A silent update to rookie criteria

I learned recently that there was a pretty significant change to rookie criteria, silently pushed/updated on the FIRST “evergreen” documentation. https://www.firstinspires.org/resource-library/frc/rookie-team-criteria

  1. If only one mentor or teacher with prior experience on a FIRST Robotics Competition
    team starts a team at a new school/organization/alliance, or as a non-affiliated team,
    that team qualifies as a Rookie Team. If more than one mentor from existing team or teams starts a new, that team is not a Rookie

As far as I can tell, this was pushed out June 6th of this year with no other announcement. I know for sure when I looked into rookie criteria in 2015 that the main limitation was number of students.

I have lots of issues:

  1. Prior experience is poorly defined.

  2. This would have significantly reduced my desire to start a rookie team in 2015 (which already was pretty weak, I only did it because so many things fell into place for me that it seemed to be a sign)

  3. I really believe this new criteria significantly hurts the chances of a rookie team (per FIRST rules) becoming sustainable

  4. Amplifies the issues I have in general with the “evergreen” documentation. How are we supposed to know when there are big changes like this? I thought the whole point of evergreen documentation is that it’s not supposed to change?

  5. If I did FTC and am familiar with FRC does that jeopardize a rookie classification? What if I was a parent, learned about FRC but just helped bring in lunches - then decide well obviously my son/daughter would be better off if we just start our own team? Is there a time limit since my last experience with FRC? What if I did it 10 years ago, the FRC world is way different. What if I was a student on a team…does that constitute experience? Don’t you want your alumni growing up, leaving town and starting new teams? Don’t you want them maybe going to some good teams and get experience first about what it means to be a mentor on a team before they start a team? Lastly, having 1 (pick your favorite WFA-mentor) is going to be way different than having 5 (pick your favorite nice but-less-than-helpful mentors).

  6. Did FIRST do any kind of study or analysis showing if teams with on the likelihood of long term success of rookies with more than 1 mentor with FRC experience vs teams with 1 or fewer mentors with FRC experience. I end that statement without a question mark because we know that answer.

  7. This has a significant impact on fundraising for rookies. If all my ducks are lining up in a row and suddenly I have two mentors with FRC experience, suddenly instead of thinking I might get some rookie grants to help get tools/parts or pay for registration I am now even further in the hole. I have to choose between being able to get some rookie grants to kick start the team or having enough experience to be able to teach the kids a little bit more.

  8. I think this change encourages more rookies that have no idea what they’re doing, get some rookie grants, realize they’re in way over their head and maybe not even show up to a competition. Even with 30+ veteran teams in Houston, there was a Houston team that got a rookie grant and didn’t show up to either district event in Houston that they were registered for.

  9. Who is this trying to help? What issue is this addressing?

After a few days of conversing with others, I’ll share some of the best guesses at the last one:

  1. It’s all about growth. FIRST thinks that if I’m two experienced FRC mentors…instead of joining up and starting one FRC team, now we wont join forces and we’ll instead start TWO FRC teams.
  • If this is HQs thought process, we need to check in on them. If I have FRC experience, no way am I starting a rookie team unless I have another mentor that knows what the heck they’re doing.
  1. It was because enough rookie teams complained about facing “super rookies” you know the type – the team that comes in with something more than a kitbot and has team branding already. Maybe even win an award that isn’t for rookies only.
  • I hope it wasn’t this. If this is the issue – maybe start with addressing the award criteria for Rookie-All Star or Rookie Inspiration. Something like “this award will take the amount of prior FIRST experience your team had” or something. Teams would probably try to hide or play down that…but I’d be willing to beat teams will do the same with this new criteria too. Maybe they only have 1 mentor with prior experience their rookie year, then suddenly pick up some more the following year.
  • Also, FIRST should be encouraging this type of thing. Growing from either FTC to FRC or having experienced mentors breaking off and starting their own teams is the best way to grow the FIRST program in a sustainable, reliable way
  1. Too many rookie teams applying for a limited set of grants
  • If it’s this, then my reaction will be “Oh no…you mean the fact that FIRST is setting their “most prestigious award” criteria to be based on the number of teams that they start rather than sustainability efforts means too many rookies are starting???
  • If I’m a grant reviewer, I want to award the grants to teams that I think have a chance of making it past that 3rd/4th year cutoff where it seems like a majority of teams die

I don’t know, a lot about this all rubs me the wrong way. If the new rules were set up in a way to discourage new rookies from forming before they had some idea about what to expect, I’d be for it. This seems like the exact opposite of it. I think we want rookies to form from FTC teams, and from mentors with experience getting together to start a new team. It seems like those are the teams that will be around for a long time, and benefit the program the most.

