Informing New Participants FRC is Mentor Based


I had a completely different post written up, then I looked at the FIRST mentoring guide for the first time and noticed the highlighted bullet. Now I’m rethinking things.

This is the first time I can remember seeing something from FIRST that dictates how the work should be divided in FRC. This is a big change from Dean’s kickoff speech in 1998.

Is FIRST switching from inspiration focused to education focused? Has it already happened and I missed it? The mentoring guide has been around awhile, I’m surprised I never saw discussion about this. I know it is only one bullet point, but it seems significant. I’m honestly shocked. Am I overreacting?


IIRC, the mentoring guide also covers FTC, FLL, and JFLL.

FLL and JFLL I know coaches aren’t supposed to do any of the work; FTC I think is similar in that regard with some minor opening up of restrictions for hazardous power tools.

FRC is the only program that really allows the mentors to dig in on the robot itself.


I found this guide under the “Starting a Team” on the FRC portion of the FIRST website. FLL seems to have a different coaches handbook. Also, according to the URL the document is named 2015-frc-mentoring-guide.

You could very well be right though, there is no mention of a specific program in the document.

It seems like FRC should have a different guide than the other programs. Or at least have some mention in the document that mentoring FRC is different.


Well I think it comes down to a simple question the needs to be answered by the teams and that question is…
-What’s the best way to inspire someone?
For me the answer is really simple winning is the best inspiration… doesn’t bother me wether I built the robot or not if I’m winning and competitive I’m going to be more inspired then being at the back of the pack with almost no hope of making elims…
I have raced cars professionally my entire life, I don’t make the car or the engine, I just drive it. ( I do tune And adjust but I feel students do that anyways) And when I’m winning WKA/ STARS Grand National championships there is nothing more inspiring and a large part of that has to do with the equipment you are given, there been times though when I was given terrible equipment where winning is out of the question, and your simply fighting for the best of he worst, and it sucks, seeing people who you know you could contend given an equal playing field who will beat you simply because they have the better equipment…
But again this is a double edged sword because early on in my career is when I had the bad equipment and because of how much it sucked it made me work harder to ensure I could get noticed by a team with the resources and technology to win with and after 4 years of trench work I was picked up and funded by a top competitive team. I feel this is the ultimate problem with first is you can’t just get up and leave one team to switch to another with a more aggressive win mentality no matter how much work you put into it to get noticed… that’s just how it is however for first and also being 4 years is it’s just somthing you gotta deal with and make the best of it.


Ever the contentious topic. Well I’m mellowing over time. On our team we will occasionally have a mentor participate in helping a student to fab a complex part but I’d say our current robot is 98% student built. It has been a while since I understood the programmers, but it looks to me as if that is about 85% student work. We are fortunate to have several very high level students this year.

That being said, it is quite true that FRC allows the full spectrum of student/mentor mix on the project. So when I see a robot that seems beyond the abilities of the students I just say something to the effect of “Great robot. The students and mentors worked together really well on that”.

Now, when I am speaking to potential sponsors I absolutely emphasize our team’s focus on student built. I’d feel sheepish asking them for money so that adults could build cool robots! (yes, yes, I know, that’s a bit unfair to say, apologies in advance).

I don’t think it is controversial to say that our educational system has significant challenges these days. So what seems to really make an impact in presentations to the World of Grownups is:

“Hey. Look at what a bunch of high school students can do in six weeks. Concepts, prototypes, designs, fabrication, programming and testing. How many of you who are parents of HS kids can get them to clean their rooms in less than six weeks!”

I think the reason that this topic generates such passion is that FIRST means a lot to all of us but it means different things to different people. The Words of Woody and Dean should be taken to heart. But the program is more than them. Also more than any one of us.

It would be interesting if impractical to track the future careers of students from teams at the ends of the Bell curve regards student/mentor mix. Who sticks with STEM? Who opts for what you might consider the abstract stuff like design? Who takes the skills learned in FIRST and successfully adapts them to entirely different disciplines? Is there a difference in outcomes between large teams and small ones?

I know FIRST does some longitudinal studies of alumni, just not sure they visit these questions, which to be fair might only be of interest to some.



I’ve used to have mixed feelings about this. I took over for a retiring teacher a few years back, and wasn’t sure how I felt having mentors that had such a huge role in the design process. Four years later, I’ve definitely come to appreciate it. They definitely do not just push the kids aside and build/design the robot themselves…it’s a partnership with our students. Our kids are the ones in the pit, working on the robot and fixing components. They are also the ones who work alongside our mentors during the design and build process. Yes, there are times where a mentor will step in and get their hands dirty when needed, but this is not the norm. As others have said, our mentors are there as a resource, which we are extremely grateful for.

