How assertive can you be when dealing with incorrect volunteers?

What the title says. I’ve been doing lots of reading lately on CD related to disagreements between teams and Key Volunteers. Whenever I’m at comp I try to fulfill the requests that any volunteer gives, but there have been instances where the volunteer was incorrect and the request they made was unnecessary, or even dangerous. In these situations, what is the line of assertiveness that shouldn’t be crossed?

An example I can think of off the top of my head is if an inspector (not LRI) tells me that I need to change something about my robot due to a rule that doesn’t exist, what do I do? Do I go get the LRI? Do I show the inspector that there is no such rule? Is it ok for me to just tell him that he’s wrong, or should I just say ok initially and then go talk to the LRI?

I guess the question I’m trying to ask here is, is it OK for me (as a student) to directly tell a volunteer that I think they’re wrong, or do I need to handle the situation differently somehow?

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I would always recommend discussing things with a mentor before taking any action.


In the case of the RI, I’d start with pulling out the rulebook, and escalate to calling the LRI if that doesn’t work. For the sake of the other teams, please try to keep the original RI in the loop to reduce the likelihood that the same issue comes up again with that inspector. When voices get raised above civil levels (or just before if you can see it coming), it’s time to take the conversation up a notch before the argument itself becomes the problem.

Added: As @cadandcookies noted, you should make the best use of your resources, including mentors, in making the argument, both with the RI and LRI.


A head ref has a question box - it is expected that there will be “questioning of authority” from time to time. If you can present a clear and convincing argument based on the rules (not Q&A, not what happened last week, not what you read on CD) then you should get the change you are looking for.

The same would apply to inspection. If you can present a clear and convincing argument based on the rules, the inspector should change her mind. If not, ask the LRI for assistance.

You can also ask the SRA and event coordinator, but remember they may not have the technical expertise to know the intricacies of the rule interpretation you desire.

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Personally I’d go for something not as in-your-face as directly telling them “you’re wrong”. Something more diplomatic like “I’m not familiar with that rule, could you show me what section of the rulebook that is from?” or “I don’t think that’s correct would you mind if I got a second opinion from that LRI?”

Basically be gracious and professional and you should be good.
In addition, as far as I remember, LRI and Head Ref are the end of the line for interpretation of the rules, if they disagree with you then you’re wrong and they’re right (even if you’re sure the rules say otherwise, even if the rules actually say otherwise). You can try to convince them with a well reasoned and sourced argument, but it’s still their call. Being wrong with grace is a very valuable skill. Then after the competition you can go on CD and complain about how wrong calls were made, and prep a helpful pamphlet for next time.


Overall I agree with GeeTwo, just one note.

I do not recommend you doing this, as having the original RI that saw the “issue” will make working with a 2nd RI or the LRI go much faster. Additionally, if the RI has a misunderstanding of the rules they should be informed that before they go on to other teams. Finally, if your robot has an issue that needs to be fixed you should want to know that as early as possible.

You, as a student are well within your rights to question a request from a volunteer. You are asking a good question related to how those interactions should be handled.

I would say that, in general, I have seen the best results when the students a) have done their homework and are able to provide the rule in question (along with how they have interpreted that rule, including relevant Q&As) and b) present those facts in a respectful way that focuses on both sides working together to get to the right answer rather than an adversarial presentation focused on who is right and who is wrong.

Taking the example of bringing in the LRI to over-rule a RI, this is a case where you would especially want to be careful to frame this discussion in a way that focuses on getting to the right answer. You don’t want to put the LRI into a position where he is declaring the RI to be ‘in the wrong’. Rather, you want to frame the discussion in a way that makes it clear that you want to better understand the situation. Through the course of honest questions and presentation of supporting data, you will be able to get to the right answer in a way that both sides walk away better informed.

Honest mistakes can be made by both sides. Both sides are trying to be fair and abide by the rules or enforce the rules. In general, the volunteers are not there to punish teams. They are there to make sure that everyone is following the same rules so that the event is fair (and safe and enjoyable) for everyone involved.

In addition, keep in mind that you (or your team) will be experiencing many of these same volunteers at many other future events. You want to leave them with the understanding that you (and your team) are honestly trying to work with them to get to the right answer. You don’t want them walking into the next event thinking “oh no, I have to deal with that team who is always fighting with me”.

Hope that helps.


I think this happened on Carson field this year in Detroit. I wish I knew the team and the circumstances but this is one way to handle going to the Head Ref or LRI.

After a match I was wondering why the next match wasn’t starting when I saw the Head Ref talking to a student who was in the question box. They had a discussion, I don’t know whether it was informational, I don’t know if they agreed with the decision or not. What I do remember is that when the conversation was over, the student shook the refs hand.

I was impressed by the way that student acted.

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“Help me understand” and “help me learn” are phrases that work well for students who want to question RI or Ref decisions.

The FTA is also a good on-site resource for you, via the question box. They have a relationship both with the LRI and the Head Ref that you see described in the position description.

LRI: “Meet with FTA and Head Referee throughout competition to discuss robot issues and other items that affect the competition”

Head referee: “Participate in deliberations with the FTA, Field Supervisor, and Lead Robot Inspector regarding robot related issues as required”, and Reporting Relationships and Supervision: “Support by FIRST Technical Advisor, Chief Referee and designated FIRST headquarters contact”

I could be wrong here (and would love clarification if I am), but I thought that if you had a Q&A response, that it was considered equally as binding/legal as the official rule book. The Q&A is run directly by people at FIRST HQ and several updates to the rule book comes directly from Q&A responses each year.

Funnily enough, how I replied to this post is probably a good example of how to approach an official at an event if you wish to question something they have said/done.


For inspection, ask for a second opinion from the LRI. I tell all of my inspectors not to argue with teams, but to come and get me if a team pushes back on something. That serves two purposes - It cuts out time and effort in correcting an incorrect ruling, and if the ruling is incorrect it lets me be the “bad guy”, while the inspector sticks around to help the team resolve the issue - they’re the “good guy”. Either way, it ends up being a better experience for the team than having an argument with the inspector and then another argument with me. I’ve done the same thing myself at champs a few times - I listen to my gut when talking with a team, and call up Big Al or Ted (Al’s boss at HQ) to be a part of the discussion if I feel like it could go that far. This past year, there were two cases I called them up on, in both cases I called them before any discussion had even started. In one, they were right there talking to the team with me for a fair amount of time, and for the other I was able to get clarification so I didn’t even need to talk with the team at all. In other cases, whether at champs or not, I’ve gotten clarification from Al (All LRI’s have his number) to help with rulings.

For other positions, look to the lead for that position - the Head Ref, the FTA, the Field Supervisor, the Lead Queuer. Ultimately, you always have the option of filling out an NMIR. You can do so on-site (they are available at Pit Admin), or after the fact and email it to FIRST. Doing so on-site lets the issue be reviewed during the event, and possible corrective action taken if need be.

From the rulebook (Top of page 6):

The responses in the Q&A do not supersede the text in the manual, although every effort will be made to eliminate inconsistencies between the two. While responses provided in the Q&A may be used to aid discussion at each event, per Inspection & Eligibility Rules and REFEREE Interaction sections, REFEREES and Inspectors are the ultimate authority on rules. If you have concerns about enforcement trends by volunteer authorities, please notify FIRST at

So, as an LRI, if I can point to an inconsistency between the Q&A and the rules, I can ignore the Q&A. I’ve never had to do so before, and I would personally kick it up to Al or HQ if that happened to make sure I was getting the ruling right. Regardless, I make every effort I can to explain the reasoning behind the ruling so people can walk away satisfied that things are being handled properly, even if they aren’t happy with the results.


Students having the opportunity to interact directly and politely with volunteers is the type of experience FIRST is here to provide. Volunteers don’t all know the rules as well as some students. Politely ask for the specific rule reference that requires what they are asking, and be prepared to share your reference that allows your robot in it’s current configuration. A volunteer who is not sure will likely bring in a more experienced volunteer for you. Try and keep emotion out of the conversation and stick to the facts and data.

Getting good at disagreeing constructively will serve you well for the rest of your life.

