How do you teach your students to argue convincingly against bad ref calls?

I want to preface this by saying that, as a long time mentor of FLL, FTC and FRC, I have a firm belief that winning isn’t everything. Our teams have been at the wrong end of bad ref calls and I generally shrug it off and keep my team moving forward.

But it has occurred to me that one of the “soft skills” we should be teaching our students is how to advocate on their own behalf. How do I teach them to be strong but not aggressive, convincing and not condescending, persistent and tenacious without being annoying.

Most of my kids are pretty mild mannered, by the book, color inside the lines kind of kids. I am thankful for that but sometimes I feel like I need to help them figure out how to push that line a bit.

I certainly have seen mentors and kids go at refs the wrong way. And I’m sure ref’s, being human and volunteers, deserve some deference. But at some point when they are wrong, we have to teach our kids to believe in themselves and somehow not take no for an answer.

Case in point, Michigan State Finals NW:

Our human player at 94 seconds left to play gets 2 fouls called against him. One was breaking the plane while a robot is in the substation and the other was placing a cone outside of the substation.

There are a few considerations.

  1. 15104’s intake does not extend outside of the robot frame. And it’s pretty clear, that the human player’s hand is outside field by the time 15104’s robot enters. 15104’s robot actually stops when they see that the human player has not completely exited the field. It is even more clear if you do see this in slow mode.

  2. The ref standing on the right back side, can’t see over 15104’s robot to know exactly where the human player places the offending cone. When 15104’s robot leaves, a tipped over cone is blocking the view as well. The resolution is not super clear in the video (bit better on twitch), but while 15104 is in the substation, you can see the tipped over cone moving, hitting the cone that was called to be out of the substation and potentially moving the cone out.

Now all of this was understood after watching the video over and over in slow motion. And being that no video replay evidence is allowed, the arguments above certainly would not be an acceptable or convincing one.

The only argument I could think to make is that there is certainly no clear view and my understanding is that if there is some sort of uncertainty, the ref is supposed to give the offending team the benefit of the doubt.

How would you argue against this call? If you have been a ref or head ref, what would convince you that the call was bad? How do I teach my kids to question the call and push against what they know to be impossible.

In the end, we lose by 10 points after receiving the 20 points of penalty.

What makes this sting even worse, is that while the ref on the red side seem to be hyper vigilante, the ref for blue seemed to be asleep. If you skip to 76 seconds and 67 seconds left to play, you’ll see what I mean.

The PSA here is that as the season matures, scores are going to get incredibly close due to the limit in cones and the fact that robots are getting so good that they run out at 45 seconds left to play. A single penalty will decide more games. For those who are still competing, while you brush up your judging presentation and you run robot practices, you might also want to include a tutorial on effective arguing.

One last note, just wanted to thank 10255 and 15104 for playing with us. They were both so gracious after the match, never once making my drive team feel like they had done anything wrong. It was a privileges’ to be part of your alliance.


You can try to be more convincing. Ask if the ref directly saw the event. Have the specific rules pulled up. There are things you CAN do but at the end of the day, humans are human and they are going to human. Even in football which has video review, some fouls are still not overturned.

I’m not trying to diminish anyone’s spirit for the game but part of the game is human error. So I’d gently steer you more in the direction of “how can we argue harder” to “graciously accepting the decision” (obviously within reason). You should give your best attempt and take solace that everyone put their best effort forward.

** edit **

Thinking about it more. I would also be curious as to a refs response to best communicate a disagreement in a call. In most of my experiences, any call that depends on a ref seeing something they missed, the overturn never happens. The most common occurrence that I see that leads to a change in decision is a discussion with other refs or a clarification on the interpretation of the rule.

1 Like

To avoid commenting publically on the performance of another referee, I’m going to avoid commenting on this situation directly, but give some general advice. For some context I’m a head referee in FTC and FLL, as well as some FRC off-seasons, and a referee for college soccer.

