Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Speed Kills

This is probably the first in a short series of post delving into this topic. I say probably 'cus I've no clue as I begin just where this is going to lead--but I know where it begins.
It begins with the OODA loop. The OODA loop refers to the mechanics of the decision-making process and was conceived initially for application in the field of military strategy. It quickly was applied to other fields like business and in our case, sports. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide & Act and can be used to describe an individual or group process. As we will apply it to competitive paintball it is both simultaneously. In it's military application the basic scenario assumes a conflict environment in constant flux; everything from strategic war planning to battlefield management and response. The similarities will become obvious. Phase 1, Observe is the information gathering phase. In paintball the input comes from direct visual observation and communication. Phase 2, Orient refers to how we organize and evaluate that information in order to make a decision. In this phase a number of potential influences (called filters) come into play. Things as diverse as training, experience, confidence and subconscious preferences. All our individual filters impact our decision-making. Phase 3, Decision is the process of choosing form among the options that present themselves when we Observe and Orient. Phase 4, Act implements the decision(s) made. The faster this process is completed the better.
Keep in mind too in a real world situation the loop is being reprocessed constantly (or a new loop is started) as new information comes in. This means incoming data is always interfering with both our decision-making and the action that follows. Endless reprocessing (or loop juggling) most often results in inaction which is a default decision and "action" whether intended or not.
Given the OODA loop how does speed kill? Our objective is to make faster decisions than our opponent, act on those decisions and force our opponent to act on an incomplete process. Every time our action interrupts the opponent's decision-making process in creates poor choices and/or confusion. Think of it like a fast break in basketball or the hurry up in football. The object is to take action before the opponent can react or force them into less than optimal responses.

Next time, Optimizing The OODA Loop For Paintball. (For those trying to keep score at home I'm presently juggling at least 3 series of posts I've recently promised to complete but haven't yet managed. If I should forget one or more of them feel free to remind me in future.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Selling Paintball--Again

The problem seems to be despite lots of hand-waving and hand-wringing and a determined desire to sell out nobody is buying. Paintball as Sport as supportable entertainment, that is. In the comments to 'What's A Fan To Do?' a VFTD regular offers some thoughts (see below) that I think warrant a brief history lesson--among other things.

As the article points out; if your favorite college or professional team lost all it's players - what happens? Nothing, they're still there. You'll just have new players in old roles, doing the same thing.
And what would happen if Paintball used the same model...What if you only had so many teams in Pro? What if the only way to get into the Pro league was to 'buy' your seat? (Think Investment) Want to add a team to the pros, expansion team / buy a seat? 

What would happen if as a league, you went to RedBull ..

The commenter posits a strategy of a limited number of vested pro teams cooperating as a league in order to both provide a sporting product and control its marketing and outreach. It's an interesting idea and it was called the NXL or, in a different incarnation, NPPL 1.0. (The NXL teams were purchased franchises of the NXL conceived to function like the typical American pro sports model. At that time many of the franchisees were also owners of the PSP. The NXL's focus from first days was breaking into television and early on a deal was made with Dick Clark Productions to produce NXL programming for TV. The broadcast premier was on ESPN2 if I recall correctly. NPPL 1.0 was the Pure Promotions promoted version and first iteration of the NPPL as separate from the PSP--a whole other story--and while their model was based on a more European structure its goals and purpose were similar.) Both entities managed to produce television programming and both achieved modest but respectable viewing numbers. Yet none of those efforts resulted in sufficient advertiser or network interest to keep paintball as sport on television. In hindsight I'm sure everyone involved would admit mistakes were made but the fact remains--paintball has been on TV numerous times and has failed every time. Does this mean paintball can never succeed on TV? Of course not but it clearly won't be as simple as if we build it the world will start throwing cash at us. 
Today we have PBA and its efforts to "sell" paintball. Initially the webcast production company was focused on building a viewership they could sell as a highly desirable demographic for niche marketing and micro ad purchases--and to date they've failed to make that model work. As a result they've been forced to switch to a direct buy model for those specifically interested in paintball.
So far none of the efforts to sell paintball  have worked. Is it because of the 'guns'? Is it because of the numbers? Or a lack of expertise on paintball's behalf? Or because no mainstream advertiser is interested despite the prime demographic?
Let's take a quick look at a similar situation. Hunting & fishing shows on television. There's quite a few of them and mostly the hosts and guests sit around on boats or in blinds and occasionally catch fish or kill animals. Is that compelling television? What they all have in common is their advertising is almost exclusively from within the hunting and/or fishing industries, The industries that supply hunters and fisherman make the shows possible by using them as promotional vehicles for their products. Paintball as an industry is probably not able at this time to something similar and maybe never has been.

