Standard rules missed by rookies

As we prepare for the upcoming season, What standard rules (rules that typically carry over season to season) are often overlooked or missed by rookie teams?


I thought the bumper rules were the hardest part my first year coaching. But aside from that all the electronics, wire connections and then all the technical stuff on the control side must be correct to pass inspection.


Always be sure of the size and weight constraints, and make sure you’re under them every step of the way. Probably the most common issue outside of bumpers is being too heavy, tall, or wide.


Don’t build your robot to the maximum size either. Give yourself 1/4” on each side of the perimeter for wiggle room.

Pay attention to rules about screw head protrusions with regard to the perimeter if you do decide to try and maximize your overall size. The first response about bumper rules is also really important as well.

Make sure you have the latest firmware installed before you get to competition.

Otherwise, make sure the wiring is clean, make sure you install your status light, file edges and deburr holes on your metal parts (well all your parts) to make sure nothing is sharp, and if you’re pretty sure your robot is going to look janky don’t push the limits of things extending outside the frame / can damage other robots/injury people.

Look at the inspection sheet when they release it and look through your robot to make sure there is nothing obvious before you leave… if you know you’re in trouble about passing inspection it’ll be OK and people will get you through it at your first event but at least do yourself a favor and fix as much easy stuff as you can before you leave for the event.

Finally, think through how to hold your battery. You can do some pretty dumb things that will pass inspection but everybody will notice if your battery falls out multiple times in an event. We’ve had ours come loose and destroy all of our wiring and that’s just stuff that should never happen.


The ones I’ve seen/witnessed the most are bumper and frame perimeter violations, as it’s pretty obvious when those are violated. Inspectors will often give rookies a bit of leeway for being a few inches over the 120" circumference or whatever that year uses, as long as there isn’t a significant advantage to be gained and it wouldn’t be feasible to fix, but that’s never a guarantee.

The ones I see teams get in trouble for and have had to fix are things that intuitively make sense outside of FRC:

  • using the chassis as a common ground
  • multiple small motors one one controller (besides explicitly permitted configurations)
  • multiple controllers and motors on one large circuit
  • using solid core building wire and EMT (shoutout to the team that properly grounded their Romex runs)
  • hardwiring the battery like a car and recharging it while in the robot
    and maaaaaany other things that I would totally understand from a rookie team that hasn’t been to an FRC comp before and is working mostly with your average hobbyist mentor.

It’s a bit late for this, but if you’re looking to start a team and have the means to, round up all of your students and attend as many offseasons or actual comps as you can. Plenty of teams would be more than happy to show you around their robots and the inspection process, but also what scouting and queuing and etc looks like.

If there’s a nearby team get in touch and ask to poke around their shop and robots. Take as many pictures as you can and walk through what the robot rules look like on the robot (bumper cutouts, wiring rules, pneumatic configurations, etc).


You’re not wrong.

Bumper and Frame Perimeter and Starting Configuration rules will get you if you don’t read them carefully. It’s not one or another, it’s the set all together.

On the field, some of the defense rules can nab you easily.

Also: once qual matches start, you show up to your match if your robot has passed inspection, whether or not the robot does. If, however, the robot has not passed inspection, don’t be on-field for the match. There’s some serious penalties for those actions…

One local team had to rewire their robot on the practice day of a regional because they had used copper coated ALUMINUM wire.

Battery mounting is often problematic. I have caught batteries that were “securely” mounted but were pressed against fasteners protruding from the frame that could puncture the battery if there was an impact on that part of the frame.

Some things I have caught that don’t break any rules but are still a very bad idea.

  • Screws loose in the wiring, especially the battery.
  • The main breaker installed in a location that is “too accessible” i.e. as the only thing protruding from one side of the robot where a game piece can hit the red button.
  • Robots where the control system is so obscured by structures and mechanisms that it takes a long time to remove them to allow inspection and to do any necessary repairs.
  • Teams using the whole practice time to do major rebuilds to change the whole concept of their robot then doing it again at the next event.

