Using the Drivers' Meeting to discover secret rule interpretations

The FIRST Robotics Competition is primarily a knowledge competition.  The best teams are able to leverage their existing knowledge, and extract new knowledge from their resources, to win success at many levels of the sport-- on and off the playing field.

Following last week's revelation that FIRST HQ sends Head Referees secret digests which contain rule interpretations unknown to the rest of FRC participants, many in the community acknowledge that the shape of the FRC information battlefield has now changed, irreversibly and drastically.  In our companion article MentorBuilt exclusive: Head Referee Digest revealed, we analyze an example publication containing secret rule intepretations available only to key volunteers.

If teams are able to exploit this new competitive landscape, they may attain a relative advantage over teams who must wait to learn whether the nature of the game has changed without their knowledge.  For example, teams who happen to regularly interact with Head Referees could receive additional guidance-- either intentionally or unintentionally-- as the helpful contents of these digests slowly come to light.

Are there ways that teams could compete for this knowledge, even if they are not well-connected to somebody in the know?  In the interest of maintaining a level playing field to the best of our ability, MentorBuilt investigators sought to answer this question.  In this TeamBuilding article, we identify ways to constructively extract this kind of information at drivers' meetings at events.

Before the drivers' meeting, write down a few questions you are interested in hearing answered. Evaluate whether or not the rest of the event is best served by having this question answered on the mic in the drivers' meeting, or if your team is looking for specific clarification. In the interest of maximizing everyone's time, double-check the manual and team updates and Q&A to make sure the questions you want to ask at the meeting are not already answered.

During the Head Referee's portion of the meeting, pay close attention to see whether or not they answered your questions. Likewise, anything they say that could contradict your understanding of the rules should be noted. Finally, and most relevantly to this article, pay attention to any phrases that mention recent team updates, prior event experiences, or directives from Headquarters. Phrases such as "we have been seeing" or "this has been clarified recently" could be direct quotes from a Head Referee digest.

When asking questions, feel free to directly ask the Head Referee if there are any (other) "key lessons from prior events" or "procedural updates" that you should be aware of. Those key words can give you the closest possible line of sight to the guidance FIRST Headquarters provides but inexplicably does not want teams to see.

Throughout the event, be gracious, but firm and clear with Head Referees in the question box. Adults that are not Head Referees are not allowed to be in the question box or interfere with the proceedings in them, but no rules state mentors cannot be nearby for indirect support, and to listen. If a referee claims a rule that you interpret differently, or contradicts entirely with common understanding, ask them if they can show you the rule itself. While it is our understanding that Headquarters discourages such an interaction [ed: equally inexplicable], asking in such a way seems to be the most direct, productive, and healthy way to solve disputes. In addition, the Head Referee may be willing to provide you direct lines from their digest(s), and help your team out immeasurably.