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

Here is our replacement rule for TRI.

"C9. Be reasonable with the Head Referee

Most situations will likely only require one or two people to talk with the Head Referee but we are aren’t going to institute a rule that doesn’t allow other members of the drive team (including adult drive coaches) to provide information or listen to the conversations. Please be mindful that the Head Referee makes the final decision on calls but may be advised by other referees and the Event Director (replaces HQ at off-season events). Also please remember that C1 is a rule and the referee may give YELLOW or RED CARDS for any interactions that deem to be egregious. We are all working for the inspiration of our students. Be polite, reasonable, and respectful and we will all have a great event.

The original C9 causes more issues than it solves and is often not enforced to the letter of the rule. We trust our volunteers and our teams to be reasonable and act in good faith to get to the best outcome for everyone involved. "


I always go with my student to the question box for a few reasons.

  1. So I understand the response and it does Not turn into a game of telephone.
  2. To be a witness in case the head ref becomes abusive. (That has never happened, btw)
  3. To be an emergency relief valve in case the student can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

I try and just listen and I usually don’t say anything except, “thank you” at the end. But sometimes I can’t help myself. Good refs will politely remind me of the rules and we move on, others just completely ignore me and I’m ok with that as well.


It also helps when students are trained to bring a specific rule question to a ref with manual in hand. Vague questions are awful for anyone to answer. Or a specific foul/penalty for a specific alleged action.


I don’t understand what’s so unclear about any FRC rule given you can look up the meaning of the words in a dictionary. :wink:


ply·​wood | \ ˈplī-ˌwu̇d \

Definition of plywood

: a structural material consisting of sheets of wood glued or cemented together with the grains of adjacent layers arranged at right angles or at a wide angle


The new mobile version of the manuals make that really handy. we usually have the Q&A handy as well.

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This is also pertinent from the 2019 Q&A

"Q449 Recording conversations with event staff?

Q: Are there any rules that prevent teams from recording conversations and meetings with event staff? Can teams record the drivers’ meeting held at each event? Can teams record conversations held in the question box? It’s my understanding that both of these are conversations held in public without any reasonable expectation of privacy so they are legally allowed to be recorded but would there be any repercussions such as yellow or red cards?

A: There are neither FIRST Game nor Event rules that prohibit recording audio at events. However, laws regarding recording of conversations vary state-to-state and country-to-country, and, in some cases, recording without consent may be criminal. Please do not record FIRST event staff without the event staff’s consent and please do not challenge any decision of any event staff who refuses to provide such consent. Thank you for the question, as it’s not an issue that’s been brought to our attention to date. This topic will be reviewed in more detail for future seasons to determine if FIRST specific regulation is needed.

(Asked by 3847 at Apr 11th 19)"


I agree with everything Bryan points out.

What makes our (FTA/FTAA) jobs easier in that scenario is that we have data to back up our answers and match observations. Often times seeing a graph that shows just one team had long trip times or low battery voltage is enough evidence for the team. Sometimes it does take a bit more digging or involvement from a CSA, but the data available to FTAs/FTAAs makes the diagnosis much easier.


I entirely agree Scott.

Most of the bad experiences from the question box don’t come from FTA/FTAA, at least in my experience.

How can we make the question box experience consistent for students when talking to FTA/FTAAs or Head Ref / Ref? Do our referees need more data? Is there a good, consistent way to deliver this extra data like we do in other sports (video review once per team in quals / once per alliance in playoffs possibly?)


I wonder if there were an accessible video feed for teams in the pits for teams to review at their leisure, if that could aleviate some of the issue.

This also comes to quality of video stream.

If we had 4 angles that were consistently always available to teams (full court side on, blue half, red half, center half) which is different from the viewed stream, I think video review would become a possibility. But that is not entirely the topic of this thread :slight_smile:


Yes. Yes they do. “I’m sorry, I just don’t remember what happened/wasn’t looking at the interaction that the foul was called for” is not a particularly great thing for them to have to say, or for someone in the QBox to hear. Refs should have the means they need to make the QBox as non-frustrating an experience as possible for all involved parties.