  1. Speak to us in our language - the game manual and the Q&A. Referees are taught to base everything we do in those official documents and even to use the vocabulary from those documents when speaking with teams. If your students are able to do the same, this helps you and the head referee start from a common place of understanding and makes them much more likely to see merit in your argument.
  2. Manage your emotions, but state your case. If you believe that something the referee crew is doing is incorrect, your students certainly have a right to speak with the head referee to make their case. What’s not productive though, is starting at a heightened emotional state. Not only is yelling at a referee a poor example of Gracious Professionalism, but it’s not effective to stating your case. Instead of considering your point, the referee will be more occupied with trying to manage and diffuse the situation instead of being able to thoughtfully consider the points you’re trying to make.
  3. If you notice that there’s a pattern at an event, such as one referee calling fouls differently than another, it’s certainly appropriate to bring this to the head referee’s attention. Don’t expect any previous matches to change because of this as it would be nearly impossible to go back in our memory to re-referee any matches. However, this gives the head referee a chance to make adjustments and give the teams a better experience for the rest of the event.
  4. For questions of fact, you can talk with the head referee (the sooner after the match, the better), give them your view of what happened, any reasons you believe your view is correct, and maybe ask them to speak with their crew. If this isn’t a common request from your team, most head refs have a desire to get things right and will speak with their crew. That being said, unless one of the referees is very confident that a call was incorrect, it’s very unlikely that a factual decision will change. In robotics, like any sport, referees are human and just like drivers will make mistakes, so will referees. Unless anyone would like to fork over the money to bring Howard Webb in to run FIRST’s VAR program, human error will continue to be a part of all three FIRST programs.
  5. In situations where the way an event is being called is making it difficult for your team to play the game, it would certainly be appropriate to have a discussion with the head referee about what you’re noticing and why it makes things difficult for your team in particular. Most head refs are mentors or alumni who want to see teams succeed, and if you approach them in a gracious and professional manner, they will usually work with you to either help your team play within the rules, help you understand why certain decisions are being made, or they will try to find a way to interprete the rules so your team can play the game.

To summarize: know the rules and cite them when possible, be a gracious professional, and help the head referee to see your point of view. When all is said and done, the referee crew will make a decision and whether or not you agree, life will go on, and ideally, the students will still get a positive experience out of the event.


How not to argue calls.

I thought you were going to link to Steve Kerr picking up a tech arguing a no-call just last week, but that’s way more legendary :rofl:

After reading and watching, I have to say it would be highly doubtful that anything a student could say after that match would change the outcome of the match. This very rarely ever happens, for reasons already stated above. If it’s a recurring problem, sure, go to the box, but otherwise let it go.

We always tell our human players their #1 job is to not cause fouls. They need to show very clearly with their hands that they are following the rules. Also in this particular scenario it looks like the robot could have backed off a bit more too and that would have helped as well.

Instead of using this as a teaching moment to be assertive, I’d instead use it as a teaching moment that perception is often just as important as reality. In any sport, it’s important to avoid even the appearance of fouls, and that would be my takeaway. You want it to be so clear to the ref that you’re so far away from a foul that they don’t even have to consider it.

1 Like

I would argue that if you see an issue, the earlier you get to the question box the better. Ideally, during practice matches! It doesn’t do much good if you sit on it for 5 matches and then ask about it. Sure, you probably won’t change the outcome of that match. But it may change the outcome for the next match that happens in…

The other thing to bear in mind is that the referees have a different point of view than the drive team. You see from the end, they see from the side–this can cause some interesting issues depending on the game setup. Because of that, being understanding that the ref that called it may have seen something that was difficult for you to see can help you understand why the call was made, and possibly contest it.

1 Like

We agree on this. However, it seemed to me that the OP was hoping for a retroactive change to the match in question. Maybe I read that wrong.

I think this is a great point all except the last four words. Another great lesson for students to learn here is to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Walking up to the ? Box with a chip on one’s shoulder expecting a change to a match is very different from approaching to genuinely understand why the ref made the call they did.


In most situations, you probably shouldn’t approach the referee box with the expectation of (or often even the intention to) overturn a referee’s call. In the vast majority of referee box interactions you should aim to either get clarification on a potentially confusing/borderline call and/or to attempt to influence future referee calls by bringing something to the attention of the referee. Use it as an opportunity to understand how this referee crew will make future similar calls. Use it to show the features on your robot that make it difficult or impossible for you to commit the penalty that they called you on, or to show the damage your robot sustained from another team. Use it to improve the remainder of your event, rather than arguing fruitlessly about past events.

That being said, somethings there’s calls that are just wrong. And sometimes those calls end a team’s event. It can be very tough to get anything to change in these situations, and it can be a true “feels bad” moment for everyone involved.

