Lesson Learned 2016 - The Negative

THIS. Absolutely. A central repository of all videos of previous matches, so that I have something that I can show to parents of new/prospective recruits.

Also, there should be a curated DVD of the winners of the regionals/divisions, and championships. A DVD because…I don’t have solid network at my site, nor am I allowed to offer access to visitors, so there are times when physical pieces of media are best.


EDIT: I originally posted my own contribution, but I’m now splitting that as its own response to this thread.

FIRST needs to work with teachers to write and freely distribute curriculum, that aligns with the Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This will be a big effort, as there are also individual standards for each state. If it seems daunting… imagine how big this is for teachers. I’ve scrambled to cobble together a curriculum that can be used to teach this as a class, as that’s one of the only ways to get my school interested in this, because…

…funding is very difficult to secure for my team.

I’d also like to see a decrease in program fees.

I get really fired up over a lot of minutiae, but this one is really important in how so many people of age choose to display their abysmal human-to-human behavior qualities. Over the last eight years I have kept an unfortunately ballooning list of adults who think that the vitriolic, ungracious, aggressive behavior towards adults and CHILDREN from other teams when they are in fact in the wrong is acceptable.

422 is not a powerhouse team but the whole team (occasionally except drive team and me, but not usually) lines up at every venue around an hour before the doors open. It’s important to me and the rest of the leadership on the team that we follow all rules and guidelines in FIRST to instill a culture in younger students and their parents that there are intrinsic and extrinsic merits in following all rules. I believe among the teams on our Division at champs, we were the 4th team in line behind 148, 1678, 1538. With the exception of Sunday in Asheville because it took a while to get our check at IHOP, we were the first full team to show up at the other events.

When adults from other teams SHOVE, YELL, or CURSE AT CHILDREN all while WEARING THEIR TEAM SHIRT WITH NAME AND NUMBER EMBLAZONED ON IT, it’s just flat out absurd. Throwing clothes on seats, printing out signs and taping them to seats, laying team branded shop towels on seats, and having OFFICIAL SEAT-SAVER VOLUNTEERS ON YOUR TEAM IS RIDICULOUS.

My list occasionally comes with pictures for when I catch it, but since I am usually trying to put out a fire in the not stands parts of the venue, I don’t get to always record parents harassing my students.

Everyone in FIRST can download the Administrative Manual, where you can find Section 4.12 that clearly states this policy. To my knowledge, every main and alternate contact gets FIRST email blasts, a majority of which during the competition season reminding you why not to save seats.

“But Wil, sometimes the parents just don’t know the rule!!!”

Every team should have a main or alternate contact that both checks a team into an event and receives communications from FIRST, which includes email blasts telling teams to not save seats. Either coaches are not reading these emails, are not sitting down parent chaperones to cover chaperone expectations on trips (like they should also be doing with students), or they just don’t frakking care about it.

FIRST has the option to scare some programs who think this is tolerable by threatening to withhold judged awards for witnessing these acts. The programs I witness being the biggest offenders of this rule are also the kind that shudder at the thought of being excluded from a chance at some hardware.

Our perspectives don’t often align, but I agree with this statement. In 2015 we got scorekeepers for a game object that had to be in place at the end of the game, there was really only one scoring medium, and robots didn’t really interact. In 2016 we got two distinct ways to score and robot to robot interaction (some of which could be extremely aggressive) and we didn’t get score keepers.

~I feel like this should be a simple rule for GDC: If it doesn’t have automated scoring and happens with a degree of frequency throughout the match, it needs a score keeper.~

I do agree some of the assessment of penalties, or the decision to not call them was inconsistent, but that comes with the very subjective nature of many of the rules this year. I hope FIRST understands that being able to see contact between robot and carpet is really, really hard most of the time.

The bumper zone situation absolutely must be addressed. There was no reason for the bumper zone to be as high as it was this year and this very rule created the situation that lead to the bulk of the red cards handed out this season.

~The total height of the bumper zone should be no more than the minimum allowable height of a standard bumper plus 2" (maybe less, that’s an off the cuff estimate) and positioned in such a way as to not significantly influence the difficulty of achieving a given task in the game~

I think we could have used just a little more of a technical challenge this year.

All of this aside, I believe FIRST Stronghold may be my favorite game of all time. It was entertaining to coach and to watch. Strategy was awesome in so many ways. Robots were a manageable size. If your robot could drive, you could play a significant, strategic role.

