Monday, June 30, 2014

Enough With The Begging Already

I realize we've become a culture that has developed a free lunch expectation but enough is enough. Granted, the first time it was amusing and clever. On that basis alone it gets a pass. But just that once. And if there's a gimmick, well okay, we can let that version slide too. At least a few times. And by gimmick I mean a Kickstarter kinda deal where there's some quid pro quo--where the contributor gets something for their contribution--other than warm fuzzy feelings. Or even like the inevitable and obnoxious PBS fund drives where you can buy grotesquely over-price Bruce Springsteen CDs and pat yourself on the back for helping public television at the same time. But seriously this business of paintball teams soliciting cash on social media has got to stop. Sure it's easy. And cheap. And if it works, even a little bit, then all to the good, right? Well, maybe not.
Are you familiar with the expression 'familiarity breeds contempt'? Paintball teams soliciting handouts are well along that road. How many street corners in your town have down on their luck folks flashing cardboard signs looking for handouts? Some are legit and some maybe not so legit but how can you tell? And when it occurred once in a while you were far more likely to give something than when everywhere you turn there's somebody with a hand out. Getting the picture yet? When everybody is doing it (in this case, begging for money) it quickly becomes counterproductive.
While I'm at it I might as well confess I'm suspicious of teams pushing charity tie-ins too. Unless every nickel raised goes to the charity it strikes me as just another tactic regardless of the worthiness of the charity being "supported." You want to support a charity, that's great. You want a pat on the head while diverting some percentage of donated funds to your paintball team, that's not so great. (I am not, btw, calling anybody out. I'm just saying.)
Last time I checked playing tournament paintball was not on the short list of life essentials. (I know, you can't live without paintball. Give up breathing for a week and let me know how that works out for you.) If you want to compete there's more to it than getting your grind on. For no matter how often some player touts his dedication by extolling the trials of the grind the real struggle is more often doing whatever it takes to get back on that field every weekend. It used to be called work. And has absolutely nothing to do with begging somebody else to support your hobby.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mid-season Grades: Champions

For Infamous and X-Factor their season grade (and self-respect) hinge on regaining Champions spots for Cup. Aftershock is not quite in that position although failing to get out of the Challengers bracket would be a grim disappointment given the promise they began the season with. Shock needs to be in the mix for Cup and Infamous and X-Factor need to be in the hunt for the Cup. Everything will be riding on their results in Cali. (Hey PBA! Y'all might want to schedule a couple of those matches.)
Slightly off topic let's discuss promotion & relegation for a minute since it has such a significant impact on the pro game. I'm fine with the possibility of event by event promotion and relegation but if the goal is to have the 10 best teams in the Champions bracket then the top Challengers should have to play--and beat--the bottom ranked Champions. As it stands a full 40% of Champions play against each other to see who goes down each event which doesn't prove anything. This year only Dynasty, Impact and Ironmen haven't faced a relegation game but with two events remaining there's still plenty of opportunity to stumble. I use stumble advisedly because for one or two of the relegation match teams each event their inclusion is often a matter of the narrowest margins and point differentials.
Impact receives a strong passing grade with their win in Chicago and finals appearance at MAO (and two more victories in Euroland). For a team thought to be rebuilding that's an impressive string of results and ought to serve as a reminder that a team, at its best, is more than the sum of its parts. And Impact has become a team in the best sense of the term. At this stage the only thing that could adversely effect their season would be relegation and while it seems unlikely if Art Chaos plays to their potential it makes everything that much more uncertain.
Dynasty also receives a passing grade on the strength of their early season results but some questions remain. Last year the team was gang-busters through Chicago and then faltered at Riverside and at Cup. Still a remarkable season overall it certainly didn't end as it had begun and I can't help wondering if the recent Chicago result wasn't the beginning of a repeating pattern. (Keep in mind their "struggle" last season was two consecutive 5th place finishes but even so it must have been a disappointment and not up to the standard they began the season with.)
Ironmen also receive a passing grade based on their results at Chicago and the fact they've dodged the relegation matches despite beginning the season with the merger of the Ironmen and Royalty into one team. That and their consistent improvement event to event suggests a team on the rise. The question remains how far can they go this season but if they continue to improve it will be a successful season even if wins continue to elude them.
Damage gets an incomplete for continuing to hang around the upper echelon but routinely coming up short. The team is too talented not to regularly vie for wins--and did get a win at Riverside last year along with a pair of seconds--but has yet to match that level of success. If it's possible to say a perennial top five team isn't reaching its potential Damage is that team.
Heat also gets an incomplete though they've rebounded nicely from being relegated at Dallas by making the finals in Chicago (and like Impact having a strong season in Europe competing in the MS.) As expected--at least by VFTD--it's taken a little while for the new players to fit in but there isn't any reason not to expect the Heat to continue improving. If they do and AC remains in the Champions World Cup could be both highly unpredictable and hugely entertaining come October.
Vicious also gets a passing grade predicated on making a Champions final for the first time and avoiding relegation even though they've been in relegation matches at MAO and Chicago. In the past they lost those matches so while the team continues to struggle to some degree they are also now winning important matches. If the upward arc continues they will establish themselves as a bona fide Champions team.
Upton 187 also receives a borderline passing grade for avoiding the relegation churn at MAO and Chicago after climbing out of Challengers to start the season in Dallas. Like Vicious the team has avoided relegation even though life in the Champions bracket is a struggle and that is improvement. The brackets for the next event will give 187 an opportunity to shine as their bracket will be considerably easier than the other bracket (of impending doom.)
[Edit added: Um, no, it won't. Somehow I switched Vicious and 187. Upton is smack dab in the middle of the half bracket of impending doom. Best of luck, boys.]
So many stories. So many possibilities. Three Champs in Challengers with room for only two--at most--to return to the Champs bracket. And the almost impossibly brutal prelim bracket half in Cali will see some favorites fall and potentially risk relegation at the worst possible time. Save your pennies. This will be an event you won't want to miss. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mid-season Grades: Challengers

