General opinion about unsportsmanlike conduct

Hello everyone,

We posted an official question about an incident that occurred at a tournament last weekend which was clarified and ruled as legal. We are getting ready to inform our 4 middle school teams of the decision and were just curious what the general concensus was on the subject.

The thread is titled Unsportsmanlike Conduct under the Gateway official forum.

Wishing you all the best in your upcoming competitions!

This can be a tough topic. Believe me, I have all the respect and good wishes for teams like yours, especially when they are middle school teams.
However, in this case, I need to side with the official decision. Please try to understand that there is nothing personal in this, just my humble opinion. Let me explain:

Though it may seem unnecessary and unsportsmanlike to ram another bot, it happens in nearly every match. Though the reason for the ramming or contact definitely changes, it is a part of the game. There is no rules against it, and it can definitely attribute to a team’s success. I would be lying if I said that my team has never rammed another bot, in fact, a lot of the time its a strategy.

What makes this hard is the effect that the ramming had. I can sympathize with your anger and disappointment in every way, there is nothing more disappointing than not being able to compete, believe me, I’ve been there. However, the issue I see is that this topic would not cause a discussion if the end result was not the same. If your team’s bot had simply been rammed, and had continued to play, I doubt there would be a problem.

However, if I’m right, the reason we are talking about this is because your team’s bot was disabled from the act. I’m truly sorry for this, but to put it bluntly: things happen. 4 out of 5 times this ramming would probably not cause any damage, you guys just happened to land on the unfortunate 5th.

Because of this, I can’t see how a rule could be implemented against ramming. Bots are always going to be in contact with an open field like this, and I don’t see how you can get around it.

Look at it this way: if you play in the NFL, injuries are bound to happen. If you play touch-football, you probably won’t get hurt. VEX is the NFL, and as much as they try to eliminate these injuries, tackling and contact are still part of the game, and are inevitable. I doubt the NFL will be going to touch-football any time soon, and in the same way, I doubt VEX will eliminate contact.

If I was in your position, I would probably feel the same, but try to understand the overall act instead of your individual situation and you should be able to see why eliminating contact/ramming all-together would be an issue.

Hopefully that makes some sense, and I’m sorry if you now hate me, but that is my opinion. :frowning:

I wish you and your team the best of luck, and I hope nothing like this will happen again.
Feel free to ask if you have any other questions,

Thanks for your nice comments. Good luck to your team as well! :slight_smile:

yeah, and if they cannot think of anything better to do than to ram you, you will most lilley win the match anyways given that you design around some “impact” and survive the hit without too much damage

I would have to agree with the consensus here. I’ve mentored Vex teams since the 2005 pilot, and ramming/pushing are generally considered “ordinary” actions. Pinning for more than 5 seconds and intentional damage are the only actions that would be penalized, and it doesn’t sound like either of those apply.

Prior to this year, “ram autonomous” was a rather common strategy practiced by low-level teams. It consisted of simply driving forward, hoping to run into/push away an opposing robot and prevent it from scoring. While mid-level teams found it frustrating to have their intricate programming thwarted by relatively mindless ramming, higher level teams learned to work around it with clever strategies, including using sensors and moving out of the way at appropriate times. This year’s game has greatly reduced ram autonomous with the gates and wall of objects that are not easily circumvented.

We have built some rather fragile robots and have been frustrated by damage caused by burlier bots. With experience, the students learned to build studier bots that withstood damage (and occasionally inflicted it on other less robust robots). The damage to others was never intentional, but it happened and was permissible under the rules of the game.

It’s really difficult to design rules that are “fair”, yet simple to officiate and enforce, and the rules will never be perfect (or close to it). Part of what we teach in sportsmanship is learning how to deal with disappointment and frustration when things go wrong. Understanding the rules of the game and maximizing success within the context of those rules are also life skills that will serve our students well.

