This should not have to be said

This past weekend my team attended the Indiana Robotics Invitational and though for the most part our team’s experience was good and our kids had fun there is an issue I would like to address. Many consider this to be a very prestigious offseason competion if not the most prestigious offseason in FIRST history as the best of the best in FRC are meant to be represented there. During the competition we did something wrong during a match to an opponent robot unintentionally and were appropriately penalized. On the way back from the match both drive teams walked back to the pits close to each other. Our drive coach sincerely apologized out loud for everyone to hear and instead of moving on, a mentor (who I am certain was a mentor due to him pointing it out when I asked them a question the previous day) with the team they apologized to said in front of both drive teams and myself to our drive coach “funny how the worst bot out there can make such a huge impact”. They had a smile on his face while saying it. Our team remained silent and never communicated to that team again in any way since that incident. This team has been on the world stage before and has been a very well known name in FRC for quite a few years. Despite this we will continue to believe this 1 mentor’s lack of gracious professionalism does not represent the rest of their team. I would like to politely remind everyone that the offseason is not off time from being graciously professional. I recognize there are worse interactions to experience , but it does not make this any more correct. There should never be any point in time where such words are acceptable. To that mentor who said that, I would like you to know that it did sting for some and believe it or not we really did not intend for the actions that happened in that match to occur. We are sorry for that, but it does not give you the right to say things like that to any person let alone in front of our students who I am sure worked as hard as your students. If you are reading this and we see you again we would appreciate an apology. That was just 1 moment, but it is 1 moment that lives on from the competition, to the dinner table to several tiny conversations far and wide into the future. I hope you can recognize the effect you had and take responsibility for it. Thank you to all who had a hand in making IRI a great event once again and we hope to return next year. We wish that team and everyone the very best going forward.

34 Likes

I am sorry you and your students experienced this. Unfortunately, we are seeing this more and more often during season as well. My team was treated similarly by a long-term high-profile team at our District Championship during season. There were also reports of this type of behavior at Worlds - yes we were there, yes I did personally witness some things by both US and international teams - and yes, it is majorly disheartening. Gracious professionalism is the biggest reason I have stayed with FIRST for fifteen years. If it goes away and FIRST does nothing, I may take my leave as well.

8 Likes

We had an alliance partner at Champs, after our students had already been slogging through a VERY rough schedule with a ton of robot breaks (which I will say, they fixed flawlessly and in a way that I’ll maintain I’m super proud of as their coach), say ‘well, our data says you’re dog[poop], so…’ as the opening to their strategic proposal for the match.

(His choice of word was not poop.)

I said something similar to this quote, to their - significantly older - drive coach, in the moment. His silence did not imply an apology.

I know this community can be better. Let’s make sure we hold each other to that - ESPECIALLY when mentors are in this role, and can be someone complete-stranger’s-students are looking to as an example.

29 Likes

Most of my interactions with teams are great, but there’s always a couple of high profile mentors on good teams who walk all over students that don’t know how to stand up for themselves. It’s made me consider advising rookie teams at competitions how to politely give input on strategy without folding in the face of a good team, but this comes with the caveat that a team that resists may be placed on a DNP list (or otherwise moved down the queue). Very frustrating, and I don’t know what the avenue for change is.

16 Likes

Hot take: To be honest just call them out. Being good doesn’t mean you can be a d&$che. Mentors talk trash amongst each other all the time, usually in private, usually at post event gatherings, usually with context and without the intention of being mean to just be mean (okay, sometimes that isn’t the case). But speaking like that to students is unacceptable.

49 Likes

We were also victims of unprofessional behavior this season. We had an alliance mate come up to our pits after a close match and inform us that the penalty “we” got lost the match. We scored 68% of the points for our alliance in the match.

:man_shrugging:

That team will be remembered for a long time, for the wrong reasons.

Move on and remind your team every day of competition not to act like that.

21 Likes

Perhaps the intent was different, but it came off poorly. Or worse.

Being a ‘better’ team means more than performance. I will call out the Killer Bees for their excellent help many years ago of a cruddy rookie team who got lucky. That team ended up, over a decade later, winning CMP because of the awesome inspiration received.

There is also another team, not to be named, that were a bunch of arrogant a-holes, cheating like thieves and skirting the rules, denying it when caught red-handed.

Both teams gave very valuable and memorable lessons, making that cruddy team better.

Which team are you?

9 Likes

Unfortunate you and your students experienced this, although it’s really unfortunate I’m not surprised at all.

I’ve been yelled at by mentors in front of my students at offseason events before for “poor performance” too. Truly disheartening.