One of the easiest ways to tank your first ever comp is getting mysterious penalty points. It can be easy for a rookie (and veteran!) team to overlook them, but playing illegal defense or not understanding protected field zones is a sure way to get on a scouter’s do-not-pick list. Before your first event, thoroughly read the sections on match play to ensure that you know how to play clean. I would suggest printing out a field diagram from the manual to help visualize them. Aside from the bumper and inspection rules listed above, this was a common mistake to see while I was drive coach.
Good luck to you and your team this season!


Human player rules and such. I can easily see some of them catching a rookie off guard, particularly safety rules.


Remind me to tell you some of the horror stories I have about veteran teams blatantly not reading the human player rules sometime in another channel…

Yes, those rules are important.


Just because your team is listed on the Blue Alliance website, doesn’t mean that you don’t need to make a set of red bumpers (based on a true story). Also, I was once asked by a volunteer to help a younger team to diagnose an issue with their pneumatic system. I believe they were actually a 2nd year team, but it was there first time using pneumatics. For some reason, the pressure never got regulated down to a working pressure. Their wiring was not organized well, so it was difficult to tell what was connected to what. After looking at it for a moment, I asked them, “do you have a pressure regulator?” One of the mentors was a little taken aback. He replied, “of course we have one!” I asked him to show me where it was and he then went to one of the drawers in the team’s tool chest and pulled it out :rofl:


I would suggest that rookies’ biggest problems is not reading the rules, not understanding the rules, and not asking for help if a rule is not understood. Depending on the game, several of these could be unique to the year. Common mistakes that occur to rookies yearly are those mentioned above: Size, starting constraints, wiring, bumpers.

Another pitfall can happen to teams that are not rookies - failing to see the differences in rules this year compared to last.


All of the robot rules need to be followed, but from my personal inspecting experience, please follow the wire size rules. It broke my heart to make a 2nd year team rewire all of their 40A motor wiring in the pits.

The veteran team with the 30 pound overweight robot just left me scratching my head.


Two bumper horror stories, both of which required pit heroics to get compliant:

  1. When 4901 was getting ready for Palmetto 2014, they did the reversible bumpers that were more on trend at the time. Which was great, until they painted the number upside-down on one or two spots. Cue my operator working on the venue loading dock with a knife and a small sewing kit to liberate the numbers and re-sew them on an already-complicated sewing arrangement during the practice day
  2. Not a rookie team, but one team made corner-only bumpers where each one read (I forget the number, so assume it’s 1234) 12 (corner) 34. Bumperologists will know what comes next: mounted on the robot, each side said 3412. That was a tough and ugly fix.

Also, the teams that show up oversize always have the most heartbreaking fixes in my book.


Rookie advice is hard to give, because I made all the mistakes!

  1. It isn’t bad to undersize a bit more as a rookie - weight and frame perimeter. Take more risk in year 2! Easiest way to do this is focus on doing one thing REALLY well. What will that be this year?

  2. We weren’t rookies, but in 2018 an inspector found a wrong colored wire had been used for something. That delayed inspection and increased stress VERY unnecessarily!

  3. I would say give a VERY comprehensive rules test to your drive team for JUST the game penalties. Don’t be the rookie team that chalks up 100s of penalty points in their first match….ever. Q4 2014 Crossroad Regional was 4926s 1st match ever. The opposing Alliance had 317pts, the highest point total of the event! Rookie Team, Freshman driver, bad drive coach, what could go wrong!


