Is FRC truly competitive?

The other day, I came across this thread and the conversation sparked my interest:
“What makes FRC a sport?” What a fascinating question, between the assumption that it inherently makes and the question that it asks.

Through this thread, many posters defined sport and qualifies what that means in FRC. And many posters struggled to support the OP’s assumption that FRC is in fact a sport. I agree with the assertion that FIRST operates as attempt to find an alternative from a sport and entertainment-based adolescent culture at its core; but I want posters to struggle with a different question. It is apparent in my user title, but I want to address it more explicitly and I hope to spark a conversation.

I’ve been mulling over this question for perhaps the last year, as a result of both reflection and readings. Is FRC actually a competition? What is competition? What is competitive about FRC? How does the competition in FIRST coexist with the “Win-win” situation that FRC claims to be.

I understand that much of the way one deals with this question deals with a personal understanding of FRC, but I want to develop a dialogue of this.

The first chapter of Alfie Kohn’s book on education, No Contest: The Case Against Competition informs my curiosity. I will offer you an excerpt:

To say that an activity is structurally competitive is to say that it is characterized by what I will call mutually exclusive goal attainment (“MEGA,” for short). This means very simply that my success requires your failure. Our fates are negatively linked. If one of us must lose exactly as much as the other wins, as in poker, then we are talking about a “zero-sum game.” But in any MEGA arrangement, two or more individuals are trying to achieve a goal that cannot be achieved by all of them. This is the essence of competition as social scientists have observed.

Some food for thought. I hope you enjoy.
Happy holidays, all and 17 days until Kickoff!

The 1st thing that pops into my mind is a couple of key points I’ve heard Woodie make many times.

  1. we are competing against ‘the problem’ - the problem being many many things, organization, teamwork, the technical challenge, etc, etc

  2. helping our competition helps them get better, and we have to get better to keep up. standards go up for everyone.

If my team and your team are racing to be ‘the best’ and we are helping each other advance our capabilities as much as possible, then we have “both won” relative to where we are standing at the beginning of the race. I would LOVE for my team to get so good that they LOST at the Einstein court.

Is NASCAR a sport? Highly capable race teams, with very highly performing cars are advancing their state of the art in a race in which only one ‘wins’. The losers didn’t give anything up. They just didn’t advance their craft as much as the winner. NASCAR fans certainly call their event a sport. FRC isn’t any different.

Losing in FRC isn’t like an ancient war where the losing side is enslaved to the victors. Losing in FRC isn’t a real loss, just lack of progress relative to the victor.

Football seems to have both the positive and negative aspects of competition. Sure, you have to become a very good player to win a big game. Unfortunately the chest-thumping, showboating behavior looks like ancient warriors enslaving the defeated.

IMHO - having a competitive sport does NOT require it to be zero-sum or MEGA.

I think FRC is not a competition. There is a competition* inside* FRC, where teams work to create an effective robot, strategy and drive team to outperform their peers in an arena (not a MEGA kind of competition as ebarker said, but a competition nonetheless). However, the point of FRC is in line with the point of FIRST. “Winning” FRC is not a matter of beating the opponent, it’s a matter of making a difference in your community. The game is a component of that - it encourages students to pursue STEM careers and it gets lay persons interested in those STEM fields, and it serves as a good starting point - but it is not the goal in and of itself.

I honestly believe FRC is truly a competition, the definition of competition according to, “” is a contest for some prize, honor, or advantage. In FRC we all compete for a prize, and an honor. Even if that honor isn’t the prestigious blue banner and gold metal around your neck, it can be the honor of having your team successfully complete a competition season. That might stress that it’s more of a competition than other sports. The great thing about FRC is that it isn’t just about winning, it’s also about self and team achievement. Which is sometimes just as good as winning the gold.



It’s kinda in the name, and if you’re not trying to make the best possible product given your set of constraints and resources I’m not quite sure what you’re doing.

Product being a team and robot that effectively achieves both the game challenge and the mission statement of FIRST, in regards to promoting and spreading the culture we’ve created.

People try their best to win it. Sure, a lot of other things happen as a result, and we use those things as motivation as well. But competition, against teams, or against “the field,” is a driving factor. It drives us to come back better at each tournament.

And without this drive to come back better each time, I don’t think FIRST could have grown into what it is, and what it will be.

Competition is a zero-sum game if and only if the only thing to be won is the ‘prize’. This means that in almost all pragmatic cases–and indeed I can’t think of an exception besides perhaps, and only perhaps, gambling where the gambler derives no pleasure from the activity–competition is not a zero-sum game.

