Lansing District F3 Timeout

I have not seen this story shared anywhere so I wanted to call attention to the incredibly awesome actions of the #3 alliance at the Lansing District competition last weekend. In game two of the finals, the #1 alliance captain, 5114, had suffered an electrical issue and was inoperable. After a about a 10 minute break the MC announced that the #3 alliance of 201, 7056 and 5150 asked to hold the match until 5114 was able to take the field. They gave their opponents nearly 30 minutes to work and try and diagnose the issue until they determined they could not. It was a tremendous display of gracious professionalism from the teams and the field crew for supporting their decision.

Congratulations to 201, 7056 and 5150 for winning and committing to it. I would love to hear more from @frcfastteam or other alliance members to get a little insight into how this conversation went.

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This has happened multiple times in Texas this year. At Dripping Springs the #1 alliance called a timeout for our opponents going into finals and waited for them to fix their robot past the timeout to play the first finals match.

At Channelview the #1 alliance wanted the other alliance to play at full strength and it took 50+ mins between finals 1 and 2 before the match was underway with all 6 robots.

We should be celebrating these moments as it left all the students involved with the best possible experience which should be the goal of every event and the goal of our program.

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This is what it’s all about. Kudos to all those teams involved and the event especially for allowing it to happen. That’s good stuff.

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These are great stories to share because it establishes a culture of flexibility towards teams. When we only hear the stories of teams getting shut out because “the rules say so” we don’t realize that those cases are aberrations, not the norm. As a community, we should normalize great team experiences so that volunteers understand that flexing rigid written rules in favor of team experience is commonplace. There IS another option than blindly following the rules to the detriment of everyone involved. As King George says in Hamilton, “Is that true? I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do.” Yes. Yes it is. Not only CAN it be done, normally it IS done. All the time. So, chill out a little, and let the kids play.

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Hello, so this situation is as exactly as JackN stated. We as an alliance came together and had a discussion after our Alliance Captain 201 and their drive team asked us what we thought about giving extra time. They, 201, wanted to have a complete finals rubber match. I as the Drive Coach for 7056 and the drive coach from 5150 both agreed to extend the amount of time until 5114 could get running. The Head Referee Greg did come to us and stated he had NEVER seen this happen at any event that he was part of but we knew it was the right thing to do and he told all of us that it was an amazing sign of Gracious Professionalism. I did say to Greg “What Would Woodie Do?” and Greg stated he would do what we were doing. It was a great example for the teams at the event. Thank you to 201 our Alliance Captain for bringing up the subject and allowing our alliance to show a great sign of what the sport and program is all about!

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At Belleville, our friends 2834 Bionic Blackhawks, used their timeout to attempt to repair their Intake. As the timeout was running down, we the GEMS, sent our student to the question box to ask to use our timeout to help them to finish the repairs. We were told No. We would not be allowed to use our timeout after their Timeout expired. SO we dragged our feet and delayed as much as we could, to no avail…
We would rather compete with Alliances that are at their best, even if it means loosing. It just seems like the right thing to do - Always.

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I want to put a little perspective on this that maybe will shed some light for folks on the stress and decision making that has to happen by volunteers, to points here and elsewhere about balancing the team experience with other competing priorities, but generally trying to provide the best experience for everyone.

In Channelview, the delay between finals was because a Roborio was corrupted through (likely) no fault of the team, they hadn’t deployed code or done anything between F1 and F2 other than change batteries. Why would I want to penalize somebody for something they didn’t notice until they powered up on the field for F2, and that was not their fault? I don’t want to, that’s not good for me, not good for the team. Even while we were working on it, there was a constant mental conversation going on “let’s try A, B, and C, if that doesn’t work, what comes next?”, then “let’s try Y, a 20 minute operation with everybody else on the field and connected, that isn’t guaranteed to fix the problem, if that doesn’t work what comes next, and we’re at an event that is already running pretty late, we might have to bypass them which would likely end the event for their alliance which I don’t want either”. I don’t know what we would have done if Y hadn’t fixed the problem, or some Z or AA or AB tries that came after, luckily that’s all still a theoretical. I suppose the line would have to have been somewhere, but I don’t know where. 10 minutes? 30 minutes? Until the teams that were gracious enough to wait decided they didn’t want to wait any more? Until somebody or some group decided the issue was unfixable within some time constraint (no issue is unfixable with enough time, right?)? Until 30 minutes before the venue would kick everyone out so we had time for awards after? Luckily the other teams were cool with waiting on the team with issues and just shutting off their robots and having a dance break while we got everybody going. Here’s the tricky bit… would I do the same thing again in taking time to let the team fix the problem? Absolutely. Would I allow any team in that same situation to do the same thing? Absolutely. Would I allow any team in any situation to do the same thing? Absolutely. Then reality made me a liar.

