FFF Fest 2014-2

Dealing with Problem Members

October 19, 2016

Foam fighting culture has an interesting way of bringing together folks from many different backgrounds.  Though this idea has been expounded for longer than I’ve been fighting, it still holds true that on an average field you see a sort of cross-line camaraderie that you don’t really see elsewhere.  With that also comes a wide variety of personality types.  By and large, that isn’t a huge issue, and requires minimum intervention from realm leaders or officials in keeping the peace.  However, sometimes we do attract personalities that can be unhealthy for the realm; sometimes we get “that guy”.  Now, to be clear, “that guy” is a loose term that can apply to anyone, male or female, fighter or non-combatant.  Typically it will be apparent when someone is going to be a problem later on down the line, however, as a realm leader, you may find yourself hesitant to start stomping out the fire when the tinder’s only smoldering, and that’s not a totally bad reaction.  After all, this new person or longstanding member’s change in attitude just started, and is likely still correctable.  In the interest of the realm, it’s better to attempt to remediate the member than to outright send them packing.  The question, though, is how do you really identify what characteristics are going to be an issue, and how do you deal with them?  Even if you’ve been a group leader for some time, you may still have trouble really quantifying what exactly it is about someone that’s grinding your gears, or that of your other members, but it will likely fall in with the following criteria:

  1. Other members are complaining about the person, or are reluctant to engage with them, on or off the field.
  2. You’ve noticed that they are calling off a lot of shots that looked good, or are engaging in tactics that are plain dirty (e.g., ghosting hits; making a fuss out of “head shots” and then killing the opponent when they stop to make sure they’re alright; etc.)
  3. They have a poor attitude towards fighting (e.g., getting upset on the field when they lose; arguing about hits; calling other people’s’ hits; trash talking other members)
  4. They display a regular disregard for the safety of other fighters, or approach the field with an attitude of “win at all costs”.  (e.g., feinting to the face to cause opponents to flinch; unnecessary aggression that may make other members feel in genuine danger when fighting them; for more veteran fighters, absolutely destroying brand new fighters in such a way as to make them not want to return)
  5. Displaying a “holier than thou” attitude towards other members (e.g., brutally critical of other members, especially newer members: “this is the first garb you’ve ever made?  Wow, that’s awful; you should have just bought it”; “Your first weapon?  Yeah, I’ll make sure that fails check.  Why? Because it’s ugly as sin”)
  6. Deriding groups of people within the realm (e.g. fighters trash talking non-combatants, and vice versa; vets talking down to/scorning newer fighters)

Though not an exclusive list, you get the gist of it; you’ve got someone on your hands who isn’t exactly jiving with the rest of your field.  Some common approaches that I’ve seen, and was guilty of myself as a young realm leader, tend to fall into two spectrums: under- or over- reaction.  If you over-react, you clamp down the iron fist and amputate the fighter before they can start to affect the rest of your members.  If you under-react, you ignore the problem and let it fester.  Both of these approaches are unhealthy for your realm.  Over-reaction may seem like a good idea, initially, but really what you’re potentially doing is driving away people yourself.  While it may be necessary to tell a member to hit the road, doing so before any corrective measures are taken can come across as being controlling, and may cause other members to stop participating.  Additionally, if the person you outright permaban was brought out by another member, or was friends with other members, you may be causing them to decide that your realm is no longer the place for them.  That aside, you’re also potentially stagnating your realm.  Sure, someone may initially come across as rude, bossy, or overly competitive, but it could be that they just need to acclimate to the group.  Once they do, they could end up being one of your most valuable members.  If you reject every extroverted or powerful personality that steps on your field, however, you’ll never get the chance to find out.

Under-reacting can be just as bad as the former, if not worse.  Outright banning people may cause a small exodus, but if you allow your field to become inhospitable for other members (combatants or non), they’ll stop coming.  If you have a problem member who is harassing non-coms, e.g., criticizing their decision not to fight, then they’ll stop coming; they don’t want to come to your field to be looked down on.  If they’re making the fighting on the field dirty, and other fighters decide they don’t want to engage with them, then those others fighters slowly stop coming out.  By the time this happens, getting those members back may be impossible, and all you’re left with is your problem member.  When I first took up leading my home realm in 2007, for example, I had such a member.  He was 6’ 3”, outweighed most other fighters by a hundred pounds, and fought with a max sized tower shield and flail.  For our slew of new fighters, which many in my group were including myself, he was a hard opponent to kill.  Toss in some of those dirty tactics mentioned previously (calling lots of “light” and “head” shots; bashing and using his weight to pin other fighters;) and a generally bad attitude, and he became “that guy”.  No effort was made to remedy the issue, and slowly people stopped fighting when he was on the field.  Eventually, they stopped coming out at all.  By the time we asked our problem member to stop coming out, it was too late to get our lost members back.

So, then, how do you deal with a problem member?  First and foremost, identify exactly what the problem is.  This may be done through personal observation, but it is often best to consult with other veteran members of the realm to get their opinions on the issue.  Have them keep an eye on the member, and ask them what they think could be done to fix the issue.  If the issue is more pressing, such as sexual harassment, then immediate corrective action should be taken.  For these situations, it’s best to have a section written into your group’s constitution to allow for progressive disciplinary action for such offences.  Assuming that the problem is less severe, the next step is to determine a course of action.  Typically, talking to the fighter about the problem and explaining to them that there is an issue, and that disciplinary measures will follow if changes aren’t made, is a good first step.  If you’re finding that an issue is widespread on the field (e.g., poor hit taking), then talking to your group as a whole may be more appropriate.  From there, progressive measures may be necessary.  These may include asking the member to sit out for several fights, asking them to leave for the day, or banning them for a set number of practices.  Showing members that you are fair (progressive action), but firm (action is taken and enforced), will show them that you are serious about keeping your field safe, fun, and friendly for all.

By Thurat