Monday, April 28, 2014

The Coming Storm

Okay, there is no storm. At least not that I'm aware of. (Blame it on 'Game of Thrones' and my willingness to generate traffic with deceitful titles.) Neither a real storm or a figurative one--insomuch as it might affect the big wide world of major league paintball this coming week. The weather at OXCC the next couple of days may be a little grim and damp but as of yesterday's reporting everything should be good by tournament time. I would recommend however you bring something extra to stay warm early and late as nighttime temps may be a bit chilly. They certainly will be for this Florida boy. (My blood is thin. What can I say? I'm not yet reduced to a sweater and rocking chair but the clock's ticking.)
Even without a storm there are some intriguing storylines at MAO. First and foremost is RaceTo MAXX. Will it succeed or will it fail? Could it do both at the same time? (I think it could.) Succeed as a scheduling efficiency but still prove unpopular with the teams? Or will it be another tempest in a teapot; the usual aggrieved outrage that sputters and dies out?
My personal top priority is will I have an assigned golf cart at MAO? (At Dallas I had to beg, borrow and steal the damned things and the fields at MAO are more spread out than Dallas's tight and relatively compact structure. It's even uphill both ways.)
MAO will be the first appearance of Art Chaos in the Champions division and that's certain to generate a ton o' interest and speculation. Will they deliver as expected? Do they immediately challenge for wins or, despite their experienced roster, will there be a learning curve of some sort to get them acclimated? Seems to me everyone expects virtual dominance from the get go but while I believe they are an excellent team I'm not convinced they are firing on all cylinders just yet. Should be exciting to watch though.
And what about Vicious? Or Heat for that matter? Or the Russian Legion? Was Vicious lucky or good at Dallas--and will a result at MAO tell us one way or the other? Will Heat vault back into the Champs division and if so who tumbles this time around? And is it time to say RL's glory days are past and start to wonder if the slide can be arrested?
And then there's the layout all this drama will unfold on. I will grant it's highly technical and demanding particularly on the snake wire but to hear some of the peeps carry on you'd think it was practically unplayable. I've seen quite a lot of paintball played on this layout and whether or not it's your personal cup of tea excessively long mid-games will happen, if they happen, by choice. While not as fast as Dallas fast points are possible and the typical point I'd put between 90 seconds and two minutes.
I understand the slow point argument but skirts are for Catholic schoolgirls not competitive paintball players. And the reversion to dragging out points when it happens is just an argument for the league to manipulate field design. Personally I favor--at least hypothetically--balanced fields that allow teams to play to whatever they perceive their strength to be but if the pros automatically default to slow play they are in fact asking for the league to act. Just saying.
Currently the crew is on site getting the fields ready and Ronald McDonald is still chained to his bench on Bethel Rd by the intersection of Old Telegraph so everything is right--and nearly ready at OXCC for this year's MAO.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Who Wants Vanilla?

