Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Can Paintball Clubs Rebuild the Grassroots?

VFTD has touched on this topic before. (Is there anything new under the sun?) And it's one I've been giving some more thought to lately. My view has long been that one of the big disconnects for competitive paintball in the last decade or so has been the loss of a lot of adult players who are/were in the prime position to take over bringing up the next generation. When I began playing the average player age was older than it is now--at least on the tournament side of paintball. Younger players were more often than not brought into existing teams and mentored by experienced players. In the transitionary years post 10-man NPPL 1.0 (Pure Promotions) initially picked up the older skewing demo with their 7-man format but almost as quickly began to lose them. Meanwhile Xball pushed the demographic younger and younger and pushed out a lot of the older players used to a different--dare I say more sedate?--format. And in the process broke the 'natural' team-formation process. Experienced and dedicated adult players on teams looking for new players or breaking away from old teams looking for new players. Fathers and sons. Older brothers and younger brothers. New to paintball kids hanging out at fields looking for opportunities to get into the tourney scene frequently had opportunities.
Okay, but isn't that same process happening today? Sure but not in the numbers it once did. Then there's the school of thought that would attribute losses to the grassroots team-forming structures to the loss of a lot of fields and field owners who got into paintball the business because they loved playing the game--often to the detriment of their business when it came to starting and funding tournament teams. And I'm sure there has been some of that as well. The bottom line is the typical Race 2 player is a teen-aged male and they aren't in a position or generally capable of organizing their own teams and leaning how to play the game. The next generation needs experienced older players to once again take up the roles they used to perform in the grassroots process of building tournament teams or something else needs to take their place--and this is where the paintball club comes in. The well organized and properly run club could not only be a stable source of teams but also a sustaining anchor in the local tourney scene and a way to maximize the available experience and talent, both in leaders and players.
Consider this an introduction to the subject. I'll dig a little deeper next time.


Reiner Schafer said...

Been saying this for years. Competitive paintball needs to organize itself more like soccer (football for you Europeans). The President & Executive Directors need to be elected by the players. Clubs need to run their own facilities.

The older retired players who no longer can or want to play the game, can still be involved and take pride in helping the club and it's up and coming players.

But I also think the whole system needs to be revamped. Tournaments should be held between local club teams. After the season of local tournaments, the winners go on to compete in a Regional Series. The winners of those go on to play a National Tournament.

Funds are collected throughout the season with extra collected to help finance trips to the Regionals and Nationals so the best teams can actually go and the Nationals aren't made up with a bunch of teams who can afford to be there, rather than being the best teams in the country.

The maturity and experience of the Executive of the club can help mentor and get teams through the tough times. Right now if a couple of players from a team quit (which is very common with the age and maturity of the players we are dealing with), chances are pretty good the team will just wither away. In a Club setting, the Executive can help with shifting things around. If the Seattle Division 3 Club team loses a player or two, chances are there are other players in the Seattle Club that can jump in. Stuff like that.

The way it is now, these stand alone teams made up of a few friends that think it would be cool to start playing competitive paintball, mostly die and fade away before they make it very far at all. They have no support. It's not working.

Nick Brockdorff said...

I wholeheartedly support the club idea.

It will give paintball a logevity for the individual, which is not present today.

However, in my view, the reason for the "age drop" in competitive paintball is to be found elsewhere: I field designs/field kits.

As an "elderly" active player, I know more than most how hard it is for people my age to stay in the game, when props and field designs makes the game very physical.

Xball is no big deal, you don't need much physical shape to do multible points and fast turnovers..... but playing the new snake (for instance) is, when you are 40+ (for most but a few special people).

So, your option becomes to play with some kids, with the physical abilities necessary to play certain spots on the field, or to quit tournament ball.

We need to come up with props and field designs, that still allow physical fit players to gain an edge (paintball IS a sport), but which also allows older players to compete to some degree.

Remember, whatever design is used in the PSP (or MS in Europe), trickles down to local events and fields.... so the fields have to work top to bottom - not just at the top.

Nathan J said...

As a 26 year old 10+ year vet of paintball, there is another trend ive noticed that doesnt seem to get talked about a whole lot.