Let’s fast forward to I think it was Pasadena 1. Quals, probably middle of the first day, don’t really remember exactly, competitions all seem to run together. A team has the exact same problem, corrupted or whatever roborio, needed a reimage, purportedly with the only action again having been powering off and on the robot between matches. The team was already on the field for their quals match. The event is a bit behind. Do I put us 20 minutes further behind to let the team reimage their roborio and then compete in the match? My heart answer is yes, my brain answer is while yes, this is quals, and while that shouldn’t really be a distinction, it’s 20 minutes in a not-event-ending quals match. If the same issue were to happen to another team later, fairness would dictate taking the same action and letting them fix it, and suddenly we could be unrecoverably far behind, which would seem to force my hand at drawing a line in order to finish quals / an event in 2 days. I caved to that, talked to the team about it and why I was thinking the direction I was and what their input and feelings were. I consider myself exceptionally luckily the team was pretty cool about it, I know it wasn’t a positive experience for them, and it’s distressing, emotionally draining, and just demoralizing to me making those decisions. I hope that team will accept my apology that I didn’t give them the same opportunity another team was given in Channelview, I think in hindsight it was the wrong decision, and beg some understanding of making it with the information and future considerations I had at the time. It was my second most hated decision I made this season. The first most hated decision, that really just tore me apart, was later on in Quals at the same competition, with the exact same team, and the exact same issue.

That one I lost sleep over. The team would now have missed two quals matches. It’s the same issue again and not the team’s fault, and they’re being negatively affected by it, by not being given time to fix it before their quals match and thus not participating. Fairness would dictate that since they didn’t get time the first time, they shouldn’t get time this time either. Or if I gave them time this time because “this is outrageous that you are so impacted by something you have (essentially, one could argue otherwise I suppose) no control over”, why didn’t I give them time the first time? Same situation too however, what if even a handful of teams from that point forward needed to reimage their roborio before a quals match (or playoff matches)? There just isn’t time to do that. Balancing the fairly low probability of that happening though, should I have given them time to fix it for the second occurrence? The first? What opportunity did we miss after the first occurrence to mitigate the risk? Or did we assume that it was fixed, they hadn’t had the problem all during build or competition up until that first occurrence, so was it just going to be a fluke that was fixed and was good? Why didn’t I think of telling them to go to spare parts and get a replacement roborio after the first instance (which wouldn’t necessarily be without it’s own set of risks, but that’s the team’s decision on whether to take those risks or not)? I don’t want to “penalize” them for not having a backup SD card of code to pop in and run, since (sarcasm) obviously every team does that or knows about it or thinks about it, when I didn’t even think about it after the first occurrence to get them to make one (nor did the CSA that got with them I don’t think). This one tore me apart, on one hand the circumstances for a second occurrence are different because I must have missed some opportunity to solve or mitigate the issue during the first occurrence, so it’s a perfect opportunity to rectify that mistake and what’s 20 minutes in correcting a mistake, or for a better team experience? On the other hand, time concerns always, and consistency and fairness are also key. I was already inconsistent between two events in allowing/not allowing for reimaging in this circumstance, I should be at least fair and consistent within the same event. Should I have allowed it in all situations, present and potential future, and if the event didn’t finish because of that, negative experience for everybody and lesson learned I guess? Should I have allowed it in no situations and run a Finals 2v3 because of a “connection issue” outside the team’s control?