Sam, you have brought up a very interesting topic.

From Merriam-Webster

Compete: to strive consciously or unconsciously for an objective (as position, profit, or a prize) : be in a state of rivalry

IMO, I do not believe competition always yields a net gain of 0. Look at almost any competitive industry. They are competing for the same market, and also to gain superiority over the competitors. Let me use an example my engineering professor uses very often (because of his 40+ years of experience).

The semiconductor industry is extremely competitive. Each time a competitor releases a new product with a certain attribute or ability my professors company was among the first to buy it off them to see how it works. They reverse-engineered the product and later released a product with some similar attributes and also some added ones. The same happened vice versa many times over.

These companies were constantly leapfrogging themselves, creating better and better products.

Does any of this sound familiar at all? We are competing, but we allow each other to see our advances and learn from them (and often use them).

But maybe what we here in the FRC do is technically not competition.

If that is so, why don’t we come up with our own name for it, or maybe that name already exists. Would Gracious Professionalism describe what FRC does rather than competition? It seems a bit awkward to be. Maybe we can adopt something else…

This quote came to mind:

By being a part of FIRST, everyone learns, everyone benefits. We’re all winners in that aspect. But as JVN said, we are taking part in a challenge. And through that challenge, we do all learn. But at the end of the day, and not all of us like to admit it, there are winners, and there are losers. That’s how it goes, it’s the nature of the beast. It’s not the sole focus of FRC to win the game and go home with a gold medal, but that’s part of what we do. We learn, we design the best robot we can using what we’ve learned, we build it using what we’ve learned, and we compete as graciously as possible. The matches, the game, the winning and the losing is all just an ends to the mean; learning.

No, competition is not the focus of FIRST. No way you can say it is. Building the future is what FIRST is about. The competition is set to give the kids something to strive for. It’s hard to just say, build a robot and have it do something. When you have a competition, you give kids an incentive to push themselves, to come up with solutions that no one else comes up with. The competition may not be the main ideal of FIRST, but it is a part of it. FIRST is truly competitive, just not for the sake of being a competition.

I hope this helps!

If you didn’t use the acronym, it would be “I think FIRST Robotics Competition is not a competition”. That’s like saying an ATM is not a machine! In a competition, at least 2 sides compete to determine who has competed better than the other, and therefore who has won.

I say if there are at least 2 opposing sides, each competing to win, then it is a competition.

FIRST Robotics Competition. How is it a Competition instead of a Coopertition?

Off the field, it’s definitely a cooperative environment. Teams supplying each other with parts, talking about strategy, sharing scouting data.

But on the field? There is a winner. There is a loser. Every match. Yes, that is the case. But does the loser really lose? Well, yes. Whether it’s by one point or by a hundred, the loser gets a larger number in the loss column, and the winner gets larger number in the win column.

Intangibly, however, it is not a complete loss. Strategic knowledge is gained. Robot skills are displayed for the benefit of scouts (think something like the NFL combine).

If you’re going to define competition such that net gain is zero, then FRC is not competition.

But, I would argue that whoever says that net gain must be zero is wrong. Note the intangibles I mentioned above. Or, I can think of a few very competitive companies–they’re rivals in their fields–that are constantly pushing each other’s envelope in the pursuit of new customers. Experience vs quality vs cost vs service vs continuous improvement vs adaptability… The battle rages on, and the only losers are the ones who can’t keep up with customer demands as the winners of customer money produce parts for the customer.

In that sort of competition, net gain is positive, and yet it is still a competition, without much if any cooperation.

FRC is still a Competition. But it is one that has a higher ideal–Coopertition–as its end goal. The only question is, who’s gonna get there first and give the rest of us a hand up?

That is an incredibly accurate way of putting it. Anyone who foolishly states that a loss in a competitive match is in effect worthless has never attended an FRC competition. Not only is strategical and game-specific knowledge gained, but so are Gracious Professionalism and coopertition (I understand that there are some who find the use of these two ethos of FIRST to be cliché, but I think that they are both impertinent values).

Of course FIRST is competitive. If it wasn’t they why do the better teams bother scouting, testing and improving their robots, training their drive teams, coming up with strategies for each and every match and diligently working in the pits on their robot between matches to keep them at top form.
If you really want to see how truly competitive FIRST is look no further than IRI or Saturday afternoon in April in St. Louis.

