Level of mentor control over team

Hello, my team has recently been having some discussions about how much power mentors should have over the team. The main discussion points have been centered around the fact that if both students and mentors are putting in the same amount of effort then they should receive the same amount of power. We have also noted the fact that mentors have valuable experience. Any thoughts are welcomed…


Can you describe what same amount of effort means? Its not the same as same level of expertise brought to the table. Both have different and most times, opposite roles.


On our team, we have a pretty big structure where the students put in most of the work, while mentors act in a more management-like role to ensure that the students do what they need to do and direct their work effectively, as well as directing the team big-picture and doing all the stuff the team needs to do with the school district and with FIRST.

We have a pretty sizable team of student officers who are responsible for specific aspects of the team. They all work with the mentors to plan what the team will do. The mentors always have ultimate veto power, but most of the ideas tend to come from the officers.

During the preseason, the mentors’ responsibility is paperwork-y things and helping the officers plan out the preseason. The officers’ responsibility is to prepare for the preseason meetings that are in their area (e.g. programming officer plans for teaching programming, etc.).

During build, it’s each officer’s responsibility to lead their respective subteam and do what they need to get done. Again, mentors have veto power over student ideas (rip swurret 2022 [rightfully so]) but the students are the ones doing the design and build.

At competitions, mentors and the students leading drive team / pit team / scouting team all work together to ensure the success of the team as a whole. The post-competition season is pretty much just like the preseason, but a lot less active.

TL;DR Student officers are the ones who make the team go, mentors are the ones who steer where the team’s going to make sure it doesn’t crash and burn. Neither students nor mentors get absolute decision-making authority.


As far as I can tell FIRST very consciously does not provide guidance on this issue, which is a blessing and a curse. Every team organizes itself differently, and you’ll have to figure it out for yourselves.

That said, however you decide to “divvy up the power”, remember that as adults, mentors are usually the ones held responsible for keeping the team running year over year, keeping the money spending under control, and keeping students safe. They need a minimum of authority in order to fulfill that responsibility. You will need it too once you graduate and come back to volunteer as a mentor.


There are many CD threads that touch on this subject. Be sure to find some to get more opinions.

I doubt it! At least not on my team. The mentors/coaches just about break their backs keeping the team going and their hours overwhelm the students’ hours. Thank you for recognizing the

Some mentors may enjoy the influence or power over students but not on my team. Mentors/coaches must take seriously the pledge and responsibility to return students home every time in the same or better state than they arrived. So I suggest not considering the level of effort - there are plenty of other criteria ranging from a totally domineering coach to letting the students do just about anything they want to.


I tend to agree with @nuclearnerd that there’s a great deal mentors are responsible for behind the scenes the students don’t often see or understand and FIRST leaves things very open for teams to decide what works best for them.

We have been doing our best to facilitate a student-oriented environment where our leaders on the team feel like the mentors are consulting their opinions, open to their ideas, and can have conversations where everyone is learning. When it’s appropriate we give the students the control to decide on some things. There are other things the mentors need to decide on looking out for the long-term success of the team, so we ensure the team is healthy for future generations.

@Woodall I see you are local to NH. If our teams’ cross paths at one of the events this Fall, feel free to stop by our pit. Our students and myself would be happy to share more about how we’re organized and what we found works for 3467. :slight_smile:


This is very important to note.
Similar to teaching in education, we encourage “student voice.” There is a whole range of resources available on the subject.


As my team’s lead mentor, I can say that I have both a lot and very little power. After all, I am not the team, just a part of it. I handle certain aspects on my own authority because that’s required by our circumstances (i.e., finances, because we’re a school team and the district insists that I as a district employee be the one handling the money.) But in most regards, we are a student-led team. I take very seriously the idea that I am a mentor, that my role is to advise and teach but not to run things. In virtually every sense, the important decisions about what the team does and when are the responsibility of the student leadership and the members at large. It’s what I’ve always felt is in the spirit of FIRST and it’s what works for us.


I think you would get some more helpful advice if you could give examples of where you feel mentors and students are putting in an equal amount of effort but their is a power imbalance.

We can take guesses at what might help you but until you provide examples all I can go off of is that you are an NE community team who just had their teams first ever full season (build and competition) so I imagine most people involved on the team also just completed their first ever full season so I could offer my generic “what do you do after your rookie year” suggestions but they may not apply to you.


To OP: Why is having power important?


At 4160 we start with the phrase “If a Student can do it, a Student should do it”. Mentors should be encouraging the students to have the majority of the power. If the result of the students making bad choices is a non-competitive robot then so be it.