More next time when VFTD explores the counterfactual 'What happens when the Champions sit down with RedBull?' 

Monday, October 27, 2014

What's A Fan To Do?

One of the qualities that makes sports appealing is team continuity. I can root for my favorite college team like my Dad did before me (and with me) and my son has (with me) and will after me because that team has been there and will still be there in the future. (Title IX notwithstanding.) Players come and go and we continue to root for the team. It is our team despite it's highs and lows and there remains a long-standing connectedness that ties us to that team. We are fans. The same is true of the professional sports as well. (Even though the NBA is determined to market players first and teams a distant second.)
This is one thing the NXL attempted to create in paintball a decade ago--the foundation of a fan base tied to teams. It was a good instinct. I bring up the relationship between team and fan because it's largely lost to paintball. No team has survived long enough or been consistently promoted in a way that encourages the formation of a fan base. (Historically the closest we've probably come are Aftershock, Ironmen, Joy Division and TonTons. Although in the case of the latter two one was predicated on anti-Americanism or possibly pan-European pride--if such a thing can actually exist--and the other primarily on nationalist sentiments.)
Anyway, here we are today staring at a near term future that seems to be guaranteeing significant change. Some embrace the idea of fresh faces and something new and others are troubled that once again paintball proves there's nothing to hold on to.
It's particularly interesting to follow the comments following the announcement that Art Chaos is disbanding, not simply leaving the PSP. Most suppose (and hope) that Heat will resign their previous Russian core while a significant minority have withdrawn their support for Heat based on recent player cuts, the fate of the Russians notwithstanding. It provokes a lot of questions.
Are most fans of the sport of paintball destined to be bandwagon jumpers? What's the attention span of a paintball fan? Are there any real fans of paintball or just friends and family? Can paintball lay any real claim to being a sport until it begins behaving like a sport?

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Very Special Weekend The Monday Poll

Which pro teams will do the el foldo during this off season? If the flippancy annoys you I apologize--and even agree that it's not really a laughing matter but what else can we do? Last time I checked my wallet wasn't fat enough to support a pro team and that goes for most of y'all as well. Little as we may like it the reality is the pro universe is very likely to do some shrinking this off season and we might as well make the best of it. It's not like we're fiddling while Rome burns--although we are all paintball all the time while arguably the first world slowly spirals out of control. But hey, eat, drink, be merry and vote in The Monday Poll 'cus it may your last. Or not.
Anyway, the poll is simple. It's a list of the PSP pro teams in both Champions and Challengers (minus Vicious). You pick the teams you think won't be around for 2015. Remember, a relegated team is still a team so only choose teams you think will bag it in the off season. Vicious won't be included because they've already made their announcement. Mr.Curious says at least two more teams are definitely gone not including Art Chaos which may or may not be leaving the PSP. (If you think Chaos leaves the PSP but still plays Euroland then don't vote for them because they won't be gone gone--just not playing over here anymore.) It's not rocket science people. So get to voting and I promise that VFTD--unlike the Cook County voting machinery--won't change your vote. What more could you ask for? Go on. Vote.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ROI of Pro Paintball

