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When Good Trainees Go Bad: Using Game Show Penalties

Playing a game show is usually a hassle-free, smooth, and pleasant affair. MOST of the time, trainees will be good sports, fair players and gracious winners (or losers). However, a small part of the time there are players who attempt to cheat, are bad sports, or break the game show rules. Imposing penalties can be a way to curb this behavior, encourage the correct behavior and keep the playing field even for those who aren't cheating or breaking rules. As a trainer and game show host, it's your job to maintain control of the room and you may decide to use or not to use penalties to do so. If you should decide to use penalties (and not all trainers do) here are some suggestions.

1. Deducting Points. The most obvious way to penalize a team for cheating is deducting a set amount of points for a defined behavior. For instance, if a team is caught looking at their materials, or getting outside help--50 points are deducted from their score. They may still be able to answer the question (and get points if their answer is correct) as you see fit. Point deductions should not be arbitrary--a particular behavior should warrant a specific deduction, and this should be applied evenly for each infraction.

2. Reward the Non-Offending Team. Rewarding the teams that are not responsible for the offending behavior can be a very quick way to stop offending teams. A team may decide that 50 points from their score isn't going to affect the outcome of the game--but they'll balk at giving their competitors extra points or advantages in the game. You may also give a non-offending team an extra question (or "penalty shot"), or even an extra player (let the non-offending team pick a player from the offending team to come over to their side).

3. Losing a Turn. Taking a turn away from an offending team can go along with the previous penalty. It prevents the team from scoring points, but it can also give the non-offending team an advantage-an extra turn (if there are only two teams). Losing a turn can also entail having the offending team answer their question as per usual, but if they cheated to get that answer they simply don't get points for a correct response.

4. Asking a Participant to Sit Out or Cool Down. Sometimes an offense is not team based, and individual response may be in order. If a particular player is being a bad sport or getting too rowdy, you may ask them to settle down (a warning) or to sit out for a designated number of game show questions. Penalizing a team for an individual's behavior is a double edged sword--it can help teams to keep their players in line, but it can also discourage honestly-playing teammates.

5. Keeping Your Cool. When contestants are rowdy, cheating, etc., it's not a reflection on their attitude towards the trainer or the training--they simply get carried away and want to win. Be firm and fair, but keep your cool and don't take it personally. Remain good-natured about penalties and remember to continue to encourage a penalized team to keep them in the game. A little penalty isn't going to prevent a team from winning, but if they feel that a trainer is "against" them, they may check out of the game altogether.

Bonus Tip: Giving Fair Warning. Be clear that there will be penalties for offending behavior before the game starts. Also define examples of behavior that will garner a penalty. This makes penalization during the game seem non-arbitrary and fair. Once you've established what will earn a penalty, be sure to enforce it consistently throughout the game. If desired, give each team one warning before enforcing a penalty.

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