[FRC Blog] Timeout Trouble

Unfathomably unacceptable decisionmaking here:

  • To not call out what happened in Long Island and the other events as wrong and against the mission of the program
  • To explicitly shelter future power-tripping KVs under the warm embrace of “they are doing as we instructed”

This is how organizations make room for abuse.


This is the style of blog post we needed tonight and didn’t get.


Is this what Manchester thinks of when trying to mitigate the chance of students having anything less than outstanding positive outcomes? Or did they not even get that far?

The rhetoric in this post re-establish what most already know, but don’t like to say, and I try to deny: at events, teams and the people who build them as subservient stakeholders to the people who put on said events.

The FIRST Robotics Competition is not primarily a vehicle for inspiration, or an agent of change. It’s an information war presented as a problem solving competition. Students are prisoners to whether or not their mentors know the right people or are privy to the high level channels of communication. To expand on that, teams are prisoner to Manchester’s chosen ways of doing things. They are not seen as partners. They reserve and act on their right, with prejudice, to withhold information that may be useful or even vital to teams in weekly communications to key volunteer groups. They reserve and act on their right, with prejudice, to withhold knowledge of when paid employees are staffing events in key volunteer positions. They reserve and act on their right, with prejudice, to change the rules exactly to their liking, without earnestly taking into account whether or not the world they built ensures the outcomes they claim to desire.

That is, unless you are someone who has the privilege of being within a degree of separation of any of these avenues of information.

You are welcome to participate in FIRST, but you can only watch what Manchester does. You can be the change you wish to see, as long as you aren’t trying to change too much, or rock the boat of any particular staff member keeping the gate of your desired station. You can imagine that this is a program that can easily feed on the boundless creativity, innovation, and passion of its teams and the people product those teams create–but it is just that, your imagination.


I feel like people are being too harsh on HQ here. Yeah this situation sucks. It really does. There’s a few key takeaways I want to take out of this. I think the most important one is this

This is a temporary measure. People have likened it to a bandage. You’re right. It is a bandage. And if you want that wound to be properly stitched and healed, email email email! They have stated they’re OPEN to finding better more permeant solutions. This is where we come in.

I think people are reading too much into this paragraph. To me what it sounds like is they’re trying to get people to layoff the individual volunteers who shouldn’t have to fix this problem in the first place in favor of more systemic change. And honestly? While it was frustrating and upsetting to see what happened, the volunteers are people too, and in the heat of the moment people make bad decisions. It sucks, it’s awful, but harping on one ref or FTA isn’t going to stop this from happening, getting the rules changed will.


I agree completely with this, I also strongly believe that when it happens you acknowledge that it’s wrong and you apologize. FIRST hasn’t acknowledged that what happened in long Island was wrong, that’s what needs to happen. FIRST can state clearly, that this isn’t how the rules should be enforced and that they will instruct their volunteers to not do this in the future. What we have gotten so far isn’t enough, the volunteers in this instance were not following the rules (0 robots where on the field when the timeout buzzer went off).


Fair enough. I don’t disagree with that. It’s just a really awful situation all around, and I profoundly hope that people take them up on their offer for wanting to find a better more permeant solution. I know it’s something I’m going to be thinking long and hard on, and may warrant its own thread.

Encourage refs and volunteer staff to be compassionate in these instances and not force a rules blockade around these situations.

There. Done. Its fixed.


May yet happen. We might not notice, though–at least not until the first (or second, or third) time there’s a late team back from timeout.

Based on what was written in the blog post I wouldn’t hold your breath.

I was informed in the past by an FTA when I tried to make a team stay by the field instead of going back to their pits that Queuers are not allowed to force teams to stay by the field. If they want to go back to their pits they can do so but they are responsible for getting themselves back to the field on time.
Last weekend at Buckeye I convinced the red alliance (I was not the lead queue. I was just working the red side of the field) to hang out by the side of the field. It was very spacious and well lit so they agreed to do so. The blue alliance kept leaving the field area but had plenty of field staff to get them back to the field in time.

That was a notably different situation though. In that blog post, Frank was directly apologizing for a decision he made. While I don’t know for sure, presumably he was not involved in the decision made in Long Island (or at other events). Given that, he is in a difficult position; does he:

  • a) explicitly say the decision made by the volunteers was wrong in Long Island (and at other events). This effectively puts the blame on the volunteers at the event for what happened… not great for a leader to do
  • b) apologize for the overall situation (“I am sorry for the distress this has caused”), take responsibility for the rules that are in place that the volunteers were following (third to last paragraph), make an admittedly temporary fix for this season, and commit to look into it in a more major way for next year

This is in line with what I’ve always understood as a Lead Queuer. I make it a point to tell every team their next match number, bumper colors, and my best time estimate once playoffs start, and starting in semis, I’ll strongly recommend they stay by the field.