I find that asking questions is one of the most powerful tools that mentors have… “Have you planned for XX to fail”? “What is your plan if the YY is too complicated, or doesn’t work”? “Have you prototyped this yet, because we wont commit to it on the Robot until you prove it can work”? “Do we have the funds for that idea? If not how do you plan to fund raise for it”?

There definitely are teams where mentors have a bigger hand on the robot, and the choices that get made. We try to steer the team, give advice, keep all 10 fingers, toes, ears and eyes, and give them our opinions as to what will be a competitive robot. It is very infrequent that we have to as mentors give a flat out no, or insist on something. aka “Reality has the most power over the team”.

The level of effort and/or time seems irrelevant to me. It’s all about getting the students to get it done, with mentoring providing perspective, training, and experience.


Thanks for the phrase. I looked it up and there is a lot of great stuff readily available on the Internet. My team is coached by two very good, experienced teachers and I see my team is significantly run by student voice.

However, none of this may help the OP decide. OP’s team has to decide their commitment to their goals and do they trust and follow the coaches/mentors to get to their goals. What I mean is every team would have a goal (or at least aspire) to going to (maybe winning) World’s. My team wants to go to roboProm every year. The mentors/coaches on, I dare say, most or all teams know how to get to World’s. Very few students do and not many students want to make the huge effort.

One of the best teams in the world is located somewhat near me. They make a point in recruiting that they intend to compete at the highest level. The student commitment to the team is very high. My team takes on all interested students that for the most part attend the nearly minimal team meetings. Robotics competes with music, athletics and other clubs and activities for their attention.

The best team appears to have strong leadership from mentors and strong student leaders. My team is much more democratic and the coaches and mentors work hard to follow the students level of interest. My team is thus messy, inefficient and doesn’t go to World’s too often. The coaches, mentors, and students are as good as any others but we accomplish different things than many teams with similar coaches, mentors, and students (and money).


I think it’s very important to acknowledge that there are many approaches and any approach that makes a positive impact on students can be valid. I’d say figure out what the team’s goals are and let that help guide you. Let students do as much as they can and try your best not to work your mentors until they quit. If you want to be really competitive, experienced mentors will likely have to veto ideas, and set the deadlines. If you want to let students learn from their mistakes, that’s great but it will cost you competitively. If your top goal is to win banners, mentors might plan the overall design, then guide students through the execution, and those students can learn a lot. If you want to let your students imaginations run wild you can let them pick the craziest design and help them execute it. The mentors will have ultimate veto power as we are responsible for the safety of students and finances, but beyond that anything goes.

On my team, we set the schedule, veto ideas that we think are unworkable, conduct design reviews, and manage a small number of high level tasks (managing top level CAD assemblies, running the big CNC, picking events, arranging travel, etc.) Students come up with an overall plan with limited guidance, CAD all parts and subassemblies, write all code, and do the vast majority of fabrication and assembly. When we can transfer our knowledge to the students, we can get the best results with less mentor control, so we run off-season trainings to teach students to analyze problems the way we do. We are willing to overrule the students, but not without telling them our reasons and hearing there arguments.


The main work that mentors currently provide, is for us to be able to work, we can only work in the lab with “supervision” (a mentor is present, but not necessarily in the lab) of a district teacher. Mentors also handle the paperwork and purchasing. Students do everything else from planning what we are doing in pre season to build season and our strategies for anything we do, with light guidance from mentors. It doesn’t help that our mentors haven’t been doing this for that long and have a lot to manage because there are 2 teacher-mentors only.

If mentors have experience in a particular section of the robot or the team in general, the team may want to give them more power in that area. I strongly recommend that mentors leave a lot of decision making up to the students, while also giving guidance to help them understand why their initial idea won’t work or why a different idea may be better than what they though.
After all it’s about what the students learn, not what the mentors build.

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Some food for thought:

As already mentioned, I bet there’s a great conversation to be had with your entire team around: What are your team’s short term and long term goals? Who gets to set those goals? How will you meet those goals?


Wow! So many teams that have a “power sharing” philosophy.
I rule my team with an iron fist. What I say goes. End of story!
And if you believe that, then I have some beach front properties in Nebraska I’d like to sell you. :grin:
Like others, we have shared control of the team to some degree. Our students have control over most robot-related decisions and other, yearly game-centric duties such as submitted awards and such. Mentors guide and give advice and lend a helping hand or two or three. We also run the business of the team. Fincances, ordering, registrations, team communications, making sure we have a safe place to meet, etc.
Our mentors put in many more hours behind the scenes than most of the students. We also wield the final veto hammer on all things (which is rarely used, but when it is, there is always a good reason).
I think it is best practice that everyone involved have agency within the team.