It should have been understood that today's post wasn't about the return on investment of pro paintball in any conventional sense of the term because, at least as an economic enterprise, there isn't any return despite nearly two decades of efforts otherwise. It's actually much closer to that classic paintball joke, "How do you make a small fortune in paintball?" "You start with a big fortune." There is however another relevant equation we can substitute: For those with the resources and the inclination how best to allocate those resources? Where do you get the biggest bang for your buck? Is it investing in star players? Is it in practice paint? Organization? Or coaching? Traveling for practice? For anyone funding a sports team that will only lose money the payoff must be in on-field success, mustn't it? (Okay, sure there's almost always all that happy family talk too but if that was the goal it would be more fulfilling to run a camp for under-privileged kids.) The real return on investment in pro paintball is winning. And while having the money to spend is a plus it's no guarantee of success.
Granted it gets a little tricky making these sorts of distinctions because of course more talented players is a plus as are all the other advantages superior funding can accommodate but we've seen mixed results from the big spenders. The object then of this post isn't to say money doesn't matter but to take a hard look at how that money is being allocated and the results derived from those allocations. Or, how come one guy spends big bucks and succeeds and the next guy spends big bucks and fails.
A good place to begin is with the 2014 iterations of Impact and Heat. In the prior off season both teams underwent significant roster changes and both teams are among the handful with the resources to do as they please. Coming into 2014 Impact had perhaps under-performed their talent and Heat had just completed a very successful two season run. Heat lost 3 top tier players to Art Chaos and Impact lost 3 top tier (or close to it) players to Heat. Impact in turn opted for a couple of experienced journeyman pros and a pair of up-and-coming pro players to re-stock their roster. Heat also signed another very high profile very experienced pro player to go with the 3 from Impact. Impact seemingly took a talent loss into 2014 while Heat made a strong effort to match their talent losses. Impact takes both PSP and Millennium series titles while Heat does well in Europe they also get relegated twice in the PSP. So what happened? If the talent theory of winning paintball was all there was to it Heat should've had a distinct advantage as everything else between them was similar. And why does Impact succeed now, with seemingly less talent where they didn't quite measure up before?
Let's start with that old sports cliche about a team being more than the sum of its individual parts. While true a team can also be less than the sum of its individual parts too. And this begins to get us closer to the crux of the matter. Whether it's evaluating talent, maximizing practice opportunities, calling matches or utilizing to best effect the advantages of superior resources a team requires leadership and that leadership must have a plan. And ideally more than a plan--a philosophy that encompasses all the elements of the chosen sport. How can anyone lead a team if they don't know where they're going?
While most factors can be controlled to one degree or another we are left with the alchemy of team chemistry--not quite a science nor fully an art--the only place it really matters is on the field. Sure it's nice if everybody gets along and enjoys each other's company but attempts to create off the field chemistry is the cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it-translates-onto-the-field effort of every team from D5 to Champions--and it's a crap shoot. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. Even in developing the requisite on field chemistry of successful teams leadership is paramount. Doesn't matter if it's a coach or captain or a small group with different team responsibilities the core value is laying a proper foundation for future success. And a proper foundation begins with a plan--a map to future success. That's where you begin to maximize your ROI regardless of your budget or your level of play. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rumorology 101

Unlike seasons past where Mr. Curious had to sneak through back alleys and steal cell phone conversations out of the aether it appears everybody can hardly wait to leak the latest rumorology. Which is, frankly, a lot easier on Mr. C as he isn't getting any younger. For those keeping score at home--and living under a rock--Vicious will no longer compete in the PSP-- (likely not anywhere else either.) Art Chaos is rumored to be leaving the PSP but has only stated that there may be team news around November 1st. One issue is where do the Russians go--back to Heat? (That's the word and today's announcement from Heat that they're dropping Slowiak, Woodley, Dizon and Devit opens up some slots)--but what if AC intends to continue in the Mills? And Heat also wants to return to Euroland? That may be the crux of any delays in learning what comes next for the elite Russian players.
And of course the Busiere move from Damage to Impact got this year's rumorology rolling almost before the last field was taken down at Fantasy of Flight. Since then Impact has also picked up Brown from Damage and released Park. Word from the Damage camp is that Vanderbyl will stay with Tampa and that Joey is already working the phone hard with initial calls going to a few players he tried to recruit last year, notably from Dynasty and X-Factor.
And with the departure of Velez from Shock the lid begins to slip on the turmoil that camp has been rumored to be in for some time now. Unless the team can work out its differences there may be more defections to follow.
This off season the key to unlocking some likely outcomes is location, location, location. For the majority of teams and pro players the bank vault doors won't be thrown wide open and there are no guarantees spots will be available. Despite a handful of high fliers most pro teams don't have the resources to either cherry pick or pay players which means the majority of opportunities for those players will come from close to home--or they won't come at all.

