[Re-titled] Are team coalitions "in the spirit" of FRC?

Preface: nothing I describe here is intended to highlight other coalitions/groups/teams, additionally, I’m not considering the open alliance in this case.

In this case, I’m defining a coalition as a semi-official group of 3 teams or more that share information and/or resources with each other in an exclusive manner for the sole purpose of bettering the competitiveness of each team.

First off, I have no idea how many coalitions (by my definition) there actually are, thus, am not really sure how much of an impact they have on FRC. However, I’m still interested to hear people’s opinions as I’m undecided on the merit of alliances.

Here are a few questions:

Is a coalition between a few very good teams in the spirit of FRC?

What about more middling teams, or much newer teams?

Does the size of a coalition change its worthiness? e.g. a 5 team coalition vs. a 30 team coalition

If you could, would you join a local coalition with a dozen other teams?

In the case where a coalition optimizes as much as they can, say they have 10 teams (and they’re playing rapid react), they split the teams into pairs, and have each prototype one subsystem with a bunch of different ideas, so 2 teams do intakes, another 2 do shooters, and climbs, turrets, etc. giving them a massive advantage over similarly-endowed teams, is this in the spirit of FRC?

Should coalitions be restricted in any way?

Are coalitions good for FRC?

I realize that these may be oddly specific, or exceedingly vague, but I’ve been pondering them and I’m interested to hear what you guys might have to say.

I’d maybe tweak the title to “collaborative alliances” or something like that.

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@JohnnyWobble would you be willing to find an alternate title other than “alliance” to describe the relationship between teams you’re considering? Given the usage of the term “alliance” as a core concept of every FIRST Robotics Competition game since 1999, it may lead to undue confusion.

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Fair enough, how does coalition sound?

  1. No, they’re not really fair IMO.
  2. You can’t stop friends from sharing things with each other, so it’s not realistic to end the practice.

Don’t get too in your head about it, is my advice.

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In my opinion, as long as they’re not exclusionary, it seems to jive with the idea of Coopertition.

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@JohnnyWobble do you feel that you are currently being excluded from such knowledge sharing? I think perhaps it may be better to flip your thinking to something like:

How can I (we) develop a network of individuals (or teams) that support each other and openly share ideas? Building a network in FRC is more then just robots, its also about friendship, and future career opportunities.

Yes, teams share information in a variety of ways that are non-public, this will always happen with competitive robotics (or anything competitive for that matter). I don’t believe we should try to regulate this, nor do I think it would ever be possible to do so. In regards to dividing up subsystems during the prototyping phase, I think this is not something teams really explore, it robs the teams from the learning process. Teams likely share exceptional results behind closed doors. I do think sharing the results of these prototypes for everyone would be a great thing, see Open Alliance, even if its just the videos and not the dimensions/cad.

I wish you all the luck in the future, and if you ever want to bounce design ideas off of me or anyone else on 4481, feel free to post questions in our build threads or private message us.

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Yes. As in the limited resources in the area make partnering up to find space to house/build a practice field a useful idea. We had one once, and we’re looking to do it again. We work(ed) together/practice together on the practice field to get ready for competitions. We’ve grouped together to share transportation. That’s about as far as the “alliance” goes in our area, so I’m not sure it meets your definition.

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Here in MN, years ago we started an HAC (Hub/Aliance/Coalition) program, under the direction of our (at the time) great Senior Mentor @Renee_Becker-Blau (it was a sad day when she moved to Indiana!). Those groups are still getting together today. Some put on off-season or week-0 events together, when that would be beyond the means of the individual teams. Some put on training days open to everyone. Some put together 501c3’s to help everyone with fundraising. Some host one of the local AndyMark fields we got a couple of years ago so everyone can get more/better practice.

The only thing that makes them “exclusive” is geography. They work together to raise the floor for all the teams in their area, and when they can, they open their doors to anyone else, as well. I think this is a great thing, and it helps many teams that would otherwise be struggling a lot!

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I’ll bring this up for context:

a. Many such small groups like this exist, especially among long time mentors that tend to be on more competitive teams.

b. The formality of these groups are rarely anything more than “friends talking about robots”.

I have a small Facebook group chat of people that I became friends with as students. It’s been around for 10+ years at this point. Is FIRST really going to regulate how I talk to a group of people that I’ve kept in contact with almost every day for a decade?? That would be silly. We keep saying it’s more than robots, and I think for a lot of mentors, it’s that sense of community that keeps us involved in the program.

I’ll share this anecdote just to describe how personal the nature of these relationships are. I ran into an old friend on Saturday night at Worlds this year that I hadn’t caught up with in a while. When he told me his wedding was coming up soon, it hit me; this was the same girl he was all giddy about starting to date 10 years ago when we were high schoolers in an old, old reincarnation of that group chat. It really made me step back and think for a second about how much people change and grow; how a decade turned this excited, passionate, kinda goofy kid into a calm, mature, core mentor on one of the most recognizable HoF teams in FRC that I’m sure has had a positive impact on a countless amount of student lives. It’s still wild to me that I’ve watched that transformation occur over my own transition from a high-school teenager to an adult. Is that what FIRST is about? Absolutely, and I think the friends we make along the way are a big part of it.

If you looked at the list of teams in the chat right now, I can see how one would think we’re a shadowy cabal of mid-to-high level teams. If you made a same list when the chat started, I don’t think people would bat an eye. The fact that experienced alumni tend to join more established teams when moving to a new town is a separate issue that probably deserves its own thread, but I think is a significant contributing factor to how these private networks skew to a more competitive segment of the FRC population. I think a lot of people mix up which is the chicken and which is the egg though.

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Would it be troublesome if a high-level team helped a low-level team? My thought is that such a coalition is beneficial.

1676 mentored several new teams over the years. And some of them snatched victory from 1676 at competition. Coopertition.

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My day-job company and my side business have numerous partners, both officially and unofficially, that act in a collaborative capacity. Cultivating those relationships is important to the success of many businesses. Applying energy and effort into developing these partnerships yields benefits to those involved.

This is one of those occasions where ‘FRC being like real-life’ is a reasonable expectation, and maybe even a good lesson.

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I think the question here is whether you feel excluded from a group of teams in FRC? You’ve been thinking about this enough to make a post here.

I think you can see the CD consensus above, which is mostly to take advantage and network with people on other teams and form beneficial collaborations as much you can, and that regulating this would also mean regulating friendships that go back years.

No, if anything I’ve been considering reaching out and trying to get to a coalition myself, and was curious about people’s opinions on it.

Johnny, These are great questions that I have pondered as well. So I would like to share my thoughts on what I believe are your core concerns 1) sharing with an exclusive group, 2) sharing to make your team more competitive.

First of all, FRC is hard and can be very time consuming. So I am trying to focus my efforts on both inclusive sharing and exclusive sharing.

Inclusive:
By my definition, this would be sharing resources and knowledge with a local group of teams and mentors. We have a decent practice space and have invited teams over. We would also like to know if anyone in our area is having trouble and just needs support or advice. You see this type of team-to-team interaction at competitions. Why wait. Let’s get this line of communication open earlier and build those important relationships. This should make everyone’s competition experience better.

Exclusive:
My definition of exclusive sharing is forming a relationship with a smaller group to share ideas specific to an FRC game. In my opinion, “exclusive” is really teams that have aligned on the boundaries of what sharing means and what it doesn’t. That gets a bit harder with 30 teams.

My specific idea of sharing is typically called a “peer review.” Here are our ideas - please comment. Here is a drawing - please comment. We are having trouble with “X” - got any suggestions? We received plenty of help this year both formally and informally which definitely helped our competitiveness through avoidance of issues (a real time saver) and direct advice on a problem (another real time saver.)

You also mentioned prototype sharing. Again, that would definitively be a team preference where you would need to be aligned with your potential partner. I don’t see much benefit in this idea since we have the resources of the open alliance. Plus I would prefer my students develop and improve their prototypes as a key part of their FRC experience. Having an external group review it doesn’t really take anything away and it’s how designs are done in industry.

Bottom line, define what you would like to accomplish and make sure all involved are aligned on that same goal.

David

Working together year-round to lift everyone up is very much in the spirit of FIRST. There’s very little secrecy around any such cooperation, whether its friends who stay in contact, or formal agreements with specific teams. Absolutely no one in all of FIRST has worked in the shadows to create a blockade that prevents anyone else’s team from succeeding; at most, you might notice that two or three teams have features on their robot that are similar and that work well, but you’ll see those two or three teams trying to beat the hell out of each other on the field of play. I bet, if you and your team are open to it, you will be able to begin forming relationships with folks who have seen this thread, so that y’all can participate in what is essentially the Sauce that helps FRC teams grow and sustain. Good luck!

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As a student, when I saw the Triplets thread on CD about 3 teams that built 4 replica robots (1 for each team and a practice bot) and compete in Aim High in 2006 I was a little upset.

Since then I’ve recognized that coopertition is completely in bounds and in fact encouraged in FRC. So I’m all for teams helping teams out, right up to the point of picking a kitbot for elimination and slapping cheesecake on it [so the picking team can effectively enter 2 robots into elimination].

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That’s the crux of it, yes?

If, say, the captains & 1st picks from the last Einstein all started working together as a “mega-team” that has a whole different set of “optics” to it then if they each picked a rookie team to help learn the ropes.

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I thought that the mega-teams working together is the thing that the OP has a problem with? As Rahul mentioned above, many of these groups are just people who met as students and now happen to be on Einstein alliances regularly.

The prime example that comes to mind is the 1323 intake collaboration in 2018. Several top teams used it, probably because they have friends on each other’s teams. In the 1678 CAD release that year, they specifically removed the intake because it was 1323’s CAD originally. Which makes me wonder, how much sharing is “normal” for these teams in a season? I often have a lot of trouble working with smaller teams who don’t want to share their designs or code because they feel like it would give up a competitive advantage. Each time I have to tell them that the best teams already do this, and pretending like the team’s cult knowledge is special is part of what keeps them from being more competitive.

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Re-titled as per this request

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