I wanted to do something clever with this post but it's late and I can't think of anything clever that also happens to be accurate. The truth is this is a snapshot of a moment within the season. Some teams have clearly been on the rise and others in decline but mostly it's been the usual up and down bumpy ride and it isn't close to over yet. For now the grades assigned will be pass, fail and incomplete. All the teams still have a chance to redeem their season--except for (at least) one Champion who has fallen afoul of relegation and won't climb out of Challengers for Cup.
The three are Infamous, winner at Dallas this year, X-Factor, 2013 World Cup champs and Aftershock, coming off a podium finish at MAO. Ironically Shock's best event was on the slowest field while the Chicago layout exposed a continuing weakness. By nature and inclination Shock is an aggressive team and they pushed the MAO layout when they were able to but it also forced them to be patient and let some of the points come to them. Along with the off season roster additions that brought more experience and perhaps cooler heads it was a combination that worked at MAO but not Chicago. On the faster layout the team seemed to be trying too hard a lot of the time to force the action and engaged in a number of unnecessary gunfights that this time around they lost more of than they won. I still give Shock a pass so far on the season because I think the roster is improved and the podium finish could be a sign of better things yet to come. In some respects Infamous was just plain unlucky to face a suddenly hot Art Chaos in a semi-final instead of the Challenger final but those are the games that must be won. (I'm not going to bring the field conditions into it because they sucked for everybody equally and I don't think Infamous was adversely affected anymore than anyone else.) The team continues to be inconsistent and seemingly has periods where they struggle to maintain their intensity but even so they rate a pass on the basis of their win in Dallas--but they have to get out of Challengers for Cup--or else face the reality of a failed season despite the win. Which brings us to X-Factor who kicked off the year with a very strong performance in Dallas followed by uneven play at MAO and in Chicago. Untimely penalties crippled their effort in their relegation match. Too often the team digs itself a hole that it has to climb out of and this time it caught up with them. Not unlike Shock the guys need to play their game and not try to force the action as the pressure builds. Despite the podium in Dallas X-Factor gets an incomplete because they entered the season with high expectations.
At the top of the Challengers bracket VCK gets a solid passing grade as they entered the division and immediately jumped to the upper half of the bracket and now they're getting a shot in Champions. As long as they continue to play fearlessly win or lose it will be a positive experience and perhaps a step toward a more permanent spot. Art Chaos gets an incomplete as they clearly have unfinished business in the Champions bracket but have yet to display the form or consistency to stay in the bracket and compete for titles. Red Storm's strong showing got them out of the Challenger's basement but relegation still remains a possibility. If the latest roster proves to be consistent the team may have found a formula for greater successes to come. However two last place finishes merits a mid-term fail despite Chicago's improvement. Revo gets a pass--not a passing grade--but a pass as the league will not relegate them regardless of where they finish considering they jumped into the division mid-season. If the Chicago result is any indication however the team should be competitive as they went 2-2 this first time out. A very respectable showing. As original Challengers Top Gun Union, XSV, CEP and Thunder are the gatekeepers against the up-and-comers and they are falling behind. Last year Top Gun made Champions and are now solidly mid-pack along with XSV while CEP and Thunder fall further back. Top Gun and XSV get incompletes but bordering on fail as both teams have Champions bracket pretensions. And given their records to date both CEP and Thunder get failing grades. They both need to make moves in the final two events to get back on track and moving forward. And finally there's Boom which will also receive an incomplete based mostly on the fact they played much better paintball in Chicago than their record indicates. Right now it's the big points they struggle to win and if they can learn how to do that they will become more than a tough out.

