Tips For Helping Your Players Improve

I read a comment on my site this week that made me sit back and think.  After my rant about the Lich King, a poster commented on how he planned to give up on raiding completely, as his group seemed to have reached the pinnacle of its progress about halfway through ICC.  While the thought of someone telling me that “I” had convinced them to give up on raiding saddened me a bit, the part of the comment that really stuck with me was this gem about why they were having so much trouble:

It’s always the same people and no one will coach them or explain why their playing or DPS just isn’t cutting it.

I think if this is accurate, he’s pretty much summed up the main issue with his raid group.  Especially at this level of raiding, it’s critical for the leaders of a group to be able analyze what’s going on in the fight, good and bad, and then give appropriate feedback to the group on both.  I’m not perfect, and I’ve had my fair share of trouble focusing on the good at times, but it’s equally important to know what you’re doing well as it is to diagnose problems.  The whole business of solving those issues depends entirely on the initial delivery of the problem, and I’ll get into that now.

So, you’ve got a player who is consistently the major contributing factor to your wipes on Boss X.  As a group leader it falls to you to take care of the issue so your group can get past Boss X. You have two options in this scenario.  First, you could simply find a replacement for the player, or second, you could work with the player to fix the issue.  I’ve known a lot of people who would take the first option in that scenario, replace the player and not think twice about it; I think in the end, though,  the second option is better and will get you a better group in the end.

I’ve never met a player with no room for improvement, myself included, nor have I ever met a player that didn’t improve when they were willing to be worked with.  Generally, most players want to be better than they currently are, whether they be skilled or not.  Some people welcome advice and others can be more touchy about it, so the key to successfully getting the process of improvement started rests on your delivery of the problem that you want fixed.  Your approach in discussing the issue with the player can only garner two results; the player will either agree to work with you on it, or they won’t.  If they chose the latter, then you can assume that you either botched the delivery, or the person’s not a team player and needs to be replaced.

How, then, do we approach players in need of a little (or big) tune-up?  Well, very methodically.  There’s a technique of giving feedback where you point out what you’re trying to get across between two positive comments.  I call this the sandwich method, but I certainly didn’t invent it, and it goes by other names as well.  Basically you want to let the player know something you’ve recognized that they do well to show them that you do appreciate what they are doing.  This generally will make them more receptive to any comments you have for them about what they aren’t doing so well.  By finishing up on another positive comment, you leave the player knowing what they need to work on, but feeling good that they’re appreciated for the things they do well.

A word of caution, if you want to succeed, use baby steps.  It’s generally best to work on one issue at a time.  Trying to solve every perceived issue at once will generally cause a player to meltdown.  The idea is to fix each issue independently, so the player can internalize the skill and make it instinctual.  The less that a player is actively thinking about, the more likely they are to make the correct decisions in a given situation.  Basically, players stop standing in the fire when they develop the instinct to move without thinking about it, not when they’re constatly stressed over looking out for it.  While the player’s  job is to master a needed skill, your job as a leader is to provide the knowledge of  that skill and a way to practice it.

Ah, practice; It’s said that it makes things perfect.  There are few skills needed in ICC that you can’t learn somewhere else in the game.  In fact, most skills can be easily worked on in Heroic Dungeons.  After you’ve made the problem known, all you have to do is find an example of whatever the player needs to work on and get to work. 

 In response to that last paragraph, I already see this comment coming:

 “But, Sam!  Mobs die to quickly in Heroics to be of any real use!”

That’s actually pretty easy to fix.  Take a group of guildies, and when you get to what you need to work on, don’t kill the mobs or boss.  Let them do their mechanics and practice accordingly.  Don’t kill the mob or boss until you’ve worked on what you came to work on.  Remember, you’re here to work on a skill, not to farm the Heroic. 

Other than skills, the only thing that might need work is individual class play, be it Tanking, Healing or DPSing.  It probably goes without saying, but having someone work with the player that is good at their class/role is generally the best solution.  If you won’t be personally working with the player, make sure that your proxy will treat the player with respect, or you might end up with a few fires to put out. 

Most importantly, working with someone isn’t about bruising egos or being superior, it’s about improving the overall quality of your team.  If every member of your team has an equal share of the responsibility for group success, they should be afforded an equal respect, regardless of their skill.  If you make that point clear with your team, they’ll likely play better too.  A player that feels a sense of ownership of a part of the group is more likely to have vested interest in improving their skill set for the benefit of the group than one that you chide or make fun of.

