On the FRC Judging & Awards
Written by Kevin Ross, 4/8/2011
Update: We have done a video presentation from a workshop in Seattle. http://youtu.be/h4iHt4j1dE4
I would like to take an opportunity to publicly answer a couple of questions I received after the Seattle regional. My goal for this is to help your team understand an important topic: Judging and Awards. There are a few myths out there regarding the awards process in FIRST. The process is actually pretty simple once you understand it. Thanks so much to Kevin Reed, our judge advisor, for helping me put this together.
To start with, understand that FIRST is entirely about what happens between the team members, mentors, and the FIRST community during the ‘other’ 363 days of the year. We want your team to do well in our programs goals of inspiring students to adopt gracious professionalism, to develop interests in science and technology, and to realize they have the power to do good for the global community. Please don’t allow enthusiasm about winning an award get in the way of these important things. Do the important things for the right reasons.
Question: Why do you seem to give awards to the same set of teams each year?
This is an honest question with a fairly simple answer once you understand the background of the awards process.
The first thing you should understand is that the Regional Chairman is only involved in the selection of a single award. That is the Outstanding Volunteer Award. This single award is determined months in advance of the event and is based on an individual’s overall contributions to your FIRST community. We have selected this award well in advance of kickoff. This award is outside the scope of the FIRST competition and has no influence on other awards.
All other awards are handled by several independent judging panels. So, even though the award says the Regional Chairman’s Award, I had nothing to do with the selection. I find out the winner while standing on the field during the awards ceremony at the same time you do. The Regional Chairman’s award is determined by a selection committee of judges. These ‘Blue Shirts’ take into account the information provided by the team, interviews with team members, and other evidence generated during the judging process. This is the same with all of the judged awards.
There are several judging panels, each with responsibility for their own area. For examples, the website award has a panel of judges working before the event happens. The Woodie Flowers award is awarded by another panel weeks before the event. These are all independent panels judging awards based on information provided by the teams. More on this later.
A large number of awards are handled by our volunteer judges during the event itself. We have a large group of judges who take this very seriously and work very hard to evaluate each team fairly. You have seen them wandering the pit area, interviewing team members and gathering information. With only the exception of the gracious professionalism award, the judges do not solicit nor does the organizing committee provide information intended to influence the outcome of the judging. The judging is independent and will remain that way.
The Gracious Professionalism award is determined by evaluating data from many sources, including other teams reports, other volunteer reports, and judge observations.
Another little tidbit: We typically have many new judges each year. This year, in fact, we had 75% of our judges as rookies. The teams winning awards this year did so by demonstrating their skills to a group of judges who have no historical bias.
The Answer: Why do you seem to give awards to the same set of teams each year?
The short answer here is that the awards are given to the teams who have demonstrated to the judges that they are most deserving of the award. We have a number of teams in our state that put a great deal of effort into their FRC team on a year round basis. As such, they are often winning awards in various categories. In essence, they are playing the FRC ‘game’ well by emphasizing success in our goals.
Keep in mind that the awards being handed out are all intended to reinforce the goals of the FIRST program. We want teams to strive for excellence. The awards are very well aligned with areas in which the FIRST program feels strongly about. We hope that all teams will focus on some of the awards and strive to do well in them. It is our way of indicating a path to achieve our program goals.
There are a few teams in our state who win a lot of awards. Honestly, they work very hard at achieving the goals of the FIRST program. They are very well organized and are able to execute the goals, communicate their accomplishments to the judges, and work hard all year on this program.
Your team can be involved at that level as well! It requires some planning, some execution, and some communication. We invite you to put in the effort. It will be good for your students and your team, even if you don’t get a trophy!
Question: We thought that only one judged award is given per team, yet some teams seem to be exempt from this rule. Why are some teams able to win multiple awards?
Remember from the background discussion that there are multiple independent judging panels. Within each panel, it is true that they often will spread the love around by awarding only one trophy to a specific team. However, often happens that a team will win awards from multiple judging panels. For a random example, a team could win the Website award and Engineering Excellence awards. Here is a breakdown of the awards
Awards from Judging Panel (Blue Shirts)
Awards independently deliberated
Innovation in Control Award
Engineering Excellence Award
Rookie All Star
Regional Chairman’s Award
FIRST Dean’s List (reviewed before event)
Excellence in Design
Woodie Flowers Award
(Awards determined by game scoring)
Highest Rookie Seed
Question: How can my team improve our ability to win an award?
This is an excellent question. We want your team to win an award because that means your students will be focused on one or more facets of the program goals. There isn’t a blanket answer to this question as each award has different criteria.
As a general answer I suggest relying on your FIRST community to help you. One of our biggest program goals involves making sure that every team succeeds. Gracious Professionalism between teams is a real thing. It is a badge of honor to help another team succeed. Find out which team won the award in the previous year, and talk to them. Ask for their help in doing well. For example, Regional Chairman Award winners are typically very gracious about showing you how they did it. These are our role model teams.
One tip we can provide to you is in insuring that your students are the spokespeople for your team! This could be an area that you can improve on. The blue shirted judges will roam the pits. As much as we love the mentors and coaches, the judges want to talk almost exclusively to the students. To quote our judge advisor Kevin Reed:
“An often overlooked practice that has a huge impact on judging is the pit interview. Teams need to get their 'story' down cold so that all of the students can give the judges a succinct picture of why their team is special. The judges usually only have 10-15 minutes to interview the teams on Friday. The story-pitch needs to highlight what is unique about their team in that time, especially if they are focused on an award. It must stick in the judges mind and standout from the rest of the teams. More importantly, a judge may appear in the pit when the most shy student on the team is the only one standing there. The judges will interview that student if they have not found the team by the end of the morning. Everyone on the teams needs to know the pitch OR the 'pitch-students' must remain in the pits on Friday until lunch. The process reminds me of pitching to a VC: grab your audience quickly, make clear compelling points, then make sure they remember you with something unique.”
Question: What are the judges looking for in a Chairman’s Award team?
There isn’t a defined answer to this question. The judges are looking for a team who in the big picture is doing well in many or all facets of the program. This includes (but is not limited to) working together as a team. Reaching into their community to gain support in the form of mentors and partners. Doing outreach in the general community to get others involved (public presentations, helping get others involved). Gracious Professionalism is a cornerstone to the Chairman’s award. Volunteering with other teams, other programs (FLL and FTC), helping new teams get started, mentoring new teams, and otherwise being excellent ambassadors for the FIRST program.
Another way of understanding this is to consider a phrase from judge terminology: Sustained Excellence. A chairman’s award winning team will have demonstrated sustained excellence in many facets of being a FIRST team.
Again, ask a winning team about their Chairman’s presentation. They will help you.
We are here to celebrate your team achievements during the year. There are many more teams than awards available. We invite you to participate and do your best. However, understand that we are in awe of your team’s accomplishments regardless of your success in winning one of the very few trophies. Your team is part of something very special. Your team is part of a community which is supportive and appreciative of everyone’s efforts.