Helping Friends and Teammates

I often get messages on Twitter or in my email where players ask me some variation of the following question:

“Will, I have a friend/teammate who struggles with _____. What can I do to help them get over this and improve?”

As people often say, the best part of Magic is “the Gathering.” Magic is a social game, and it’s better played with those around us. We go to tournaments, play, form connections, create new friendships, or even put together competitive teams that play together at events. Our journey through the game becomes intertwined with others and their journey. It also means we may share in their struggles and need to help them in some way when the time comes, as good friends and teammates do.

What’s the best way for you to help friends or teammates who may be struggling with the mental side of playing Magic? To answer this, I’ll go through the most common aspects people tend to ask me about.

1) “I have a friend/teammate who tilts really badly.”

I’d say, without doubt, this is the one I get the most. Someone will message me seeking advice for how they can best approach or handle a friend/teammate who tilts off badly during games or after losses to try and understand how to help them.

  • After their match is finished, if you notice they’re really tilted, the best thing you can do is to leave them be. When they’re in that kind of state, you’re not going to be able to get through anything rational to them, and they likely aren’t going to want to hear your positivity or words of encouragement. Let them go, leave them be, and allow them the time to come to grips with it in their own time.
  • Once they’re calm, you can offer words of encouragement and support at that time. But make sure to avoid the following: Do not try to make the situation into a teaching moment. Don’t lecture them on how tilt is bad and why they shouldn’t do it, as you could set them off further or make them feel bad about themselves for doing it. The time and place that for discussion is after the tournament is finished. For the time being, simply offer them your emotional support and encouragement, and then let them go from there.

2) “I have a friend/teammate who always blames luck and refuses to admit mistakes.”

Magic is a strangely complex game that is composed of a mix of both technical skill and extreme variance. You can do everything right in a game of Magic and still lose, and you can do everything wrong in a game of Magic and still win. Having the awareness to understand when something is determined by luck and when it’s determined by skill is an important aspect of the game, and something some players struggle with. If you have a friend or teammate who constantly blames their losses on luck or refuses to admit when they’re wrong or makes mistakes, here’s what you can do:

  • Ask them questions and allow them to take the initiative. If you were watching them play and noticed they lost because of several small, key mistakes they made, but afterward they come to you saying it was purely because of bad luck, don’t just outright tell them about the mistakes you noticed. It will likely put them on the defensive. Simply ask them, “Well, were there any decisions you made during the game that you could have made differently?” This will force them to think about their plays, and in doing so, you can then point out what you noticed.
  • Outside of the tournament, the approach is the same. Let them take the initiative. If, at some point, they either come to you to seek your advice or simply openly start talking about luck and skill in Magic, you can then offer them your perspective and advice. If you’re worried they might feel like you’re attacking them by telling them what they’re doing wrong, then take a different approach. Don’t tell them why their way of thinking is wrong. Talk about your own perspective and how you personally approach the game. For example, you could say, “Well, in my view, Magic is a game of both luck and skill, and I try to make sure I don’t always blame things on luck. I’m always looking for ways to improve myself and become a better player, and I don’t have any issues with admitting any faults or weaknesses I have if it allows me to grow and improve.”

3) “I have a friend/teammate whose negative attitude is affecting me/everyone else.”

In many ways, this last point is tied to the first. For example, let’s say you have a friend or teammate that, when things are going well and they’re winning, they’re wonderful to be around and a really positive person. But when they lose or things aren’t going their way, they become the worst person to be around and bring a lot of negativity to you or the rest of the group, spreading bad energy around like a virus. If you have friend or teammate who is like this, here’s what you can do:

  • As awkward as it can be, be strong and sit them down to have a discussion with them about it. Be respectful and cordial with them, but be honest. Let them know how their behavior is affecting you or others so that they know, in no uncertain terms, that their attitude is a dampener and something that you and/or the other teammates don’t want to have around when trying to compete in tournaments. It makes it harder for you and/or everyone else to enjoy themselves and play their best.
  • Avoid having this discussion at an actual tournament, as that’s certainly not the time or place for it. Trying to have this kind of discussion at a tournament will only create stress and tension that will make it much more difficult for you and/or everyone else to have fun and play well.

In the end, my most important piece of advice is this: You can’t change someone. You can try to guide them in the right direction and help them as best as you can, but change is a personal and individual process that has to come from the person themselves. If they’re willing to change and show they’re working on it, be there for them and offer your support as much as you can. If they show no signs of willing to change or outright refuse to change, there’s nothing wrong with cutting your ties with that person moving forward or pointing them in the direction of those who can maybe help them better than you can. It’s not fair to yourself otherwise to continue to have constant, debilitating negativity from the people in your life. Always try to surround yourself with people who exhibit positive habits, behaviors, and attitudes.

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