What do you want to see when you watch a PBA webcast of a PSP event? (Yeah, I know, you want to see yourself and not those lame pro players but other than that--what do you want to see?) How 'bout everybody shaking hands like gentlemen after the match? Or another scintillating player interview where the players try not to say anything even slightly controversial? (When did everybody go to media savvy school and learn to be bland?) Or another penalty for over-shooting, oops, I mean unsportsmanlike conduct? Come to that any penalty that becomes the mystery center of attention for ten seconds (hopefully no longer 'cus you're never gonna find out what the penalty was for anyway.) Or another incomprehensible team chant or another shout out to fill-in-the-sponsor. Or God forbid players on competing teams laughing and hugging each other.
Every player lies to himself and tells himself competitive paintball is hardcore. Gritty. Dirty. And then when we try to bring it to a wider audience we scrub the drama, conflict, passion (and humanity?) right out of it. Yeah, I know, the pros need to act like professionals--despite the fact they mostly aren't--but does acting like a professional have to be boring as hell?
I had a long conversation today [yesterday] with a VIPP (very important paintball personality) and one of the things we talked about was what sort of game do we need to be playing to capture the public imagination? I know, I know, some of you are convinced competitive paintball will never be more than a niche sport and some of you kinda like it that way. Hear me out and then shoot me down.
When the talk turns to the game on the field I think everyone pretty much is in agreement; we all want fast paced high energy action that grabs your attention and won't let you look away. Which is easier said than done. (D'oh!) (Although I have an idea or two about that as well--for another post.)
But before a new audience can get caught up in the action of the game don't we need to give them a reason to care? To choose to watch. Cable TV is replete with "reality" shows of guys fishing for crabs, or prospecting for gold in tough environments or even trashy superficial women fighting like cats and dogs. What they all share in common is drama and conflict and the ones that work and prosper do so because an audience cares about the people involved, love 'em or hate 'em, and want to know what happens next. Maybe what paintball needs is a little more "reality" and a little less banality. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I wasn't planning on writing this post. Not when I first heard about the possibility of testing MAXX at MAO and not when I became peripherally involved in some of the discussion as it pertained to organizing the fields set aside for this and dealing with the refs and extra staffing. And when I say peripherally I mean tangentially. I didn't do any of the heavy lifting but contributed a thought or two. (And a press release.) That isn't to say for those wishing to assign blame (or sack Rome) that I don't share in the blame. The fact is I work for the PSP and support the PSP for the same reason--I think it delivers the best national and international level paintball available anywhere. So if you're of a mind to tear it all down and start over we're on opposite sides.
That said I'm not a big fan. Of the alternating matches formula. I've competed in the format and it really doesn't make a substantive difference from the players' side ... but even so. And for those mostly upset about the timing of the announcement I agree with you too. It was terrible timing and there's no way to put a happy face on any of it.
Of course I've been opposed to most of the changes the PSP has made in recent years and look where we are. The league is bigger and more popular than ever in the xball era. Shows what I know. Would I like more sense of stability and continuity? You bet and yet as I say that I've got a list of changes I want to make to the the rules. So when is change about just doing something different or doing something better? Depends, I suppose, on one's perspective.
There has also been a lot of talk about motivation. I don't have definitive answers but I do have an opinion. Based on personal knowledge of those involved. Dallas was a legit surprise. Going into the season event participation was projected in advance and Dallas blew those projections outta the water. Along comes MAO with a similar result--except there was no room to add more fields. Sometime after the potential scale of the MAO turnout was realized an effort was made to find a solution. MAXX was the result. Does that make the PSP greedy bottom feeders? I don't believe so but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think a situation came up that put the league in a difficult spot and this was the path chosen.
Would I have done it differently? From where I'm sitting, probably, but neither you or I have the same view as the peeps making the final decision. Certainly this wasn't a public relations coup. To put it mildly. Win, lose or draw it will be considered a black mark against the league by some (players and observers) that will have to be overcome. And the effort to do that will begin next week at MAO.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Get With the Program

The new PSP reffing program, that is. Much to my chagrin (okay, not really but it seems like the sort of thing I probably ought to feel chagrin over) I have neglected to inform you, the loyal VFTD reader, just what the PSP is doing to upgrade the quality and consistency of the officiating. Since, you know, I'm sorta involved on a nearly daily basis in the process. Or, if you are of a cynical or conspiratorial bent you might consider this post VFTD selling out. Despite being both cynical and conspiratorial I don't see it that way but if I didn't myself better I'd be suspicious too.
For starters the logistics of the program have been revamped completely. Brought up to speed with what the league is doing with teams and players. Refs now register with APPA, are issued an ID card, sign in at the event just like the players and receive their field assignment at registration. PSP refs can even sign up for events like the teams do and the pay scale (which used to be rather haphazard and inconsistent) now has a tiered scale of daily pay rates based on experience, effectiveness and availability beginning at $150 a day for a new to the PSP referee. Now that the league has entered the 21st century with the reffing program it allows us to keep comprehensive records which not only make the ref's job just a tiny bit easier but makes it possible for us to track and evaluate our refs more efficiently. Our goal is to put 10 refs on every field and limit the number of "new" guys per field so that we can accelerate the development of the less experienced refs by surrounding them with seasoned refs. We also have a dedicated web forum just for PSP referees where they can blow off steam, talk about unusual situations that come up and generally discuss the business of reffing in the PSP.
Long term the goal is to grow the pool of certified PSP refs so that we not only don't suffer short falls at any events but so we can reward the best refs and provide a consistent level of excellence on the field at the events. And that process begins at our reffing clinics.
The actual clinic and training are of course classified top secret so I can't reveal any details here. Okay, that's a blatant lie but it sounds better than the truth. The truth is it's late and I don't want this post to go too long so I may (or may not) get around to talking about the certification (and recertification) clinics and how and why they are different from previous efforts--in another post sometime. I will say though that the critical difference is in the focus on what's important and the attitude and deportment the league expects in its referees.
Come to that I will also say that in my admittedly limited experience so far the great majority of refs both new and old are excited about the changes, the league's commitment to the process and energized by the prospect of being PSP referees. And that's a good beginning.
(This post was brought to you by the PSP. Not really but I know some of y'all can't help thinking maybe it's true.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

