What do you think about accountability within team leadership: Mentors and Parents

I am new to robotics competitions. So when my son wanted to join a team, I started researching. What I have found out, does not leave me with feelings of enthusiasm.

Maybe this isn’t the venue for this discussion, if it is not, please point me in the correct direction. I would like to share what I have seen and get feedback from the community here: is this NORMAL? Should we just avoid this endeavor?

This is a School Sponsored, Vex Over/Under team.

The Mentor(s) are volunteers, and are also a husband and wife team whose son is also on the team. There are no other coaches or staff.
They REFUSE to communicate with parents. ALL communication goes through the students. The students are freshman through senior.
Parents are barred from all practices, in any capacity. Silently observing in the wings is also discouraged.
Cuts can happen for any reason, at any time.
Parents with questions are encouraged to ask through the student. Contact between parents and coaches before or after practice is a distraction, and discouraged.
Coaches select who will go to events, no chaperones are asked for, none needed.
Volunteering is only on selected home event days, they will let you know.

I’ve spoken to the dean that is over this program, and that was ineffectual. Have you seen the meme with the dog in the burning house, “This is fine”? That is the most concise I can be about that interaction.

On the one hand, this is giving me the “Away. Run, don’t walk” vibe.
That same vibe has me worried for the other kids. Should I be? Is this normal? Are there no standards of oversight on the sport side?

What questions SHOULD I be asking? What are the standards or rules for Adult/Mentor Oversight among teams? Is there any Background checks, training, or similar that are mandated?

You’ll get more replies from adults on vexforum.com than you will here (this server is mostly students).


Disclaimer/note to avoid confusion: ignore the fact that it says moderator next to my name, I’m an adult who helps run some events, but I’m not in any way an official representative of VEX/RECF/anything. I’m not even a teacher, I just used to compete and continue to volunteer. And this is me speaking as an individual, not as a moderator.

The general rule, hopefully obviously, is that any interaction between an adult and a student should have at least two adults present, because in case anything happens, you have a third party to confirm what did or did not happen. The idea of the only two adults in the room being married, which in my mind is not a whole lot better than just having a single adult, and them actively trying to prevent parents being able to be at all involved in the process, is giving me huge red flags. I am shocked a school district doesn’t see the same giant blinking 10 foot tall “DANGER” sign I’m seeing with the situation you describe.

So yeah, I agree with your assessment of the run away vibes, and this doesn’t seem at all normal to me. Hopefully this isn’t the only opportunity for robotics in your area, I’d encourage you to to reach out to your local RECF person and see if there’s a community team or something in your area who might be looking for members.

EDIT: and to answer your questions

What are the standards or rules for Adult/Mentor Oversight among teams? Is there any Background checks, training, or similar that are mandated?

As an Event Partner (the person who runs events), I am required to submit to a background check. To my knowledge, for the VEX program as a whole, there is no background check required for mentors/coaches/etc. There is also, as far as I am aware, no form of training or any system in place for reporting any kind of incidents, on a program-wide basis. This fact is, in my view, not acceptable and the program needs to do better in this respect. There may be some kind of background check or training required for coaches/mentors by the school, but that’s going to vary district by district, and from what you describe, I don’t think your district likely has strong policies in place.


Note: OP is a cross-post from chiefdelphi and is looking for a perspective from VEX teams. See thread here: What to do about accountability within team leadership: Mentors and Parents - General Forum - Chief Delphi

While safety always comes first (especially in this situation), I would consider the social/emotional aspect of pulling your son from the team. I would give one more try reaching out to the admin/coaches to see if you could get a reason for why the team was run the way it was, and if a prompt response isn’t given, then get out of there. I would also consider reaching out to other parents on the team. If you are considering continuing with the VEX program or starting an FTC team, it is always nice to have teammates, and a larger number of students leaving the team (rather than one) may move the school administration to do something.

The question I would ask the dean is: Can you give me the email/contact info of the coaches or forward this email of questions from me to them? The coaches may be in over their heads, and could appreciate the help, especially if there was a recent incident (parent complaints) that they don’t want a repeat of. I would try asking the coaches what you could do to help. If they completely refuse to communicate to an email, then probably pull your son out because that team doesn’t seem right.

I also want to add that students change teams for a variety of reasons, and forming a new community team, while it can be a lot of work, can be rewarding. If you chose to leave the team, before deciding what robotics program/competition to continue forward with, ask your son what they want to get out of robotics. If they want to design and build a 125 lb machine, see if FRC is in your area. Do note that FRC teams can be a large time commitment in January (think part-time job or playing a varsity level sport for their build season from Jan-March). I strongly advise against committing to FRC if your son is planning on doing any other time-intensive extra-curriculars (musical practices, varsity sport) as he will be at a high risk of burn-out. Not all teams have the same level of commitment, and the level varies inside of teams, but teams can generally expect a bare minimum of 4-6 hours a week, with some teams having meetings for 20+ hours a week (in which case it is highly unlikely you are expected to attend all meetings, instead coming when it is best for you).

FTC and VEX on the other hand are less time consuming, as they don’t have a defined “build season”- the VEX build season runs 364 days a year. There isn’t as large of a time crunch to get a robot up and running. These programs generally last through the entire school year, and are more locally based. As a generalization, students in one of these programs will spend less time a week doing robotics, but they can do robotics year-round (many school based teams take summers off because there’s no school).

FRC has a greater emphasis on industry-preparation, as students are working in an “open ecosystem”- many teams design from scratch (in CAD) and build robots in machine shops while in VEX, there is a kit of parts “closed ecosystem.” This let’s students work in smaller groups to have more time with a robot. FRC often has mentors working directly with students and guiding them while VEX relies on not needing to have mentors with engineering experience (FRC doesn’t require mentors with experience, but it is more challenging without them).


I did cross post. It was recommended since the program in question is a Vex program, and this was offered as a better place to post.
If that is wrong, I apologize.

My son is not on the team now. And that offers me some relief. We have an invite from a local FRC team this evening, and I can tell you the response and support at even this stage is glaring and improved.

The coaches may be in over their heads, and could appreciate the help, especially if there was a recent incident (parent complaints) that they don’t want a repeat of.

The coaches aren’t in over their head, in their opinion, I feel. They told me they each work 60 hour jobs, and this is how they find their balance. Communicating and dealing with parents distracts them, is basically what they were telling me. It is a weird dynamic.

They are the prideful sort as well, so I’m not sure if outing them directly would benefit anyone at this juncture. Out of concern for the other children, now that my son is removed, I am going to still advocate for accountability on this team. I’ve lost much sleep in the previous weeks deliberating over that topic, and am resolved that I cannot ignore a child safety concern like this.

Thank you very much for the information and comparison of the different programs. My son is just starting his high school career, and he’s not decided what he is going to do fully with his extra curriculars yet. This will get shown to him, and is valuable. He has played, well, almost all of the sports but has not decided what he will do at this new school level.

Your time and thoughts greatly appreciated. Thank you.


I am going to reach out to the local RECF person as soon as I gather some more information. Thank you, you have been very helpful.


Good plan, this is very unusual. All of the teams that I have interacted with as a student competing and now as an adult running and refereeing events try to get more parents involved or interested in the program. That is definately not the norm.
When it comes to deciding who goes to competition in the teams I was on it depended on whether you had most of a working robot together. willy nilly picking who goes is suspicious seeing as vex has rules about drivers and programmers not flip flopping back and forth to teams.