Finally in an unrelated rumor it has been suggested that GI Sportz acquired PBA (the PSP webcast) when in fact it was the Millennium's webcast.
Remember that teaser I tossed out before Cup? Of a moderately momentous announcement coming soon? Well, its still coming. Definitely this week sometime. Next time though look for 'ROI of Pro Paintball.' (Probably not what you think.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Lazy Slacker Repost: Moonbats, Drillbits & Semiauto

 VFTD last posted this happy little rant back in 2011 and it seems like it's time to post it again. I'm beginning to suspect the lunatic fringe yammering about semi-auto will never disappear--until or unless paintball can turn back the clock and restore true semi-auto--but until that time the least I can do is periodically mock all the true believers who eschew reason and rationality in order to enjoy twitching their fingers.

There is one subject that drives me to the brink of gleeful homicide--the blindly willful utter nonsense spouted by the "semi-auto" advocacy crowd. This includes a few friends of mine so y'all please feel free to delude yourselves that little bit more and believe I mean everybody but you.
It started when I was skimming a long thread at the Nation–yes, I realize I brought it on myself-- devoted to speculation about the (then) upcoming changes at the PSP. A few posters just had to toss in the opinion that what the PSP needed was preferably uncapped semi-auto. Everybody is entitled to an opinion–even an idiotic one–but this particular brand of paintball superstition is like being a member of the Flat Earth Society and really believing the Earth is flat. Or participating in Renaissance festivals because you are convinced you really are Richard the Lionheart reincarnate.
Hey Tulip, you're nutty as a fruitcake!
If you've been living in a cave maybe I better explain. Like Knights of the Round Table (or in this case, the Empty Head) there are some die hard fantasists forever chasing the semi-auto Holy Grail of one pull, one shot. True semi-auto (as if such a beast existed in the era of the micro-processor and electronic gun) is a swell dream but fails to correspond with reality. The truth is the majority of diehards don't actually understand how their guns work even if they can use the right words to construct a coherent sentence. If they did they wouldn't be Knights of the Empty Head. For starters their trigger pull doesn't actually discharge their marker. The proprietary software in the micro-processor on their board 'reads' a signal from the switch – which can be any one of a number of different types of switches – and decides what to do about the received signal and the result can vary as widely as the parameters of the software allow. And, of course, within that process the micro-processor tells the gun when to shoot, not you. Then there are the assorted forms of actuation that are 'mistakes.' Stuff like bounce, both mechanical and switch. Every software package in the business has filters designed to minimize, to varying degrees, the 'mistakes.' But guess what. All you semi-auto is a skill clowns set your filters to the lowest possible 'legal' setting because, miraculously, your skill improves when the filters interfere as little as possible.
And it's even worse than you know because there are manufacturers who swear on your mother's life that their software is pristine and innocent and would never intentionally add a shot or three or six. After, of course, offering the standard pious disclaimer about user error. Yet it does–and many of you like it that way because you've worked ever so hard to develop your "skill." Still, these disciples of the true semi-auto continue to insist that semi-auto is pure paintball and that ramping is an evil corruption despite the indisputable evidence that all electronic guns add shots and the only real quibble is over the definition of intentional and unintentional.One thing we can agree on is that if such a thing as true electronic semi-auto existed in the modern game it would be better than capped, ramping guns. But the place you gotta start to see that happen is with sufficient standardization across the manufacturers so that the gun you're shooting is essentially identical to the one Joe Bob is shooting. At that point you can reintroduce the idea of skill again. And trust me, most of you semi-auto worshipers wouldn't like that one little bit.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vicious Pulls Plug