PSP MAO Layout 2014

And now for something completely different. Instead of VFTD breaking down the layout I'd like to hear your take on this layout. Yes, I'm well aware this could--and almost certainly will--go horribly wrong. The truth is I expect y'all to wuss out so my threshold for being surprised (and pleased) by your responses is remarkably low. If you don't know what to do with this layout then tell me what you think of it. Surely a significant number of you have or will play this so you must have some ideas. C'mon, you can do it. Surely you've learned something here in the past. Right?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Inside Sunday

One thing I have wanted to see for years is a more comprehensive look at what goes on during a match--especially an important match--a Sunday semi-final or finals match--from outside the field of play. In the pits. Among the referees. Eavesdropping on the spectators straining at the ropes that keep them off the netting. Up in the booth where stats are collected and the Champions field scorekeeper operates. One thing I discovered first hand in Dallas is that (doh!) everyone sees it differently but that a thread of tension, the drama of the moment, ties everyone together too. And the best way to communicate the game to people isn't by showing them the action on the field--it's by telling them the story of the game. What are the stakes? Who are the teams? What are the players like? And then try to capture the energy that runs like electrical current through everyone involved. It is, mostly, an untold story.
The teams and players are strung tighter than piano wire and deal with the tension in a host of different ways. Oddly when you're in the middle of it, a part of it, you're less aware than you are as an immediate observer. Everyone tries to stay calm. Stay busy. Follow personal rituals. Act on superstitious habit. Time either passes more slowly or it disappears in an instant. It infects the staff and crew too. There's quiet conversation, forced laughter and outbursts of frustration and anxiety. The routines of preparing to play provide order and continuity. The excitement builds as the game start ticks down. Invisible it crackles in the air and pounds in your chest like an amplified heartbeat. It touches the referees too. It is the pinnacle of every event. The culmination of weeks of preparation and competition. The ultimate high or the ultimate low awaits. Regardless of the weather an emotional storm swirls and buffets everyone present. It is the difference between watching the match and experiencing it.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fitting the Frame

At the conclusion of  'The Reactive Mind' post I suggested the next post (this one) would have some practical ways to combat the reactive mind in the context of playing paintball. Now however it occurs to me there is a methodology that perhaps has a more universal application so instead of providing piecemeal bits I'm going to try and put all of it into a usable context. I offer no guarantee of success.
For our purposes the reactive mind is one that is constantly trying to process a stream of ever-changing inbound information (what the players playing the game are doing) in order to make (game play) decisions--and then act on those choices. When we are overtly aware of that process--when we consciously think about what to do next--it is a sign that it is taking too long. (Not so much at D4 perhaps but when we talk about the speed of the game accelerating what we're really talking about is the speed at which decisions are being made and acted on. Consequently any player with higher level aspirations must be able to move beyond the restrictions of the reactive mind.) And, as noted before, uncertainty (lack of information) and fear slow the process down even more.
Initially what is required is a way to filter all that incoming information, determine what's important and what isn't, make a decision and act. Our filter is two basic questions: 'What do I do now?' and 'What if anything is stopping me from acting?' By limiting our focus to our immediate goals we begin to filter out extraneous information and focus on what we need to know in order to act. But we're not done yet. We have narrowed the scope of our focus but we also need a way to mentally sort through the barrage of inbound information. After all, 'What do I do now?' remains an open-ended proposition that could have an almost unlimited number of answers. Here is where we erect a mental framework within which to answer both questions. The framework is constructed of knowing your role and executing the game plan. Within the framework when answering the question 'What do I do now?' most of the myriad possibilities are easily dismissed because they do not fit. When you know your role and focus on the execution of that role within the frame of the team-oriented game plan the "answers" from a much smaller pool of possibilities which speeds up the decision-making process tremendously and operating within the proposed framework serves the dual purpose of laying a foundation for effective teamwork. Conceptually we are pre-selecting the information we will consider important to making a decision that fits the criteria of our filter and framework.
This method for making game play decisions doesn't turn the reactive mind into the proactive mind but it helps get us closer to the ideal by drastically reducing the information we pay attention to when making a game play decision.