I usually tell new parents that this is kind of like an internship…where the students get to work alongside engineers.


This is absolutely fair and correct. Others used this reference already, but I’ll repeat: FRC isn’t focused on adults building robots, but on students. Conversation with sponsors has to focus on precisely how their money will systematically help students grow and improve - that’s a key differentiator.

To your later comments: Yes, it’s excellent to be able to say “look what our students did!”, and it would be disingenuous to sell your team that way if in fact the student’s didn’t actually do it (for varying definitions of “do”). Even with exactly zero student participation**, the sell could still be “look at what our students learned”.

As to where alumni end up, and what led them there… I’m a bit interested too. Anecdotally, I think there’s great power in the simple conversations students have with their mentors, arguably beyond anything in team structure. I chose my major based off of a single conversation I had with a trusted mentor in high school. Also anecdotally, I currently work with lots of FIRST alumni who came from a number of teams across the “mentor involvement” spectrum and are all doing similar STEM jobs (then again I’m skewed because I spend most of my hours with STEM-y people).

**Note - I have yet to find any real team which actually does this, or thinks it’s a good idea.


Let’s examine this language a little bit.

“Have the kids do as much work as possible”…

!= “kids must do all the work”

!= “mentors cannot do any work”

~= “students must all be working before mentors start work independently”

~= “every student should be actively engaged at every meeting”

On 95 we ensure that every student is ‘gainfully employed’ before mentors start doing work without a student. But if every student is coding/swinging a wrench/laying wire/driving a robot/operating a machine/poking at CAD then hell yeah us mentors will work hard too.

I’d be real interested to hear an argument about how working hard side-by-side with a mentors is not inspiring to a student.

I think the crux of the ‘white gloves vs #mentorbuilt’ disagreement is embracing the idea that mentor contribution does not have to take anything away from the students. Heavy mentor involvement should give the students taller, broader, shoulders to stand on, letting them reach further.


This is one of the best summaries that I’ve seen around this issue.

Dumping a pile of parts on a table and saying “build a robot, see you in 6 weeks” has never been a recipe for success.


Yes, from discussions with many mentors, it appears most teams already take this approach. I see mentors filling in most of the time where teams lack students with the needed skills. I have heard of mentors going to far, but that seems to be the exception.


I don’t think you guys are understanding my point.

Before I saw this in the mentor guide, I’ve never seen anything governing who does what work. Dean had been very clear that it doesn’t matter who does the work. This is a loose quote, but I know he’s said something along the lines of “FRC isn’t about education. Education is a byproduct.”

Based on this, anyone complaining about mentors doing work just doesn’t understand FRC. Period. That’s not meant to be mean, or an insult. It’s just the truth. FRC isn’t about students learning by building a robot. It isn’t about students learning from mentors while building a robot. It isn’t even about students learning. It is about building cool things to make kids (not just those on the team) realize that science and technology is a viable career path. It’s about so much more than just impacting the students on a specific team. It’s about a culture change.

Now I find out there is a mentor guide that says the students should do as much work as possible. Suddenly who does what matters. This is a big change!

My issue isn’t even with the statement that students should do as much as possible. I think we can be inspiring students as well as educating them. My issue is in the vagueness. My issue is that now everyone complaining about mentors on other teams doing too much work have ground to stand on. These complaints rarely manifest themselves in a discussion about what mentor level of mentor involvement is most beneficial. They come out as attacks due to jealousy in competition.

A - “Look at that great auton by team X.”
B - “Yeah it’s cool, but mentors worked on it.”
A - “Is that a bad thing?”
B - “Students are supposed to do as much work as possible.”
A - “Team X is cheating!”

Obviously that’s a poorly thought out exaggerated hypothetical, but we all know this is happening. And how many times per competition? 10s? 100s? This is toxic behavior in our community! Due to this one line, Person B now has something they can point to that backs up their statement. I can’t tell them the’re wrong. That’s why this is having such a strong impact on me.

Back to the original topic of how to inform new participants this is mentor based, I think step 0 is updating the mentoring guide. Though I’m not exactly sure how yet.

