How to Avoid Getting Steam Rolled into Defense?

Most of us have been there. You’re getting ready for a match, you’re talking with your alliance partners and they hit you with the infamous “You guys don’t mind playing defense, do you?”

Your heart sinks. What do you say? Yeah, you can play defense, but you feel like your really a better cycler than the rest of your alliance. Or maybe the match doesn’t even call for defense? Or maybe, its the 3rd time someone has asked you to play defense and it’s killing your hatch average and you really want to keep it up for alliance selection.

What are some techniques your team employs to avoid running a strategy that you disprove of? How do you keep it GP and fair? What do you do if a team doesn’t give you a choice? Have you ever been in an experience like this? Share below!


Data data data. If you have stats to back up that you can be productive offensively, specifically moreso then your partners, then this is the best way to drive your views on who you think should be playing what roles.

When we talk to our alliance partners before every match, we have a summary of our scouting data on hand for this exact reason. Not only does it help us figure out what strategy we think is best, but helps our teammates understand why we think we should play a certain strategy.

Early on in the season, of course you don’t have any or as much scouting data so this is harder. There’s definitely a lot more trust you just have to put into teams, and whether you like it or not team reputation and prior performance in previous years (especially the last year) will probably influence what other teams on your alliance think everyone should do. The play here if you really don’t want to play defense is lobby for a 3 offense strategy. Obviously every game is different so this is kind of a case by case basis but at early events this year 3 offense strategy made a lot more sense unless you were up against a 1678 or something and defense really was necessary.

Finally, the biggest thing is perspective. Make sure you’re always being really honest with yourself about your capabilities and your offensive potency compared to your partners. It’s really easy to get caught up in what your max cycles per match has been and thinking you can do that every time. If you really are better then your partners, try to have as many hard facts as possible to show that. Also understand if you are not then at the end of the day every team has a responsibility to their alliance to do the best thing possible to win.

Also as an afterthought, smart teams do pay attention to who is willing to play defense and who is not. We had teams who fell way down on our Picklist or was just left off it because during qualifications they were not willing to play defense. Or when asked in the pit they said they were not willing or really preferred not to.


Every team is trying to do what is best for them - which is not always the best for your team. The strategy teams should be working to balance “what is best for me” and “what is best for you.”

Here are some of your options:

  • present data the shows you are better at X task
  • compromise with “we’ll do two X then defense”
  • be the one to start the strategy conversation (the world is run by those who show up)
  • present data that shows you don’t need defense
  • don’t do what other teams tell you to do*

*Its super annoying when a teammate goes off script and this wouldn’t fly for elims, but if you’re (optional: repeatedly) bullied into playing a role you don’t want to play - then ignore the other team(s) and do what you need to do. Your team paid thousands of dollars to get to competition - if you want to show off your elevator/claw/omni drive/LEDs/etc then do it.

edit: your mileage may vary, there may be negative consequences of your actions (not being picked), communication is key


Luckily you DO always have a choice, no one can make you do anything. However I would always make it clear that you plan on not playing defense, saying you will play defense without actually intending to will make things worse.

No matter the game, it can be tough to not get put into the role of defender. Especially if you have already played a few matches of defense, and especially if your alliance partners at least think they are the better offensive robots.

I think the best thing you can say is something like “We worked really hard on this mechanism and we would like to get a chance to show it off or test it out.” If during the match you find out your scoring mechanism isn’t working as you had thought, be open to switching to defense. I’d imagine playing decent defense looks a lot better to scouts than struggling to score another game piece. You could also work out a strategy where maybe 1 robot starts off scoring but then switches to defense once they score a certain number of game pieces or once the other alliance scores a certain amount. Using this year as an example you could maybe score until the other alliance had filled a rocket with panels and was switching to cargo.

A lot of this depends on what your team’s goals are and how likely you are to meet those goals. A team that wants to make it to champs but only attends one event will play a lot differently than a team that will attend 3. A team that attends multiple events can either resort to playing defense at their first event if things aren’t working out or they can opt to try and improve their scoring so they are better prepared for their next event.

Remember Counter defense is not Defense. Propose that you counter defend. In 2 offense + counter defense, the counter defender is offensive until there is someone to counter defend. This year, 4 cycles of offense (well played) then counter defense looked pretty tight!

Data is key. After that, it’s robot design. If your robot is designed/built such that you won’t be effective at defense, then there’s not much you can do about it by that point!