So in review, if you need to tune up your raid to get past a roadblock, following these steps will make success in that goal more likely:

  1. Review your raid and figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your players
  2. Pick a skill or role issue to focus on.
  3. Approach the player with the weakness between two strengths.
  4. Work with the player to improve the weakness
  5. Watch your group grow and mature from the effort.

As I’ve said before, I’ve never run into a situation where those steps have not produced positive results with a willing player.  If the player isn’t willing, and it has nothing to do with your approach, you’re likely better off without them, as there are some duds out there.  Fortunately, they are few and far between compared to those that are ready to learn if you take the time and effort to do so.  My final advice of the day:

If you treat a player as if they are what is holding your group back, they’ll probably continue to do exactly that and your group will likely fail.  However,  if you treat your players like they’re important to your success, they’ll act like it, and in turn, likely succeed. 

Good luck to your raid group in whatever endeavor, large or small, that you wish to conquer,

- Sam

18 Responses to Tips For Helping Your Players Improve

  1. Sadly, there *are* players out there with no desire to improve, no matter what. In the past, I have known several players who have been coached, given recommendations on websites where they can learn their class better, and there was never any improvement.

    One even had the gall to go so far as to say, “I know what I’m doing.”

    Finally, we had no choice but to bench them. These days, they don’t get any raid slots unless there’s literally no one else to take.

  2. samueltempus says:

    Unfortunately in those situations you have to exactly what you said. If they’re unwilling to work on issues and holding the group back, then away they go. In any situation where 1 person makes the difference between success and failure, your group has no room for someone that’s not a team player.

    I would say that while there certainly *are* players that have very little drive to improve, the majority of players are not this way.

    - Sam

  3. syldanna says:

    I had a long reply but went off on too many tangents….

    There are 3 areas that all raider need to be high speed and low drag on.

    1) Class and class mechanics
    2) Raid Role (DPS, Tank, healer, others)
    3) Specific fight/boss mechanics

    I don’t want to go into detail ’cause I think you and most of your readers are competant raiders.

    I would like to suggest the use of World of logs and Fraps.

    World of Logs is great to analyze who’s Mystic Buffet got 10 stacks and Fraps is great as a review after the fight is done. As Rogues we have an up close and personal “hug the crack yo” view and can’t see what is going on behind us for the msot part. Seeing the fight from a healers perspectiv may help the melee in damage mitgation or know when to peel off and get an add………….

    GL with the LK. He’s tough. Wait until you do the bosses on heroics…….

  4. Sanomi says:

    This new guild I was in, when I 1st raided after donkey years. I got bombarded, in a nice way, by the class leader. MAGE POV
    He said for example, I casted 99 Living bomb you only have done 60, must try to cast more. Nothing to be said, as Living bomb is instant cast and same duration for everyone, so there shouldn’t be any reason why I cannot be closer to his numbers.

    Pissed off, I whacked my buttons over and over and got it up to say anyother 10% more Living Bomb cast, but still nowhere near his.
    So this became a bench mark somehow for me, so every fight I whack and whack the button at any opportunity I had just to make up the numbers.

    Then, we start comparing hot streak cast, OK granted not everyone will have the same hot streak moments, so he was quite OK with it by not comparing his to mine, but still insisted I do more. Well that spurs me a little more and Pyro buttons are getting more attention.

    It worked out quite well progessively for my developements. I appreciate that he didn’t just say, your DPS sucks, go read on how to work on it, instead he breaks it down and look at the statistics. And the most appreciative thing he did, he didn’t just exclude me out of raid the following day just becos I didn’t perform in DPS numbers the previous night. Instead he tries to get me in to see if there’s any improvements. And things just keeps rolling from there. (He’ll even be willing to sit out to let me in.) Well of cos that’s when a raid is at farming stage maybe.