When ive seen teams and the players that make them up, they tend to be two different groups. One is the older player who has an awesome job with lots of extra income to spend on paintball. The other is the teen who is funded by their parents. Sure, there might be the odd case here or there but for the most part on an amateur national level team, that seems to be the break down.

Now, what i have seen (and even experienced) is the older players are starting to lose a lot of their income from the general state of the national economy. Me personally, ive been cut back a lot so my playing went from a few events and playing 40+ times a year to playing only 2 times this year. Bills, rent, car payments, kids, etc all add into why older players seem to drift away. The drive might be there, but the money sure as hell isnt.

From my seat, it looked like paintball started to decline when the over all economy started to decline as well. I love the grassroots/club idea but the funding might be the biggest issue.

Nick Brockdorff said...

The economic climate is cyclical, so whilst it should not be ignored, it is (hopefully) not relevant to the future development of the sport.

Nathan J said...

Nick, I agree but i think its worth making a note of it to account for the last few years.

Lawrence Abernathy said...

My thoughts on it:

I'm in complete agreement with everything said above.

Neal said...

The LA Hitmen almost function as a "club" style organization. Different teams: pump, semi, different divisions, a large family built on values that go beyond just winning events. Old players bring in the new and teach them, and eventually the new players will do the same. What makes this possible is that there is strong sense of leadership at the top, venerable players that are respected, reliable and accountable. So in short, the club idea is great but the abundance of "good" leaders in the sport is in short supply.

Anonymous said...

LA Hitman is a great example as Neal brought up.You can call them a club but really their a tribe. Their team values are rooted in Hispanic culture which places the family over everything else. They keep players better then most paintball teams and you don't see their players guesting too much. They build internally. Respect is everything. Pops tacos cater practice and their family members are their. Hitman OG's help ref the WCPPL. Disrespect a Hitman ref and see what happens. Family values today are something you vote for or a sermon topic. Maybe you send a check off to disrupt the lives of indigenous people or save whales. In a society where narcissism defines culture is it any wonder why the NPPL is all about glitz and bikin's? When it's all about me and my paintball career who is going to do the mentoring? Young teams today learn by scrimming upper division teams.The young teams that do advance are the ones who retain their core players and become a tribe. How fast they move up the learning curve depnds upon funding. If your a team then your defined by its ego's. If your a tribe then your defined by it's whole.

Lawrence said...

I'm going to get some hate for this, but whatever. Here's the thing I dont like about the Hitmen: the tribe mentality. It's great if you're part of the group, but if you're not, it can be a very intimidating organization due to branding, from the outsider perspective. Is it iconic? Yes. Is it inviting? No. Dont try and prove me otherwise because the fact remains: if Newbie Johnny wants to join a gorup called the "LA Hitmen", who he describes as a great group of guys with a cool skull logo and are all about family and such, they're going to be hesitant to send him off with this group of people. Also, from what I understand, there is a process to "become" part of the LA Hitmen squad, which is the exact opposite of what I personally advocate as a paintball club.

In my opinion, the Hitmen are the ideal team organization and have a lot to offer for potential team owners/coaches. They should be the base model of an established team.

What I'm advocating is something closer to an organization that could legitimately garner 501c3 status, as a non profit, whose sole job is to assist the players and promote the game in their area. This form of organization is something that every player in an area registers for, not because it's a team, but because of the benefits they recieve by supporting the club - such as organized club meetings at local fields, possible discounts for club members from fields who elect to support the club, and a monthly meeting that encourages real dialogue between players. From the new player perspective, this form of club participate in community outreach programs, new player education days - which dont have to be on a field...can easily just be talking to parents about what they're getting into - and paintball-community bonding times.

The Hitmen model looks like a Car-Club. No matter how nice anybody in a car-club is, a good many of them are exclusive and have rivalries. I'm not saying it operates in this fashion, but that's what it LOOKS like from the outside. We need organizations that are inclusive of anybody who wants to have a membership and "officially" join the paintball community. I urge you all to go see your local kayaking or paddling club. I believe 100% that is the model that we need to follow, in order to best receive and nurture new players. Having them join teams, even established and efficient ones like the Hitmen, are more likely to produce burn out than an organization whose sole goal is to promote the sport and how much playing it can be.

Anonymous said...