In my years of competing in FRC, I have been involved in two matches that were adjusted or replayed after ref box interactions. Both of which were in quarter-finals, one of which would have eliminated my team, and the other would have left us down 0-1 in a series. Both of these were the result of scoring errors, rather than botched foul or game-specific rule calls. In 2022, we had a 36 foul points assigned to our alliance despite seeing no flags waived. We sent representatives of all three of our alliance teams to question box to receive explanations of what the fouls were - and after the referees consulted with our representatives the scorekeepers, the scores for the match were reposted without the 36 foul points (and a reversal in which alliance won as a result). In 2014, a ball was incorrectly credited as being scored in autonomous when it had instead been scored in tele-op, and this scoring was the margin between winning and losing the 3rd QF match. One of our scouts in the stands noticed the perfect autonomous scores the other alliance had on the score screen, despite missing one of their three balls in autonomous. Our initial appeal to the referees was fruitless, but we returned with all three members of our alliance and one member of the winning alliance (big kudos to 4342 for standing up to come with us to the question box, despite it reversing their trip to the semi-finals that year). After that appeal, the referee agreed to replay the match. We won the replay of the match.


I haven’t watched the video you’ve linked as I’m not familiar with the most recent rulesets, but this applies every year. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with around a dozen different head refs up through Einstein, and it’s certainly a learned process. It is eventually quite obvious when there are biases at play, and your best move is often to not enter the question box in an official, point-changing capacity until necessary.

It takes a certain kind of mindset. You know how a lawyer is always looking to trap someone with every extraneous detail in a statement? The only way you will ever get a reversal is systematically breaking down the call in a completely inarguable manner. Even then, some refs will realized they’re trapped and pull a “because I said so” to save face. There are the generous few that accept shortcomings in how the game works and accept your own with equal understanding, but these are rare.

I’ve had more success bringing up flaws and missed calls that our scouts have noticed, in hopes of those being corrected before they make a difference. Eg: “Are you defining this specific action as defined and controlled possession?” or “we’ve noticed that rule #x is being enforced differently than yesterday yet no change was officially announced, is there anything we should know” At times this has been the secret HR updates. Sometimes this was even when we found out about a leaked HR update and knew there was a change, but asked anyway to remind the HR that we were aware.

If you notice a bad call in another match and can verify with video or etc, make sure the team(s) involved are asking the right questions. Some events, I was the only person going to the question box and that does not usually end well for anybody.

It’s not an “us vs them” with the head ref, you should continue being friendly and agreeable, but cover your bases as if it is. Trust, but verify and such.

On top of all of this is a host of secret rules and etiquette.

In quals, do not enter the box for something that does not change ranking points. Even though a missed ball can change tiebreaker rankings, most HRs do not accept that as reason to change score or trigger a replay under any circumstances. Remember, the pressure gets on them when events start to run late. Some uphold the sanctity of the rules above all else, many do not. I’ve even had one HR admit “yeah, I saw that point was missed but you still won the match so we’re not changing anything” - being rank #1 is also about the worst time to enter the question box.

After so many matches have passed, changing score or calling for a replay can trigger a call to HQ, which nosedives changes of getting that.

Point at the rule you’re referencing, in your copy of the rules that you printed at the start of the event. Not on a phone, not the one from one revision prior even if that rule is unchanged. Showing that you’ve reviewed the exact text, not just what you remember, goes a long way to demonstrating how sure you are to the HR.

As Sean mentions, getting someone from the alliance that benefits from a bad call can help you a lot. I have a handful of funny memories looking at the opposing alliance captain like “wtf was that did you see that too?” and they have the same face. Bad calls hurt everybody, and can come back to get ya later in the event.


It’s weird that this falls on the kids at all. In most sports at all levels, including professional, players arguing with a ref is at least a caution, and escalates to more severe penalties after that. It usually falls on coaches to get a ref’s ear.

It’s dubious whether talking to a ref about a bad call will change the way they ref the next time, but I suppose it’s possible. And FRC/FTC/FLL are not unique in having a kid’s event ruined by a bad call. But it does seem like the penalties given for judgement calls can be overly harsh for FIRST games in some years. You get five/six fouls in a basketball game. There are 150 plays run in a football game. There are plenty of chances to overcome a bad call in other sports.

