FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

The Role of Mentors in FIRST® Robotics Competition

Jan 19, 2024 Written by Collin Fultz, FIRST Robotics Competition Senior Director




Every year, the same question is raised: “How much involvement in building the robot should the mentors have?”

Every year, the answer is the same: “However much is needed to inspire the youth on the team.”

Our mission is to create programs that give young people skills, confidence, and resilience to build a better world, and mentors are a key component to that in FIRST® Robotics Competition.  Adult mentorship is part of what makes FIRST® so effective, and it’s been core to our programs from the very beginning. This is also true for the support given to teams by non-technical mentors in areas like logistics, business planning, fundraising, and outreach.

Like I said at Kickoff last year, the level of involvement of mentors on a team will vary team-by-team and often year-by-year. For example, a team may have a student or group of students with enough CAD skills to largely create the CAD model of their robot with limited mentor guidance and oversight. The same mentor may need to take a more hands-on approach the next year if those students graduate and no other students have those skills yet. And, in some cases, team or school rules may require adults to handle certain tools. 

Part of being successful as an organization is knowing what you are and knowing what you aren’t. FIRST Robotics Competition is not a program where youth build a robot exclusively on their own to compete against another robot built exclusively by youth. It is a program where youth work both with each other and with adult mentors who help them learn new skills and grow as individuals.

Technology has made being a FIRST mentor much more accessible than it was when I was a student team member. The FIRST Mentor Network has more than 1300 mentors, technical and non-technical, ready and willing to help teams regardless of their location.

Remember that FIRST is about Inspiration. It’s about being to STEAM what the NFL is to sports or Taylor Swift is to music. Team mentors have been a key part of that mission from the beginning, and we don’t see that changing.

Two other notes on mentors:

There are no plans to remove the ability for adults to serve as a drive team coach. I think that some of the greatest mentoring can happen in the tensest moments, including right before, during, and after a match. High school sports have adults actively coaching during gameplay, and FIRST Robotics Competition is no different. 

Being mentored doesn’t stop when you graduate high school. Some of the most impactful mentoring I received happened early on in my own mentoring and volunteering journey post high school.

Finally, it just so happens that January is National Mentoring Month in the United States. To all the FIRST mentors who are changing lives and transforming communities – we thank you.

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I rarely if ever, chime in on things, but this one I feel compelled. 

Your comment about sports coaches actively coaching during play is not relevant in that if you were to be accurate, it's more kin to if the coach was one of the five starters on the basketball team actually on the court playing. A sports coach is not on the court and one of the starters playing the game but rather coaches from the sidelines. Poor analogy. In my opinion. 

Obviously, our team culture is that of students being the coach. Having an adult as one of the drive team members "robs" a student of the enjoyment and learning process that comes with competing in those moments.  They will learn the good and bad within each match whether it's an adult or student. Let the kids be kids. They learn either way.

Our mentors accomplish the same coaching after and before matches. As it should be. It's insane to allow adults to live viciously through their students. Or be so bent on winning? Or to much of control a freak? Pro adult coach people will have a multitude of reasons why the coach should be an adult. All can be countered to point out the harm it does the students versus what they justify as good. In my opinion.


I have issues with mentors as drive coaches for another reason. I have seen several instances of those adult mentors that get too excited and scream and sometimes even curse at not only their own students, but students on the drive teams of their alliance partners. When I have brought this up to the head ref, they won't take any action because they didn't witness it themselves. The refs are busy watching the match and are not in a position to address this issue. This is not gracious professionalism and it must be addressed.

Funny that you say that, because I have experienced students cursing at their drivers and alliance partners and refusing to talk to women. and students are not always willing to stand up for themselves where as us mentors have the experience to take care of the situation.

So glad to see this from an official source after everything that's been going on lately (especially with the annoying student group emailing random teams about their mentors touching the robot).  Mentors are a key part of FIRST and I really don't want that to change anytime soon.  As I've always been told on my team: "FIRST is a partnership between students and mentors" and I think that the best education comes when students actually work together with their mentors instead of mentors just being a watching eye for legal purposes.  The collaboration that happens when students and mentors work together with their hands and minds is truly invaluable.

I disagree with allowing mentors to be drive coaches. NFL, NBA, and other sports coaches coach in between plays not during plays. Our matches are like plays. Mentors can advise in between matches but should not be making drive decisions for the students during matches. Perhaps you should ask students what they think. How else will they learn if an adult is telling them how to play the game? Adults on drive teams can make matches all about winning instead of learning.

“However much is needed to inspire the youth on the team" is a terrible answer. Define inspire? There are teams whose mentors take over the robot build and then INSIST on being part of the drive team! There should ONLY be students on the the field (like FTC) and there should be a requirement that a student driven decision matrices be present, maybe as part of an engineering notebook/portfolio (like FTC) so that all students actually have the opportunity to participate. The adults on the drive team is the WORST part of FRC! Lets have 5 spots where kids get to play and fill one with an adult! How inspiring for the kids who have to sit in the stands for 10 hours watching an adult "play" .  FIRST can do better. 