I knew that was a problem with my post. I meant to say that the FIRST Robotics Competition is about FIRST, first, and competition, second. FIRST has a mission - make a difference in your community and get excited about STEM. That part is not competitive, it is collaborative. It’s also universal between all the divisions of FIRST. The Robotics Competition is one tool for that mission. You may say you’re part of FRC or FTC or FLL, but really you’re in FIRST.

Do all FRC teams hold to all of the values of FIRST and Gracious professionalism and trying to learn and STEM and be with mentors and believe we are all winners and disinterested in getting the first place trophy and more interested in getting the chairman’s award?


FRC is a competition.

I disagree with what you are saying, or at least how part of it is worded.

*the FIRST Robotics Competition is about FIRST, first, *
No it isn’t. FRC isn’t about FIRST - that is a myth.
( it is also the 1st instinct of any institution to promote itself, but I digress )
FIRST is about the mission of FIRST, not the institution of FIRST
This is a concept that is lost on a lot of people, including the occassional judge. Dean and Woodie have been clear on this issue, both in their public announcements and in the direct conversations I’ve had with them.

JrFLL, FLL, FTC, FRC are all just tools that help drive that mission. There are things that are outside of those four competitions that teams do that help drive the FIRST mission.

FIRST has had a call for months for information from teams that do things outside the realm of normal competitions, applications of lessons learned from FIRST to other real world problems, other applications of creativity. Those other activities also help drive the mission of FIRST.

Coopertition accelerates the development of teams. The teams and their robots compete fiercely and everyone gets better. Teams push efforts to promote the mission of FIRST in their community, and they compete, and they all get better ( think Chairman’s )

All of the awards are a competition. Running a winning team, whether it is a robot win or a chairman’s win, requires a lot of demanding attributes that employers demand.

This is a question that I often ask myself and some of those close to me in FRC.

Is FRC truly competitive? It’s really not a black and white question. The level of competitiveness seems to vary heavily based depending on the region and the teams ideals.

From what I’ve seen, the highest level of FRC is highly competitive. Teams are constantly striving against one another to be the best, to win, to outplay, or out build their opponents.

Then once you move down a few tiers you’ll find teams with a different attitude than those in the top tier. Many of these teams have the attitude of ‘we’re all winners’ as long as they show up with a moving robot. Which, yes they’ve accomplished the basic goal of the competition (depending on who you ask) but are they really winners? Are they really competitive? Guess it depends on who you ask.

Very true. but that doesn’t mean that FIRST isn’t a sport or isn’t competitive. It is just that teams choose to not really compete.

There are plenty of high school football teams that don’t really compete.

There are a zillion examples of businesses that barely eke out a living because they choose not to really compete and a lot more that go out of business. Have you ever seen the TV show “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network ?

Even though some studenst don’t really care about competition, hopefully we can inspire students to learn how to effectively compete against one another, and then later in life they can carry those lessons into the marketplace. The advantage of FIRST is you can learn via coopertition.

That is one of the gems here. You are not just learning how to build a robot. You are learning how to survive. And that is an extremely competitive proposition.

Do you need a textbook definition to find the answer to this question?

If you’ve ever been on a drive team in an elimination round where both alliances have one win and the third match is about to begin the answer to this question is obvious. It doesn’t matter what regional you are at, there will always be some level of “We gotta beat these guys, we gotta win this or we’re out.”

Helping others does not diminish from the level of competition, it makes it more exciting!

This is MY opinion on competitiveness and FIRST:

The competition is part of what makes FIRST fun to participate in. If I ever feel the rush of the competition start to lessen I will have difficulty coming back for another season (FYI this will be my 10th season).

I am a naturally competitive person, its what drives me to be better and find ways to improve and I feel my team has the same make up. I don’t like going on a field and getting beaten up to the point of embarassment. I will never understand people who think that is okay. If I go out on the field and lose big it is humbling and just causes me to want to work harder to improve and get better.

My team didn’t get picked at our only regional in 2008 because we were aweful and didn’t deserve it. Our robot barely hurtled and just wasn’t good. We used that motivation of embarassment from not being competitive to fire us up and build our scoring mechanism for champs during our fixit windows and not only got picked but won the division. That drive to constantly improve and get better comes from being competitive.

Competitivness is what drives people to be sucessfull in life and avoid stagnation.

If you compete and get humiliated from not being prepared it should make you go home and worker harder for the next time. If you just walk away and accept defeat you will never become better. You can also be the second best team in the world and acknowledge that someone better beat you. You don’t have to be happy with it though. You can take that as the inspiration to improve and get more sponsers, resources, mentors or whatever you feel you needed to improve. Just don’t stay static and accept mediocraty.