This is exactly what I’ve been thinking lately. Any sports comparison largely falls apart during build season. The internship comparison fits almost perfectly. Each team is a business that builds a robot to play in the specific year’s sport(Deep Space). I also think it would be beneficial to students if universities/industry views their FRC participation as an internship, rather than another high school activity. I’m sure some do, but I doubt it’s enough.


Who defines this? I think that judgement is left to the mentors on each team who know the capabilities of their students. I haven’t seen anyone on these threads endorse the idea that mentors should take over working on a bot, and the step by step model proposed by FIRST hasn’t been superceded. So I don’t see this as black and white, although for many teenagers the lack of black and white choices can be very challenging. Educating them on the “greyness” of the world is part of what we do as mentors and we should not shy away from that.


Having mentors side by side with students helps keep meme discussions down.

End of discussion. :sweat_smile:


How is it we have incredibly condescending folks assuming there’s only one way to operate a team even after seeing frequent debates suggesting otherwise?

I feel obligated to point out “mentor based” doesn’t mean what you think it means. The “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is “based on a true story.” Though, it happened in Wisconsin rather than Texas. Ed Gein never used a chainsaw. “Based on” doesn’t mean “driven by.” It just means there’s some degree of influence. This can be minor or it can be the driving force.

If you wish to lecture teams and tell them FRC is filled solely with teams of mentors driving the process, you’re wrong. That’s not what FRC is. Some teams operate that way. Others don’t. Neither choice is wrong. But, it’s disingenuous to suggest that’s what the event is. It’s outright dishonest if you’ve been around for several years.

I honestly feel sorry for you reading this. Both teams had a set of rules. By the decisions both teams made, each team was disadvantaged with respect to some of the lessons the kids could learn. It’s incredibly disappointing for me to read this and see that you simply don’t realize what lessons the kids miss on a mentor driven team. In many ways, these kids are at a disadvantage and it’d help you understand the decisions other teams make by taking a step back and thinking about what the kids get in a team where they’re leading conversations that kids on a mentor driven team won’t get.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to get ALL of the potential lessons on any given team. But, it’s intellectually negligent to not understand the pros and cons of both extremes before determining which one makes the most sense for what you want to work on with the kids that’ll get your time.

That’s not a problem. It’s your own bias. Your kids are missing out on other things because you haven’t taken the time to understand other perspectives.

This is honestly a terrible goal. “My team operates in one way. It’s not ok for other teams to be frustrated with my involvement. They should structure their team like mine. How can I make this happen?” You do realize the content of your post is essentially a complaint that other teams look at yours in frustration for being structured differently than theirs. You’re being a tad hypocritical here.

To be entirely clear, every FRC team is cheating the members of the team in some aspect. It’s unavoidable. Rather than worry about how other teams feel you’re cheating your members, focus on what your members are gaining and drown out the noise. Enjoy giving them what you’re able to give. Isn’t that really what’s important?


Wow, you sound angry. I hope not. I won’t join this debate, but I will take your statement below and provide the same thought using one different word. I think both are true, one just means more to me than the other.

“To be entirely clear, every FRC team is cheating the members of the team in some aspect. It’s unavoidable. Rather than worry about how other teams feel you’re cheating your members, focus on what your members are gaining and drown out the noise. Enjoy giving them what you’re able to give. Isn’t that really what’s important?”

or is it this?

To be entirely clear, every FRC team is inspiring the members of the team in some aspect. It’s unavoidable. Rather than worry about how other teams feel you’re inspiring your members, focus on what your members are gaining and drown out the noise. Enjoy giving them what you’re able to give. Isn’t that really what’s important?


Jeff, you are completely misunderstanding what I am trying to say.

I am against teams attacking other teams based on mentor involvement. My hypothesis is that some (most?) of these attacks are coming from new participants/spectators who don’t know mentors are allowed to do work. A football coach can’t go play linebacker. Seeing a mentor doing any work can be shocking to someone new. I’m looking for a solution to help people realize they are joining/witnessing more than a typical high school activity, before they learn this through a potentially negative experience.

I’d like to know what you think my definition is. I think this is the root of the misunderstanding. I’m well aware that “Doesn’t know mentors can do work” is a different case than “Chooses to limit mentor participation.” My posts are focused on the former.

This is not at all what I am doing.

Note that I am referring to a team that didn’t know mentors can do work, not a team that made a conscience decision for mentors to not do work. I was also referring to a competitive disadvantage. I didn’t mean anything about what a student gets out of the program.