Does that sound a little callous? It wasn't my intention but naming this post proved problematic. Vicious calls it quits or just Vicious quits isn't any better. Or Vicious to disband or Vicious goes kaput. See, it ain't as easy as it might seems to hit the right note for a post about competitive paintball losing another top team--and whatever you may have thought of Vicious they were a top team. And love them or hate them their loss takes something away from the game for all of us. Every loss reminds us how fragile the game really is and how much remains to be done before the game can stand on its own. And this time is no different. For all we might wish the sport was less transitory and more enduring Vicious will be remembered by friend and foe alike as it takes its rightful place in the history of our game. 

In 2015 I'd like the PSP to ...

Here is your chance to offer a little constructive criticism of the 2014 product with the goal of improving the league in the future. Odds are some changes will be made in the off season--they usually are--and there's no reason that a few really good or really popular ideas might not make the grade this time around. Anyway, got a suggestion or two I'd like to hear them and if you have something positive to say about 2014 I'm sure it wouldn't go amiss. And even if all you want to do is vent fell free to deliver a rant. Extra credit for both brutal and funny.
Everybody always wants to add their two cents--here's your opportunity--take advantage of it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

World Cup Recap

Friday was another brilliant day ... is as far as I got during the event to adding daily updates. I'd apologize but you knew there wasn't much of chance to begin with if you're being honest. Unfortunately this working at World Cup thing meant being on site by around 6:30am with little chance of leaving before 7pm didn't leave a lot of time for posting. And of course I had fantasy football teams to keep up to speed for the weekend clashes--and that's all I got for excuses so take 'em or leave 'em.
Turns out the whole weekend was spectacular weather-wise. Perhaps a bit hot mid-afternoon for some but practically balmy for Florida in October. It doesn't get much better than Cup weekend and we deserved some lovely uneventful weather for a change. Ironically as I (finally get around to) write this post it's pouring rain outside and has been for a couple of hours--which is what the local weather was doing for most of the three weeks leading up to Cup.
Once again the venue was Flight of Fantasy near Polk City Florida which is less than an hour from Orlando and a little more than an hour from Tampa. The attraction is no longer operating daily but the site remained available as a Cup venue and the layout this year was similar to last year's with all the fields and vendors set-up in a triangular area between the back of one airplane hanger and an access road. On the other side of the access road was the larger of two parking areas. The biggest difference from years past was limited access in the back--closer to the lake and where the 10-man field was set-up. In the past there was parking back there with the paint trailers parked between the divisional and pro fields. Due to very soggy ground during initial set-up the paint trailers were parked at the top of the divisional layout instead and parking close to the pro fields was barred with limited access only given to the 10-man competitors.
By now you've seen the scores and know who the winners were so I won't recount all of that other than to congratulate the winners and remind all the other teams to enjoy the journey. Certainly take from the experience lessons learned that will hopefully help your team improve but don't become so narrowly focused on winning or losing that you fail to take pleasure in the process. It is too easy to get caught up in the competition to the exclusion of all else and the reality is only one team will win and for the rest sometimes even your best isn't good enough to take home the prize. Play hard, give it your all but remember that in time the memories you will carry with you are of friendships and family and the people and places you knew when. Win or lose the journey is its own reward.
I'd also like to take a moment to thank all the referees who put time in this season making the PSP possible and the operations crew working behind the scenes to deliver the biggest and best competitive paintball tournaments anywhere. While less than perfect--aren't we all?--the vast majority of the referees perform a largely thankless job for the same reasons we all play (or have played) this game--because they love it and it gives them an opportunity to be part of the traveling circus that is major league paintball--and share it with friends. And a special thanks to the operations crew who are hard at work days before each event begins and for days afterward and who are constantly busy during the events keeping things running smoothly. Sure it's their job but it's a testament to how well they do it that we so seldom notice.
For those interested in the latest cool stuff introduced at Cup VFTD is, as usual, of no help whatsoever. I spent all of five minute the whole event in the vendor's village area delivering packages UPS brought to the boneyard by mistake and I foolishly signed for without checking addressees. I saw a few of the latest guns on the field and they all seemed to work as advertised. (I know, I'm no fun at all.)
The kids at PBA added a new feature to the webcast this time around by hooking up pro field head ref CJ with the ability to explain penalty calls in real time and add to the information available to the viewers. (I'm looking forward to checking it out asap.)
There was also a banner on the stats scaffolding at the pro field opposite the bleachers that I found amusing. It read: Come and watch paintball for free. Of course it was only visible to peeps in the bleachers and VIP who had, for the most part, paid for their seat. In reality it was probably meant for the webcast audience and there are plenty of fields where you can watch the action for free--but it's still funny.
Even before the event ended the rumors were flying fast and furious about big changes coming on the off season. What with the paint giants planning on some sponsorship changes and some pro teams outright calling it quits the pro team landscape could change considerably before next spring. Word is that Vicious is calling it a day and disbanding. (In fact that rumor has been around for months and it may or may not be true that a final decision has been made.) Additionally it's rumored Art Chaos will not be returning to the PSP Champions division next season. And there were some rumors last year that Heat would call it quits too but that didn't happen but with the certainly disappointing season this year similar rumors are likely to surface. As have rumors about the principle KEE Action Sports teams, XSV and to a lesser degree, Infamous. At this time there doesn't appear to be a definitive word yet. And in the last few months there have even been some Damage disbanding rumors which I'm told by a usually reliable source isn't true--but once again, paintball's silly season is impossible to predict. What I will say is if a bunch of teams fold it will be a buyer's market for talent next season and the handful of bigger player contracts we've seen in the last two or three years will likely shrink.
The 2014 season is in the books. 2015 will be here before you know it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

