What's wrong with the question box, and how can we fix it?

I recently posted about this in another thread, but I decided the discussion was worth having in another thread.

The question box, if you’re unfamiliar, is where you send a student to stand and wait during a quals match to hopefully help source, repair, or mend whatever source of sadness contributed to not doing well in a match. The question box is almost never a place where people are happy when they arrive, but I’ve noticed that lots of people leave even less happy / very discouraged.

Everyone has had a bad experience with the question box if they’ve sent a student there - the same can be said for inspection I feel. But why? How can we fix the problems that the question box has? How can we fix the question box?


If it doesn’t help, maybe we should eliminate it.

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I think allowing a mentor to go with a student to the Question Box to silently observe would be a step in the right direction. The mentor would be able to follow up with the Head Ref’s explanation, and talk the student down from a potentially emotionally charged situation.

I’ve sent students to the Question Box more times than I can count, and I can count on one finger the number of times that a ruling was changed… and that involved the Chief Referee for FRC, and a robot that was physically incapable of performing the action it was called for.

Since it doesn’t have a strong record of affecting change… the Question Box really feels like a mechanism for defusing emotionally charged students (which a mentor shadow would help with) and a way for the Head Ref to be made aware of missed calls so they can catch them next time.


This is an interesting thought, of having a mentor coming with a student.

As a volunteer who has the task of working the question box at times (FTAA), I think there’s other uses than telling the head ref what they missed.

I think there’s a lot of value for a team walking up to the box and saying “Hi, we were disabled during our match for a loss of comms, can you pull up the field-side timeline and see what went out?” I think this is a fantastic use of the Q-Box for teams.


Are refs given training on how to make time and respond to students in the question box?

@Pranit_T ?


More often than not we’ve gotten the response “We don’t keep track of who did what went, all we know if that a penalty happened” and stuff like that.

I have also been yelled at by refs on multiple occasions for trying to listen in on the conversation so to try and eliminate the phone tag loss of detail that happens when conversations are relayed after the fact.


100% THIS RIGHT HERE! There have been a few times where my students have gone to the box and when they come back, they forgot what the head ref or FTA said to them. Having the drive coach ( if they’re a mentor) or any other adult just stand there and observe would make a HUGE difference.


All this time I’ve just thought the q-box is here to provide real life experience on people above you not listening to you and telling you why your wrong. This has certainly been my experience


We usually do training on how to respectfully explain to a head ref that you believe a call might have been made incorrectly, including bringing the manual and identifying a specific rule and how you believe that rule should be implemented. We put emphasis on becoming friendly with the ref, which is something that some students have a lot of trouble with, but building a rapport is a lot more important than most of them realize. It’s cumbersome training and honestly most students have trouble with it the first couple times.

It seems to improve our chances of getting a favorable outcome though. If I am remembering correctly we have had a score changed once, a match replayed once, and a couple other non-match-altering favorable results.

I would love to not have to do that training every year though…


As Brennan pointed out, the question box is used for two primary purposes:

  • Rules-related questions/comments/concerns that involve the Head Ref
  • Technical questions/comments/concerns that involve the FTA/FTAA

I think it’s important to address each separately, because each presents unique challenges in ensuring that everyone walks away happy (or at least satisfied that the involved parties have done their due diligence).

One thing that I like to do (that I picked up from @MrRoboSteve) when there is a technical question regarding connectivity is bring the student over to the FTA computer (not the FMS, the laptop with the field monitor) and walk them through what data is being displayed and how we interpret it. I’m more than happy to show what the other teams’ connectivity data looks like, point out anything out of the ordinary, and talk about potential causes for those abnormalities.

My impression is that students typically walk away from an experience like that with the feeling that even if they are still disappointed with what happened in the match, they at least have a good understanding of why their robot (or other robots on their alliance) had issues, what they can do to fix it, and what it means for the match as a whole (e.g. was there a field fault? if so, what does that mean?).


I’d like to follow up and say that we’ve never EVER had a bad interaction with an FTA when going to the ? box. IT has only been with refs, and then again its the current systems fault (for the most part) and not any of the HR’s fault that we’ve had bad interactions.