FIRST games are unique every year, so while some rules stay the same, the circumstances in which they happen don’t. This makes it tough on the refs when you can’t build up years of experience with a sport played with evergreen rules and with equipment that rarely changes. Maybe a way to “caution” a team, and keep track of those “cautions” before escalating into penalty points during a match would be a better idea?

Disclaimer: Not an official head ref, but have been a normal referee and an offseason head ref. I have also been a driver in the question box and a coach helping a student go to the question box.

The first step is make sure you are going to discuss with the correct person. When you go to the question box with a technical issue explain to the referee what your issue is simply so they can pass off to the FTA or FTAA to help with your question. In the event that you need to attempt to get a replay via field fault beyond something physically breaking on the field make sure the student knows how to read the driverstation logs so they can effectively speak their point and not be told what the graph says but they themselves know what it is saying.

When you do need to speak to the actual referee it really depends on what you are asking. 99% of the time we are asking for clarification or just bringing something to the referee’s attention. This has been done sometimes by bringing the robot over to show what happened or asking if something would change a call. The 1% of the time we ask for a call to be overturned it is never “they deserved a penalty” or “we did not deserve a penalty” it is a clear ruling that will either change the outcome of the match or the RP in the match. Usually this is for someone not awarded endgame/auto points even though they should have been.

For this particular call I always have been advised as a referee that it doesn’t matter if a robot is capable of something like an intake that extends outside of the frame perimeter, if the rule states human and robot not in same space then human and robot not in the same space. We are told to give teams the befit of the doubt for things the rules say to give the befit of the doubt about such as “incidental control of game pieces”. However as a team we have always trained everyone to assume that we will not be given the benefit of the doubt for anything so make everything super clear and not up to interpretation. In 2014 the human players were on the side of the field and were given a box that they could not step out of and a clear range of how far they could reach. Our human player is on the head referee side of the field and you can watch shortly after this clip starts that he gets thrown the game piece by a field side volunteer but doesn’t catch it because he may not be able to follow the rules and stay in the box. He then loads the robot with a very short throw twice so he doesn’t violate the zone that he and the robot can both exist in. Could he have caught that ball or thrown it and the referees would have let it go? Probably. Could we be 100% sure of that? No. So he did what he was told which is “don’t do anything that even looks like it could be a penalty”

1 Like

Teaching students anything is a matter of anticipation and practice. Ideas on that, but first…

We had a bad call go against us at a week one event. One of our alliance brought this to the ref’s attention and after about 45 minutes (over a lunch break) the call was reversed with a 3 RP swing. It was to be fair an early match and there was a bit of ambiguity in how some end game penalties were called. The refs got it right consistently from that point.

Later in the event we were the subject of some fairly hard hits. Our team thought it was flag worthy. On my instructions they did not bring this to the refs.

After that I volunteered to be a ref at a late season event. I learned a great deal about how hard it is to call things in real time. And about how the rules work “in the wild”. BTW both the call reversal that was to our benefit and the non calls that were not were totally correct. I made a point of telling that event coordinator this.

So, as to bringing things to the refs.

I think we will have one person on drive team whose main job is Diplomat. Takes the lead in talking with other drive teams and with refs. They get to practice all kids of scenarios. The rest of drive team gets to practice their “game face - adversity subtype”.

It is worth noting that Thursday, for us Regionalists, is a practice day. For all concerned. If there was a penalty or non call that is worth exploring that is the time to show up in the question box with a big smile, a “Hi! Got a minute to help us out?” and establish a bit of credibility. End with a thank you. Not sure we are shaking hands yet…

In a significant situation I wonder if it would be best to have your Diplomat and their equivalents from the rest of the alliance all come up a group. One steps forward, the other two stand back…supportive and listening respectfully. And whatever the answer the response is “Thanks, that helps. Have a great event!”

I do plenty in season to help define how the world works in fair/unfair ways. This specific subset is too important to leave to random chance or to anyone who lacks serious Diplomatic ability.

This is really the key. We actually talk about self advocacy - not in terms of arguing ref calls, but as a general life skill. It’s hugely important, and a skill that can greatly benefit women and minorities in tech fields.

On top of those general skills, you have to add a strong foundation of knowledge in the rules and game play. You have to really know what you’re talking about, and be as knowledgeable as the refs are if you want to be taken seriously. It won’t do you any good if you go up there without knowing the applicable rule(s).