I only hope that your team’s next experience is a better one.

robots involved in competitions should be built strong enough to take a significant beating throughout the day of competition. the rules allow for pushing and if your robot doesnt have the torque to push back that is your choice in how it was built. if you dont want to be pushed you should build something that can be the one pushing around instead of being pushed.

“Be the bully” =D

My opinion is that pushing and ramming are a part of the game and is to be expected. Gateway is an offensive game, defensive blocking tactics are usually met with some aggression.

Having said that, I was not present to see the event you have described. If a team were obviously loosing and had not managed to score any points, I would also be upset if a superior team used this tactic to make a point of superiority. That to me would be unsportsmanlike by being overly aggressive towards a weaker team.

By the way, which competition was this? Was it the Colorado VEX in Highlands Ranch, I see you are from Colorado. That competition had a large number of high school teams but I see that a middle school team was on the tournament winning alliance.

I am also a VEX Parent and I have been on both sides of pinning issues.

VEX is a competition and I think it is a great one but it can be imperfect at times. The best thing you can do as a mentor (And has an adult parent of the team you are automatically a mentor) is find a way to turn what was a frustrating experience into one the team can build on. Try to detach from the emotional aspect of it (Extremely hard to do!) and immediately start challenging the team with questions like

-How can we improve the design so the robot will not fail when pushed?
-How can we adapt our strategy of game play if the teams are going to push us?
-Lets take another look at the rules around pinning so we understand what to expect and prepare for it

I would also suggest that your team make sure they ask how pinning will be called in the drivers meeting before the event. Always a good idea to make sure you and all the other teams present hear the rule from the ref.

In the end you might find that the team can gain more from a set back like this than an easy win. Not always easy to hear but true.

I’ll add something to this discussion.

“Ramming”, and “pushing” are not the same thing. They are separate words, with separate definitions, for a reason.

A long, strong, push is not a ram. A push that eventually arrives at a field wall is not a ram.

The game rules empower referees to act appropriately when either a ram or a push occurs. Neither can be declared categorically illegal. I believe the rules that pertain to both are adequate for referees.

Bottom line: Don’t use the words “push” and ram interchangeably, or implicitly switch from talking/writing about one, to talking/writing about the other. Using the word “ram” when you really mean “push” leads to confusion and mistakes.

And - As always - All the Game Manual rules, and the Official Q&A, are your friends. Study them before a tournament, and have the students refer to them with the confidence that comes from proper study, in any polite conversations they have with the referees.


I personally try to make my creations very robust. Sometimes it is a bad thing where I ends up way too heavy. Yet, I have had designs withstand falls from a table and someone hitting it with a hammer. This is an extreme case, but certain construction techniques will increase the strength of the robot. Now the danger of damage from collisions is an advantage since you don’t need to avoid contact while others may need to.

Guilty as charged.:o

Hi RoboParent,
Please believe me when I say “We’ve been there.” The VRC GDC has MANY years of competition robotics experience under our collective belts. I’ve had some tragic losses like you wouldn’t believe. I’d like to share some experiences and philosophies.

I wrote out this whole post, and contemplated whether I should post it or not. It is my opinion that this topic hits the tip of a very deep and powerful discussion.

There are really three topics I feel are worth discussing here.

  1. Is the above action legal?
  2. Why?
  3. How do we feel about it? (The real big one!)

Let me try to talk through my thoughts on them.

1. Is this legal?
Yes, it is legal – for all the reasons previously mentioned.
Note that any INTENTIONALLY damaging actions are illegal. The determination between intentionally damaging and not, is left up to the referees. Overly malicious actions will be penalized, while the results of “legal robot interaction” are just “part of the game” and will not be.

As Blake said, there are differences between pushing and ramming. I would say even “high-speed” ramming is legal if not overly aggressive. What is REALLY frowned upon is when a robot continually rams (i.e. hits another robot, backs up, then hits them again).

2. So WHY is this sort of thing legal? This is where things get a little more philosophical…

Our goal at VEX is to get students excited about STEM. We want to inspire them to get involved in STEM, then help prepare them to pursue STEM fields in higher education. Our method for this is two-fold: First, everyone loves robots. Second, everyone is hard-wired to get fired up about competition. We want to bring the coolness of robots and the excitement of competition into the classroom.

