Rookie Registration and On-Field Coaches

Blog Date: 
Monday, June 17, 2013 - 10:05

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 These are just guidelines, but they will give you an idea about what FIRST considers to be good mentorship.

I’ll blog again soon


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.]


In my opinion, both student and mentor coaches should be allowed on-field. However, there should be some rules in what mentors are allowed to do on-field. The mentor should never be the one running the show, i.e. they shouldn't be the one setting up the robot or telling the driver how to drive constantly. They should be there to *mentor* the students.

I find it interesting that the percentage of people who are against and for are pretty even until you get to the long-standing teams (16+ years). Perhaps this group is mostly for mentor coaches because their mentors are the most experienced?

I think that it could be a good idea to write up guidelines that FIRST recommends. That then could be used to control the actions of Mentors. I personally think that a mentor should be able to coach but probably shouldn't be setting the robot on the field.

As an adult coach I have varying level of coaching involvement. How I coach depends on how the students want me to coach. My students do all the on field setup and select the autonomous routine. My students do 90% of the strategy. I only get involved in strategy if my students are having difficulty talking to the other teams. It's my job to make things run smoothly i.e. coaching them or coordinating our alliance partners. I have even had my students not have a coach in a final because I cut myself trying to help our partners get a chain back on.


Thank you for taking the time to write about this topic. As an FRC alum that spent three years as my team's coach, I can personally relate and attest to everything you brought up. Yes, there are times that adult coaches may be overbearing, but students get caught up in the pressure just as much (if not more).

I respect teams that have students as coaches and admire those that have mentors. Mentoring is difficult, as I am learning first hand. The point is that the on-field team has a learning opportunity, and there is no one "right way" to do it.

--Sean M. Messenger

It is my opinion, as a student coach on an eleven-year-old FRC team, that student coaches better embody the principals of FIRST. Many students join FRC teams to learn about engineering through hands-on work, and yes adult coaches can be excellent teachers on the field, but the point is for student to learn things for themselves, even if it costs them match. Mentors can be very helpful as teachers during build season, but usually I have found that students can handle competition very well on their own. And yes, there are A LOT of adult coaches who won't take student coaches seriously.

My rookie year we had a student coach for the Regionals and the kids asked me to be the Drive Coach for Worlds. To be frank(haha) I was appalled at how the Adult Drive Coaches treated both my student and myself; pre-match strategy and during the match. This was more than one veteran team...SEVERAL Chairman's Award Winners. I feel Student Drive Coaches aren't around long enough to develop an inflated sense of self-importance. The matches should be more about kids learning and less about an adult trying to control the outcome. The polarity of the survey is not surprising. Thx for sharing the #s.

We've had good student and adult drive coaches. Frankly, the most important reason to have an adult drive coach is to make sure the students don't get run over by some very strong willed adult coaches. As long as it's an option, I think you've got to have the adult drive coach. I think it would have to be mandated as students only to really give the students a chance to shine in this capacity. Might be a good idea.

I was one of those who answered strongly in favor of student-only coaches. My 13-year-old team has always done it that way. I'm afraid it's just a case of mentors not wanting to let go. We constantly observe this, not just with on-field coaches, but in the pits working on the robot as well. It can be hard to regulate too much mentor involvement in the pits, but it is easy to regulate too much mentor involvement on the field - just eliminate mentor coaches! These are high school students - there is no reason why they cannot or should not be allowed to make their own decisions on the field.

My understanding of FIRST, after four years, is that it is to provide students with the chance to experience all the aspects of innovative technological creation and delivery--financial, design, construction, testing, etc. It seems to me that the role of mentor is to foster/facilitate an environment in which the students can do so. Not only does a mentor on the field prevent a student on the team from experiencing the rapid assessment and decision-making role that is good for future leaders, but it sends a message that the students aren't good enough to demonstrate their own creation in action

As a student coach, I never met a “mean” coach, but I often found adult coaches were less likely to listen to students’ ideas (on any team). The mostly student-run team I now mentor has had an adult coach exclusively to help deal with other adult coaches. This arms race cannot be productive to FIRST’s mission. Being a coach requires communicating and rapidly making educated decisions. FIRST should push students towards this experience and let them work among their peers. Students CAN learn by themselves–you never REALLY learn to ride a bike until you dump the training wheels. It worked for me!

As a 2x former driver, I noticed that when a team had student coaches, they were usually much more pleasant to work with than those that had adult coaches. Adult coached teams were more often there to win the game and crush the competition than to be good, gracious models to follow. Most of the time, in an alliance, the adults would be bossing student coaches around occationally trying to get us to do wrong/illegal things. My favorite example of this was 2011 Knoxville quarterfinals when the opposite alliance forcibly red-carded us. It was quite clear that their 3 adults were colluding to win.

In 9 years as a mentor I have noticed an increased focus on winning the game. Although, I keep hearing from FIRST that it is not about the game. It is quite obvious that adult mentors who treat kids like voice activated automatons, telling them how to drive the robot they built is not in the spirit of FIRST. This may not be the norm but we have all seen it. As long as adults are allowed to be coaches this will continue and increase. A ban of adult mentors as coaches is the only answer. I am troubled by older teams favoring the practice. They should know by now how to be student lead.

I am the student coach for my team. I feel very awkward saying this, but there was one team's adult coach whose team I picked during alliance selection. This one coach harrassed me to no end, and I didn't even think of reporting it. He even argued with me with the placement of my own robot. This was the first competition I had ever coached and it left a bad taste. I might have been a little shy this competition, but we were the alliance captains. Shouldn't he have respected me and my decisions? I have run into other adult coaches were great. But I am a little scarred from this experience.

as a student on drive team, Ibelieve that the first rules should change and only students should be drive team coaches. Adults can only coach if there are not enough students to fulfill the role at that competition. Adults should mentor outside of te actual game play but should not while on the field. Adult coaching takes away the oppurtunity of another student in the stands to be on the field in action. High schoolers can easily plan strategy and make their own decosions on the field. The goal of first is to inspire students, and we can inspire one more student per drive team this way.

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