Finally, you have to manage your own expectations. If you go up with the expectation of changing the outcome, then you’re approaching the question box with an adversarial mindset. From a psychology standpoint, that’s likely to make the Head Ref defensive, which isn’t going to get you off to a good start. Instead, go up there inquisitive and open to learning. You want to understand the call and the sequence of events that led up to it. In doing so, you may see a path towards getting a call changed, or you may not.

We successfully argued back a red card at an off-season in Steamworks. Our pilot (a new student) forgot about the first rotor, and only figured out they didn’t put a gear there when the second rotor wouldn’t start. So, they moved a gear to the first rotor to get it started. A new ref saw that as a violation of H10. Our student drive coach was able to argue it by first getting everyone to agree on what happened, and then pulling up the rule - at which point the ref who made the call agreed that he shouldn’t have.


The posts here are interesting. I’m curious, just because (at least for my FRC team) I’ve handled this a bit differently.

The starting point is that refs are humans too - mistakes are bound to happen, things will get missed or counted incorrectly. When we go into a competition, there’s an inherent respect the refs should be getting for their calls - the assumption is that they are being as fair as they can be. It’s just one of the many forms of randomness that is to be expected on gameday.

If we see something from the stands or the driver station that doesn’t align with their calls, we start with a question. We ask why the ruling was a certain way, with the sole intent of making sure we prevent it in the future. If a particular ruling doesn’t quite make sense to us we might state our confusion, but never with hope or intent of getting a match result changed.

The exception to this, which has happened - if we notice significant field-related issues (especially related to wireless dropouts or lag), we’ll bring our driver station data for the match forward and request a replay. It has happened once or twice. Even this is fraught though - the burden of proof is on us to convince people that, no, we didn’t change our code and, no, the issue is on the field end. Granted, I even question the validity of doing this, since the FTA’s have all the exact same data that we do.

If there is a reoccurring, flagrant, or consistent ref issue, our mentors will collect data and forward that on to the volunteer coordinators, after the event. If it’s our local regional, we know enough folks that if there ever was a serious concern, I know it’ll get addressed. If it’s our travel regional, well… either it gets addressed, or we just don’t go back there.

But, critically… I don’t think I’d send a student to purposefully argue with the refs. They’re just volunteers. They deserve the assumption they’re doing their best. Learning self advocation is definitely important, but I’d argue doing it against volunteer referees is not the right situation for that.

All that being said - I’m curious and will keep reading what others have, because I’m not trying to say my approach is right. Just saying it’s my current approach.


In 10 FRC seasons with dozens of events and hundreds of matches, I’ve seen ~3 calls overturned from the question box. It’s almost always a fruitless endevour. I tell my students to go into the question box with the mindset of calling the refs’ attention to a specific action/call that has been called differently from our teams’ interpretation. In general our goal from any question box visit will be to advocate for our perspective, and come away from the discussion with a better understanding for how matches will be called going forward.

The question box provides a great teaching opportunity for students to learn self advocacy, especially in stressful/impactful situations. I do ensure that we have a mentor attending the discussions for a number of reasons:

  1. The mentor can provide feedback to the student following the discussion to enhance the learning opportunity

  2. More than 1 person on the team will hear directly from the head ref, and it minimizes risk for a botched game of telephone

  3. Student safety… volunteers are background checked, but ultimately my goal is to eliminate any 1 on 1 situations between adults and students

  4. The mentor can help to clarify discussions as needed if there is any confusion


Absolute best day to do things like this. I’ve been on ref crews that didn’t bother waiting for the team to come to the box to address critical issues, too. It kind of helps to know that your robot is going overheight on a regular basis, and you can make adjustments before they become mass penalties.

Agreeing with a lot of what has been said here. Despite not referring FRC much (and no FTC ref experience), I referee high school football and some of the dynamics are the same. There’s some worthwhile points made that I’d like to add my own views on as well, that apply to both program levels.

The job of a referee is overly-simplified as “enforce the rules”. Abstracting that a bit, one could say it more as “enforce fair play”. While I won’t say that there aren’t folks out there who like being rules sticklers on every single thing, I think most of us who referee any kind of sport are there primarily because we love the sport, and to make it safe and fair for the people playing. Same for FRC and FTC, referees want to see the teams and the students succeed, and play the game as fully as possible. We aren’t there because we like giving fouls, and the goal of referees is to be “invisible” while still keeping things fair.