I usually start with something like “you’ll need to be on the field in less than two matches, so I’d recommend you stay here to work on your robot.” And if I get pushback, I’ll recommend that they leave at least one member of drive team near the field to monitor the matches and stay in contact with the team. I’ve had very few people refuse that second suggestion, and almost all seem to benefit from it.


When I was at buckeye in 2018, come elims (maybe not quarters) at some time we wound up just rolling our battery cart or tool box over to the queuing area. Not sure if our other alliance members brought anything over but we did have it there if needed. (Luckily we didn’t really need to do much other then make sure nothing was loose all elims.)

At NYC (back at the javitis center) we did something similar and had to pull apart half our chassis to repair a broken wheel sprocket and swap it out. Had we gone back to our pit we may have missed the match.

At FLR atleast once we sat off to the side of the queuing area to repair our bot while waiting for our match and keeping an eye on the clock to see if we needed to burn our timeout.

I don’t think I’ve ever been told I couldn’t have my bot near the queue in elims, or had a problem having extra students around.

The blog post does not address that the rules were not followed at LL2, that is the problem and it belittles the effect it had on those teams as a “feels-bad-moment”. It shields the volunteers behind a rule set that does not exist.

If a student on my team does something wrong to another team, absolutely I’m going to apologize for them, I’ll tell the other team we were wrong in doing that and that we will try to change our training so that it hopefully doesn’t happen in the future.


So what you’re looking for is more like the (very rare) case of the NFL acknowledging a referee error? It’s extremely rare but it has happened.

FLR has ridiculous amount of floor space and we have had all eight alliances stored by the side of the field for eliminations. But the pits are also pretty close so in many years we let them go back and forth to their pits. I can’t recall a team ever getting locked out there.
This was my first year volunteering at Buckeye and I was surprised how spacious it was down by the field especially on the red side. We could have kept whole teams field side starting in the semis if we wanted to.
Every time I set up the queue for an event I always think about how we could use the space during the elims. At Tech Valley they had a large space by the side of the field that wasn’t being used for anything else but for team media to hang out. Me and the FTA thought it would be a great place to let the teams stay during the elims but in the end we let them go back and forth to the pits. In two weeks I go to Midwest and there is no place to do anything but go back to the pits and I have had several teams over the year miss matches there ( I had one team go to the practice field instead of a scheduled match and another one execute the climb in 2017 on the practice field just when their match was beginning so they were stuck there. And I have had HUGE problems keeping track of the backup bot which is a part of my elimination setup (I always keep the back up bot AND the drives team nearby so I can get them on the field at a moments notice. There is no place to do that at Midwest).

Correct, I think what Chuck wrote to all LRI/RIs is a descent example of acknowledging that the way some things have been done in the past are unacceptable and making it very clear what the expectations are for volunteers moving forward.

Currently teams are going to still need to do whatever is in their power to ensure 6 team matches, and I don’t think that teams and volunteers should be at odds like that.


At FiM West Michigan during our first QF our intake was damaged. Back at the pit it was determined that a one side of the intake mechanism was damaged and our Neo550 was smoked.

I (the drive coach) went back to the que and told the alliance captain we needed a time out, and when to submit it. At about 1 minute after the end of the match she submitted it. The HR held the coupon and told her the time out will be called when the clock reaches zero.

When it hit zero we were told we have 6 minutes to be out of our pit and headed to the field. During the previous matches, the 2 minutes after the preceding match and the time out we changed out an arm, replaced the Neo550, connected the motor to a spare spark max and programming did some of their magic. I had started my stop watch at the start of the time out. We left our pit with 15 seconds to spare.

As we rolled the robot out of our pit the HR was standing at the end of the aisle and gave us a thumbs up that we were good for the match. We rolled the length of the field in a hallway under the stands, then into que and went directly to the field. This walk probably lasted over 1 minute. We were able to play but the intake did still have some issues.

If we had left our pit 30 seconds later (15 seconds late) and we were given a thumbs down I would understand that we did not meet the expectations as set forth by the HR.

Would it have been nice to have more time to ensure we were at 100%, yes, but that is also part of the game. Build a robust robot. This intake with some minor fixes had played in 32 prior matches plus practice matches and between events testing and practice at our build space.

I post this because I believe it was a good example of the HR explaining the time out coupon and the expectations required to enter the field at the time it was submitted. We did enter the field after the timeout had expired, but the HR had specified that as long as were had left our pit and were moving to the field all was good.

Communication between the HR and the alliance captain (with me listening in), communication with our pit repair members of the time frame constraints and our pit crew working very fast were the keys to a good experience.


Given the FTA at Long Island was a HQ employee/FRC staff, I don’t think it would be inappropriate at all for Frank to apologize for the actions of someone that presumably directly/indirectly reports to him.


This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.