On our team, we have turned Mentor into an Acronym:

Motivate and
Educate, but

By the way, the “our” in that statement is clearly from the student’s perspective. It is their robot, their project, their goals and their achievement.

I have become convinced that the students, when given the right encouragement and allowed to pursue their own goals and design ideas are able to accomplish significantly more than most people give them credit for. The best thing that we can do is to give them the freedom and inspiration to do that.

We also do occasionally touch the robot, but our agreement with the team is we only help them out - if asked. We have to be invited in. This is true during build season and true during competitions.

Our “standing orders” are that Mentors are to act as advisors. This means participating in design reviews and asking the students to defend their design decisions while asking probing questions (“have you thought of this scenario?”, or “is there a way that this could be done differently?”).

We do get invited in on occasion to help. But we let the students dictate the terms of our help. If, for example, they want one of the mentors to help the newer students learn how to assemble the swerve modules, we may be asked to assemble one of the 5 units as as way of teaching the students who are simultaneously assembling the other 4. If there some new fabrication technique that we are trying for the first time (like using rivnuts), we will help the students with the first few applications of that technique to make sure that it is going to work and they are trained in how to do it before we set them free to do it themselves. We sometimes will serve as contract machinists if the students are falling behind schedule and need some extra manpower, but we only do what the drawings that the students created tell us to do. We often suggest areas where we can help (you do - I help), if it looks like the students could use it, but they have to agree to that help before we get involved.

Of course there are aspects of the team operation that need to be done by mentors and other adults such as paying registration fees, reserving hotel rooms, driving the team vehicles and trailer, etc. We require mentors to be present at every meeting to ensure safety and to unlock and lock the build space (we do not allow students to have the key to the build space), etc.

I was relatively new to the team in 2016 when the students proposed our famous swank drive. I was convinced it was a bad idea (I think I actual said “when the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” in my objection to using swerve that year), but one of the older mentors explained to me the merits of the process of letting the students own the design (for good or bad). It turned out to be a great idea that we, as a team are very proud of. That was a huge learning experience for me and every time I find myself doubting the students, I am reminded of that design session and I am reminded to check myself.

We do “check the math” on ideas that the students come up with and often have to help them understand the limits of torque, force, stress and strain. If their design will not work because the math doesn’t support it, we will explain that to the students using the math. We let the math have the veto power, if you will. We also try to use those analyses as opportunities to teach the students how to do free body diagrams, or energy balancing techniques or simple trajectory analysis so that they will be able to check their own math in the future.


Early-on in my mentoring career I recognized that I was hopeful that in 5 or 10 years the students would say to themselves, “That’s what Mr. Thomas was trying to tell us!” Often students won’t even consider adult suggestions so I must suggest everything but the “best” solution so they are lead to think of it themselves after discounting all of mine or they often just ignore the whole situation and live with less than ideal. For Game Manual violations, after a few iterations of suggestions being ignored, I’m not so subtle!


I don’t know about other teams, but my team (1895) is a really small team so the mentor:student ratio was something on the order of about 1:4 (somewhere around there, if you count alums it was more like 1:2) so everyone was able to get a lot of time to have a mentor/alum come over and help that student with whatever they were trying to learn.

Even though the mentors were very involved with helping everyone learn how to solve all the different problems and teaching us how to use our industrial machines, they had almost no involvement when it came to designing the robot, our game strategy, or how we interacted with other teams at comps. They didn’t stop us from making our horribly cringe intake arm last year, and didn’t point out any design flaws that we had. They just helped us learn how to produce things.

In my opinion, students should hold all the power when it comes to how the robot is designed, or team stategies, or things of that nature. Even if the students make a poor design choice (seriously, our arm was really inconsistent) they shouldn’t interviene and be like “yo that’s not a good idea, try [xyz]”. However: the mentors should have most, if not all, of the power when it comes to administrative things, logistics, or safety. Since adults are just naturally better at value judgement, they should be the people that make the critical money decisions. Also, since the mentors have a lot more professional experience, they should (hopefully) know how to safely do whatever it is they are doing. The mechanical mentors should be able to teach students how to safely operate the heavy machinery, software mentors should teach programmers how to make their robot not uncontrollable crazy death machines, and electrical mentors should teach students how to make systems that don’t cause electrical fires/exploding pneumatics (true story. DO NOT run pneumatic cables through moving parts without proper coverings).

tl;dr: students do the robot-ing, mentors make sure students don’t die while robot-ing


I might want to take you up on those Nebraska beach houses. What’s your price?