continuation of MATCHES after a TIMEOUT. At the conclusion of a TIMEOUT, ROBOTS are expected to be staged on the FIELD prior to the timer displaying zero (0) and ready for the MATCH to start. Violation: If prior to the MATCH, the offending DRIVE TEAM’S ROBOT will be DISABLED. If after the MATCH, YELLOW CARD.

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