A pyramid may be the best structure. At the top is a pro or D1 team. At the lowest level, they run local tournaments. The best players from those tournaments feed into affiliated 'minor league' divisional teams. When a team that is on it's own loses a couple of players, that may be the end of the team. When a 'minor league' team loses someone at the last minute for an event, no problem -- they know who they would call up from the next team down, the players have scrimmaged together and played together, so they know the system and can fit in more easily than someone off the street. The lower division teams get the mentoring and scrimmages with better players and teams.

Baca Loco said...

Thanks kids. Excellent comments. It was interesting to see the different ways the concept was perceived--from the formal Euro model to the LA Hitmen. And that's part of my point: it doesn't have to be just one thing or done just one way. And Neal, it's the dearth of leaders that makes the club concept's potential exciting. Traditionally most every team had a couple "leader" types and I think the club concept is one way around that problem. Fewer leaders can accomplish more with the right structures in place.

raehl said...

A 501(c)3 non-profit organization designed to give new players an easy way to advance in paintball? Sure wish I'd thought of that... ;)

NCPA has about 100 clubs around the country training new players to play paintball competitively, and about another 100 who organize rec play but don't do competition. The success of each individual club really comes down to one thing: The involvement of an organized and driven leader. Probably our most successful club currently is at Liberty University, where they have built two on-campus regulation XBall fields, host regular events, and probably have 40 tournament players rostered. They're successful because they have a few key people who really run that organization.

At the other end of the spectrum we have clubs that are 5 guys who like to play paintball and they play until they graduate and that's it.

I can't tell you the number of times that a really successful college club turns into a barely surviving college club because the key leader graduates and moves.

So the real question isn't about the clubs per se, the real question is, how do you find people with the leadership skills to run a club and encourage them to do so?

The Hitmen work not because of any particular structure, they work because of Sonny Lopez. What you need is more Sonny's.

TJ said...

So if this is the way to go, why aren't we seeing more involvement from the Pro teams? I have always wondered this. It seems good talent is hard to come by in this sport. D2 / D1 teams are hard to come by, so why aren't the pros doing more to build this up?

Everyone wants a pay check, tv time, etc from playing paintball, so why aren't they working as hard as they can to build up the player base with skill? Yes, I understand that it's probably difficult being a top Pro team while facilitating a system such as this, but it helps guarantee survival.

For me, and I'm sure many others, paintball is a lot more fun when there is a solid team to play with or multiple teams to practice. I'm more willing to spend every dime in my pocket to practice and get better if all of my friends are doing the same thing. That's where these clubs come in - spread the excitement so that people stay committed. I just don't see why Pro teams at least don't all have D1 feeder teams.

Lawrence said...

Never said it was an original thought. But you obviously see the difference in a college club and something for the general public. O ye of much more wisdom and knowledge: why not do it?

Reiner Schafer said...

Clubs are not perfect. Leadership in clubs is definitely key. Membership fluctuates immensely in clubs if there is no cohesion and the right leaders provide that and bad leaders do not. The other key issue for the success of a paintball club is the need to provide something of value for the members. If done the right way, clubs would be able to provide paintball to it's members for less than they would ever pay at a commercial field. Mostly, because there is no need for profit.

The big issue in a paintball club would be member contribution. Clubs work best when most (or all) member pitch in. Unfortunately, a paintball club membership would be made up mostly of teenagers and young adults who (I'm going to generalize here, and I realize they are not all like that, so don't jump all over me) tend to be a little self-centered. So in this case, leadership is even more important.

But if done the right way, clubs can offer a lot of benefits to players and those benefits can attract more players and grow the sport.

Of course, existing commercial paintball fields, especially ones catering to competitive paintball teams, are going to resist the formation of clubs, as they will be a major competitor for them. Currently, many of the great leaders in competitive paintball are also owners of commercial paintball fields. That's a bit of a dilemma.

Baca Loco said...

What is the payoff for the "pros" to be broadening the skill base of paintball players?

Whose survival?

Many pro teams have had divisional feeder teams but it's expensive, time-consuming and as a practical matter not a high priority because even the best pro systems aren't equipped to develop or maintain a feeder team for the occasions they may need to move players up.

The average pro team is far more concerned about their own survival. Everybody would like the luxury of developing new talent and having it in reserve but for now it remains just that--a luxury.

Anonymous said...