I should probably start a new thread for this, but I am increasingly convinced that the “safety inspectors” at competition are not actually interested in team safety, and moreover a few of them seem to actively enjoy making students feel uncomfortable by asking questions that have little to do with safety, or nitpicking answers in ways that has little to do with safety. I observed several interactions like this this year, and it was disheartening.

To be frank, a lot of the safety standards FIRST puts emphasis on are completely orthogonal to effective safety, and a lot of FIRST’s own practices at regionals are rather unsafe.

The safety inspectors repeatedly make a stink about maintaining an MSDS folder - can anyone think of a single time that a MSDS has actually been needed in FRC? For sure, in some work environments they are important. This is not really one of them.

I have not once heard a safety inspector ask a question that was particularly relevant to pragmatic pit safety. They ask about your fire extinguisher and your procedure for dealing with battery spills (and, as I mentioned, some of them seem to delight in finding students who can’t list off precisely the steps they’re looking for for dealing with a spilled battery, in precisely the right order :rolleyes:), which are marginal concerns, at best. What is actually relevant to pit safety at competition is keeping your pit clear, organized, and not over-crowded; having a good system of communication so people working in the pit know what everyone else around them is doing (especially when power tools are being turned on); ensuring that the robot is never enabled while people’s hands are in it (by far, this is the one that I think is easiest to overlook and most dangerous). These are all things that can and do cause injuries at FRC events.

These are not things you can gauge by asking a few questions off a list - these are only things that can be gauged by observing a team working in the pits and seeing what their actual practices are. What’s more, often the atmosphere at FRC events is actively detrimental to safety - by far the most important thing to pit safety, in my mind, is communication. People must know what the other people around them are doing. This is difficult to do when the ambient volume is loud enough to cause hearing loss (it has been, at some regionals I’ve been to, though thankfully it was somewhat better this year).

I would very much like to see FIRST take some steps towards rectifying this, because right now a lot of their “safety” culture seems to be mostly safety theater with little regard to actually preventing injuries.

Can we create a new thread to document instances of teams doing this? They deserve to be made public, otherwise they’ll never change their behavior. If not on Chief Delphi then let’s start a blog, Wil can moderate it :] We could call it Caught by the Payne Train.

Imagine a bumper’s eye view of some of the defenses and I think you might be able to come up with a reason.

I want to lead off by saying that there are a lot of things FIRST did right this year, including the design of the game. This was an excellent game, the rules were mostly fine, post-Kickoff changes were minimal, and design constraints were interesting and challenging. 2016 was a great year. Lots of great COTS products.

The overarching theme of this post is an idea that sadly isn’t new at all - FIRST has other objectives that compete with the team experience for their focus, and all too often FIRST lets the team experience suffer in the name of other objectives. This idea perpetuates itself from the rules of the game to the attitudes of volunteers to the format and schedule of the Championship.

The tournament and game rules have some particularly troubling clauses in them. Let’s all stop for a moment and reflect on how the World Championship was decided by a tiebreaker, foul points. The same rules do not require referees to explain who got those foul points, or for what. Both of these things are completely ridiculous and need to stop - they are hurting the team experience in order to have the event run faster and with an easier way to shut down teams who want to challenge things. Tiebreakers have been absurd and unnecessary since 2010 - a giant overreaction to a problem unique to the 2010 game. Just get rid of them! They are awful. No one wants to win like that. Certainly nobody wants to lose like that. Not explaining fouls means teams never learn what behavior to stop doing. Not explaining fouls means referees can prevent teams from challenging calls. Both of these things need to change for 2017.

I made a post very similar to this in the 2014 Lessons Learned thread, and it’s kind of shocking how similar some of these issues are. Some things FIRST has just failed to improve on in two years, and I’m not sure why.

To make matters worse, the way refereeing was handled was poor at best. This is not to say anything bad about the referees themselves; they did a fine job with what they had to work with in my experience. FIRST just did not think about how the jobs would actually work. In my opinion, what FIRST should have done is had one referee dedicated to tracking the ball of each alliance, recording possessions and zones. The other referees would then be able to completely focus on the other interactions in the game (ideally one interaction ref for each zone plus a head ref). In practice, you had four referees doing double duty as scorekeeper as well as rules arbiter, and consistency of possessions and penalties both suffered as a result.

Just replace “ball” with “defenses” and “possessions and zones” with crossings… Maybe two per set of defenses? Or some way to input crossings without looking away from the field? Point being, way too many missed crossings this year. I saw missed crossings on Einstein, even. If a portion of the game is scored by a human visually watching an event happen, there need to be humans dedicated to solely completing those tasks and nothing else.

