Chief Delphi, we need to talk

I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, and with the recent threads about some events, it seems like as good of time as any. We need to discuss how users of Chief Delphi talk about volunteers & staff at events. It’s definitely not every user here, but there are recent examples (over the last 2 weeks), where many people have posted what can be interpreted as deeply personal attacks.

First, I want to give some background on me and my volunteering experience with FRC. This is my 16th year volunteering. I’ve been field reset, a scorekeeper, an FTAA, currently serve as FTA since 2014 and also currently serve as Co-Chief Field Supervisor since 2019. I’ve been to FRC regionals and district events across the country, have worked with hundreds of volunteers and teams from across the world. In 2016, 2017, and 2018 I had the opportunity to be an FTA on a competition field at Championships, during which I served as both Primary and Support FTA. All of this background is to hopefully show that I’ve been heavily involved in FRC for a long time and am not just a fly on the wall.

During the 2017 and 2018 Championship events that I worked, I struggled. I struggled a lot. I could barely sleep, I was grinding my teeth at night, I wasn’t having fun. I was stress eating and would go back to the hotel each night after matches ended and just want to be alone. I have many friends that I’ve made throughout my years in FRC and usually there are evening activities where we can catch up – I didn’t attend any of those. I secretly hoped that my field wouldn’t get selected for Einstein: I didn’t want – no, I couldn’t have handled - the additional stress of having to work in front of 20,000+ live attendees plus all the people watching the webcast streams. It was too much pressure. And I knew that any decision that I made would potentially be scrutinized by folks on Chief Delphi.

This kind of external pressure made me consider not wanting to volunteer any more. It was, and still is, not good for my mental health. After the 2018 Championship event, I decided that it was best for my mental health to not be on a competition field at Champs. I’ve requested to serve as an FTA on the practice fields since then (even though it was just 2019, I made the same request in 2020 before the season was cancelled).

I know I’m not alone in my feelings about CD affecting my mental health, because I’ve had conversations with other FTAs throughout the years. But like in so many other areas of our lives, mental health is a topic that is hard to broach. I hope this post helps others to feel like they can talk about their mental health. I also know that not everyone internalizes things the same way that I do, so I am certainly not speaking for all Key Volunteers or even for all FTAs.

Below are some example of what I’m talking about. These are all deeply personal attacks, or at least that’s how I interpret them. Am I being extra defensive because I consider the FTA a friend? Definitely. Do I think the FRC/CD community needs to think more about how the words that we write can have an impact on individuals (whether they are Staff or ‘just’ a volunteer)? Definitely.

Posts like the following are hard for me to stomach:

There are rules about not having WiFi access points in the venue for a reason. Non-sanctioned WiFi networks can have detrimental effects to the performance of the robots on the field. I was not at the event, but it’s my understanding that the Emcee and GA had also asked for WiFi access points to be turned off, and the response from some in the audience was to create new ones named like “ImNotTurningItOff” or even more vulgar. At this point, it’s not just the volunteers at the event that are aware of the WiFi networks around, but support staff at HQ as well. Both support staff from HQ and the Emcee/GA asked the FTA to get on the microphone and be stern about turning off WiFi. Which she then did. And now she’s being called “emotional” because some folks in the audience decided it would be funny to flaunt the rules.

The FTA made a conscious decision to be involved in the closing of the gates herself, even though it’s the job of the field reset team. She didn’t want the the poor field reset person to have to suffer while reading through a CD thread.
Also, the FTA didn’t make a decision to prevent the entire alliance from playing. That call was, and is, the Head Ref’s final decision to make. We don’t know what was said between the FTA and the HR while the far gate was closed, but she’s clearly passionate about whatever it was. I don’t bring up the decision-making process to shift the blame from the FTA to the HR - the blame should lie with HQ and with the rules they have written. This is reinforced by Frank’s blog post: https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/blog/2022-timeout-trouble

I’d also like to emphasize that we instruct our volunteers to follow the rules as FIRST HQ has written them. If time is up, and a referee or an FTA closes the gate on the field with a playoff team still in the pits, they are doing as instructed, whether they like it or not (and very likely, not). I ask that you direct any feedback or concern you have about this to FIRST HQ.
And since Brian Maher has so kindly notified everyone, the FTA is an employee at HQ. She, and the rest of the staff for FRC, definitely give more than “the hours of training & years of volunteering.” They are consistently working 7 days a week for months at a time to try to make the FRC program the best it can be - and they damn sure aren’t doing it for the money. Is FRC perfect? Nope. Is there room for improvement? Yep. Should we make assumptions about the intention of the decision to close the gates? 100% no. I can guarantee you that the FTA and HR did not want to “ruin the teams’ seasons”.

I too am nervous and terrified to post because of the backlash that I’ll receive. Sometimes CD is amazing (like the jumping robot reveal last week); sometimes CD is radioactive.

I’m not sure how to respond to this one. I think Bryan probably said it best.

There’s a lot of anger in the whole thread directed at the volunteers, specifically the FTA.