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I agree that the Q&As are official, and weigh in much more than “last week” or “Chief Delphi”, but they’re more at the level of a “blue box” - they are an official interpretation of the rules, not the rules themselves. If the question really is directly addressed by the Q&A, that should be the answer*. It should weigh in pretty well for close analogies, but becomes less valuable the further away the actual case is from the case specifically answered by the GDC.

* Understanding @Jon_Stratis’ exception, though direct contradictions between the rules and official interpretations as regards robot/inspection rules are almost always resolved before competitions. Gameplay/referee rules are usually also resolved before competitions, with a few notable exceptions in recent years.

I was writing my response at work and didn’t have the time to expand on the Q&A. Others have pretty much made my point - that officials at events are to rely on the rules when making calls, and the Q&A might help doing that. But if there appears to be a disconnect between the two, the rules apply.

Out of curiosity, is there an established hierarchy of volunteers or clear highest ranking person at a given event? Regional Director? What does it look like in districts?


Matt why’d you have to show the film of our Portsmouth experience. :frowning_face:

On a more productive note, I’ve always told my kids to ask for a rule citation if they feel something is being handled incorrectly but to pull me in if they get uncomfortable with the volunteer interaction. This has happened with inspectors, field staff, and safety advisors. It gets a bit more difficult in question box situations, after some of our interactions this year we’re considering having students wear body cameras when in the question box.

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RIs have the LRI, refs have the Head Ref, Judges have the Judge Advisor (?), and “____ Assistants” have their “____”. As far as I know, all of the other volunteers report directly to the VC, Regional Director, or the district staff*.

* AFAIK different districts structure their staff differently

Edit: forgot about Queuers who have the Head Queuer and Field Reset who have the Field Supervisor.

Yes. If you read through the Volunteer Roles that @MrRoboSteve posted earlier, you’ll see some hierarchy there. Inspectors reports to the LRI, refs to the Head Ref, queuers to the Lead Queuer, Field Reset to the Field Supervisor, etc.

If you read through the rules, it does point you in certain directions for the final authority, depending on what the issue is.

Section 11:

At each event, the Lead ROBOT Inspector (LRI) has final authority on the legality of any COMPONENT, MECHANISM, or ROBOT. Inspectors may re-Inspect ROBOTS to ensure compliance with the rules.

Section 12.2:

The Head REFEREE has the ultimate authority in the ARENA during the event

Those are just two examples, there are a few others (I think all of them deal with the Head Ref, FTA, and LRI). if I, as an LRI, rule something doesn’t pass inspection, there is no one else you can appeal to at the event. If I’m a jerk about it, you can certainly bring it up with the Volunteer Coordinator or file an NMIR, in which case I may not be invited back the following year.

If a volunteer isn’t behaving properly, or exerting authority they don’t have, or issuing an incorrect ruling, we want to know about it so we can correct it. When in doubt, look for the HR, FTA, or LRI. We’ll either deal with the issue directly ourselves, point you in the right direction (If you bring me a question about a game rule, I’ll happily pull out the rule book and quote it, but if you want more than that, I’ll send you to the question box to talk to the HR), or take it to the proper person to deal with it ourselves.

The good news is those 3 people are usually easy to identify!

The key thing to understand is that there’s no one “final authority for everything” game-related at the event. Instead, like Jon describes, each of the rule-enforcing key volunteers has their own specific domain where they are the final authority at the event. The key volunteers are trained and trusted to do the right thing, and have an array of people available to give them advice or bounce ideas. It also helps to scope what you need to learn as a key volunteer – LRIs aren’t expected to be game rule or field assembly experts, Head Refs are not robot rule or field assembly experts, and so on.

I suppose it happens that word gets back to HQ about something going down at an event, and they reach out to key volunteers during the event to discuss it. I’ve never seen it happen before – it’s much more likely that the key volunteers will get word that a team is unhappy – maybe from the RD or planning committee members – and go reach out proactively if they’re not already aware of the situation.

The NMIR I think of as a “fix the next event” sort of process, so I recommend it only as a last resort, after you’ve exhausted all of the other avenues available at the event, or if your name is Matt.

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