Gettin' Picky: A Guide to Alliance Selections (Part 1: The Picklist)

To start, I don’t actually know how long my meetings have lasted. They have a start time and they stop when we’re done. I would imagine 1-2 hrs is the time frame. Sometimes we have to re-watch match video to correct erroneous scouting, sometimes its a quick and dirty affair.

Here are the rules that I enforce that keep the meetings moving:

  • Curfew is waived if you’re in the meeting
  • As soon as you are not being productive, you will be asked to leave (and curfew is now enforced)
  • Scouting Captain/Strategist have final say on disagreements
  • When we hit a lull (debating semantics) or feel “done,” we’re done

If a pit person is contributing then that’s great. If they’re distracting, they get to go to bed. Same with cheering/drive team/etc. Teammates want to add value to the team and I encourage that.

I’ve done lists with 2 students in an hour, it was stressful for everyone involved and we made mistakes. I like throwing human-power at the problem, so long as its productive. Also, the meeting isn’t mandatory for anyone - its 100% opt-in.

100% agree. I don’t think anyone should take we what we wrote and regard it as law - but if you’ve never done a pick-list before, here’s a starting place. If you don’t like your process, here’s a starting place.

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We usually try to be very upfront about who we’re picking if we’re locked in at #1, if we know for sure and they ask directly. It tends to build goodwill and trust for future competitions and provides very little competitive advantage. It’s obvious anyway at some point, since you usually see lead scouts and drive coaches from the 2 teams cluster together near the field with a whiteboard.

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All good stuff in your post, just want to provide the counter argument for this point.

There are a few key reasons I really like advocating for limited access scouting groups for most people/teams:

  • Most teams have issues with valuing scouting. Making the scouting part of the scouting meeting invite only is a way to make it more valuable. (We still eat together before the meeting)
  • Most non-scouters don’t have much to add… simply because they weren’t watching matches. There are very few times that a non-scout added useful info in a scouting meeting. (Drive coach we have always given an exception to as an ambassador of “how was this team to work with”)
  • More people = more chances to get good info = more chances to get distracted. Having a strong person leading the meeting is not a given for most teams, let alone one that is willing or able to send individuals home/to their room if they get distracted.
  • Members of other parts of your team (most notably driveteam and pit crew) don’t get destroyed by these 4+ hour long picklist meetings that a lot of teams like to have.

If someone wants to contribute to the scouting meeting, they have to meet the threshold of being a scouter, and actually watching matches. That I think is a better way for most teams to cause good change, and get new people involved.

Ultimately a ton of teams seem pretty weak at picking, despite having strong robots, and in some cases strong scouting processes. This kind of discussion is great for the community.

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I scouted 3 matches over 3 in season comps. I don’t think I qualify as a scouter, however I attended every meeting from start to end with decent contribution I like to think. Where’s the line? I’m a strategy person that doesn’t scout, am I welcome to the meeting in your example?

The key ingredient is watching matches. Scouters are just one of the ways to show that you have “watched matches”

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I think there is value to having non-scouts at the meeting IF they are not distracting. Our lead technical mentor routinely brings up really helpful information of teams (“they did some pretty sketchy things with their robot” or “they don’t have sensor feedback on their shooter so they may be inconsistent”) based on his experience and time in the pits.

I generally agree that watching matches is pretty important being able to contribute for most individuals but there are exceptions.

A few smaller things I didn’t see mentioned (maybe coming in a later installment):

  1. Make sure your strategy aligns with what is at the event. For example - If you want a tank drive robot for defense with a second pick, make sure there are enough at the event for there to be someone available in the second round (or have a fall back plan).
  2. Low alliance captains (8th in particular) at regionals/district event can control which alliance station their partners work from. For example - in 2017 the two side driver stations were fairly different as far as sight lines went.
  3. As an add on to Korny’s comment - Have an idea of where your likely picks are sitting in case you need to converse between more than the reps about a second or third pick if you aren’t high enough to meet beforehand.
  4. Decide how much and what type of communication you want between your rep and the rest of the team.
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You are right, there isn’t as much ambiguity as could be afforded here. There are some potential exceptions to be made.

This is kind of information or comment is a potential slippery slope.

