Volunteer Culture & Burnout

Though I’ve only been involved for a few years, I’ve begun to notice trends on both sides of the fence as to volunteers and culture.

Volunteers generally exist in two camps, teams love them, they constantly volunteer at events, and are very involved in the community. However, the alternate side is that they seldom eat at competition, wear down their personal health for events and teams, and utterly burn themselves out.

Mid-Atlantic as a district (based on my own personal observation) has volunteers that do events as many weeks as possible, run offseasons, coordinate events outside of MAR and generally are “well known”. However, the less “public” roles that work week-in week-out are the same set of people, often doing their thankless role for a lunch they may never get out of busyness. They do this role without being thanked often, barely recognized and out of care of the competition and the students playing in it.

Now, I can’t propose any singular solution to fix the perceived mistreatment of volunteers, which is why I’m asking CD. How can we help to fix the issue at hand, student, mentor, parents and volunteers alike?

This is an ongoing problem. But in Mid-Atlantic, we have a great set of volunteers that make all of this happen. Part of our volunteer planning is to constantly find new volunteers, especially current students and college mentors and lure them in early. We do as much as we can to keep them engaged and to offer as much training as possible.

However, to correct your post, Mid-Atlantic has never required teams to provide volunteers. This was proposed in the early days as it was the practice from other regions, but we did not adopt this. There’s nothing worse than a volunteer who is voluntold.

Thanks Mr. Sherman, I’ve corrected my post to remove the inaccuracy. However, I wasn’t speaking about MAR by itself in this post. I only have direct experience with MAR. I asked friends in FIM, and New York and elsewhere and they seem to feel in similar ways.

Equip volunteers with IV glucose drips.

The easiest way is just to volunteer yourself and convince everyone you know to volunteer. If there are more volunteers, then it is easier to take breaks (especially for field crew) and volunteers won’t feel as obligated to volunteer every week.

Another thing that causes volunteers to miss breaks is over-complicated fields and games that cause matches to run behind.

I’d like to dispute this.
I eat very well at competitions (aka very badly). The food at many competition, especially official FIRST events, is very very good. And then there’s the side items (which I myself an guilty of contributing to). Someone always brings candy and junk food for the volunteers to graze on. Now I have been to a couple of events that did not provide meals for the volunteers… I quickly forget their names and never return. those events are far and few between.

I’m interested in which volunteer roles you see this in. From NE, I’ve seen this most in CSA, Pit Admin, Lead Queuer, and Field Lead. I saw a CSA this year not take a single break this year for 3 days because there was only one of him and 40 robots that needed help. I think for all of these the solution is making it easier for new volunteers or less experienced volunteers to get into these roles so that duplication is possible. To my mind, there is no reason why a volunteer who was their team’s programmer cannot at least be an assistant CSA. Almost anyone who has been in the pits will be able to help with pit admin. As for Queuer and Field, I think anyone with 2 events experience that year is able to step in. Maybe we should work on easier pipelines into these roles? Just my $0.02


The regional events I’ve been to have always focused on treating volunteers well. The food is excellent, and if there’s an issue (usually with the field) that prevents a group from getting to the lunch room, then other volunteers are making them lunches and bringing them out so they can eat as they have time.

But the biggest problem is having people to do the jobs. You see a lot of the same faces at every event because there aren’t enough trained and qualified people to do those roles! That was my biggest focus when I became an LRI - I was the only LRI in the state, and we were running 4 regionals. I trained up others and now have a small crew of LRI’s, so each of us is only responsible for one event. Many of us end up being seen at multiple events, though, as most of our teams attend 2 regionals each years. But there’s a huge difference between attending an event as the LRI, and attending one as a “highly qualified inspector” :slight_smile: And having a “highly qualified inspector” at your event makes it so much easier on the LRI, as you have someone you can point to and say “you’re in charge for the next 20 minutes, I’m going to go eat”.

So, volunteer yourself, get as many people as you know to volunteer. Having people in their first year as a volunteer means more focus on training and making sure they know what’s needed when, but having people that come back year after year makes it so much easier on everyone!

I’d like to dispute this.
I eat very well at competitions (aka very badly). The food at many competition, especially official FIRST events, is very very good. And then there’s the side items (which I myself an guilty of contributing to). Someone always brings candy and junk food for the volunteers to graze on. Now I have been to a couple of events that did not provide meals for the volunteers… I quickly forget their names and never return. those events are far and few between.[/quote]

Ed, I can provide a counterexample. I know that some of the FTAs I (as a scorekeeper) work with I am told have this issue if the VC doesn’t “force” them to take a meal break. Staying hydrated is another thing that VC’s often have to enforce. Not a universal thing by any means, but there are key volunteers who get so tunneled into their role that they forget to eat and drink. I personally am a bit of both… depends on if I’m scorekeeping solo or as a duo.

This isn’t a cut against either “type”, it’s just an issue that some people have to deal with, and others do not.