World Cup Thursday

Divisional play began today under nearly cloudless skies of cornflower blue and temperatures hovered comfortably under 90 degrees. I say comfortably somewhat tongue in cheek but according to the weather forecast today was (or will be) the coolest day of the extended weekend. Time will tell but if you thought today was too hot best get ready. On the plus side there's no inclement weather currently being forecast but this is Florida so there are no guarantees. The action played out on nine fields. Tomorrow the pro matches begin as will the webcast occupying the 10 Race-To fields here at Fantasy of Flight. Also tomorrow the operations crew will set-up the 10-man field between the pro fields and the lake. And in a change from last year the UWL games will take place at a separate location.
Across the divisions there were a lot of fairly lop-sided matches whether that is attributable to the layout though is unclear. There was also a fair amount of rather sloppy play too that I expect to tighten up as the event progresses. Certainly by Sunday play will likely slow down as the remaining player and team skills continue to improve and the pressure to succeed begins to weight on the competitors.
Catch all the pro action available on the PBA webcast beginning around 8-8:15am Friday morning  Every match counts and with World Cup on the line the matches should provide great drama and intensity. More from VFTD tomorrow as we begin to see who will be playing past the prelims.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Coming Attractions

It's World Cup week (of the PSP variety) and preparations are progressing apace--as is the growing level of excitement and energy as soon over 350 teams will gather to compete in the world's largest and most prestigious event. The action begins Thursday with divisional play while the pros (and webcast start on Friday as usual.) For those planning on tuning in over the weekend--or even if you just want to get up to speed--Paintball Access has been running a series of year in review features for each of the Champions level teams competing at Cup. Each review covers a team's results this season and a prognosis for the upcoming event. It's a great way to get some knowledge about a few teams you may not be all that familiar with.
Similarly our friends over at Social have a fresh, if slightly misguided article on Art Chaos speculating that perhaps the team that began the season with such fanfare is finally living up to expectations given recent wins at Riverside and Chantilly. I say misguided only in that it seems the author imagines the team is something new, a collection of star players something like Houston Heat was a few years ago. In fact, with one exception, all the rostered players on Chaos have played together at one time or another on either or both Art Chaos and Russian Legion. Regardless it's an interesting read.
As usual I will do my best to provide a daily report during Cup but I make no promises. It's a busy busy week. If, during the course of the event you have any questions drop me a line and I'll see if I can come up with some answers.
And next week VFTD will be making a special announcement. Curious? I think you're gonna like it. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Team Chemistry