The magic of competition is important.
A science fair type event where students build a robot then demonstrate its performance would not provide students the same visceral emotional experience that head-to-head competition provides. There are many of us who feel this head-to-head aspect is critical to accomplishing our mission.

Now, we’ve learned a few things about how to achieve this emotional experience: students don’t get as fired up about two robots playing side-by-side to see who can score the most. It is the robot INTERACTION that is key. Note, that contact isn’t necessary, but interaction is – this was shown during VEX Clean Sweep, a game where robots rarely touched, but were constantly interacting.

So how do we get robot interaction without robot contact? Well… that is tricky and could end up with some repetitive seeming games. Plus many people like the “robot contact” that comes from the traditional offense/defense type VEX game.

Ok, so taking the extreme case.
So what if we just played a game like Gateway and said “no robot contact is allowed” – how would that play out? Well… I’m guessing we’d have a lot of questions on the Q&A about penalties from unintentional contact resulting in heartbreak. No one on our GDC wants penalties or DQs to define the game. We hate that.

The other extreme case…
What if we said “anything goes” – how would that play out? Sheesh… I can only imagine the many innovative and creative ways students would find to flip each other’s robots over.

So where is the middle ground?
Ours is “no intentional destruction, be ready for some robot to robot interaction/contact.” I think it makes sense for what we’re trying to accomplish, even if this means sometimes it leads to someone being disappointed. If we tried to eliminate all head-to-head play, we’d end up with a pretty boring game (imho). Our job is to find the balance.

In my mind it boils down to this…
To achieve our mission we need to let the robots face off. When the robots face off, sometimes one will get broken, and sometimes the other one will. I always tell students that I’ve been involved with competition robotics since I was in high school (pushing 13 years now) – “sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they go the other way, your job is to do everything you can to help things go your way, and not be disappointed if they don’t.

3. How do we feel about it?
I tell my students – “you don’t need to like losing, but you need to react to it in a constructive way.”

In my mind there are three constructive reactions to a loss. Note these are “rational” reactions. Often they don’t come immediately, they come with time after the emotions of the moment wear off:
*]“Well, we did everything we could, but we lost anyways. That’s too bad but sometimes things don’t go your way. We should be proud of what we accomplished and not upset because they planets didn’t align in our favor.”

*]“Well, we did everything we could, but we lost to a better team. It happens and they deserve it. Is there anything we can learn from them?”

*]“Well, maybe we didn’t do everything we could have. Are there things we could have done differently to be better? How can we improve?”

(In my mind, the most important question in the world comes from the third reaction. HOW CAN WE IMPROVE? Failures are just opportunities for improvement, celebrate them.)

Another lesson I’ve tried to teach students (and teach myself):
No matter what the outcome is, this is a positive experience. Sometimes competitions can be an emotional roller-coaster. Sometimes when the roller-coaster stops, you need to cry things out. Sometimes you need to scream. Sometimes you need to vent. I’ve done all of them. After the emotions settle down, you start to realize how powerful an experience it was, even if it doesn’t go your way. You realize you’re a better person because of it. You hopefully start to fall into one of the above three “rational” reactions. How quickly you reach one of the “rational reactions” says a lot about your character. Try to realize ahead of time and not to let the roller-coaster get the best of you. Be gracious in defeat and in victory. Be professional.

This is deep, powerful, and painful stuff. It is much easier for students to say “a ref beat us” but it is not nearly as positive, and not nearly as satisfying as taking the opportunity to reflect, and move forward. Some mentors tell their students “we got beat by a ref” GREAT mentors help their students grow.

