Alliance Selection - Coaches forcing

I have been around VEX for a few years now and have observed the good and bad about alliance selection. As a mentor and coach, I tell my teams to make their alliance selections based on what will get them the win and or loyalty to teams that they have been with before. I do not force them to join up or ally with teams that they don’t want to. This weekend I saw it get nasty!

One team that was the number one ranked going into selection was told to pick certain numbers and if they refused move to this one, this one, and so on. So 2 of the teams I know were talking before selection and went to him to see what was going to be his ideas. The number one seed told the 2 guys that he did not want to ally with them, but his teacher was forcing him to. They talked and tried to explain… what if the situation were reversed. The kid would not budge and said my teacher said I must do it this way and if you refuse… you are out. It got real nasty to say the least. Others talked with him and things got really bad. Word got around to all teams what was going on. So in alliance selection the first seed made his pick… refused… 2nd pick refused… and so on. He was refused no less than 10 times. Things got nasty with the crowd, and referees that were going to the kids school… it was nasty!

In the end the kid got one person to ally with him and things moved on with a few refusals in the 2nd round of pics.

My point is… I understand the alliance system… the good and the bad, but

  1. when coaches or teachers get involved, you are hurting your kids! There is not a way to get rid of this, but coaches and mentors need to do their job and build leaders, not followers and force them into decisions. It is bad for all of us!
  2. The alliance selection is a hated thing with many teams. In a way it takes some of the fun out of things. I realize it is the rules, but I wish the head of it all would look at an alternative for the future. Or maybe tweak the process so that enemies are not made and sportsmanship prevails

I hope this post makes a difference to some coaches, mentors, and the rules staff. It truly burned a lot of bridges between kids and coaches. I am looking at it from an outside point of view and hope that it changes. I have just seen too many relationships burned by all topics I have listed above.

Mentor, Coach

I have to completely disagree with this, the alliance selection is awesome, it takes strategy and smarts and is much better than randomly selecting. During Quals a lot of teams get really unlucky for example and get a lot of bad alliance partners. In alliance selection you have to be smart and pick who is gonna win with you.
Just because some coaches don’t understand the concept of students should be doing the work doesn’t mean that a huge part of Vex should be removed. I personally do not know anyone in Michigan who dislikes alliance selection. There are other robotics programs that don’t have this but for Vex it is very important.

As another person who competed at this competition - it’s really unfortunate that things happened the way they did. In every competition I have been to, it’s been an unwritten rule to not choose someone who does not want to be picked. Essentially, the first seed was told to use the alliance system offensively to prevent the #2 and #3 teams from allying together, which were the strongest teams at the competition. The problem was caused by the rule specifying that declining an alliance request forces you to pick for yourself. We all know that the #1 team is not always the best team at the competition. In my opinion, the alliance selection process should help pair teams that actually want to be together. The system should not be used to break up planned alliances or force people to pair up with teams that they don’t want to be with. Most teams seem to agree with this, which is why the #1 seed was declined 10+ times for an alliance. No one appreciates being bullied like the #1 teams was doing by picking the #3 team (my team) against their wishes.

I don’t think n5vei is saying that we should completely remove the alliance selection process. You’re definitely correct - alliance are an important part of VEX and add another interesting element to the game. However, competitions like the one we experienced Friday are clear examples of what is wrong with the current alliance selection process.

It sounds like a legitimate strategy to me? Every team has to make the best decisions with the hand they are dealt at the competition.
At worlds in Cleansweep I was rightfully scared of having to compete against multiple China poofs in a match so my team ranked the top Chinese teams and tried to pick them all one by one until someone accepted. This forced the only alliance that could beat us to be seed 1 which they did in Division finals. (we were seed 2)

I have heard this called in FRC the scorched earth strategy.

I went to this competition as well, and I agree that splitting up powerful teams can be a good strategy. But at this competition, things were not handled well. The #1 team discussed the strategy with several teams beforehand. Going into alliance selection, several people, including myself, had been told that the #1 team had decided against splitting up the teams. This, of course, was not true. Everything was done in such a way that alliance selection felt very unsportsmanlike. I don’t wish to call names, but it was almost as if the #1 team was bullying the lower teams. Of course, alliance selection is set up the way it is for a reason, and what they did was a valid strategy. It just left a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth.

Exactly. I agree that this strategy could be useful and legitimate if actually executed correctly. However, the #1 team seemed to have no plan to get with a better alliance after we declined. Their actions seemed almost vindictive rather than aimed at getting a more evenly matched alliance.

I know I would be pretty surprised if someone that wasn’t top 8 declined a pick. That seems like they the teams were reacting out of spite more than anything else. Am I missing something or was not competing better than having to work with someone who you agree wasn’t the one making the decision anyway.

There were fewer than 24 teams at the competition, so every team ended up in elimination rounds.

Then shouldn’t it have been 2 team alliances? That’s what usually happens in SoCal.

This event had 7 3 team alliances. The top ranked alliance got a bye.