  5. Ger says:

    Ack -sorry if I saddened you. I enjoy raiding but I just don’t have the patience for people that aren’t there to raid! Examples are one lady who waits for the entire group to get together and zone in -THEN takes a potty break, and again every 30 minutes after that. Vent is often too chatty when we need some concentration and our raids have FAR too much downtime when flasks are ticking down.
    One rogue is so proud of her DPS, and she is pretty good, but she is a chore for the healers to keep up because she has no situational awareness -she’s one of our heaviest raiders dating back to Kara but I sincerely feel she just doesn’t have the awareness or reflexes to really pull her weight. Another couple I can easily outDPS with 1500 less gearscore on my Rogue. Recount puts a fire in me to research my class and do everything I can to put out the best dps I can (though my main is a healer) -and I’ve even offered websites for some raiders to check out. I’ve tried to coach a couple but I’m limited by my knowledge of their classes. They are being carried and I honestly do not know if the raid leaders have tried to coach them.

    Our guild has more mature membership, median age of about 35-40 with many couples. The ladies I mentioned above are 48-60 years old and they are the sweetest ladies but I struggle with raiding in a group that the raid leader whisper-described as “pugging every raid” with full guild runs. We’ve had at least a dozen raiders move on to more serious guilds because we have no restrictions on who can raid. The few REALLY good raiders we have left stay because of their love for the guild but I can tell they are wearing down.
    I enjoy the people, I just don’t want to struggle raiding with them. I have family members in the guild but if I want to raid then I guess I need to make the effort to find a casual guild that takes it a slight bit more seriously. So, I need to stop venting my frustrations on your excellent blog. You’ve helped me to be a pretty decent (not yet raiding) rogue and I appreciate your thoughts on this subject, but I know what my real options are in the situation.

  6. Ger says:

    Sigh -another wall of text. :(
    Next blog title “How to know when to cut your losses and sprint.”

  7. Kim Mathews says:

    If only more than 17 people would hear this..

  8. samueltempus says:

    Ouch. It has been seen by at least 18 people :)

    - Sam

  9. PVE Rogues says:

    I always like to ensure players have done several things to prepare them for raiding:

    1. Have worked or are working towards all gear that they can possibly improve upon by obtaining emblems
    2. Have researched their class through EJ or other such information websites (such as my own one for rogues).
    3. Practice their rotation on the training dummies etc
    4. Have watched the raid videos beforehand (such as from tank spot).
    5. Talked to their class leader or others in their class in the guild if they need to improve for advice, tips and general help.

    However I have also met with a few people who simply either a) fail to understand a single order or request and repeat the same single mistake over and over again even despite various explanations, diagrams, demonstrations etc. or b) simply do not want to improve in any way and refuse to do any practice, research, gather any raid info on the fight or anything at all.

    These cases can be somewhat hopeless and incentives may need to be implemented,

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  11. Gamerunknown says:

    I like the website. There are some specific problems that may prevent the theoretical points being taken into account though. In my own, specific and not generalisable case, I raid with a social guild. We’re somewhat dedicated to raiding in that we have a regular team and regular schedules each week and we’re expected not to PUG even if we have better offers. However, we do not punish non-attendance and motivation to improve beyond getting loot or doing progression fights is minimal. I’d feel rude pointing out mistakes or areas for improvement and just saying “go to elitist jerks” doesn’t tend to help (though one ret paladin we told to gem full str + nightmare’s tear and fully enchant their gear, which they did and their dps improved noticably).

    I don’t even lead the raid but my ideal group would be willing to come to Gurubashi arena and practice on me as a Putricide add or something using rank 1 spells (and fishing poles for melee), which would also give the group a much greater feel for stacking on fights where there isn’t a chain lightning. However since it can be difficult enough getting a team motivated to go its unlikely this will happen any time soon.

  12. Pintwat says:

    “it’s critical for the leaders of a group to be able analyze what’s going on in the fight”

    How and what do I analyze?

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  16. Turam says:

    As someone that, while not a guild leader, has had a good bit of leadership experience in real life dealing with coaching and helping a group of people achieve a goal, I find guides like this great lessons not just for leading a guild but any group. I wanted to say great job and I really enjoyed reading your post and learning a little myself.

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  18. calsong says:

    So here’s a hot topic question: what do you do with the raider who will not improve?

    I’ve had raiders on my team who’ve been talked to time and again. They’ve been given the articles, talked to about glyphs, gemming, and rotations. I want to improve, and its hard to relate to folks who enjoy just chugging along in this game. Do I need to work on motivation, or do we need to simply replace people like this? I enjoy and respect them, but I need bigger numbers and more survivability for our content.

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