What kind of reasons could you make up for why this is a good idea? Am I missing other reasons why this is a terrible idea? Am I crazy for thinking this deserved more than a quiet update to an evergreen document?


I’m thinking of the list of teams I know wouldn’t be rookies.

1902 wouldn’t.
2815 wouldn’t.
3940 wouldn’t.
4451 wouldn’t.
4901 wouldn’t.
6366 wouldn’t.

If the number was greater than three, MAYBE we have something to discuss. (MAYBE.) But if the goal is sustainability, 1 is entirely too low.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.


Not that I would ever do this - but you could always just call the additional helpers assistants, and not name them as mentors. We have official rules for our team on what constitutes a mentor, and usually they have to be with the team at least a year before it can be considered.

They are likely trying to address the awards issue problem that people have complained about in the past, as well as addressing the monetary issue.

This doesn’t prevent FTC / FLL mentors from starting teams, because those are not FIRST Robotics Competition mentors if I’m reading it correctly.

However, I agree that measuring a team’s ‘rookieness’ by two mentors isn’t a fair measure either. Two mentors and a bunch of first time kids are still rookies to me. But if it’s an established team with established equipment that happens to have taken a couple years off - are they really a rookie team?

I suspect that no set-in-stone way of defining will please everyone. That’s the position FIRST is in when they try to define this sort of thing. I empathize with them. I certainly don’t know of a good litmus test that would work for every situation, and FIRST doesn’t have the resources to comb through all these situations individually, so they need that set-in-stone definition.


According to the Wayback Machine, as of May 7 of this year, the previous last update was at the end of August last year.

Wayback Machine Link to the most recent snapshot before June 6:

For reference here’s the 2017-2019 phrasing:

  1. If one mentor or teacher from an Existing Team leaves and starts a Team at a new
    school/organization/alliance, or as a non-affiliated team, that Team qualifies as a
    Rookie Team.

And the new 2020 phrasing:

  1. If only one mentor or teacher with prior experience on a FIRST Robotics Competition
    team starts a team at a new school/organization/alliance, or as a non-affiliated team,
    that team qualifies as a Rookie Team. If more than one mentor from existing team or
    teams starts a new, that team is not a Rookie.

I really do wish FIRST would publish some sort of changelog for evergreen documentation. Having evergreen docs is great until they get updated and people miss the updates.


If it’s the award issue - then I think that FTC/FLL teams with a history and students with knowledge about what to expect from a FIRST competition/judges pose a greater threat as super rookies than a team with 2+ experienced mentors. And I’d still argue address it with the award criteria - I think it’d be possible to draft something up that says that teams with no prior experience to FIRST will be weighted differently than those with FIRST experience.

<rant>It definitely bothered me our rookie year when someone said “oh well you’re not really rookies - you have 3 mentors with FRC experience”. Really? Because when we started we had no tools, machinery, parts, past robots to play/prototype with, and we had 25 or so freshman that had never built a robot before (most of which had clearly never used power tools before). Oh, and we built a pretty crappy robot, but because of the year we couldn’t even go out and play defense. Sure felt like we were rookies to me. </rant>


This seems like a rewording of one of the current definitions of a rookie team.
To me, it seems clearer than before without adding any undue extra restrictions.

MY complaint would be that if you go to the “Start a Team” page, the rookie criteria is not linked there…


Important thread. We’re missing a blog post that explains the reasoning. This is a bad policy change that exacerbates the problem of ill-prepared rookies. We should be heading in the direction of encouraging greater preparedness prior to program entry.


While 2791 didn’t start with much FRC experience, alumni mentors have had a huge role in shaping the team and helping it overcome the challenge of running an effective FRC program. FIRST should not impose rules that actively discourage rookie teams from partnering with mentors who bring precious FRC expertise to the table.

There is no worse experience I’ve had I’m my eight years of FRC than the 2013 season, where we were lucky if we drove for an entire match. That season almost made me give up on FRC entirely. We should be doing all we can to save rookies the same fate.


From your edit - it seems to me that you do not disagree with the criteria. (Note: I agree, it should be more prominent and on the “start an FRC team” page seems like a great place to put it)

Do you agree with the criteria? Do you mind me asking why? Or are you just making a statement rather than offering an opinion? Genuinely curious for reasons that I may be missing as to the potential reasoning/benefits of this criteria.

This is a horrible decision. I have a feeling this is just going to cause new teams to just not put their mentors down for a year, with no YPP background checks or any of the other benefits from having mentors registered. Since there is no way to actually police the registration, this wouldn’t even be hard to pull off.


Serious question:

Did people like the rule “before?” At best, this looks like a clarification to the previous version. I fail to understand why people are only up in arms now.