Referees are human, as has been said multiple times. We cannot and will not call every possible penalty every possible time; we’re all here to play the game, not have a penalty contest. We also can’t see everything, don’t see every interaction start to finish, don’t always have the best view angle, and don’t always have exactly the same understanding of when something is a foul. There are several philosophies we use when refereeing football that aren’t in the rulebook, but provide good insight on how things happen for referees, many of the same apply to FRC and FTC, here are a few…

  • Safety first. Regardless of where something occurred on the field, if it put someone’s safety in jeopardy, it needs to be called.
  • If you didn’t see the whole thing, you shouldn’t call it. Without seeing start to finish what happened that was against the rules, you don’t know that a foul occurred. Observing an outcome but not it’s cause means you don’t know if the cause was a foul or not, beyond a guess. We don’t call guesses if at all possible.
  • It needs to affect the play. This one is big, and the hardest for many players to understand in many sports. They were fouled, so that should be called because it affected them. But sometimes, many times even for football, in the larger scheme they were not involved in the play, so them being fouled didn’t affect the outcome of the play, so it doesn’t need to be called (unless it’s safety related).

Let’s dissect a few of these a bit more. In FTC/FRC, safety first definitely applies to human interactions (or potential human interactions like the FTC scenario here), but I’d also extend it slightly to include robots and significant robot damage. Football is a dangerous contact sport, but there are things that go beyond to cause a real risk of injury for other players, and those are not okay (targeting, certain blocks, etc.). Same for robotics, there’ll be contact, and damage as part of normal play, but things that carry a high likelihood of severe / match affecting / robot future affecting damage are not okay.

In football, there are 22 players on the field, with anywhere from 3 (or less sometimes) to 7 refs for high school. That’s at best a 3-1 player to ref ratio. In FRC, there’s 6 robots and 5 refs (let’s say 4 regular for argument’s sake), which is a 1.5:1 ratio. FTC is closer to the football ratio. That means you can’t have every robot being watched every instant of every match. Building the discipline to only watch things in your assignment area, get used to other refs so you don’t overlap each other when possible, and to only watch things that are important as potential fouls is one of the hardest pieces to learn. We call it “don’t officiate air”. In many sports, there are those “woah” moments that attract everyone’s attention, even if they aren’t illegal. In FRC, it’s easy to watch a robot doing some great shooting, to the detriment of watching two other robots in contact elsewhere in your zone. It’s also easy for multiple refs to start watching the same thing because it looks concerning rather than staying focused on their responsibility, to the detriment of seeing something else happening elsewhere on the field.

The biggest one to me is the “it needs to affect the play” philosophy. I’m sure there’ll be disagreement, but I don’t think anyone wants to play a game in any sport where every possible rule violation is called 100% every time. We’re here to play robots, not to play “how clean can the game be” or “how many penalties can the refs call”. That doesn’t mean refs can ignore things though, it just means we focus attention and whether we call a foul or not on things that would likely affect the outcome of a match. In football, a good example is a player on my side of the field getting held severely, but the ball is already gone down the other side of the field. Thus, the holding foul over here didn’t affect the play over there, so we wouldn’t call it. This usually makes the person getting held mad, but goes in to we’re here to play the game, not call every foul.
FRC/FTC have a lot more of this; there are a LOT of things that could impact future performance of a robot in the match and affect the outcome, since we aren’t play-by-play like football or other sports. Scoring one more object now not only directly affects the score/outcome, it may affect being able to do some other action later as well that affects the match.