Prior to one of our matches at North Star, another team tried to steamroll us into playing defense. They opened with “our scouters say you’re really good at defense”. Now, I don’t know who their scouters were, but they weren’t doing their jobs right - we had never actually played defense. We showed them the data and explained this to them. We explained to them that there was enough slop in the chain on our arm that, even after putting it down, it would frequently pop out of our frame perimeter on impact (in fact, we had to secure it with velcro to keep it inside the frame perimeter prior to the match, trusting the motor to be able to pull the velcro off, or the impact with the ground off of hab-2 to pull it off). Their response? “Can’t you just duct tape it down?”

We spent half an hour telling them “no” repeatedly. We get out to the match and both our alliance members end up not moving for half the match while we continued to score, ultimately winning the match by 10 points.


Make sure you tell your partners that you are going to do this though. Don’t tell them you’ll play defense before the match and then go off-script during the match. A good team will try to convince you to play defense if they think it is what is best for the alliance, but they shouldn’t bully you into it. If after a thorough discussion you have made it clear that you will not be playing defense, then at some point your teammates will just accept it and adjust as they see fit.

Again though, keep in mind that smart teams keep track of this stuff and it will be noted that you refused to play defense, and that could hurt you in alliance selections potentially.


This really goes back to game design (at least this year). It was unfortunate that the meta developed in a way that it essentially made having a defender a requirement. I can’t count the number of defense debates I’ve had this year… usually on the “please play defense” side of things.

Like others have said, go into the strategy meeting with data. Use the data to leverage other teams to your position. Don’t be afraid to break out some match videos as well. The more supporting evidence you have the more likely you are to get your way.

On the flip side of the coin… if you ARE the weakest cycler, please be aware of that. I’ve DNP’d >0 teams at each event this year because I got the “we refuse to play defense” argument.

The key is flexibility. Go into your strategy meetings well prepared, with an idea for what you want to do, but also be prepared to work with your alliance partners to optimize everybody’s performance.


One of the reasons they may want you to play defense is so it doesn’t get clogged up on your side of the field. Once you tell them that you won’t be playing defense, you can work out how 3 robots on one side of the field will work together to get hatches and cargo from the 2 loading stations. Ideally, only two of the robots need to get hatches and any of the robots can go for cargo on the ground.

Once you convince them that you will be able to work around them without getting in their way, you accomplished 2 things: You convinced them you won’t play defense and you now have a plan for how each robot will get its game pieces.

Our first match at our last event we didn’t do so well and our alliance partners wanted us to play defense or counter-defense because of that. We told them that we would be doing the cargo ship and wouldn’t get in their way at the loading station. We also told them that if we weren’t doing as well as they’d like, that we’d go play defense and they could take over.

Once we actually got going, we filled up the cargo ship pretty quick and didn’t need to make mid-match changes. I think if we actually did have to make mid-match changes, we probably would have done what they said and played some defense or at least got out of their way. If you’re a team that’s experienced with defense, being able to make that mid-match change would probably be pretty valuable especially if you start to go slow on the cargo ship or rocket and have alliance partners that can actually do it quicker than you.

Running mecanum wheels can make these conversations very one-sided, but it very much hurts your ability to get picked for defense later and your ability to deal with defense.

Not being a one-trick pony helps here too. Especially at higher levels of play, there weren’t enough cargo ship spots/low scoring spots to go around, and we saw a lot of teams have conflict over who would get to take what role. Being able to play in more than one position during qualification rounds helps your ability to justify playing in a non-defense position.

I totally get wanting to show cycles–many (i.e. most) teams include zero-score defense matches when they calculate averages. It doesn’t make logical sense to cater to the few top teams who might be looking at the competition in a different way if your goal is to get picked at all.

Conflicting incentives happen all the time in FRC, and unfortunately you may be dealing with that top team who really wants the 4 RP to seed first. Unless you can guarantee a seeding position, being put in a position where you clearly have to play sub-optimally with dozens of eyeballs watching you in the stands is not a fun position to be in. This isn’t always a conversation that can be solved with data-- sometimes you just may just need to say “no” and not back down, because what is better for you may be completely different from what is better for the alliance. You can be selfish and say that your goal is different (i.e. put up X game pieces to make sure you get picked vs. having the goal be purely winning the match and racking up RP) and you’re happy to use that goal to help realize another team’s goal. You might prevent top team X from wanting to work with you that competition (if you’re nice about it, they won’t hold a grudge for successive competitions), but they probably wouldn’t have picked you anyway if you have that much conflict. If you’re selfish too many times though, you might find you get a reputation as being difficult to work with.

This a really challenging issue that I can certainly relate too. Going from a middle of the pack team with good strategy and data to a top of the pack team also with good strategy and data there is definitely a huge difference in how teams interact and respond to you in these sorts of situations even when your presenting the strategy that’s the best for your alliance.