A good vc will give their body and soul for their volunteers. They would never let them go hungry.

Ah the classic: “I can’t have water or food here, there are too many electronics!”

And such VC’s don’t let them go hungry (even if they “want” to be)… but without said VC’s, they probably would go hungry. That’s all I’m saying. VC’s matter and are just as important if not more important as any other KV at an event.

Also “FTAs shouldn’t leave the field unattended” issue… as the field is thier pride and joy and especially at official events, anything dumb that happens is ultimately, in their eyes, their responsibility. Hence why VCs often bring the food to them and refill their water bottles.

Most volunteers get a break to go to lunch. Sometimes you have to create your break. For example, if we are playing through lunch or supper to make up time, the refs will change their rotation to take a 1 or 2 game break to get food and then return to the field to eat it. For example when I reffed at IRI, there wasn’t a lunch break and we had to work through, but with a rotation to get food.

The first year of FiM districts, I was head ref at Traverse City. This was also a year when new controllers and field system were introduced. The FTA’s made it to the break room only once all weekend. But they were fed - someone was sure to get something for them. And good food too - that first year the committee got restaurants and caterers from around town to take a meal, often donated or at cost.

Events get known for which ones have good food. And it makes it more likely that the volunteers will come back if they are treated well.

I don’t know about you but I had at least 8 donuts and 5 slices of pizza at MKM this past summer

Sorry everyone else…

I’ve actually had the opposite experience in MAR, many times my higher up has made it a point to go around and make sure everyone went to eat.

As we increase the number of events, volunteers will come at a premium. We were very stretched in Houston Champs as we were short in many areas. We have dedicated volunteers and they work very hard, but even dedication will not get you out of bed every morning. We need more people to step up. Most adults simply need to be asked. So this is me, Big Al, Chief Robot Inspector, asking you to volunteer. If you can only make one day, we can work around that. No training, we can fix that too. You can only work one event, great! Everyone who can answer yes when asked gets us closer to having enough volunteers and less work load on those that we have. Please get your teams started in the next couple of weeks and then register on the FIRST volunteer website. Think about what role you might like and look for the description of that position. I think robot inspection is the most fun you can have at an event if you are not actively working with your team in your pit.

We had the great luck this season in Indiana of having about 10 too many people apply to be a referee at one of the events! The (brand new) VC accidentally assigned them all! Whoops! But seriously, you may not always get your first pick as a volunteer role, especially as a new volunteer, but don’t let that dissuade you from sticking with it! I was part of field reset and repair for almost a decade, even though I wanted to referee.

In districts it’s even easier! I know we are always trying to expand our pool of people to work with in Indiana, and have been pretty successful! Our goal, thanks to the tireless effort of Carolyn (our current lead VC) and others in the state, has been to train the pipeline. Many of us, who are key volunteers and alumni, are at the points in our lives where families are coming into play, and work responsibilities are making volunteering more difficult to do. The best way to let people know you want to do a certain role is to speak up! Pull a head ref aside and ask them about reffing. Pull an FTA aside and find out what it takes to become an FTAA. We would all love to get more people involved. Especially as districts grow and the number of events increases exponentially, we key volunteers want you to help! I know I give back as an alumnus of FIRST because the program gave me so much! But I also did 7 events this year as a ref or head ref, and that’s not including the off season! (Luckily, working for AndyMark has granted me the ability to do this!) Honestly though, after week 6 I was exhausted! I know there are areas like the Greater Pittsburgh and Ohio areas that are in need of fresh volunteers, especially alumni, or the parents of alumni (hi mom and dad!), who are dedicated and passionate about the program! Plus, I’ve met some of the most amazing people volunteering across the country, and Canada (still trying to get to Israel, China or Australia) and I am still in touch with so many of them! The networking you can do in a weekend will last you a lifetime!

I gotta echo Al and Jon. VOLUNTEER!

In 2016, I did 4 events, and in 2 of them I was either a day-of add or late swap into a different role because people either didn’t sign up or dropped with no warning. (And at a third, something similar happened but I was already in the role I signed up for.)

This year? 4 events, none at the last minute, and I think there was a surplus in most of the same places. When you can pick and choose good volunteers, you’ve got a good chance. (The exceptions: L.A. load-in inspection, and Champs inspection–I was only there for a few hours on Wednesday but was busy the whole time!)

Volunteer at offseason events. Tell the event head honcho of whatever role you would like to be in that you’re interested and it’ll take them about 5 minutes to put you there and start to run you through what’s going on with that. I use offseasons to help train volunteers when I can because volunteers are NEEDED.

Oh, and I can’t say I’ve ever had bad volunteer food at an event. One or two bad food experiences, I think, but one of those was a miscommunication on how many folks were supposed to eat dinner on practice day.

From what I’ve seen, a majority of the competitions I’ve been to in the PNW have had volunteer dinners cooked & laid out every night of the competition weekend.

I’m not sure if they got free snacks and/or lunch, but they always got some sort of dinner.