This is the first follow up on the T-E-A-M post from a couple of weeks ago. Now I don't know about you but chemistry wasn't my favorite subject unless we're talking about a perky little redhead I once knew. Which is a whole other subject. But team chemistry in sports is an essential ingredient to success yet seemingly impossible to manufacture on demand. It is why it's good for teammates to enjoy each other's company and do things outside of their sport and why teams large and small, professional and amateur arrange for team activities where the players can do things together that aren't strictly competing or preparation. But even though everybody goes through the motions looking for it the results are always uncertain. Unlike chemistry in the lab there is no formula for success. There are however a few signs a team is moving in the right direction.
Unity of purpose. Commitment to the program. Internal and external leadership. Identity.
Everybody needs to be on the same page. In order to share a unifying purpose everyone needs to know where the team is going--and more importantly agree on how it's going to get there. Even so there will inevitably be disagreements and struggles. And working past them requires a renewed agreement or in the case of an impasse, a roster change.
Superstar or part time role player everyone stays focused on the team and what the team needs in order to be successful. Team always comes first.
External leadership is the guiding hand on a ship's rudder and internal leadership arises from within the group of players--the person who keeps everyone on point and the personality that draws all the others together and keeps all the oars pulling in unison. (Since I'm apparently using nautical metaphors today.)
This is who we are as a team and this is how we play the game. Identity begins to form when a team has a core philosophy (whether everyone can articulate it or not) and begins to implement their shared understanding of the game when they play together.

Keep in mind these are simply signs of forming chemistry and there are teams that are atypical. For example it is entirely possible to have a team of players that constantly bicker yet still play as a well oiled machine when the horn sounds. And every team will always have different characteristics but underneath the individual quirks and eccentricities the foundational principles still apply.

Sounds great but how does it translate onto the field of competition? I'm glad I asked as that will be the next topic for discussion in this series of posts.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Train Smarter Not Longer

Are superior athletes born or made? While the subject of some study and debate for well over a century recent pop culture has trended toward the made point of view as exemplified in Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers' which posited, among other things, The 10,000 Hour Rule. In brief the idea is that expertise in a given field is a matter of practice whether it be sports, music, the arts, etc. And Gladwell glommed onto the idea based on an anecdotal study of musicians done in Scandinavia. Anyway, it sounded good and had a sympathetic audience that liked the notion one could do or be anything they wanted if they were simply willing to put in the time. Except of course it isn't true.
Follow on studies and a recently concluded meta-study make it clear the 10,000 hour rule claim is overblown. Yes, practice improves performance and does make a comparative difference but it only explains part of the difference between the great and the good and the also ran. If the latest data is correct then simply putting in the hours offers no guarantees. What then should the dedicated and determined competitive paintball player do? Train smarter not longer. And that goes for the grind too. I understand that the grind represents dedication and instills a sense of pride for those who put in the time and make the effort but--there's almost always a better way to go. Train smarter not longer. If the grind is no more than repetitious play and trial-and-error learning there is a better way. Train smarter not longer. (Have I made myself clear or do I need to say it again?)
If the sheer volume of time given to practice isn't the answer then what is? What does train smarter mean? Truth is it's a long list but here are a few things to help point you in the right direction. Mastering foundational skills, learn the game, prepare completely and don't sabotage yourself or your team. Mastering foundational skills is an ongoing process, dare I suggest, constant process of honing your technical and physical skills. Your ability to compete successfully is directly related to your ability to shoot your gun, move around the field and stay alive. Playing alone will keep some players sharp but more often it tends to dull our edge. Learning the game is less about the rules and more about the conceptual framework behind the game. For example, competitive paintball is a game of angles. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages inherent in the angles is critical to smart play and helps guide our choices during play. Preparation is the key to team success and the aspect of practice least well understood by the modern player. Proper preparation frees the player's mind and is the basis of effective execution. And when I say don't sabotage yourself or your team I'm referring to the tendency to let things slide. After all, we're all friends here and nobody wants to be that guy. As Yoda once observed however, "Do or do not. There is no try." How many teams fail to consistently communicate on the field? Why? It's usually not from lack of talking about it. It's a lack of accountability. Brothers, friends, teammates, whatever if you are serious about competing everyone must be accountable to the team. There is no excellence without accountability.
Okay that should give you a little something to think about.
What else could you or your team do to train smarter not longer?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Getting Wide 2