Next time, Seeking the Proactive Mind.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Reactive Mind

In an email conversation today (the other day now) the post topic came up peripherally--okay, so I brought it up--and afterwards I thought it might make for a worthwhile post. (So here we are.) Everyone (with even a modicum of critical thinking) eventually realizes one of the largest pieces of the puzzle in making "great" players is something we don't often talk about--the mental game. Other than of course you have to be mental to play this game. Our conversation was broadly about the suitability of players to styles of play and I brought up the distinction between the proactive and reactive player types--and all the elements that tend to push players toward the reactive mind. (Not the best choice.) Since we didn't take it any further I'd like to do that here. (Which makes this being my blog rather convenient.)
One reason the mental game remains less thoroughly explored (in all sports) is because it's difficult to discuss. Mere words frequently seem inadequate expressions of what's going on inside the mind. And this will be no exception so bear with me and see if, in the end, this makes any sense to you.
The proactive player is actively (naturally) engaged in controlling the play and making things happen. And if you have learned nothing from competitive paintball you should have grokked by now that it is always better to give than to receive. The proactive mind is totally focused on the game, on the imposition of the player's will and playing the game wholly in the moment. The reactive mind--even when the player wants to be the aggressor--and completely in the moment--is encumbered and inhibits that effort for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are nature, uncertainty and fear, both singly and as a collective stew. Nature, in this instance, is a function of the gene lottery and what that means in each individual case. Some people are more cautious than others, more thoughtful before they act, more inclined to weigh risk or avoid a mistake and less inclined to make snap decisions. So in one sense the reactive mind is perfectly understandable, rational and no doubt comes in handy on lots of occasions--just not so much playing competitive ball where it causes indecision and unnecessary delay and can cede the initiative to your opponent. But other factors can also trigger the reactive mind like uncertainty and fear. Uncertainty creates hesitation and that is when the reactive mind is engaged. Uncertainty is sourced in any number of concerns but broadly comes down to insufficient information (with which to make an immediate and/or comfortable decision) or a lack of experience--which can amount to the same thing in some situations. Fear works on the reactive mind like one's normal inclinations and uncertainty but also adds a more debilitating component; it also functions at an emotional level. While fear may serve a valuable life preserving function in sport it tends to produce a feedback loop of failure and it doesn't matter whether it's perceived or real. All of which makes fear particularly difficult to overcome. That and the fact that most players who exhibit signs of the reactive mind will deny to themselves and everyone else they fall prey to fear at times.

Next time (maybe) some practical ways to counter the reactive mind. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Fitness Fad

Seems like the fitness fad hit competitive paintball like a bomb a few years ago and its impact is radiating outward in an all-encompassing wave turning both male and female ballers into gym rats around the globe. Which is, in and of itself, mostly a positive thing. Done right it has value well beyond the realms of the Saturday afternoon grind. But it is not a panacea. Hours spent in the gym do not automatically improve on field performance. Oh sure, you may run a bit faster and have more stamina but neither of those translate into greater success on their own. Some sports are sufficiently demanding that a measure of fitness is required to even compete. Competitive paintball doesn't but at the highest levels every effort to improve may prove to be the difference between success and failure. Like any other sport that poses physical demands on the players fitness is a tool. Keep in mind though that the finest tools in the hands of the unskilled are wasted.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hired Guns

In a couple of recent interviews Damian Ryan made it a point to identify his team, Infamous, as a tight family there for each other as opposed, I suppose, to some other teams left unmentioned who might be viewed as a collection of hired guns. Which makes the fact that he gave one of those interviews to MSTV in France in the last couple of days while playing for ML Kings both ironic and amusing. Given that Ryan works for Empire it may be "guesting" for a Euro team is part of the gig. I don't know. But I am curious. Not just about Ryan but all the other (mostly) American pros playing for assorted European paintball teams. Not so much from the players' perspective--trips to Europe to play ball--who wouldn't want to go? But it's the teams I'm wondering about.
Years ago the European teams were mostly distinctly inferior to their American equivalent so bringing in a couple of American pros could quickly make a team more competitive. And the same likely holds true in the divisions below the CPL. (Which also makes me wonder why the MS allows it.) But training and consequently skill levels have improved across the board in recent years and the typical Euro baller is a much better player than he was a generation ago. So why continue to bring in hired guns? Particularly if it's one, maybe two short practices and then tourney time. Is there really any sustaining value in doing that?
Sure, maybe sometimes it's the sponsors helping to beef up a featured team but again, where's the value? If the best sort of team is made up of players committed to their team and teammates why do we still see all these hired guns? If the rapid rise of the Euro players means they are taking their game as seriously as the American players do why stick with the hired guns? Seems to me the weaknesses of the typical Euro team are the same weaknesses as a lot of U.S. teams--they know how to play as individuals but putting a team game together keeps eluding them.
Or maybe the Euros still need the boost of confidence an American pro brings just by showing up.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pro Paintball Clinics

As can be plainly see I've finally gotten around to getting the clinic opportunity organized. The promo on the sidebar links to the site. Check it out if you have a minute or two to kill. It's nothing fancy but will do a better job than the previously posted--nothing. While the calendar looks wide open right now it really isn't as there will be weekends I need to set aside for PSP Ref Clinics that will limit player training opportunities and available dates. If you have any questions there's a dedicated email contact listed at the site.