I hope that we, as a community, can come together and make the decision to treat each other with respect that we all deserve. I know that folks can get extremely passionate about FRC, but please let’s turn that passion into something productive. The “New Timeout Rules” thread is a great example of this!

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Not everyone on the internet is right.

PSA:

Thoroughly helpful in shutting out the harmful voices.

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Oh, I think they should have just waited longer, in violation of the rules as written and available to every team months in advance, so blue could have an unfair advantage. [/Sarcasm]

Folks, things you post never go away. Remember, if you would not be PROUD to have your grandmother read your post, better not post it.

Easy to accuse, but is it right? Do you know all the details or are you reacting to something that may or may not be factual?

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I flagged that post, but was discouraged by the number of positive reactions it generated.

Thanks for your perspective. It’s very easy to criticize something when you weren’t there and when you’ve never been on the other side of it.

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Honestly? We need more of this. Not specifically the direct attacks or anything, but we need to address the issues with the program and make some change happen. I don’t know what it is, but it feels like the FRC community has been too hesitant to come forward with specific issues they’ve faced, and problems that exist at a systemic level. I’ve seen too many posts on here that imply something bad has happened to them at a competition, but stops short of saying what happened or who was involved.

And on another note, don’t take criticism of FIRST personally. While their programs bring us together, HQ isn’t your personal friend. Someone calling them out on something isn’t necessarily an attack on everyone who supports them or participates in their programs. We can participate while acknowledging that there are problems with FIRST, and we don’t have to come out and defend them when someone points out that there’s problems.

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Wait, what? So you’re saying there might be incorrect information on, say, Reddit? Or Wikipedia? Or even Chief Delphi?

Criminy! Who knew?


Seriously, the internet really is fake news, ill formed opinions, and outright whopping lies part of the time.

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Yes, many kids feel this way too about building their robot.

Closing the gate on kids makes kids consider not wanting to be on the team anymore.


Scott, I really do hear you about stress. I believe you and I have felt the same way about mentoring. I remember one day a few years ago, I pulled into the school’s parking lot, turned off the car, and thought, “I don’t want to be here. I just want to go home.”

But I went into the meeting because I knew my kids would be happy to see me there, and they were depending on me to help them at a particularly critical time in build season.

But the truth is that the kids feel the same way during competitions. And KVs are closing the gate on them because they were 30 seconds late. One tiny, stupid mistake like the ethernet cord getting tangled on the way out of the pit can lead to them missing the match, and ending their season, because an adult much taller, much older, and much more veteran than them is scared they will be reprimanded if they do not do so. These are highly stressed, highly confused, highly anxious, and often highly vulnerable students we are often working with.

I wish I was an FTA so I could promptly ignore HQ telling me to close the gate on teams. I don’t care if I get home at 11pm instead of 9pm. The program is for the kids.

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As one of the students at one of your regionals earlier this year (If I recognize your pfp correctly), everyone on the volunteer side did a good job providing grace to the teams with broken robots. They would inform us when our timeout deadlines were approaching, and would stay in the pits and radio to the scoring table when we left so that as long as we were making an effort to get there on time, we would be fine. I really appreciated how you and the rest of the FIRST staff handled the timeout rules, and while I’m glad the rules have been improved, you did really well giving teams the support they need without going outside the rulebook either.

It’s easy to get angry at people we’ve never met over the internet. Don’t take it personally. Thank you for your service to teams. The reason things like this end up on ChiefDelphi is that they’re unusual. No one makes a thread whenever an FTA fixes a team’s communication issue or repairs a malfunctioning scoring system. Even if there’s an occasional moment where someone messes up, overall, FIRST has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for all of us, and you’ve been a very important part of inspiring us.

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If you wish to have a strong voice in this discussion at events, I recommend volunteering as a referee.

I have, but thanks.

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I will note, a decent number of the more charged replies to the threads in question were written by WFA and WFFA winners.
While everyone makes mistakes, I’d be willing to bet that they stand behind their posts.
The magnitude of such respected individuals making such passionate statements should show how critically important this issue is to the program.

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And the things these teams have experienced will never go away. For some of those students it will be burned into their brain. They will never forget it. It’s a big deal Don. I’m sorry that some volunteers feel bad, but the gravity of these calls will cause many students to walk away forever from the program.

At the end of the day, I’m more worried about how the students were affected than the volunteers.

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Sincere question…

Does anybody think we get Team Update 19 and a Blog post called “Timeout Trouble” without the community outrage primarily expressed via Chief Delphi?

I’ve seen too many occasions where this community has acted like a sounding board to FIRST HQ in an effort to enact positive change. Too many instances where community outrage has facilitated necessary changes to improve the program.

There are times that people go overboard. As somebody who regularly posts foolish things on this forum I can attest to that… but the positive outweighs the negative from my perspective.

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This is a false dilemma. You can, and should, care about both.

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This you?

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Thank you for saying it out loud. FIRST is great, the toxic echo chamber that has happened over the last decade+ on Chief, not so much. There are right ways and wrong ways to approach every problem.