I’m personally in the same boat. I have always had extremely positive experiences with FTA and FTAA in the box, as well as student interactions. For me (on former teams) it has been ref related issues where students did not feel listened to, or brushed aside.


Thanks @Bryan_Herbst! I love this idea, I’ll most certainly be picking up this trick as I continue into the realm of FTAA :slight_smile:

@Monochron I’ve often had problems when approaching the Head Ref with a manual about ego, where demonstrating a rule is different than the Head Ref expects is difficult as they are often not willing to consider that a student might know better than they do - even if we approach considerately and kindly.

@GoalkeeperBoss This is exactly the kind of experience that I’m talking about. Even in “the real world”, if a manager refuses to listen to their employees or admit they may have been wrong it may be time to start looking for a new position if possible.

@EricLeifermann Being yelled at by a referee for listening to the conversation seems silly to me, and I don’t believe that this should be the case at all. What part of our culture needs to change to fix this problem, though? Further, what’s the reason behind this problem? I don’t think being a stickler for the rules is a great reason for this problem to exist. I understand why refs don’t want to speak to a mentor about their students robot, but I don’t understand why a ref wouldn’t allow student supervision and eliminating the game of telephone.

@MrForbes I think there are great reasons for the Q-Box’s continuance, and I think it can be helpful if it’s used well.

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I agree with others that technical questions for the FTA/FTAA usually get answered satisfactorily, and if not then you get a CSA assigned to investigate further. I’d venture to say most of the preemptive questions for the head ref about specific rules also tend to get a decent answer. The problem is asking about calls made during a match.

Refs don’t have perfect vision or memory. They aren’t going to make every call, see every penalty, or remember perfectly what rulings they made during the match (especially if the match in question wasn’t the most recent one). There are things that the GDC could do to help alleviate this problem (e.g. limited video review, more refs, calling penalty numbers over walkie-talkie and recording them at the scoring table, * etc.) but for one reason or another they have continually declined to implement these or other solutions.

* RFID? \s


I feel like I’m going to be the odd-man out, but I don’t want mentors in the question box area. I already see mentors ignore the question box rules and go with their students, and then attempt to argue with the refs. Mentors (and adults in general) have been around long enough to understand and refuse to accept answers they don’t like. Part of that is learned behavior: you do get sick of getting brushed off and learn to fight back.

Allowing mentors to go to the question box is just asking to have mentor versus ref arguments. We already know there are mentors at every competition who don’t see rules the same way FIRST sees them.

The question box works because the ref can give an answer and that’s it. Otherwise, I could easily see the question box turning into what happens when a MLB manager doesn’t like a ref call.


If the reason not to allow mentors to observe the discussion is that there are some mentors who already break the stricter “no mentors in the question box” rule, then there’s no harm in allowing them in. Those who would break the rule are already breaking it anyway. The answer should be the same in either case: the head ref isn’t allowed/obligated to discuss rules or calls with a mentor. If the mentor who’s there to observe starts interrupting, the head ref stops the discussion until they stop interrupting. There’s no difference if “stop interrupting” means leaving the area or just stopping talking.


I never actually go into the question box. I like to just stand back but close enough to hear the conversation between my student and the Ref/FTA/whomever. I don’t want any chance of confusion or convolution in the game of telephone. I’m not there to interact with or intimidate anyone. I just want to make sure that everything is relayed back well.


We have only used the question box a few times, and if I remember correctly, they have all been positive experiences. I feel one of the purposes of the question box limitation (regarding mentors) is to help team members learn to advocate effectively for themselves (and thier team) with a person of authority. Some teading this may feel that at a high-stakes moment lile an event that that os not the time, but I feel the stakes are lower than most tumes people need to do this in their lives.

I agree that as much as I feel I would like to be there as a mentor to understand the response free from interpretation by my students, my presence (even silent) would change the dynamic.

Perhaps one way we could help prepare students for this explicitly is through roll playing. Especially in inter team mini competitions.

We do prepare students implicitly through mediation of team conflicts regarding decision making. Helping members understand the correlation could potebtially go a long way toward prepraing the students for the approach, discussion, gracious retreat, and dissemenation of info back to the team involved in using the question box.


Tom you can just tag @marshall! :wink: