Parks struggle with recruiting and retaining new players. One of the primary contributors to that ongoing problem is the Toxic Player. You know the guy I’m referring to. He probably popped up into your head the moment you read the phrase. He’s the guy that you really hope doesn’t show up to the park this weekend. The guy that you try and keep new players away from. The guy that, ultimately, you may decide you would rather not go to the park than deal with him.
It turns out that a lot of park problems are caused by this guy or gal. Tensions get raised, normally reasonable people have less fun because of the stress, and you end up with a situation where the group as a whole becomes prone to making mountains out of molehills. If Toxic Player explodes over not being on the right team in a battlegame, why wouldn’t other players get upset over being hit in the head? It sets a bad precedent that has consequences in lots of ways.
Your Toxic Player is taking away from the group attendance and fun while giving the group stress and irritation. Why put up with it?
Okay, so your group has a Toxic Player. What do you do about it? First, let’s talk about how to tell the difference between a player you don’t personally like and a truly Toxic Player. Here’s some of the traits a Toxic Player might have. They may have different traits entirely, but these are pretty common.
Warning Signs Of A Toxic Player
The player will vehemently disagree, at length, about anything and everything that happens in the park (either in-person or in online venues like Facebook). They are generally unwilling to accept any answer or solution that doesn’t support their goals or viewpoints. This is about control and reinforcing their self-worth, not about reaching consensus or solving a problem.
The player will go on about how great their victory was, no matter how small or trivial. They emphasize their role, downplay the role of others, and generally use any success to build up their image while tearing down the image of others.
The player only ever loses because the game was unfair, rigged, the teams weren’t balanced, the rules were bad, their team members were awful, or some other reason. They get upset and vocal when they lose and never take any responsibility for their part in it.
Know It All and/or Liar
The player has all the answers to everything, whether you want to hear it or not. They are a lawyer, a doctor, a Warlord, a soldier, and everything in between. They have done everything, seen everything, and you better listen to them because they know better than you.
No matter what anybody else has done, the player has done it better. You could have just won the Mister Olympia competition, but this guy is ready and eager to tell you about when he could bench press 900lbs. That was before he took an arrow to knee, of course.
This player can always be reliably counted upon to provide a negative comment on whatever you’ve done. This isn’t constructive criticism, joking around, or being playful: They really just have nothing positive to say about what anybody else does or thinks. The best you can hope for is that they keep quiet.
Drama seems to follow this player around like a cloud. Everything they touch gets blown way out of proportion. An accidental hit to the head? Clearly a concussion. Lost an election? There was cheating and corruption. Any problem they have becomes the center of the universe and everybody needs to hear about it. Loudly, in public, and at length.
The player abuses the rules, looks for gray areas, finds loopholes, blows off shots, and generally can’t be trusted to play fair. This kind of player creates a lot of extra work and frustration for the group leaders while yelling their battle-cry “Show me where it says I can’t do that?!”
Nothing that happens ever makes this player happy. Things were always better in the past, nothing current leadership or members can do will ever measure up, and the game is generally terrible. No matter how much fun people around them are having, they are complaining about how bad it is.
Will Not Change
This is the key component of a Toxic Player. Most players, even good or great players, have some of these traits some of the time. Everybody has a bad day, week, or month. But a truly Toxic Player is one who won’t admit their problem when it is addressed with them. They don’t think their behavior is wrong, and they aren’t interested in ‘fixing’ it. They often advise other people to “grow a thicker skin” or say “that’s just how I am”.
A Toxic Player is one who has trait number ten (Will Not Change) combined with any of the other traits (or maybe a totally different trait that isn’t listed here). Given that definition, the first step in dealing with a Toxic Player is to talk to them about their behavior. The park officials (or any member of the park, really) should be straight-forward, honest, and kind. If you need some guidance or inspiration on how to start that conversation, here’s a canned format you can use:
“Randall, I’ve noticed that you’ve been arguing with other members of the group a lot lately. It’s okay to have an opinion and to talk about it, but once the group has decided on a course of action it’s time to let it go and move on to other things. Your recent behavior has been disruptive and is hurting the enjoyment of the other players.”
The vast majority of the time this approach solves the problem almost instantly. As soon as people have it pointed out to them that they were doing something that was hurting the group, they fix it. These people aren’t Toxic Players at all, they are just regular guys who need somebody to prod them a bit and point out when they aren’t being helpful.
A truly Toxic Player, the kind you should ban, doesn’t respond well to this approach. Often they will attempt to defend or justify their actions rather than apologize and improve. Sometimes they will seem contrite, but won’t actually change their behavior. In either case it’s imperative that you draw a line in the sand and then get them out of your group. They are hurting your park, and hurting your game.
So you’ve identified your Toxic Player, you’ve talked with them, and nothing has changed. It’s time to kick them out. How do you handle that? If you’re a park official, you’ve already got the power to do that. The rules make clear that you are the person in charge of ousting people who create toxic environments for other players. If you’re not a park official, you will need to work with your park official to get the job done. Either way, the process is pretty simple:
Getting Rid of A Toxic Player
Step One: Put together a list of specific instances where the Toxic Player showed problematic behavior that negatively impacted the group’s fun or health.
Step Two: Document that you discussed the specific and general behaviors with the Toxic Player and how they responded.
Step Three: Identify recurring behavior after the discussion with the Toxic Player that indicates an unwillingness or inability to change for the better.
Step Four: Have an open discussion with the group about the issue, present your case, get their overall opinion, and then act on it.
The process of getting rid of a Toxic Player can take a couple of months to do it right, but it’s imperative for the health and enjoyment of your group. Remember: Playing with your group is not a right, it’s a privilege. You are under no obligation of any sort of let Toxic Players ruin your fun with their unacceptable behavior.