Those that know me personally, know I take every card or gate closure I have ever had to do to heart. I have had to issue far too many cards (see, Airship Pilots in 2017…) For reference, I have been a volunteer since my sophomore year in high school, 2003, making this my 20th season volunteering. I volunteer because I want to help make the events great for the students. I continue to volunteer especially in such a high profile role, because I know as an openly gay man, I may help some kid who was like me understand that it’s ok to be who you are, and that they are welcome in FIRST, and that it may indeed save their life like the program did mine.

I remember both times I have “closed a gate” on a team. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t funny. It sucked. Full stop. I also try my best to ensure that every team has the best event, and opportunity to play their matches. In both cases, the teams could not be found by event volunteers, and were not on the field or even making their way to the field when the timer sounded (nor there when the field was otherwise ready to go).

I don’t know what happened in LI, and I have tried to stay out of it for the most part. I have thoughts on the matter, and have shared them with a select number of people, and will, when the time is right, share them with HQ staff, and the Co-Chief Head Refs in order to try to help make sure these rules are fixed in an equitable manner, that still allows for an event to progress at some point.

I want to see the rules change. I want what’s best for the teams. But I also know that a lot of the same people complaining now, will also complain later, because at the end of the day, events still need to finish. Don’t forget, the same volunteers you are bashing are the ones that show up a day before an event to get the field set up and prepped for you. They are the same ones who stay until sometimes midnight or later doing teardown and load out. They spend 40+ hours a weekend ensuring that teams have a great experience, to the best of their abilities, with the rules and guidance given to them by HQ.

I appreciate Scott bringing up mental health. It’s not something discussed often in regards to the volunteers (or HQ staff, because tbh it doesn’t matter here.) Anyone that knows how much I take calls to heart, knows that I re-analyze every card issued a few times over, and often times second guess myself, even when I know it was the right call to make. I have had full out breakdowns after events because they took that much of an emotional toll on me.

The actions of this community recently, and citing things like “Would Woodie be proud?” is no different then high school bullying, and quite frankly, in my opinion, would not make Woodie proud. If you want to change things so much, stop being a keyboard warrior, and do something to help make the change happen. Volunteer, work your way up to a Key Role, then help us make the changes. I don’t personally know a single head referee who has EVER had to make a call like this, and been happy or giddy about it. The fact that y’all have been making this accusation and assumption is just plain wrong.

As to Ryan’s post about if the blog/TU19 would have happened without chief? Maybe, maybe not. The fact of the matter is, there are also people working behind the scenes to fix these issues too. (See the thread a while ago about names vs preferred names, and the fact that there are many of us devoted to working with HQ towards permanent resolutions, that don’t blast it on Chief every time we email someone to get a resolution to a problem.)

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And I think most people do.

The difference to me is that took an action of their own free will and the other was the subject of that action.

Having been a KV, it is stressful. And I know I’d feel awful if I ever saw a thread about how I screwed up. Heck, I feel awful about all the little mixups that nobody probably noticed. But I stress about it because I would much rather admit I screwed up and make efforts to ensure the screw up never happened again than make an event a negative experience for students.

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I agree with both Ryan and Sean here. FIRST competitions should strive to provide a positive experience to everyone - students, mentors, volunteers, parents, spectators, and so on. I think it’s also fair to express that the student experience is the MOST important - that’s ultimately the point of FIRST, the entire reason it was created.

In light of these observations, which I think everyone here should agree on, I would like to propose a new rule:

“The Head Ref [and other KVs] can override rules as written [in some circumstances?] in order to provide a better competition experience as they see fit.”

I’ve seen the sentiment from FIRST HQ and from a variety of people in these threads that volunteers don’t want to ruin a team’s day. I believe that to be true, so the rules should empower volunteers to be able to improve (or at least not ruin) the team experience (which they want to do!).

I’m curious to hear from voices on all sides about such a rule proposal. I think this can be largely agreeable!

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And this stress you feel in a KV role… Is it good or bad? Do you feel it makes you seek or avoid criticism? Do you feel it’s healthy or unhealthy? What would you do if it became too unhealthy for you?

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Any organization in which adults work with children is going to have a percentage, (thankfully) usually small, but still present, of adults who make things worse. This ranges from naivety and immaturity to criminal abuse. FIRST is not immune to the same issues that organizations like the Boy Scouts, various churches, and schools face. I have heard with my own ears and seen with my own eyes the actions of adults who went so far as to abuse children while the organization they worked for ignored or justified the abuse and supported the abuser. For this reason, frankly, I am more than happy to have public scrutiny and criticism applied to the FIRST organization and to the individuals who work with children, including myself. As a teacher, I have had more occasions than I can count when frustrated or angry parents have made comments or accusations against me, and I am very happy that there is a system in place for determining the veracity of any accusations. I recognize that volunteering with FIRST is stressful, whether it is as a mentor or as a volunteer in competitions, but that is part of the package. It is a good and necessary thing for children that criticism of FIRST and individuals within FIRST exists.

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