Even just this year at DCMP our drive coach was cursed out and berated by another mentor/drive coach on our alliance for a given match, infront of both our students and a team we’re good friends with. I wasn’t acting as drive coach that event due to recently being rather ill. Wish I had been though to bring it to the attention of event staff… didn’t feel it was my place to escalate that when our drive coach and our buddy team’s drive coach decided to brush it off and not bother them.

Always amazed at how some people think they’re entitled to or think it’s OK to treat others this way (especially while at a high-school competition that prides itself in “gracious Profesionalism”).

1 Like

These experiences do, unfortunately, stick with us more than the countless small positives we have at competitions.

I still vividly recall in 2012 a drive coach/mentor for a team (a well-known, high performing team) on the opposing alliance coming by our pit, with their upset-seeming drive team, to yell at us that it was “bulls**t” that we didn’t stick to the plan to do the coopetition balance thing. This was very upsetting to me and my team, many of whom had no idea what the heck was happening.

Ultimately, I went over to that team’s pit, with my drive team in tow, and lectured that drive “coach” on how their behavior was unwelcome and completely out of touch with what FRC was all about. They nodded, rolled their eyes with a smirk, and waited for me to leave. The other mentors on the team were the ones who actually listened and apologized.

I know my students wanted me to lay into the other coach, and hurl some foul language their way, but I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me. If possible, for sake of closure for your team as well as yourself, I’d recommend attempting a direct contact with the offending mentor.

These things can fester. Do your part to make sure that doesn’t happen.

14 Likes

Long ago, so long that someone born after the incident would now comfortably be a part of the FIRST program, 179 had a very similar interaction.

We had a match that we won, with a very well known team. We were asked in said match to do a very specific thing and though we tried our best we were not able to accomplish said thing despite multiple attempts and never giving up on trying to do it.

Despite winning our driver knew we did not accomplish what was asked so went to said team to apologize for not accomplishing it. The response he received was basically “You couldn’t even do it once, why would we want to talk to you”. This interaction was overheard by multiple students and mentors.

This interaction soured members, both students and mentors, not only on higher level teams but FIRST as a whole, and I do not blame them.

However those who stayed used this interaction as part of our drive to get better and since then I think we have gotten much better.

I am being vague on year and team because since then I know the person who insulted us has long since left, and we have had nothing but positive interactions with said team even in the following year before we “got good” so to speak.

I will say though sometimes these interactions do not come from “elite” level teams as well.
We have had interactions similar to what @Tom_Line mentioned where we either drew a penalty for failed our end game costing a match/RP and been told it was “our fault” we did not get the win/rp from teams who scored 1/10th what we did. Some times these interactions are out of frustration from said team for their own poor performance and needing to lash out. Sometimes they think since they are doing the best they can that our “failure” to do so means it is our fault a match did not result the way they wanted.

I do not wish these interactions on anyone however as the nature of FRC becomes more competitive and tickets to worlds become less and less available I fear these interactions will continue. I hope despite the negative comments your team does not take them as a reflection on the robot I am sure countless hours of work went into, or the people who built it. If you need to come away from the interaction with any sort of strong emotions then do as we did and channel them towards positive things for your team.

For anyone reading this thread who feels the way the team who insulted the OP’s team does, your attitude and mindset are not welcome in FIRST. Unfortunately for the rest of us we can not force said individuals to leave without an incredible amount of effort and until after the damage is done.

13 Likes

As your other partner’s drive coach for this match, I have an immense amount of respect for the way you handled this situation and the respect you showed to both my students and myself. Had it been said within my ear-shot, I don’t know that I would’ve handled it as level-headed. It seems we need a lot more people (mainly other mentors/coaches) to call out the individuals making these comments as they happen if we have much hope of shifting this terrible trend back.

15 Likes

A few thoughts on all this:

Again, to acknowledge OP - yes, it sucks to be on the receiving end of this. A lot. That’s why we fight it as a team.

During strategy discussions, we’re picking our words carefully. At an absolute minimum: Robots are not bad or good. They perform well or they are are still working on it. Yes, to a lot of people these things mean the same thing. But also yes, the change of words instills an attitude of helpfulness and improvements. This is solidly on leaders to form the vocabulary of the conversation around robots and picklists in a way that furthers the whole FIRST program, not just one particular team’s ego.

Additionally, never have shame over something that happens during a match. Honestly. Stuff happens. It’s a fools errand for any team to think they can, through sheer willpower, make a match be perfect. Even the best of the best mess up, someone getting angry or making a judgement over just one thing that happened.

Even when you fail, don’t let your ego get the best of you and make you want to get up on a stage to publicly justify yourself. Instead, put your nose to the grindstone and fix the issue. If someone comes by later asking what happened, you want a good explanation of the fix, not just an apology.