It seems like often robot characteristics are quoted as reasons for picking/not picking teams when they shouldn’t be. They should be used to back up the data, not the other way around.

“Why did they fail in this match” - “Because their turret was built sketchily” -> Good
“Their turret is built sketchily” - “Lets move them down the list” -> Bad

Take your data and give it context. Don’t make up context without having data to back it up. The other cardinal sin is the “DNP/drop down the list because mechanum”. Be very careful of assigning traits to teams that aren’t supported by the data, care about their onfield performance first.

(not saying you or your team does this, the example just reminded me of it.) Sometimes there are mechanical/programmer/electrical people that can add useful context to a few teams.

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One thing that I have learned over the past couple years is to make sure the team knows not to talk to other teams unless they are authorized by strategy leads. This is very important in not leading other teams on to thinking you are going to pick them or not pick them and then they plan accordingly, this can easily break long standing alliances because of a misunderstanding. We try to make sure whenever our strategist talk to other teams they know exactly what to say and what questions to ask.

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One logistical suggestion I’ll make for running a pick meeting is to have some non-verbal way that people can show their agreement with something another person is saying. For us, that means putting a finger on your nose and pointing to the person speaking. If you want to add emphasis, you snap with the hand you’re using to point.

The main benefit I’ve seen from this is it allows people to express their agreement without taking the time to restate something that’s already been said. Using a silent signal means they don’t have to interrupt the person speaking, and it can make it less intimidating for people to express themselves. Also, it can provide an indication of when a consensus has been reached and a topic doesn’t need to be discussed further.

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I will proclaim @Katie_UPS a scouting guru so you can simply declare her as such! :grinning:

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Maybe add a couple second tier qualities for a potential alliance-mate …

Take a look at their pits. Are they organized? Do they have enough batteries? Do they have trained pit crew, tools etc required to do quick repairs? We’ve had a few times where that data should have shied us away from a pick. We took them anyways and paid for it.

Look for sleeper picks that are having trouble the first morning or day but look real good the last matches (not one match but several in a row) before alliance selection. This requires some advanced scouting by wily veterans, maybe with a little help from knowledgeable mentors. Go talk to them. Find out why they finished so much better. Should their elevated performances continue? Find a real sleeper and you pull off some great upsets!

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@Katie_UPS & @Brian_Maher, this is a great resource you’ve put together. One suggestion for an addition to the document is the differences between the processes for making a list at events where alliance selection is first thing in the morning on the final day (i.e. Champs, ON DCMP), and events where alliance selection takes place after some qualification matches on the final day (most regionals and districts). There are some interesting differences between the two, which I truly didn’t grasp until our first time doing the new Champs format in 2015. Some of these differences include:

  • Certainty vs Uncertainty of your picking position (and the seeding of other teams)
  • The ability to review and modify list based on a new set of data/observations from the additional matches
  • Having more time to talk to potential picks about potential plans (e.g. Are you comfortable trying this?)

Now that I think about it, I’m definitely going to try and add some detail on this stuff to my presentations.

Great job on this resource.

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This!!

The concept of 4+ hour pick list meeting was absolutely staggering to me, given that at 1712’s events teams have only completed about 70% of their qualification matches after the first day of matches. There’s still a very significant sample set remaining (and the part that informs the trend portion of your picklist data) to occur the following morning. Combined with the fact that students are getting home so late and waking up so early the following morning, our day 1 pick list meetings tend to be much shorter (in other words, they happen on our bus ride home and online afterwards). There’s still so much up in the air at that point that I can’t envision how spending 4+ hours on a pick list meeting is valuable when half of what you discussed will become moot the following morning.

I’m much more interested in how teams are able to efficiently make changes during the morning of a district, prior to the start of alliance selection. How much of it is an actual “meeting” vs periodic updates vs on-the-fly decisions by scouts or strategists? I’ve seen an increasing trend towards actively meeting with your alliance partners in the stands during alliance selection to determine final picks in real time, and then pass that information to the floor.

At CMP it’s a fundamentally different game, since you have certainty about the rankings of you and other teams and there isn’t going to be any more matches to scout between then and alliance selection. There might be some final polishing the following morning with checking in with other teams’ pit crews about repairs/upgrades/autonomous options/etc, but you’re generally in a much more concrete position in terms of being able to set your draft strategy and assess other teams’ current abilities. You also have a lot of time to game out alliance selection based on known draft positions (something that only the top few seeds can do at a typical district or regional).