That isn’t quite how the rules work. If a team denied then they are not allowed to be picked. If this results in alliances being somehow broken this is because it is a case that almost never happens. Taking away the consequences of a strategic decision completely changes the strategy.

Yes, but there is a difference between “legitimate strategy” and “sportsmanship”.

I would hope that sportsmanship…aka, being a decent human being…is more important than legitimate strategies.

The " you had to be there" was sportsmanship issues. I think that is what caused most of the problems and was witnessed by the ones who refused. Anyway…
All I am saying is that the decisions should be made by the students, captains, and teams not the coach/mentor and forced upon anyone.

The alliance thing… I do like alliances, but I just think the system needs tweaking. It does make things interesting and does add sportsmanship as well as other elements, but this yesterday burned a lot of bridges because of attitude and lack things mentioned earlier.

VEX is the best robotics competition to me, and I hope it stays that way. My students and other teams that we socialize with operate on respect, sportsmanship, and loyalty. Those are great examples to follow in training leaders. We need to enhance that… not the other way around as coaches and mentors.

This seems very ugly but I’ve seen what tabor described before and although it is a legal and useful strategy even when its done right can leave a bad taste in teams mouths. Also its one thing to do it at worlds or even regional’s but to do it in the middle of the year when you know you have to compete again is bad. I would never use this strategy unless it was fairly certain that a teams season would be end without it. Also being a mentor I wouldn’t force a team to do anything, suggestions are one thing but forcing teams to do it your way or else is the wrong way to do it.

I agree with the others that it is a completely legitimate strategy and one I’d encourage teams to consider when they go into alliance selection. I’d particularly encourage it if the #1 seed was not the strongest team but had good match ups all day.

I’m unclear… was it the entire team that didn’t want tp pursue the strategy or was it just the captain who was going to represent the team during alliance selection? Say, forexample 4 team members wanted to break up the strong alliance and the captain didn’t, I can legitimately see a coach/mentor telling they to go what the rest of the team wants.

But I wasn’t there and I have seen alliance slection cause hard feelings.

I will be writing a longer comment on this soon, but I will just say here that

This was the fault of the rest of you, not the team that decided to pick in this way. Using social pressure to try to constrain a team’s options in alliance selection is unfair and it hurts the game.

He may well have told you the line about his teacher just to try to get you to leave him alone. We can’t know, we weren’t there.

The problem here is the unwritten rule, not the alliance selection rules. People like you and n5vei are bullying teams like Ball Hogs into following rules that don’t exist. They aren’t bullying you.

I understand Oliver, but it was the other way around. I do understand it was a legit strategy, but my focus is that this is a student driven event. When the other teams observed the attitude and all that ensued… they chose to refuse. Yeah that is all legal and all, but it just got ugly in a mid-season event that really should have just been a little less ugly so to speak.

I guess you just had to be there to observe the “bullying” as well as your take on bullying might be different than here. Your opinion is legit, but different opinions. My focus is coach involvement in that process.

It seems like this was handled wrong on both ends. I can understand the first 2-3 teams wanting their own alliance if what sounds like a sub par robot was picking and they could pick better even being the 2-4 seed. But to have robots decline who aren’t in the top 8 is now just bullying from the rest of the teams. Its like the picking teams in gym class and the last kid is left and the team who was going to have to take him says the other team can have him because we don’t want to play with him and the other team says you have to play with him and an argument starts over who will have to play with them. It’s public degradation of the kids on that team and it was everyone’s fault except the kids on the 1 seed.

I apologise for my earlier comments that were accusatory.

I agree that coaches telling their teams who they have to pick during alliance selection is a very bad thing. And I admit that obviously you guys know what happened at the event and how the participants behaved, and I don’t.

This particular “unwritten rule” (as 4256 says) is a pet peeve of mine. I feel that it partially undermines the way alliance selection is supposed to work. Following this “unwritten rule” allows teams to work with the same teams repeatedly at different events rather than forcing them to cooperate with a wider variety of people, and it also negates a lot of the benefit of getting a high ranking.

I let my opinion about the rules issue colour my opinion about the people involved, so I’m sorry.

Unfortunately there’s no way I can capture the feelings of what happened at the competition or tell you why lower ranked teams declined. I think mob mentality probably played a part. After the first few declines (which were, in my opinion, perfectly legitimate), things spiraled out of control. As you say, things were definitely handled incorrectly on both ends. I can’t speak to the #1 team’s communication with anyone but myself but for some reason I think the people who declined felt like they were on the defensive - not out to bully a team. I don’t want anyone to be offended or lose their passion for robotics because of an event like this. It was not my intention to hurt anyone and I regret how things happened at this event.

I want to say thanks to Tabor and Oliver because you’ve changed my opinion. I still think it’s a risky strategy that has the potential to really blow up in your face. In this event, it was definitely not executed correctly. However, I now understand why the rule is written like it is and why it’s useful. Fundamentally, my complaint is really with the ranking system and the luck involved in qualifcation matches.