Funny that Lawrence would mention a 501(c)3 non-profit. I had a meeting today with a law group that specializes in non-profits to set one up for my team. They do this for little leagues all the time. That is where I'm going to get cash donors instead of the usual cartel of paintball sponsors.

@ Reiner

It works if the paintball club is a non profit and uses the funds raised to pay for entrance to a field. Owners of fields could donate their used gear to the non profit for a tax deduction.The used gear is used to introduce new kids to paintball. The purpose of the club is to fund your primary team. The secondary intention is to bring new kids into paintball. In LA their are non profits that work with kids who are getting out of gang banging and building an alliance with such a non profit gives your organization credence. Tagging like paintball is a high adrenalin sport. Just imagine dangling off a bridge over the LA river with a can of paint in one hand and a Glock stuck in your belt. Cohesion comes when you have a group of players who have played long enough together to become the core. And you build off of that from the bottom up when you bring in the new kids. All of this of course is dependant on funding. Without revealing too much look for corporations and business that have developed an image around extreme sports.

Grant said...

Ultimately the problem with paintball at all levels is that to compete requires a lot of money from a team of players. In other sports clubs/teams can survive because it's pretty easy to pick up new players for a team if some drop out because being able to afford to play, in most cases is not one of the determining factors.

We can talk about grooming good leaders and creating better managed infrastructures to help support paintball teams but at the end of the day I'd assume that 8 out of 10 times players get out of the game because the 'money spent' Vs 'pleasure derived' balance just doesn't make sense anymore.

Coming up solutions for this problem will help the sport grow a lot more.

Reiner Schafer said...

Agreed Grant. The #1 problem (and holding back growth) for competitive paintball is still affordability. But it's not the only problem and the cost to participate isn't going to decrease anytime soon.

Grant said...

Yes but the amount of money involved in supporting paintball teams/clubs, increases the responsibility and stress on those who manage them - and when at a grass roots level teams are forced to stress out about funding, sponsors and having players that can 'afford' to play, it's no wonder there's a high dropout rate.

Play any other team sport and normally all you're worrying about is paying for new uniforms and league registration fees. Therefore it's pretty easy for people to step up and get involved in managing teams/clubs, even if they are not playing themselves.

I managed basketball teams for almost 2 decades and the only stress I had was trying to find new players.

From day 1 of getting into tournament paintball you need to be able to manage marketing and PR, logistics, coaching support staff just to survive the first year of competition.

When an amateur sport involves so much management time and stress at even the grass roots level, it's no wonder most new paintball teams are doomed to failure.

Finding viable solutions to fixing this ongoing problem with tournament paintball is something that needs serious attention. Getting people from all levels of paintball to sit down and discuss how to fix these issues would be a good start.

Lawrence said...

Grant, why format this around a team structure when it could be open to rec players as way for them to communicate, organize games, etc... Ideally, in my world, a club does not operate a team, but helps in the facilitation of creating teams by providing a network of players.

I appreciate your work on this, but paintball is unlike many sports because 80% of the player base is not interested in competition, but just shooting their buddies for the fun of it. If they lose the scenario, who cares! In basketball, you play to win the basketball game...paintball is not inherently a sport to many recreational's more like a public server on a video game - you die, you play again. Whatever, no big deal.

In another life I was pretty big into eSports, specifically Call of Duty on the PC. Within the realm of eSport there were 2 "types" of regular players. A) competitive players that operated around a team structure that competed in a league (normally CAL, or CEVO for money). These players spend the majority of them time scrimmaging and "grinding" to get ready for their next event. B) "clans". Many who operated in a military style and spent the majority of their time on "pubbing it up" on servers. While clans were - very often - inferior players to the teams, the clans had longevity and large player bases...sometimes up to several hundred players who claimed to be of one organization. Their only goal was to make the game fun and provide a network of people to play with. They did this by hosting events, allowing teams to form and compete at their own pace, and even sponsored some inner-clan competitions.

On the team side, players frequently came and went with a core of highly skilled players always at the top, who never left.

One end of the spectrum is all about competition, the other about a comunity. Paintball has competition, we have our loyal pros, but what we dont have is a comunity for the players who dont want competition, but still want the feeling of belonging to something.

Baca Loco said...