We got it fixed after that second occurrence, I think they got a spare roborio and used that, I’m ashamed to admit I was preoccupied with other things and didn’t follow up, and only know I didn’t see that issue again. But two matches, missed, unwillingly by that team, by no fault of that team, and because I made a decision to “balance” keeping the event moving with giving the best experience to a team. Hindsight being 20/20 and with no other teams winding up having the same issue (and fortunately some of the other issues dying down so we stopped losing time as much) I should have just taken the extra time to let them fix the issue. Why didn’t I just do it, as we had for Finals in Channelview? What’s the worst that would have happened on the flip side, we run hours late, and cut several quals matches in order to fit somewhat in the schedule?

These are things that I both love about volunteering, that I can be the influence to make decisions in a direction that most benefit the teams and provide the best team experience, and hate in that I also know that if the event doesn’t finish, then the team experience couldn’t be more negative, which is opposite of the goal. And that’s just one example. Even as simple a statement as saying the team experience is of paramount importance, there’s A LOT that goes into that, decisions big and small to be made that I don’t envy anybody. Do you trade a “smaller” negative experience in favor of a “larger” positive one? A more positive experience here in favor of a positive-but-slightly-less-so experience overall? Some decisions are easy. Some need outside assistance, from engaging the team to collaboratively come up with the best solution, from other volunteers, from HQ… Some are impossible, where even folks with the best intentions and experience are 50/50 on being viewed as “right” or “wrong”, or all possibilities are both right and wrong depending on various recipients’ perspectives.

Volunteers can’t be loved by everyone all the time, my theory is at minimum we shouldn’t be hated by anyone any of the time. I’m glad we took the time in Channelview and the teams were willing to do so and wanted to do so, that’s “southern hospitality” for you. I’m not glad we didn’t take the time in Pasadena 1, but also still remembering the what ifs that fortunately didn’t come to pass. Was taking the time in Channelview the right thing to do? Within the context of that event only, yes. Within the greater Texas context, maybe, the precedent it sets makes decisions at future events (just counting ones I do) harder. Within the nationwide and worldwide context? Probably not. Because there will be times where we can’t do the same thing, and that becomes unfair and inconsistent. I’m glad it was a good experience for those involved, that’s what I’m here to do and want to do and strive to do. I’m truly sorry for any negative experiences that did and will result from either myself or anyone else not affording or not being able to afford others the same opportunity. It’s something easy to celebrate as a win looking at it simply, but I don’t think it’s something that should be celebrated, because it’s borderline in the bigger picture of whether it was ultimately the right decision.

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During the first year that my son was participating in FRC there was a situation at an event where one alliance called a time out to try to make a repair (I want to say it was at Worlds in St. Louis, but I could be wrong on the exact event where this occurred). At some point in the timeout period the opposing alliance called their time out in order to give the first alliance more time to complete their repair. The game announcer made an announcement to that effect to let everyone know that there would be a further delay in the start of the match. The audience realized what the second alliance had done and gave them a standing ovation when they were announced prior to the match.

I have to say that this event is one of the main reasons I decided to become a mentor. It is a part of the Ethos that FIRST has created where teams work with (instead of against) other teams. It is part of what makes FIRST such an amazing program.

I’m not sure what has happened over they years to the timeout rules that prevents this sort of thing from happening today, but we should try to get back to that. Universally, when a situation like this occurs, the teams involved on both alliances want the broken robot to be fixed and want to play the match at full strength. The audience enjoys seeing such gracious behavior that is so absent in other parts of our society. And in the end, everyone walks away from situations like this a little more inspired and hopeful for the future and no one cares that the event went a few minutes longer than scheduled.

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Tim - you have been an excellent FTA and I am thankful that I don’t know that I’ve had any bad experiences with the FTAs or some of the other volunteers field side in Texas. Even when I think a ref missed a call that changed the outcome of a match at one of our Texas events, I see the stories from other areas of the country and am thankful that I do believe that we mostly have volunteers and KV that care about the team experience and can be reasonably astute observers about the spirit of a rule vs the letter of a rule.

