Rookie Registration and On-Field Coaches

Jun 17, 2013 Written by FIRST Staff

Rookie Registration Cost Reduction

Good news. The rookie FRC team registration fee for the 2014 season will be dropping to $6,000. Veteran registration fee will hold at $5,000. 

The FRC Payment Terms webpage will be updated shortly with 2014 season information.

Adult Mentors as On-Field Coaches

In the Post-Event Survey this year, we asked teams how they felt about adult mentors being allowed to act as on-field coaches, as has been permitted by the rules for many years. I asked for this question to be included in the survey because I have been approached several times by mentors who feel very strongly this rule should be changed so that only students may act as coaches.  For these individuals, this was clearly a very important issue, but I wanted to get a sense for how the broader community felt about this.

See the results of the survey here. (I think the second graph is interesting. The longer a team has been around, the more likely they are to favor the option of adult on-field coaches)

It’s clear we have a strong split in the community. We have passionate individuals on both sides of this issue and I am certain that the great majority of mentors, regardless of their position on this question, are acting in ways they believe to be best for their team.

I think part of the challenge of this issue is related to the perceived degree of adult mentor involvement and what can or can’t be deduced from that. I’ve seen adult mentors on their hands and knees on the field before a match, apparently lining up the robot for that perfect autonomous routine, with no students in sight. I’ve also seen cases in which, while the drivers are teleoperating the robot, the adult mentor seems to be teleoperating the drivers, with second by second verbal instructions “Back, back, back, left, left, shoot now”. On the other hand, I’ve seen situations in which adult mentors stand back and give only occasional suggestions while matches are going on. And I’ve seen plenty of cases in which the on-field coaches are students rather than adults. 

But these little glimpses can tell us little of the needs of the team or the effectiveness of the mentor. That adult coach may be out there lining up the robot because the team had dropped their operator console and the students are frantically trying to get it pieced together before the match starts. The adult coach giving his or her driver detailed instructions may be dealing with a student who was thrust in to that position last second when the regular team driver got called away unexpectedly. There can be a number of reasons why this level of adult on-field involvement is best for the team. On the other hand, for a team with a student coach, the adult mentor may not just be absent from the field, but effectively absent from the team, being a mentor in name only.  More than once over the years I’ve spoken to a team and gotten the impression the students were more or less on their own.

So, at this point, there are no plans to change the rules on this. What I would ask, though, if you typically just follow a standard operating procedure, is that, instead, you make this a conscious decision for the upcoming season. If you always have a student coach, consider the on-field mentoring opportunities the team may be missing. If you always have an adult coach, consider the potential life-changing impact being on the field may have for that one additional student who takes the adult’s place. Certainly there are many elements to be considered in this question, and you may end up with the same decision at the end, but important decisions like this deserve a good think once in a while. Keep in mind, also, that ‘coach’ button can be passed around during events – just because an adult wears it for one match doesn’t mean a student can’t wear it the next. 

Also, if you’re looking for mentoring guidance, possibly for new mentors, or a as a refresher for your old hands, you should be aware that FIRST does have an official  Mentoring Guide. You can find it on this page http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/mentoring. These are just guidelines, but they will give you an idea about what FIRST considers to be good mentorship.

I’ll blog again soon

Frank

Note:  One of the objections I have heard to adult coaches is that they can sometimes be extremely disrespectful toward student coaches on their alliance, to the point of bullying. I’m sure with the number of teams we have and the number of official matches we run – over  8,000 in 2013 - this occasionally happens, but personal aggressiveness and bullying have no place in FRC, whether it’s adult to student, student to adult, or any other combination. If you are at an event and see a lack of Gracious Professionalism like this, you should report it! Pit Admin has Non-Medical Incident Report Forms intended for purposes like these. The incident will get looked in to.  In my experience, in nearly all cases, the offending party let his or her emotions get out of control in a stressful situation. When spoken with about the issue later, they realize the mistake, are remorseful, and apologize to the offended individual or group. The apology is accepted, and we move on with the day. Rarely, the outcome is not this positive, but the bottom line is that behavior like this between individuals of any age at events is not FIRST, and won’t be tolerated.

[Sidebar:  I’ve coached FLL teams since 2004, and I’ve been coaching my current FLL team since 2007. FRC is not FLL, but many decisions related to the degree of coach involvement are similar. I had always been a very active coach on FLL competition day – reviewing the schedule, making sure the team signed up for practice slots, making sure they had everything they needed when they went in front of the judges, etc. In 2011, I decided to take a different approach. Before the event, my fellow coaches and I helped the students develop checklists for every critical aspect of the competition – such as initial pit set-up, getting ready for table runs, and getting ready for technical judging. 

The morning of the competition, I signed us in, got the registration packet, and handed it, unopened, to the senior student on the team. The students took it from there. When time for the various activities came, the student leads for those activities ran the checklists. The coaches were there only as guardrails, to prevent disaster, and ask occasional important questions. For the first time ever, I watched my team’s table runs from the stands, rather than hovering an arm’s length away from the competition table.    Did they do ‘as well’ that year as they had in prior years when the coaches were more active? From a points/competition standpoint, maybe not. From a student growth standpoint, they did far better. They were nervous, sure, but they stepped up to the plate and nailed their greatly expanded responsibilities, and knew they had, regardless of what the scoreboard showed. They had the best competition experience ever, and so did the coaches. This was a real lesson learned for me – the team had moved on from their rookie year, but up until that day I had been stuck in 2007. 

My point isn’t that this more hands-off approach is best for everyone, but that in my specific situation, my students had been missing out because I had fallen into a habit, and had lost track of what their real needs were.]

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