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This as well. Also, how well is their robot wired? Is it neat and clean/labeled/easy to troubleshoot? I’m not saying that that is indicative of how a team will perform, but it can say a great deal about their approach to the competition.

On the whole I prefer smaller-group scouting meetings, mainly because I think the value of more kids getting a good night’s sleep outweighs most of the benefits. However, I’ve been with a team that transitioned from “closed” to “open” scouting meetings, and I disagree with some of your points:

My experience was the opposite. I think kids on my team tended to undervalue scouting because they didn’t really understand what the scouting team actually does. Anyone can watch matches and write down tally marks in columns; seeing the scouts’ deep knowledge of every team and the in-depth numerical analysis at the meeting really increased everyone’s respect for the scouting team. They went into the next day feeling like we had an strong pick list, based on good data and analysis, that was better and more insightful than straight rankings or OPR - which is hard to really convey when the meeting is a black box. I think opening the scouting meeting can really improve team culture around scouting if done thoughtfully.

Depends on how you run your team of course, but on my teams just about everyone watches the matches. On my last team we roped off our pit and made everyone go to the stands for every match. On my current team one or two people usually stay in the pits for most matches, but not always the same people, so everyone watches some of the matches. The don’t have as much insight as the scouters of course, but often they have something.

I think most teams have a mentor “strong” enough to send kids to their rooms if they’re being distracting. But if they don’t, that’s a good argument towards closed meetings. And to be honest, your last point mostly outweighs the benefits I’ve just detailed. Our pick-list meetings are always optional, and I always encourage anyone not on the scouting or drive teams to get a good night’s sleep instead (and usually a few of them do).

I know for us, it was impromptu “meetings” in the stands during matches, and our lead scout gathering data from the scout tablets and doing on the spot calcs, then discussing it with the mentors and other members of the team. Of course, at MSC and Worlds, it was a whole lot of sneakernet with information right up to the very end.

Maybe 4+ hours is a bit much but most things are known after 70% of the matches. A serious effort the night before is worth the time. Relatively few teams drastically improve that last morning. You still need to take data and see if anything important pops up but it does not often change much. You might find a sleeper. Or teams might get on your no-pick list after incurring penalties or having late serious performance issues. But these are exceptions.

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I know I’m still trying to figure out the balance, but I really liked what 253 did at Monterrey Bay this year. We kept a list of teams we wanted more information on and scouts focused on that for Saturday morning. Then the scouts + strategy did a big huddle about an hour before selection where they updated the list based on the input from that morning.

Its probably a blind spot to not collect match info Saturday morning but I’ve found its information that we can’t reasonably use with the time we have.

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One thing that I’ve been noodling on recently is how we often talk about scouting on CD, but we don’t spend nearly as much airtime on analysis. Kudos to @Brian_Maher and @Katie_UPS for helping to fix this!

If your picklisting meetings feel like they’re going long (and I’ve been feeling this way for 8 years now), then perhaps some of the following ideas can be of assistance:

  • Does everyone share the same expectation of what the meeting is supposed to accomplish?

    • It seems like the common thing is to make the picklisting meeting an analysis of scouting data combined with decisionmaking.
    • IMO, this is the case because the people doing the scouting typically have the same personality/interests as strategists/tacticians. If you have the manpower, perhaps these roles can be separated: scouts collect data, analysts convert that data into something valuable.
    • One thing we’re exploring is pre-doing a lot of the analysis, and then feeding that into a separate picklisting discussion. We’re hopeful that this might reduce both mental and physical fatigue.
  • Does everyone share the same expectation of how the meeting is going to work?

    • From personal experience, each voice you add increases the amount of time you’re going to spend talking…whether that’s a picklisting meeting, a leadership meeting, or something else.
    • In my experience, ad hoc analysis methods don’t scale well for this reason. They work great for smaller teams…but not so great for bigger ones.
    • While circumstances change event to event and year to year, I suggest coming up with some sort of structured process that’s generic enough to be applied year-to-year and event-to-event.
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