This plays in to this specific FTC scenario. If most of the cones are “completed” and/or the match is close, then something like moving the cone outside of the perimeter, or even (regardless of safety implications) robots entering the zone while a human is there becomes more likely to confer a possible advantage, and possibly be match affecting, so the scrutiny of those actions becomes correspondingly stronger. This is where I think regardless, a conversation in the question box is warranted. One hand, it’s important on the team to avoid even the perception of possibly committing a foul, because it’s at such a critical juncture in the match and possibly match affecting, the ref may probably skew towards “if it’s that close, it’s a foul” in that situation. They also, as you mention don’t have the benefit of replay or putting our brain on slow motion. We get one shot to see it, from whatever our vantage point is, and have to make a split second decision on whether or not it was against the rules, and then whether or not it was match affecting. On the other hand, it’s then on the ref as well that if it was just “close”, particularly if the ref didn’t have a clear view of it, it’s probably something they could have stayed away from calling. Also factoring in here, the rule seems pretty plain. If the human player is over the line while the robot is in the zone, it’s a foul. There’s not much open for interpretation there. Either the condition was seemingly satisfied to be a foul, or it wasn’t. The referee I would assume saw the event, and from their view determined it satisfied the condition and thus became a foul. Having to go to slow motion on video to confirm it wasn’t tells me it was close enough to be within the realm of human error/judgement either way. The ref may have technically gotten it wrong after review, and that’s fine, it’s going to happen now and again. Consider what may have been their mentality at the time… coming from a place of “did this cause the match to be unfair or give this team/alliance an advantage with breaking this rule?”, they had to decide on an answer to that in a split second, and their judgement was that it did. Enough to cross whatever threshold they set for themselves on whether they would or would not call that foul. Maybe the ref did see the rule broken definitively from their perspective and viewpoint. They saw what they saw, and had to act upon that as is. The team’s intent was not to break the rule, but most teams don’t typically intend to break the rules, it just happens, that’s why refs are there. Again, this is a good conversation for the question box to understand and improve for the future, but I wouldn’t go with the expectation of having it overturned.

For approach on the question box, I always encourage people to start from just understanding.
The referees want to understand when we make a call that the team doesn’t agree with, what they don’t agree with, or what they may have seen or interpreted differently so that we can improve going forward. As a team we want to understand what the referee saw and what rule it violated (and any interpretation leading to that conclusion if there was any). If you start from there, it’s a conversation for both sides to understand the what and the why and take that and get better. Either side can also go from that point in cases of interpretation of a rule and it’s application and get appropriate insight, and resolution, one way or another. What doesn’t do any good arguing about is what each party saw. It’s perfectly possible for the referee to have seen one thing, and the team to have seen something completely different (though hopefully here the ref would also admit if they didn’t see something fully and take appropriate action). If what the referee saw violated a rule, then they were correct in calling the appropriate foul. They’re the referee, they have to go by what they saw, which is necessary because they’re impartial and will see things the same way for all matches, providing consistency. In the absence of video review to counteract what someone sees, those kinds of calls will always stand, so while a team can accomplish the understanding of what was seen, they can’t change what the referee saw. Again though, if the interpretation of what was seen actually violating a rule, or it’s application, is in doubt, that’s a valid point of discussion, that hopefully the referees are open to.

Consistency is another key. In football, it takes a full season worth of working games with a crew to really know how the other referees with you operate and gel as a crew. FRC/FTC/FLL refs don’t have that level of experience working together usually, and there are usually new folks as well that may have different interpretations or things they focus on that need to be brought into consistency with the other refs and with the program as a whole. This is another place where teams can help. As a ref, I’m always willing to hear if there’s something that a coach thinks is being called differently by different people, because either I can take that to the crew to discuss later, or if I know what was going on I can explain why some situations are a foul while other similar ones may not be. Students coming to the question box can be the only insight into that sometimes, and that’s information an HR wants to have to improve their crew. Key again is bringing it in a positive and constructive way, that you as a team want to get better so as to not get those fouls in the future, and you want (and the ref crew wants) to get better in their roles so everyone has a better event experience.


I was field side for that match, but to be honest I don’t really know FTC well enough and wasn’t watching the calls on red closely enough to have any opinions on the actual call.

What I can say, is that the question box is a much better tool to change future calls than past calls. Individual refs will misunderstand small details in rules (see “momentary” control of 3 game pieces). Talking to the HR can get that HR to clearly define the rule to the other refs, but unless there was a clear error in the call without looking at replay, there will not be a change in the call.

For anyone who was not aware, that match was the final match of the NW Michigan state championship, so changing future calls is pointless. Also the event had 2 division, so the finals were the first matches red played on that field. The refs in that match had been refing different divisions up to that point so there may well have differences in play calls between the divisions. Basically, I can see how a questionable call would have been made and unfortunately it happened in the worst possible match.

To clarify this a little bit. For the final matches, 2 referees came from each division. The foul referee on each side was a referee from that respective division, so human player penalties would have come from a referee that had been part of their division.