For what it’s worth - from being on the alliance at channelview here’s my perspective:

  • we see 4639 not connect. They had been pretty much rock solid throughout playoffs so concerning
  • Try the reasonable, quick options. rio reboot, check for firewalls, power cycle, etc
  • I see that we’re taking a good long time and I start preparing my team and our other partner for a potential bypass of the alliance captain. Things along the line “We can at least be confident that there has been a genuine effort towards getting our alliance captain to play. We may be approaching a point where we have to play without our captain. We’ve put in a lot of good effort, whatever happens we can be proud of our path here”. It was comparatively easy to start being mentally prepared for this and convincing our alliance it would be ok (even if undesirable) because I had seen how completely you and others were honestly trying to remedy this solution.
  • at some point, I think when imaging or replacing the rio was the last option available, gates closed and immediately 118s drive coach came over and said something along the lines of “we’re in no rush, we want the finals to have 6 robots. Do whatever y’all need to do”.

At Pasadena 1, we noticed a bunch of solenoid cables unplugged pneumatic hub, and I could have easily been told to get off the field as we tried to reinsert them. Instead, I got a tiny screwdriver to try to help remedy the situation. Eventually, I used my own judgement that we had put in a good faith effort but it was delaying the match too long as we couldn’t get them in securely and decided we’d just have to alter our match plan to play defense on 624 instead of trying to match their offensive power.

All in all a very understanding and supportive environment.

Also for what it’s worth, I think I would have also had the same train of thought as you about differentiating between quals and elims, and I think generally speaking it’s easier to allow a bit more time to get teams on the field for playoffs than a qual match. But after reading the entirety of your message, and thinking about the number of times field faults (FMS, replacing springs in 2017, or whatever else on the field can break) cause incredibly long delays…it seems like taking the 15-20 min isn’t the worst thing in the world. And it may be one of those things that KV need to make their best judgement on - “we can help you this time, but it’s not a guarantee we can always take the time in the future due to circumstances out of our control” type of deal. It’s tough, and not a position I envy - but thanks for the time and effort that you and others put in!

Signed,
A team that had our own share of small delays

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I don’t think you should have been told no. You should be able to use your time out for whatever reason you want. It is literally your time out. If you want to use it so your drivers can do jumping Jack’s before the match, it doesn’t matter. As long as you have the time or available, you should be able to use it, period.

*My son and I were at that match. We went to visit Saline and just happened to get off on the Belleville exit to grab some food. So we decided to stop by. Made it just in time for all the finals matches. They were great👍 (Only in Michigan can you accidently stumble upon a FRC while returning home from another FRC event. LOL)

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I appreciate that!

On the field faults, I hear you. Those springs in Steamworks were the worst, getting the little arrow hooks to fit in them, ugh. FMS issues we had here week 1 and 2 this year for sure as well. Glad we got those sorted.
That all rolls up to the same back and forth, taking 15 minutes once is nothing, I’d do that in a heartbeat. Teams being cognizant and playing their part as you all did takes a whole weight off and makes that even easier. 15 minutes here, then having a 20 minute field fix, then a different team with a 20 minute issue, then another field issue, then another team possibly with an issue, that all adds up. Knowing what of that will happen the rest of the event at the start of day one is impossible; the middle of day two is very different as there is less time left for variance, and we know better the scope and probability of possible variance. But we have to be fair and consistent throughout the entire event, from the start of day 1, for every team. So looking back, 15 minutes would have been nothing. It also could have been the 15 minutes that broke the camel’s back and extending the same fairness to other teams later on makes an event hours and hours late. That’s the even murkier scenario of trading a (hopefully small) negative now, for the protection of a larger positive. If I had my choice we’d stay until midnight and be able to fix everybody all the time. I learned from how I balanced that in Pasadena, and hopefully that makes things better for everyone for the future, and that’s all we can do.

We’re lucky too that Texas teams (and most teams everywhere I’ve come across honestly) are just awesome and understanding, and have good role model teams to that effect, it makes a lot of these situations much easier on all the KVs. There is a danger to a blind “positive team experience at all costs”, so it’s good pointing out the ‘as possible’ on the end, that in general everybody is doing what we can to make events as positive as possible across the board, realizing that things can rarely be universally positive, and that’s what I hope anybody reading takes away. We may not be able to do everything and make every fathomable individual situation the most positive experience ever, but we for sure aren’t here to make bad experiences; we’re doing what we can, being mindful of a goal of a positive experience overall for everyone.

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