To be clear i understand the “not being told the wording was changed” portion. Only the rule itself.


I have an issue with the rule as it was written and the rule as it is currently written. I have an issue with the lack of notification only as it relates to a bad rule being updated into a rule that is marginally worse.


To me, this seems like a way to torpedo the success of rookie teams while also encouraging burnout among alumni. Just two veterans is enough for a rookie team to have “too much” help, and now alumni can’t start a team together without declining rookie grants and awards.

The only reason I could think FIRST would do this is because they think each alum should start their own team - which is a recipie for burnout waiting to happen.


When I started 5414 in 2015, I did not see any rule indicating a limitation on the number of mentors. I thought criteria 5 was entirely new. It appears that it was a vague criteria last year and was clarified this year.

I have issues with just about any form of this rule. I agree with Billfred that maybe there’s some number of mentors with experience where it can become a discussion, but I’m not sure where that number is - or really what is the intent behind that criteria is in general.

Limiting it to 1 or fewer to be a rookie team seems like it has to have one of the following intents: * a way to reduce the number of rookie teams by making it a stricter definition (unlikely)

  • increase the number of rookies (experienced mentors should go start a new team with no more than their experience) (also unlikely)
  • prevent “super rookies” (ineffective)
  • or impact who gets rookie funding (if true - poorly implemented/thought out).
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To quote the 2014 “rookie team criteria:”

  1. If a mentor, or teacher, from an existing team leaves and starts a team at a new school, that team does qualify as a Rookie team.

  2. If individual students who have been involved in a team leave that school and start a team in their new school that team also is generally considered a Rookie providing it meets condition 1, and does not involve sufficient students to be considered a version of condition 3. As a maximum, the number of students in the new team that have competed in prior teams must not exceed 5.

The 5 student rule has been around for a good while as it pops up as far back as 2012. The ruling on “veteran mentors” though is fairly ambiguous, but it does only specify that “a” mentor, not “multiple” mentors can leave and start their own team. Granted these are rules from 6 years ago that has basically no value today, so its probably not even worthwhile to discuss the meaning of a rule from this long ago.

Figured I’d start with a statement, and add the subjective opinion later if needed :smiley:

FIRST, in my opinion, must establish a headcount for experienced FRC mentors that are allowed on a new rookie team. Should it be zero? …one? …two? …29?

As the rules stand, a “new” rookie team can have 1 experienced mentor and 5 experienced students, so long as they are at a new school/location (am I reading that right?). That’s pretty lenient. I know some championship level teams that aren’t much larger than that description! Add a second experienced mentor -> no rookie status. This may seem unfair, but there needs to be an objective set of criteria. And if that 1+5 veteran-composed “rookie” team go up against a true rookie team, with 1 mentor and 5 kids, for rookie awards, I think I know who has a better chance at winning.

We can point out hundreds of special case scenarios where teams may skirt the rules, but that doesn’t get at the point: is there a number of mentors other than 1 that works better for the success of FRC? And if so, can you show your work?

Now, in my opinion, 1 veteran mentor is a good limit for a rookie team. Why? Because my gut reaction says so. Someone else may prefer 2. But 1 is good for me.


I understand the students, but there are so many scenarios where one mentor is way too little to start a new team.

One big scenario is if a teacher has a student at another school, and wants to start a team at their own school, they literally cannot invite any other mentors. They will be at a huge disadvantage, and that teacher might not have much knowledge on how to do lets say the mechanical side of the competition.

All the powerhouse mentors will find a way around this rule, making it moot, but this will extremely hurt many rookie teams, as they might not be willing to work around the rule, and will suffer as a result.

FIRST really needs to focus on raising the floor, not lowering the ceiling, and this is absolutely going against that. Limiting mentors is one of the dumbest things FIRST could do towards that objective.

Note I’m only thinking in terms of actual competition. The awards I really don’t think are a part of this, and if so I think the rule would have just limited the awards, not taking away the entire rookie status and qualifications for grants. This is all about reducing the competitiveness of rookie teams, and making them less likely to succeed, which is incredibly stupid. I think limiting awards would be ok, but taking away grants (which is what this is really doing in the long run) is just horrible.


One possible theory: someone was reviewing these documents, recognized that the existing clause 5 was vague and ambiguous, thus they added they wording to remove the ambiguity, but inadvertently created some unintended consequences. It’s as good of a theory as any at this point.


Thanks for the link. I wonder if we were inadvertent rule breakers. Or maybe the wording there specifically allowed us to be considered a rookie. Perhaps I got it clarified with FIRST. I do remember actively wondering if we would be considered a rookie team or not since we had 3 mentors with FIRST experience.

Agreed that there isn’t much to discuss about a rule from this long ago - but appreciate the knowledge.