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.

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.   

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