Here’s another portion of my post in 2014 that still applies today:

One problem I do want to touch on, but may have difficulty putting into words well. This is not intended as a call out of any specific person or event, and I’m thankful to not have much if any first hand experience with this sort of thing. This year, there’s been an alarming number of reports of teams and volunteers at odds with each other. Among the things I’ve heard: inspectors telling teams “I’m not the guy you want to p**s off” when asking simple rules questions, referees and event staff routinely making un-challengeable calls without even consulting the teams affected to get their side of the story, judges accusing teams of being “mentor built” when a specific student can’t instantly answer a specific question… The list sadly goes on. I don’t know how to fix this, or if I just happened to see and hear of it a lot more this year than others, but a lot of volunteers seem to be treating the teams as sneaky enemies looking for any way to game the system. This is bad - we all need to remember that we volunteers are all here to serve these teams, and to make the experience of everyone collectively as high quality and fair as possible.

This hasn’t gotten better; this has gotten worse. Below are a few of several situations I have had first hand experience with this year.

At one of our district events, FRC judges came in and asked our team, a few dozen times, in a few different ways, who built the robot. Before entering our pit, I happened to overhear that they were trying to figure out “who the mentor built robots are”. The questions they asked my team were “gotcha” questions, all phrasing essentially the same question in different ways until the kids referred to a sponsor or mentor as having helped with some portion of the robot, at which point the judges would harp on that point. I believe these were the culture judges, not the technical judges, and they simply would not ask about anything other than different ways to phrase the question “did your mentors build and program the robot”. We were not asked about our STEM outreach, our business plan, our team spirit, and ultimately I can’t help but fear we were disqualified from those awards at that district because our kids’ answers to the “mentor built” questions didn’t pass the judges’ standards.

At the Championship, we did not immediately return to the inspection station after our final match on Friday. This was our mistake - most of our veteran pit mentors were not there and this was my first event without Saturday qual matches that I had ever attended, so I simply wasn’t thinking about it. About ten minutes after we returned to our pit, an inspector came up to us and yelled “228 you need to return to the inspection booth!”. What followed was a series of FIVE different inspectors yelling and screaming at our team for not having done so. “We repeatedly told your team throughout the day to come back after the last qualification match!” I asked my team and not one of them recalls ever being told this at the event. “You’re an 18 year team, you should know better!” This is the second event in FIRST history where your reinspection is the day before eliminations. “The inspector at the field even told you to return to the inspection station!” I am the drive coach; there was no inspector at the field who told us any such thing. Did I mention all of these things were repeatedly shouted at us, while we were in the process of complying with their instructions? It was absolutely demeaning and quite frankly, rude.

Later in the same re-inspection, we were 3 pounds under due to a motor we were asked to remove during the initial inspection (the motor was blocking some gauges, and we weren’t powering it anyway). We were yelled at for not coming to the inspectors after making this change, as they would have told us to be re-weighed. When I informed them that we were told to make this change by an inspector, during an inspection, it didn’t matter. We continued to be chastized for this action for another minute or two. Were we supposed to immediately begin a second inspection following our first inspection? Why is this simple mistake and confusion cause for yelling and chastizing the team repeatedly? Any team could have made this mistake. We weren’t trying to cheat or anything. Why the hostility? This wasn’t a case of a single bad volunteer - five different inspectors were involved in these reinspection incidents. I can’t believe this is the attitude FIRST wants inspectors to have with their teams. As someone who occasionally inspects myself, I found myself in disbelief.

There were some other issues with rules enforced by volunteers who were trying their best and acting in very good faith, but led to some difficultuies. Just a lack of knowledge of the rules, I guess? In Carver eliminations, we were given until two minutes after our previous match ended to declare what teams would be playing. This was not enough time for us to even walk back to our pit and figure out if our robot had burned a motor out. The rules say we have until two minutes following the match prior to ours, if I remember correctly, and being forced to make this decision before you can evaluate if your robot is broken or not put us at a potential disadvantage. We are fortunate that for the match we were considering playing in (match 3), the alliance’s other robot did a fantastic job, but we wanted time to debate the merits of putting us in versus them, and we didn’t get that time at all. We also had an issue with defenses, where for part of the day, defense coordinators were enforcing defenses needing to be turned in 3 matches in advance instead of 2 matches. When the defense coordinator found out about the rule, he was extremely gracious and apologetic, but he could not change the defenses from the random selection, and neither alliance was allowed to pick defenses. (On another note, randomized defenses are awful).

My point with all of these posts isnt to call out specific people at all.