Take a deep cleansing breath. Hold it. Exhale. Woo-sah.
There was a time, not all that long ago when tourney paintball was considerably more relaxed but never a cheap hobby. Today there's more competitive pressure reaching lower into the divisional ranks. Mostly it's a function of trickle down "professionalism", D4 teams "on the grind", the format we currently play and the early release of layouts.
I'm hoping you will find--along with other VFTD regulars--that the club concept is flexible enough to serve the needs of a variety of different situations.

Reiner Schafer said...

Grant, why do you feel it would be more expensive to go the club route? Personally, I think it would be the opposite, if done right. I think what happens now is, at the very lowest level (and I see this in my own home with my nephew wanting to start playing tourney ball), kids get the itch to start playing tournament type paintball instead of recreational paintball. But they actually have very little concept of the cost involved. So they buy themselves fancy, higher end gear because that's what the Pros are shooting, and when you have that you're halfway there (in their minds), come up with a Team Name, buy matching Jerseys and call themselves a team. They may not have had their first practice yet. Along the way they they find out that the cost to play is much more than they thought. But most kids, don't fully understand what's involved to get from the start, to their dream. They just see a few obvious expenses and ignore the rest. (Sort of like many people who want to start a business and have no understanding of overhead). Once they hit the wall at the cost level beyond the depth of their pocket, they quit.

At least in a Club setting, new players will be told what the cost is up front. The way I envision it, there will be monthly dues which will cover a minimum amount of field time and a minimum amount of paint. the more serious players can buy more paint (which can be provided at prices as cheap as any store or field - or provided at similar prices with the profits used to help run the club). There is no one drawing a salary or taking profits out of the club, so I don't see how the overall cost for the average player is going to be more.

The funding to help send the representative teams to Regionals and, if necessary Nationals can in part be found in the money that won't be given out as prizes at tournaments.

raehl said...

Tournament paintball used to be expensive because it had to be.

Tournament paintball continues to be expensive because we refuse to put a limit on the use of the resource that costs us the most.

Tournament paintball could be extremely inexpensive if we all just agreed to shoot less paintballs at each other.

But, this is irrelevant to clubs. A group of people who enjoy playing paintball can be just that.

As an example, about a decade ago, I was involved in running the paintball program at the University of Illinois. I think we won something like 6 or 7 national championships in a row. But that was just a small part of the program. There probably 300-400 people who participated in the club each year, some of them who just showed up to one rec outing, some who showed up to lots of rec outings, some who practiced, some who went tournaments, and a few who went to really far, really expensive tournaments (Skyball).

Interesting thing to note is the numbers - 300 people who at least played rec, only 30 who were interested in competing, and 10 who were up for driving 10 hours to go shoot people at $90/case.

That program worked very well for pretty much a decade, until the "leadership lottery" was lost. But when it worked, one of the reasons it worked is people could enter with minimal commitment, and then get more or less involved as their interest and life demanded.

There was a path, and that path didn't start with speedball players. Many players don't necessarily identify as speedball/woods/tournament/rec either, and one of the things that can limit club success is if you go into it thinking you're trying to get everyone to be advanced tournament players.

You need a group of not serious players around just so potential future tournament players have a not-serious group to get started with.

Grant said...

@ Baca/Reiner ok my point of view is based more around the circumstances paintballers in my region find themselves in - I think in the States/Canada it's a different ball game.

I totally agree paintball clubs are a great and cheap way for people to get involved in paintball - unfortunately with only 5 years of paintball development on this speck of an island that I live on, 2 fields and only a small player pool, only small clubs are viable options right now.

From a competitive point of view, I think a local based league system is a great way to create a sustainable and (if rules regarding paint usage are changed), an affordable playing environment for all types of players. A few matches every other week, fixed teams on an aged based or divisional ladder system with scheduled and fixed number of matches per season.

Local clubs have always been the cornerstone of most other amateur sporting leagues so encourage the paintball league system at a local level and you'll encourage more clubs to be formed.

Anonymous said...


It sounds like your University club was a lot better off than mine. We only had around 30 people involved. Most we rec players, but we had a few tourney players who didn't want to play tourneys unless they were fully sponsored. The club went along well for a year or two after I graduated, but then disappeared due to lack of leadership. It was too bad, because we had good university support. Our adviser was in the campus police force. We even got the school to allow us to use a spot in the school owned woods a couple miles off-campus.