Humans tend to like to have heros to look up to, and that’s ok. But be careful who you put up on a pedestal. For myself, I’ve got a number of teams I look up to for the robots they design and build. But as far as the attitudes of their mentors and students go, they suck. They’re egotistical and are playing a completely different game than I am in terms of what they think is important in life. I’d never strive to be like them as people, even if I like their robots. Feel free to slice and dice your heros, and only select the specific things about them to actually look up to.

It’s just a high school robot competition. I’ve met far too many mentors who don’t get that.

18 Likes

I agree with most that is posted here. Bad behavior is never OK. BUT we are all human. It is just a high school robot competition. Even so. There is a lot of emotions and egos tied into it leading to a lot of intensity. Even with the mentors who should know better. I think most things said in the heat of the moment would have been said better if if said in a cooler moment. It does not take away the hurt or the pain. Try not to respond in kind. Work the problem and be part of the solution.

BTW if anyone has a problem along these lines with my team. Please let me know. I will treat it as a teaching moment.

For what it is worth. My experience with the power house teams I have come across, (Only about 10 teams in FRC meet my definition of that) The major players have been professional even while being direct. It is the near power house teams with the problem children.

7 Likes

In my opinion we should call out this bad behavior similar to how we call out bad volunteer behavior. A power imbalance doesn’t give you a license to be a jerk. Comments like these happen often from members of top 300+ teams and they don’t even realize it.

Having been on both good and ‘developing’ teams, on the developing teams, you semi-regularly get rolled over in strategy and/or receive disparaging comments about your performance from the good/powerhouse teams, and you’re fearful that if you don’t do what they say, they could take you off their pick list and tell their extensive network that you’re difficult to work with. When you’re on the good teams, you’re under a microscope to watch everything you say or risk having another team hold a grudge against you for many years.

The good teams in this dynamic are more in control to make this interaction more enjoyable for all involved. In the mid-2010’s for 225, we started having students, mentors and parents who only ever had experience being on a ‘good’ team, and thus started running sensitivity trainings prior to competitions (i.e. the other teams will hate us if you do or say things x, y, z, don’t do them, doing these things is wrong, don’t be a jerk, everyone hates the competent jerk). A single interaction from a single person who may or may not be in a controlling position on a team can ruin the experience for another. You’re not going to eliminate every hurt feeling (i.e. conflicts between optimizing match results for seeding vs. a team doing what they feel best positions them to get picked), but you can at least be respectful.

8 Likes

QFT. Also, in addition - we need to promote a culture where it can not only be called out but when it is, the party that is being called out needs to take a minute and reflect on what was just said to them or take a few minutes to walk away and calm down and come back.

It’s ok to have feelings. It’s ok to express those feelings. It’s ok to make mistakes and it’s really really ok to take a few minutes to realize you were wrong and apologize.

Most of us involved in this endeavor are competitive people but we’re also gracious professionals. Sometimes things get heated and that’s ok but we can also learn from our mistakes and should be enabled to do so.

I fear that some people on here view “call out culture” as a bad thing because they’ve been fed a diet of news sources that make it into something that is inflammatory and reactionary when it doesn’t have to be and it can be a learning opportunity.

16 Likes

And the men who hold high places
must be the ones who start
to mold a new reality
closer to the heart,
closer to the heart.

7 Likes

Agree, not advocating for cancelling. People will just need to know that other people think they’re jerks so they can fix it. We need to maintain a culture of forgiveness in addition to discouraging negative behavior.

7 Likes

Even if you choose not to name the team publicly, and I don’t blame you for not naming them, maybe you can find a mentor on here by their code/design release thread or open alliance thread if they participated and reach out to them.

+99999

The best way to solve problems without risking conflict escalation: Start by finding an individual, work with them one-on-one to figure out why the issue started in the first place, then target a solution to just that.

Don’t make it a group issue until the targeted, individual approach has been exhausted.

I think this thread also speaks to a false view of what a good drive coach is. I think it’s common belief that great drive coaches are the ones who can give the alliance the “right” strategy and have the loudest voice behind the glass. And while being aware of what needs to happen to win is part of being successful, it is not nearly as important as ensuring alliance cohesion.

In my view and experience, the greatest drive coaches are the ones who can guide the alliance towards choosing a strategy that incorporates each alliance member’s interests and goals as best as possible in line with the shared goal of winning the match. You can have your strategists develop what you think would be the best strategy possible, but if it requires your teammates to do something they don’t want to do, it’s unlikely that they’re going to follow the plan and/or execute it in the way you want it to be done.

Excellent communication and planning between an alliance before a match can overcome a huge deficit on the field in terms of competitive ability– being a good drive coach is really more about what you do before a match than your audible calls behind the glass.

22 Likes