Ultimately, my last complaint is with the death of the single Championship event. A 195 mentor said at the town hall in 2015 that separating Champs is like a divorce, cutting the FIRST family in half, and ultimately that is my biggest issue with the decision. A smaller Championship for everyone, great. Two World Champions, whatever. But splitting the FIRST family in half, forever? Realizing Saturday that I’ll never see half of my network of FIRST friends again? This is absolutely heartbreaking. FIRST is about the people; FIRST has so many great people, FIRST has fostered so many incredible connections across geographic boundaries… and FIRST has now constructed a giant wall between the two halves of this country, and the world. Think of all the alliances on Einstein that will never be reunited. 987 and 195. 330 and 2481. 3476 and 217. I can’t believe this is happening. The single Championship is a special, magical event, it’s a family reunion, and we’ll never see one again.

Our bumpers, at the lowest they could physically be, were rarely in contact with the defenses, if ever, event the rock wall. If they’d been 1/2" higher they would have never contacted the defenses period.

Yes, if simple physical height from the arena floor is considered they interfere, but once you add the ramp at the edge of the defenses in conjunction with most competition proven drive trains and you don’t need nearly the whole bumper zone.

Personally it think that there needs to be less speakers at Championships. These speakers all say the same things, nothing new has been said that is worth hearing. The are preaching how great first is to the choir.

Never is a rather long time. We can hope that FIRST will see that their experiment leads to undesirable outcomes, and realizes that it needs to fix the situation. There are several viable solutions that have been proposed. (Adding another post-event championship is not one due to huge logistical problems.)

Alliance selection is a process that is difficult to watch remotely (and keep track of the alliances). I would appreciate it if Scorekeepers would show the alliance match-ups more often than a blimp here or there. Similarly, it would be nice if the alliance brackets/match-ups were posted on screen for a while at the beginning and end of lunch (I understand that events like to run the sponsor reel during lunch).

Ryan, I was going to start this thread later tonight, with an anonymous google form or something for submissions as well. Like I said, I’m collecting kindling to light a fire under at least the Houston Champs committee. General harassment in addition to seating problems. Basically anything that should be addressed by a good anti-harassment policy and currently isn’t. To avoid controversy, I don’t think naming teams is really necessary, however.

The tension over seat saving will continue until FIRST recognizes that scouting is an integral part of the competition and the scouts need the same level of treatment as pit and drive crews. No one would agree that if a team leaves a pit to go to a match that another team can move in and take it over. Being able to seat scouts together is critical to competitive success.

FIRST also encourages seat saving through its “spirit award” which is often given to the team with the largest coherent cheer squad. FIRST needs to decide which conflicting objective is more important.

I believe FIRST needs to come up with a sensible policy on seat allocation / saving. 148 should not have to arrive at the Champs venue at 4 am…

Sounds good to me. Avoiding a witch hunt is probably a good idea…

I tried downloading the app at the venue and it failed multiple times. I gave up.

Unfortunately the lack of decorum in this year’s Presidential campaign seems to indicate we’re headed the wrong way.

I agree with much of what has been mentioned so far. One thing that they did right sometimes and not at other times at the championship is to give credit to the backup teams.

This has always bothered me (not just because 5254 was a backup this year), but when they announce the teams competing before every match in championship eliminations, they should also announce the backups for each alliance. Or at the very least before each new series.

It’s just the pointlessness, I’m trying to go over game strategy with alliance partners or review scouting data while someone is yelling over the intercom. I’m not saying that the pit announcer is bad, some of his comments should have been left off of the pit microphone and rather directed individually to the person who was running or whatever. My main point however, was that he got mad at everyone during the day and I don’t believe that it was acceptable behaviour. Some kids genuinely don’t know certain procedures but there is no reason to voice anger over the microphone, at least be calm before making general announcements.
I respect your opinion though, some of his comments were humorous but I believe that he got out of hand at one point.

I wouldn’t mind reserved seating for, say 6 scouts per team, at each competition. Our scouts spent the entirety of Day 1 at Hartford on their knees behind the judges (Hartford has a ton of room between judges seating and stands) because we got there only 1/2 hr early instead of an hour early and ended up seated in a location where we couldn’t see the screen and could see very little of the field.

Regarding teams grabbing seats from drive team or pit crew… unfortunately we had an incident last year where our mentors and a few students got up to retrieve boxed lunches for the pit crew and strategy team who stayed in the stands. A few members of another team swooped in on their seats and spread out their stuff since there were more seats than of them. When our team returned with lunch and asked if they could move their stuff, they complained and yelled, “No saving seats!” Very weird. Thankfully this has been the exception.