I’m referencing my hypothesized problem of new people being unaware FRC mentors can do work. My point is FRC is a very unique program in regards to allowed mentor involvement, even within FIRST. I should also note, I don’t have kids. I haven’t been a heavily involved member of a team since 2015. At this point, I’m a casual observer who cares deeply about the program.

You’re putting words in my mouth. I’d agree with the first two sentences (though “my team” doesn’t apply) I disagree with the last two sentences.

Again, I don’t have a team or students. Because of that I thought it would be worthwhile to direct my attention at the noise to try to improve things for others. If I really am coming off as an incompetent jerk, I’ll drop this. I have no skin in the game.

I’m sorry my post led you to your understanding of my meaning, I’ll try to be better. I have many thoughts on the topic, and it is difficult to get them down in writing. I really am putting in the time and effort to try to get it right. Unfortunately miscommunications happen, and I would appreciate a little benefit of the doubt before assuming I’m a jerk and scolding me.


Its a fine line to walk, and has been mentioned by numerous others. I think the more assets available to a team, the more mentor involvement becomes to leverage these things. Whats important though, is to also leverage the mentors to do actual mentoring even if the work to be done is beyond the scope of the students.

The entire purpose isnt about winning, its not even about a robot competing against other robots. Obviously, first and foremost is to inspire our young people to pursue a path to utilizing and progressing contemporary technologies. Secondly is to teach them life skills, that arent really developed in any other youth program on a mass scale. We inspire by doing exactly that, utilizing modern technologies to build a robot to play a different game every year.

The method is exposure, familiarization and practical application to contribute to this “project” as the student grows. As technology progresses so does first. If this were really a student built robot, the students wouldnt learn nearly as much by their end of high school. Think of the time and training it takes to be able to successfully run a CNC. Of course they could find some speeds and feeds and tutorials on how to make the machine run, but what have they actually learned if there wasnt someone there to show them the how and why what works and what doesnt (this is also why i advocate starting everyone on a manual milling machine, imo its the easiest way for someone to understand how a cutter moves through metal as they can feel it in their hands there better than anywhere else). They would take much longer to acquire these thinking skills on how to adapt to different problems. The problem is that most/(nearly all) are not ready to tackle these challenges on their own and be successful at it.

Most students will need their entire freshman year as just an exposure to even know whats going on. Their second year they are learning the how, being heavily coached on what to do, and the 3rd year imo is where the real mentoring starts and they are ready to learn more of the why. This is only the robot though, there are many parts to the first “competition” enough to be able to utilize a students natural abilities and interests in a variety of subjects, not just things needed to build a robot.

To me it seems, the teams that have the most long term success are the ones that are able to leverage their alumni network to keep the torch moving forward, it also illustrates how successful the team has been in its history at executing exactly what first’s intent is.

Like i started off with, its a fine line, and im sure there are many teams where the students are too hands off and its a issue that while it feels like beating a dead horse, is good to constantly reevaluate, not just because its good to try and develop best practices across frc, but to give us some introspective on what were are doing ourselves.


FRC - where students and adult mentors have the opportunity to design, build, and program a robot together in partnership, with inspiration being both the driving force and goal throughout the experience.

Announcing this at the event every once in a while might help.


That’s certainly one approach, and it has merits. It is genuinely cool what students can accomplish in 6 (+ many more) weeks.

What I find myself talking about is things like exposing students to working hand in hand with people from a wider range of ages and experience than they have before. Learning how to efficiently leverage the knowledge and abilities of people who know more than they do. Figuring out how to handle cases where they’ve learned more than a “subject matter expert” they’re working along side of. What sort of questions to ask when even people older than them don’t exactly know how to make something work.

I’m sure these can come out of working with a team whose mentors are hands-off, but it seems a lot more straightforward if the mentors are actively involved in building and coding alongside the students.


And that speaks to my point of FIRST being different things to different people/communities. I don’t think FRC has to be what its founders say it is, or what active CD posters say it is, or what I say it is.

Over its 30 year span the nature of our society as it relates to technology has changed so radically. The revival of high tech manufacturing in America. The changes in IT with the evolution of the internet. The increased demands that our educational system is being asked to adapt to.

As I said in OP I have mellowed a bit. I won’t say that other viewpoints on this question are wrong. I will say that they are not viewpoints I share, and in some instances probably not viewpoints others would be so vehemently holding if they were in a smaller, less affluent community.

Or not. FRC is an amalgam of what all of us make it.