Step One of 'Getting Wide' invited you to closely examine your current practices and routines for, well, the routine and predictable. Here in Step Two we will examine some proactive steps that can be taken to improve our chances of success in getting wide off the break.
To begin we need to add to our available information. We need to track where we're getting hit when we fail to get wide OTB. If we have prepared properly in walking the field we should know what likely lanes exist. Now we need to know which ones they are in fact shooting. That information allows us to adjust--and the first thing we may need to adjust is our path. And not only the path we're having difficulty with. For example, on the snake side what we want is to create as much space (distance) between our path to the snake and our path to the corner. First thing we do is always run the corner deep; on the baseline. Our purpose is to force laners to pick their target. As much as possible we don't want our paths to overlap and we want to extend the distances between paths as much as possible. But that's only a beginning point.
Unfortunately it is sometimes more complicated than that and another reason it's important to recognize the lane(s) your opponent is shooting. As part of our preparation we learn the lanes not only so we can eliminate our opponents OTB but so that we may also have prepared options for avoiding those same lanes. (This is not always possible but sometimes seemingly minor adjustments to your runs will increase your odds considerably--but only if you're aware of the incoming lanes and have prepared alternative running paths in advance.)
So far we have dealt with what the runner can do to get wide consistently but it isn't just a problem for the leads--it's the team's problem--and is most effectively addressed by the team as a whole. (First thing we do at this stage is recognize the critical importance of being able to run & gun effectively--and the necessity to run & gun as our default action--especially OTB. And if it remains a weakness redouble our efforts in practice to improve.) The other areas we consider as a team are our chosen shooting lanes OTB and alternative methods for achieving our primaries OTB. Teams tend to focus their OTB lanes on eliminating opponents breaking wide or opting for longer breakout runs. But another way of determining your lanes is to consider the impact of your chosen lanes on your own ability to get wide or reach distant primaries. Do options exist where we can pick up eliminations and suppress our opponent's ability to lane teammates OTB? Typically this is done with edgers delaying their own breakouts or choosing closer primaries in order suppress the opponent's principle laners but can as easily apply to any position on the field your opponent is using to lane from.
Finally we have the option, as a team, to run the same primaries in a number of different coordinated ways. Using the snake side example again does the layout allow us to run our lead into the corner instead and quickly bump into the snake? If so that's a viable alternative to a direct snake run every time we want to be in the snake quickly. Alternatively are we running the corner as well as the snake on the same breakout? If so, first make sure there is sufficient space between the two runners so that no one lane can hit both of them. Now we have numerous additional options. Run and gun the corner with the snake runner edging as he delays briefly before making a direct snake run. The object is to draw the laners attention deep to the corner runner so that our snake runner moments later reaches his/her primary cleanly. Alternatively you can reverse the order, send the snake lead first trailed by a running & gunning corner runner who will get some good looks at the laners focused on the snake runner.
The overarching point is there is always more than one way to skin a cat. Be creative and put a little extra thought into the process and you will find multiple ways to achieve the same primary goals. And when those options become part of your routine arsenal of plays you will increase your odds for success as you become less predictable and more dangerous OTB.
Let's recap. Avoid habits that give our opponents signals to our intentions. Be unpredictable. That can be in our breakout choices or how we achieve those choices. Be prepared to adjust without being constrained. Don't let your opponent dictate what you will or can do. Work together to achieve the desired outcome. Put all these pieces together and not only will it improve your efforts to get wide but every other aspect of your game as well.