FTC allows adult coaches but student drivers

Instead of your message being “However much is needed to inspire the youth on the team.”, your primary message should be, “First and foremost, robots should be as student built and run as possible”. Only after that can you message that some mentor work is ok.


The amount of high performing teams that are mentor run in design, programming, etc, is robbing students of the ability to learn and engage and make mistakes. So many of the best teams in the world have mentors making way too many aspects of these robots. This is not the way it should be.


I'm a teacher and my instructions from school admit is that adults and mentors need to be managed to make the experience authentic to students. From football teams to robotics teams, adults, parents get fixated on winning and miss out on the what the whole experience is about: learning.   


Lastly, Drive Coach should be a student. Come on. No player on the team or field should be an adult. This is for the kids.   

This is aimed at the commentors not the statement. I've been in frc since 2011, first as a student now as a lead mentor. Tldr; drive coaches are an amazing opportunity for mentors to help their students grow, and many teams student bodys prefer it to be a mentor, if students want to be the coach great, but don't force that responsibility onto the students because you falsely believe it gives teams an unfair advantage. It seems pretty evident that the people saying mentor drive coaches shouldn't be allowed has not talked to any students about this. Our team has a drive coach, we also give students the opportunity to be a drive coach at offseason competitions if they want. There will usually be a handful of students who want to try it out but I can count on one hand the number of students who actually wanted to coach in the competitions, they prefer having our coach be there with them instead for a number of reasons. If you have students who want to coach, great, give them the opportunity. But we have had 4 alumni including myself who have come back to mentor our team because of their experience with our coach. He provides a great experience on the field with the students and they genuinely prefer him being on the field with them. As for those saying the sports analogy doesn't work, remember basketball coaches call plays and modifications during the match and the players can adjust on the fly. The same is true in frc. A drive coaches job is to help the drive team consume important information about the game in real-time and offer plays so that the drive team can adapt to the constantly changing gamestate. The coach is there to empower the students, to make sure they have the confidence and skills to compete to the best of their abilities.

I fully understand that adults should not be on the drive team, and I readily agree - to a certain point. Let me preface, I am a mentor for team 3247. I was on the team as a student as well. When I was a student, our team had around 14 kids each year. We had enough members to fill out a drive team, and we did. Students in all positions, no exceptions. However, since Covid, our participation numbers have tanked. We share our already small student base with another team in town, 2341, The Sprockets. Most of the kids that are interested in Robotics go to the Tech School for half of the school day and join their robotics team as a result. We have 4 kids on the team this year. Last year we had 3, only two attending our single regional due to grade-based ineligibility. As someone who spent time on the drive team, our drivers asked me to be their coach. This year will likely be the same. We simply do not have enough students to fill all positions and in that situation I am willing to help them out. Some teams do not have the privilege of a wide student body. We've accomplished more with less than 5 kids than we did with whole teams in years past, but it is still all the kids' doing. I am there to help them keep track of game time, other teams, and field pieces. I don't answer scouting questions, I don't seek out other teams for driving info, I am solely a drive coach. I'm only a coach for our drivers. It's an unfortunate situation, but disallowing adults on the drive team completely would constrict already small teams to nothing on the field. We would end up going to matches without all human player positions filled. We would lose out on a tech who knows the bot and can handle our cart like a pro. We could possibly lose out on a co-driver. I help them because they ask me to help them, not to vicariously live through the students. A mentor teaches them, a coach coaches, and sometimes we might have to fill both roles. If a line must be made, it must be drawn with understanding of all teams, not just the 30-kid weilding, worlds attending, district dominating, mega teams.

A mentor will put in hundreds of hours inspiring students throughout the season.  They have ample time to make their mark.  

Letting the students own the 2 minutes and 30 seconds of a match is how we empower our students to become leaders.  Sit down and enjoy watching them become their best selves.  

Regarding the adult drive coaching issue, I think there are good arguments on both sides. I know that adult drive coaches can totally be too pushy and damaging to their students success, but there are also some drive coaches that have the potential to be very positive for teams and alliances. At a recent event, I came into contact with a younger adult drive coach during playoffs that really had a positive impact on our alliances teamwork and focus. He did everything you would expect from a real coach: getting us focused before matches, discussing strategy, and keeping our alliance working well together without ever being overbearing or working poorly with our student coaches. I think his ability to bring us together as an alliance and counsel us through our eventual loss in finals was something special that he did with his authority as an adult, and something that  student couldn't have done.

I'm not saying this makes up for the problems that adult drive coaches have caused, just that adults can be great, especially when students are going through a new and challenging time and need some guidance. Not allowing the option would definitely hurt some teams and prevent positive experiences like this. That being said, I would encourage some more specific rules about adult conduct around students, and encourage refs to watch adult coaches more carefully to make sure negative experiences don't happen. 


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