Toxic Avenger

Another season is in the bag.  World Cup has come and gone and Zen would like to congratulate all the teams that took a podium.  Well done!

Two recent events inspired the topic of this month’s blog post.  One, the intensity and excitement that is the World Cup environment can create an emotional reaction in coaches and players alike.  I have seen it countless times.  Walk through pit row on Sunday morning… you will hear it.  And two, a few recent phone conversations with several young men I know who compete nationally.  Whereas, each had a different issue, they all stemmed essentially from the same thing.

toxic aven

How many of you reading this know a person who rationalizes everything?  There is always a reason, an excuse, extenuating circumstances…  Perhaps there is a person you respect but you can’t help but notice they can come across as divisive?  There is no positivity, no spark in their comments?  Maybe you suspect a teammate of subterfuge or you are dealing with a drama queen?  In any instance, they defy logic and, in many cases, are absolutely clueless to the impact of their behavior.  Or maybe they are aware and enjoy the chaos they create?  They can be extreme or not so much but no matter which it is, it creates tension… and not the good kind (yes, there is such a thing as good tension).

Most teams can figure out how to address most  issues.  A lack of field resources, improper fundamental training, bad planning/logistics, finances, etc.   But a “toxic” teammate/coach can destroy a team from the inside out. Most won’t even recognize the problem until it spreads… Distrust will eventually spread to others until BAM!  You have a full blown breakdown on your hands.

Bad attitudes aren’t always immediately recognizable or obvious.  The loudmouths are easy to spot.  This allows the team or coach to recognize and deal with them effectively.  But the quiet dissent, the disengaged so to speak — those who don’t care about the team, the ones who question process for no valid reason, show up late or not at all, don’t help pitch in for the grunt work, these are the ones that are deceptively an issue… and what if it’s the coach?  Whoa… that’s another whole level of suck.  “Because I said so” is not productive or conducive to running a good team much less creating a trusting environment.


Sure, you can ignore it and keep doing your job to the best of your ability.  Their poor work ethic or attitude towards things doesn’t affect you… but then, it does.  Don’t be fooled.

First, let’s ask ourselves something; are you the only one who has a problem with the person?  Has anyone else mentioned frustration with a teammate or coach? If not, regrettably the toxic person very well may be YOU!  If that is the case, I strongly suggest you find a different environment or start making your case in a positive manner.  But if you know you’re not the only one who feels that way, you can’t be afraid to stand. Look, I get it.  You don’t want to rock the boat, upset the status quo.  But if you really care about the team/organization and its success, you need to say something if only to get it out in the air and have it addressed.  It very well may not work out in your favor… but then you at least know where you stand.   Trust me, that discomfort you feel about taking a stand?  It will be worth it if it succeeds.

One thing I have noticed about a number of the successful teams  and, in some instances my own, dealing with toxicity does not have to be difficult or even stressful.  If you can deal with it effectively and efficiently, the level of discord can be minimized. The key is realizing that you, the coach, or the team has more power than you realize.

First things first when dealing with someone like this (and this is something I personally really need to focus on); don’t play the game.  When someone on the team is being difficult or irrational, don’t engage emotionally.  Sounds simple enough but we all know this is not always an easy feat.  As much as we would hope we could deal only in facts and logic, that doesn’t always happen.  But it should.  Facts and logic will do one of two things.  It will either cause the toxic one to invest more emotional energy or it will make them pause and eventually make them calm down for a bit and think.  So what happens in the case of the first scenario and they grow increasingly emotional and difficult?  If this happens, simply disengage.  “Look chief, you’re obviously dealing with something here that has a lot more to do with than paintball.  Let’s revisit when we have all had a chance to calm down a bit and think about it.”


Here are a couple of suggestions on how to handle it if you find you and your team facing a scenario where you know somethings wrong…

Go ahead and set parametersIn other words, set and recognize limits.  Listening and being an ear is great… but if it is one giant woe is me party, don’t get sucked in.   One way to establish a limit is to ask the complainer how they intend to fix the problem.   Right, once you’ve heard all the bitchin’ ask them, “Ok… what will you do to change this?”  This will give you a good look into what the real problem is.  They will either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.  That’s a win/win.  Now, they could blow a gasket too… if that is the case, you’re not dealing with a rational person at that point and should once again, disengage.

Next, whatever you do, don’t die on that hill. Most people, when engaged aggressively by another, will dig in.  This will cause “casualties” on both sides of the argument.  You may say something you regret or bring up something that has nothing to do with the issue at hand.  Smart warriors recognize when to peel off and live to fight another day.   If you can read your own emotions and respond to /with them appropriately, you have a distinct advantage.  Only stand your ground when the time is right/necessary.  Emotional blunt force trauma doesn’t always win the day and rarely solves anything.

Finally, be self-awareThis is a tough one but you can’t stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don’t recognize when it’s happening. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in situations where you’ll need to regroup and choose the best way forward. Sometimes it’s best to just smile and nod. If you’re going to have to straighten them out, it’s better to give yourself some time to plan the best way to do it.  When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy.  When it comes to toxic people, fixating on how crazy and difficult they are gives them power over you. Quit thinking about how troubling your difficult person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling them. This makes you more effective by putting you in control, and it will reduce the amount of stress you experience when interacting with them.

No Toxicity here.  Joking with A from I-75 yo

Now, if none of this proves to be working, you need to take it to another level or what I like to call, changing the field of battle.  Get those of you who are in agreement.  Meet somewhere and discuss it to make sure you are all on the same page.  If you all agree that engaging the toxic avenger is the best thing for the team, the greater success you will have addressing it.  Like an intervention, if you all go in determined to help the problem child, the team, and to better understand/improve the situation, you have a much greater chance for success.

Keep in mind, it’s a good idea you should all have an understanding of ways to keep things from going sideways.  Hopefully the problem child will understand they are the problem and work to fix change things.

Ultimately, however, if player/coach or whoever has the issue is so unbearable, leaving the team might be your only option.  Let’s hope it never comes to that, especially if you have a good thing going.


That’s enough for now.  Everyone enjoy the off season.  But remember… there is no off season. So enjoy the not off season.

Be water my friends.

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