This is what I do as well, although sometimes I’ll show my logs on my tablet if it happens to be more convenient.

I also try to use these opportunities to teach students how to interpret the driver station logs that often have the same information (but more granular!) than the field-side logs. We step through what their observed their robot doing, correlate that with what the DS log shows, maybe take a look at the wiring of components. This lets me focus on the interaction as much as I can on a data driven diagnosis and hopefully the students leave with some tips about what to fix for the next match or watch out for in the logs if the issue is particularly transient.

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Meh, typically when we hear that response, the ref crew just doesn’t have enough time to bring the ref that did see it across the field to answer the question. Just think of how long events would run if we had video review. I’d much rather have More matches and live with some bad calls.


Lots of good points already.

I’m with you. I definitely wouldn’t trust mentors to universally treat the head judge with respect. Until we’re paying the head judge, I wouldn’t want them to have to deal with mentors. At least with a student, there’s an intrinsic and clear level of authority.

I totally get the pain that @EricLeifermann refers to though, and an easy way around it is to be able to listen in. IMO it’s just a question of consistency at each event. Either any mentor needs to be able to listen in, or no mentors need to be able to listen in. As long as it’s the same for all teams, it’s not gonna bother me too much.

I think the bigger levers to move in terms of “making things better” involve game design that’s less dependent on ref subjectivity or observational skill, and picking good volunteers who can be trusted to make the best decision the first time.

Getting more data could help in some cases, but then you’re still reliant on each ref to know how to interpret and apply the data to a student’s question. To me, it’s a tall order to require that every volunteer be able to do this to a high enough level to be useful.


If the radios were better, the refs wouldn’t need to run across the field…

A number of the HRs in my area will ask anyways.


This is a really good point, and I do this as well - because in the past I have had students come back from extremely inappropriate interactions with question box folks that I want to ensure never happen again. (This was many years ago - but “get the f–k out of here, you’re not getting what you want” is a direct quote.)

As a mentor at an event, my primary focus is making sure my students - and other participants in the building - feel valued, empowered, and safe. For that reason, I ask permission to stand quietly by and observe, and usually am told that’s okay.

However - I have also been accused in the past of ‘interfering with the head ref’ for this; I now make a point stand far enough away that I can kind-of-hear, kind-of lip-read, with my arms behind my back (extremely clear that I am in no way signaling or communicating with my student or the volunteers). I’ve found in my experience that quietly, respectfully observing - with clear nonverbal signals that I’m not part of the conversation - has been totally fine by the field staff.

I don’t do this to support my students with info in the question box - they know what they’re doing and how to respectfully, graciously make their informed case. (That’s something we train!) I do this because I want to be able to observe the interaction and make sure my student is treated fairly, and to make sure that they know they have an exit plan that’s socially less uncomfortable than walking away with their head down.

I think writing in an additional observer ‘in the box’ may be a little too much leeway - as others have said, there are already folks who bend the rules on this, and adding an extra person may put the volunteer on edge / make the interaction more stressful - but formally OK’ing someone who can wait in the wings and observe is something I’d gladly be behind. Right now, I wonder if there are mentors who may want to observe the way some of us do in the thread, but don’t know how to ask.



Possible technical solution to all of this. Add a rolling audio/video recording of the Q/A box. Post “Smile you’re on camera!” signs around it. Let anyone (mentors included) come to the box and interact. Post the videos in public after the event. If anyone had a less-than-GP interaction, let the public shaming and investigations commence.

This may open a can of worms since the video/audio may lack full context to the conversation… but that could just be part of the challenge! Know your conversation is gonna be scrutinized in a vacuum, and conduct yourself accordingly.


My experience with the question box has been more along the lines of the student standing in it being ignored until so long after the match in question that no one remembers anything about the match in question that the only answer that can be provided is along the lines of “better luck next time.”

What I would like to see is the announcer announce each penalty called on each team, rather than the alliance. This has been very inconsistent in the past, and would go a long way towards reducing usage of the question box.


The announcers don’t know for sure. I understand that part of their training is to NOT announce penalties other than cards, particularly in real time.