I’ve seen these two 8-9 times:

  1. Not using FIRST legal motors
  2. Not using FIRST legal electronics (mostly cameras and pneumatics)

Top 10 problems seen at inspection:

  1. Weight. Keep yourself under weight the entire time. Weigh the robot regularly (at least weekly!). Weigh parts as you put them on the robot. If you can build your BOM as you’re building your robot, keep track of weight there, too - it’s a spreadsheet, it can total things up for you!
  2. Size. Build 1" under in every dimension. If the limit is 120" frame perimeter, design it to be 119" at the most. In my experience, cuts are never perfect, parts never mate up perfectly. If you design for 120" and things aren’t perfect, then you’re going to be over!
  3. Bumpers. Follow the rules, and spend a little time on them! Work them into your plans right from the start. Approach building them the same way you would everything else - this isn’t a job to stick your most inexperienced builder on! Nice looking bumpers make for a nice looking robot, which can help during alliance selection!
  4. Sharp edges and pinch points. Safety first! Pay attention to areas where hands go often (such as around the main breaker or lifting points on the robot). Pay attention to where game pieces go often. Pay attention to parts that may contact the carpet. Look at any chains and sprockets, and consider how to prevent fingers from getting caught in there. Do all of this as you’re building the robot!
  5. Bill of Materials. Plan for it. Start it early. Make sure you only have stuff that’s on the robot on there. Stick the spreadsheet on your drivers station - you won’t forget your driver station, so this way you also won’t forget to bring the BOM!
  6. Team Number/Name/Logo/Sponsors. Make your robot recognizable! Recognize your sponsors, school, and anyone else that helped you get to the competition - they paid for what you’re doing, show your appreciation! Note that this was, at one point, required, but is now only encouraged.
  7. Electrical system. This can be broken up into several subitems:
    a. secure your battery properly. Plan for your robot to be on its side, back, or upside down at some point - your battery should not come out!
    b. use only appropriate wire size and color.
    c. Use only legal motors from this year’s rules. If in doubt, ask!
    d. frame isolation. Check your frame isolation. Make sure sensors (an LED ring lights for cameras!) are properly mounted and aren’t shorting to the frame. Watch how you run your wires - sharp edges, tight turns, and rubbing points can all cause shorts, as can someone drilling through a wire!
  8. Required items: Radio and Robot Signal Light.
    a. Ensure the radio is securely mounted. It does you no good if it’s on the far side of the field from your robot (yes, i’ve seen this happen)! Use a POE cable to power (double up with the barrel jack if you want, too) - the barrel jack is not sufficient in a high vibration and high impact environment! Avoid mounting it near motors or large sheets of metal, as they can cause interference.
    b. Wire the RSL correctly. Plus goes into BOTH of the outer contacts, ground into the middle. That means you have two wires coming from the RoboRio, and an additional jumper wire connecting the outside ports.
  9. Pneumatics. Pneumatics store a lot of energy, so these rules are pretty strict for safety - make sure to follow them!
    a. The pressure relief valve must be attached directly to the compressor through hard fittings. The McMaster part called out by the rules comes configured from the factory and is not user adjustable. The one that’s been included in the KoP in the past must be calibrated by the user - inspectors can help with this if needed!
    b. The vent plug valve must be easily accessible. When twisted to vent, it must release ALL pressure in the system. This means you need to consider how your solenoids work, as some can be configured to close off a part of the system preventing it from venting.
    c. Make sure everything used meets the minimum pressure requirements!
    d. NO MODIFICATIONS of pneumatic components. This is a big one, as a modification can weaken the pressure rating and cause something to energetically fail!
  10. Firmware versions. Make sure to update the driver station, roborio firmware, and any CAN device firmwares.

Since FIRST eliminated the BOM rule beginning in 2021, this will be one less thing to have to deal with.


I thought of another story. I hope this was a rookie team. A mentor asked me as they were setting up behind the glass, “Can you tell them (the drivers) what they’re supposed to do?” Right, driving lessons from the head ref as the announcer is introducing your team.


Hopefully! It’s important to note that 2021 was a very different year for the competition, and that blog post itself says things would be evaluated and may be adjusted for 2022 (to my reading, that means we may or may not have a BOM requirement this year). So, it stays on my list until we know for sure that it’s not needed any more!

1 Like