Another approach is to not get emotionally invested. Some people say “don’t sweat it, it’s not about the robots. It doesn’t matter who wins and loses.” Taking this attitude of detachment works, but it isn’t nearly as impactful. Giving students the opportunity to pour themselves into a project like this is huge for their growth as adults. Driving a solution to the extreme edge of excellence is an incredible experience for anyone, it just takes an investment and if you’re not careful can take a toll…

When I was a young man first joining the robotics team I was told “you’ll get out whatever you put in.” I don’t think I realized just how profound that statement is until recently. It’s true. Throw yourself in, enjoy the ride, and you’ll benefit in ways you can’t imagine. It is worth the risk to care.

Okay… enough philosophizing. You’ve touched a nerve with me since I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years “meditating” on the “emotions of robotics competitions”, and the philosophies of winning & losing. I’ve done plenty of both, and I’m ashamed to say that I’m not proud of many of my reactions.

This is powerful stuff for anyone to handle, but as I said above – it is worth it to expose your students to it, because the payoff can be so huge!

Please feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss (as you can tell, I love the philosophy discussions):


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I have read the comments from Roboparent and others and want to provide some additional information since I was present at the tournament and witnessed the pushing. If I am correct, this situation was between team 1069B and 3876A.

First of all, I can understand your disappointment in this situation with your robot’s chain being broken. I’m sure your team members were upset and felt that somehow this was unfair. There was no intent to damage your robot and we apologize for any damage that may have occurred.

One of the things we have learned from participating in two World tournaments and one National tournament is that the robot play is much more aggressive at these events and that has changed some of our style/strategy to be more aggressive so that we can compete at these levels. This includes some pushing when we are trying to defend a goal. In the situation last weekend, 1069B was in the semifinals against Team 3876A and their alliance. During the match, Team 1069B’s alliance was motionless and never left their starting tile. Team 1069B had two broken chains so its arm was impossible to lift in order to score in any goals. The team made a spot decision to score what they could in the corner goals and then deploy an aggressive defensive strategy to keep the opponent from scoring. This resulted in some pushing. In the end, 1069B lost the match, not being able to overcome these setbacks.

After the match, both teams had their robots repaired in five or ten minutes and both played and appeared to be functional in the third match, which did not feature any significant pushing.

As stated by others, the game allows for some contact. The lesson we have learned is to build robots to be robust and to adjust your style of play to be better able to compete with the more experienced or aggressive teams.

I would also like to point out that one or more of the 1069 teams has been your opponent or alliance on several matches at prior events and we feel that competing in these events with you has always been a positive experience. We wish you luck in your future tournaments and hope that we will be able to keep good relations between all of the teams.

Best Regards,
Brad Von Seggern
Coach – Team 1069B
Berthoud, CO

Regarding unsportsmanlike conduct, a thought that came to mind is that different rules are used to determine on-field vs. off-field courtesy.

On-field play is governed entirely by the VRC Game rules. More than once, I’ve seen a team employ a strategy that made me think, “That can’t be legal,” only to ask for official clarification and find that it’s allowed simply because there’s no formal rule against it. “If there ain’t a rule against it, it’s legal,” and generally, “spirit of the law” interpretations are not needed because the “letter” of the law IS the “spirit” of the law.

In contrast, off-field sportsmanship is defined by “common courtesy” and includes implied principles (e.g. consideration), rather than formally stated rules. We would consider it rude if people cut in front of others in the food line or accidentally knocked over other people’s property in the pits without stopping to pick it up or fix it, even though most tournaments make no formal rules or guidelines to discourage these behaviors. However, ON the field, there is no rule against cutting in front of another robot to get to a goal first or accidentally knocking into it and causing damage, so these practices are acceptable.

Problems sometimes occur when we try to use off-field standards to apply to on-field performance. Understanding that implied off-field concepts of fairness are not used to officiate on-field performance (except where they’re written into the rules) can alleviate some frustration.

As an aside – I’ve experienced off-field courtesy at robotics events to be far higher than at most sporting events. Where else can you find that teams will lend you tools, help you debug your code, and even use their own time-outs during the finals to buy you time to repair your robot so you can be a “worthy opponent?”