I’ve been in situations where even very very good teams have pushed us to commit to questionable strategic decisions. It’s always frustrating and it reminds me of the responsibility put on our shoulders when were in situations now where teams will listen to pretty much anything we say.

As other’s have said the best thing to do is present good data. A strategy I’ve used in the past is pulling up a match that the team is probably proud of and highlighted their performance in that match (“You guys looked awesome shutting down XXXX in match X”).

As a more middle of pack team I would sometimes pull up a match where we played with a well respected alliance partner decided to play us in the role that we intend on playing. This works well at champs where teams may have less familiarity with your team (“You guys know 2056 right? We had a match with them at XXX event and they asked us to cycle from the feeder while they went to the landfill”)

On the other hand we had a situation at an event where a team told us they weren’t comfortable playing defense in their quals match with us, we understood and agreed to not have them play defense. We were interested in picking them as a 2nd pick in elims but we decided to push them down a bit in our list because of what they had told us. Low and behold guess who was playing great defense on us in finals! I don’t think the team was lying to us when they said they didn’t want to play defense but maybe we could of done more to figure out why they lacked confidence in their defensive skills.

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The best way is to simply be so good at scoring that no one would want you to play defense. The other way is to be an all omni and mechanum robot. If these are off the table, then the best way is to probably just be straight up with your alliance partners and tell them you aren’t going to play defense. Yeah you won’t be making much friends and might get crossed off certain picklists but you should do what you feel is best for your team.

A hypothetical example is that your team simply isn’t that good at defense and your best chance is to get picked is as a third scorer. Mediocre defense might be enough to win a qual match, but that isn’t going to further your team’s interests in the playoffs.


I undertand the OP’s feelings here, but I really wish more teams saw playing defense as a legitimately important role. in 2014, 2016 and 2019 a well driven, well built robot could easily deny more points on defense than they could add on offense. In Detroit this year strong defense was a big part of the many playoff upsets. We put “defense skill” way higher than cycling for our 2nd pick priorities. And we’re considering building the “ultimate defense robot” for a summer project - it should be fun!

I hope the end of bag day means more teams will design for and practice playing defense in 2020 (game design permitting).


To be clear, as with most my posts, this does not reflect an actual feeling of mine, but more of a way to promote discussion for a problem that is prevalent with many teams, and to be a guide to whoever finds it useful, not just myself.

My team is actually really big on making sure our robots are good at defense. We have never done any other drive base then tank, and we pride ourselves in building the absolutely strongest drive base in the business. We don’t play much defense, but it’s something we’re always up for.

But I appreciate your input, I strongly agree that defence is offten overlooked.


And this is why my team scouts every match and every team. Here are the basic situations I see normally:

  1. You’ve got 2 partners that all are about equal in pieces scored, but your team is slightly better. Solution: show them the raw data and speak up.
  2. You’ve got 1 partner that’s better, one that’s worse. Solution: point out the worse bot. If they can play defense, have them do it.
  3. You’ve got 2 partners that are better. Solution: Suck it up and play defense. If they’re better, there’s not much you can do.

Like Nick said, literally show them everything you have to beat them to your scoring. If the team doesn’t have data on hand, show them you got the data right there, saying you’re a better scorer. This should just put them in their place.

Or you can say that you would “get penalties” if you really didn’t want to.

P.S. Anything CAN happen before the match such as a controller disconnecting and could require you to have to cover for a teammate or even switch up the plans entirely. The operator controller that operates our 4 Bar decided to not connect during preparation so we would have to play defense or sit there.
(we score relying on the 4 bar)

Bring up the scouting data and the amount of cycles each team is getting.

Tell your alliance partners that you feel you could score more points during that match than you could stop while you’re playing defense.

If you’re playing defense 3 times you’re not going to get picked in elims for your hatch average. Unless you’re in the top 16 teams you will very likely be playing defense in elims.

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For many teams this should not be a concern. Sure your ego will want you to show off your elevator or hatch mech, but if you are continuously being asked to play defense, then a. Your not a top tier cycler or b. Your really good at defense. Either way your hatch average won’t matter and in the long run if you are playing in elims, it will be as a defense bot where the hatch average didn’t matter anyways. There are very few examples of very good cycles playing defense continually. Sure there may be the random stacked alliance where 3 good cycles are on one team and it is advantageous for one of them to play defense, but the bottom line is don’t play the game to show off your cool mechanisms, play the game to win no matter what role. We played defense as captains, which really hurts our egos, but we knew it was our best chance at winning, because our teammates were such strong cyclers.


C. The other 2 bots on the alliance are unable to whether in terms of drive style or others.

Alright, so what happens when someone doesnt want to listen to data?

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