Next time, grading the Champions.

Monday, June 23, 2014

PSP Chicago: Sunday & Monday

In Dallas I kinda sorta borrowed a golf cart. At MAO I had one assigned to me and in Chicago I had one assigned to me I didn't get to use. (I'm not sure if the league is sending a message or not. It's not like I've wrecked one yet or even run over any pedestrians--although there as that yappy little dog but that was a service to humanity.*) Fortunately Chicago was a nice compact layout so it didn't really matter--and besides there wasn't any place to park it anyway. And it was put to good use. At least those are my rationalizations.
Sunday proved to be the day the weather gurus expected Saturday to have been. Clear skies (mostly) and sunshine until mid-afternoon when a few clouds dotted the sky. Reports of a storm front on the Iowa-Illinois border produced a few anxious moments as the powers that be--whoever they are--decided whether or not to move some of the divisional finals in order to play the final pro games early. Determined to avoid a repeat of Saturday's final matches the schedule would have been accelerated if the need had arisen. Fortunately the divisional finalists got their webcast moment on the Champions field as all the Sunday matches went off without a hitch.
By now you've likely seen the scores and/or know the results--congrats t all the winners--but did you know that the D1 final went to the one-on-one shootout to determine the winner? Or that TJ All-Stars are from Mexico. Or that all those pristine clean jerseys became unidentifiable within a point or two? While the weather was fine the standing water and mud pits remained. On the plus side just consider how expensive a mud bath treatment is from an upscale spa while here in Chicago the PSP included them free of charge. (I know I feel pampered and my skin feels softer. Well, except for the sun-burned bits and, yes Mother, I did use sunscreen.) Hopper stickers remain a hot property apparently as about half the ones distributed to the divisional teams weren't returned--and, no, they couldn't possibly have used all the numbers up. Perhaps I should start taking a sticker deposit before handing them out at Riverside (or wherever it is near Riverside we'll be in August for the next PSP event.)
There were some excellent close matches on Sunday and a few blow outs. The blow outs were often as a result of penalties putting one team or the other in a hole they couldn't climb out of quickly enough. It's a hard fate to swallow in the best of situations but particularly difficult when either relegation or victory is on the line. I am not so far removed from my time on the sideline that I've forgotten the feeling.
Art Chaos on Sunday came out looking like the team I expected to see from the very beginning. The biggest difference was attitudinal. They weren't breaking out differently or shooting new lanes but were much more aggressive. They weren't passively waiting for good things to happen, they were making good things (for them) happen and when they play like that they are tough to beat.
Infamous remains in Challengers (much to their chagrin I'm sure) and are being joined by X-Factor and Aftershock. As the next event leads into World Cup and only two Challengers will move up to the Champions bracket at least one perennial Champions team won't be included. It should make for some exciting and brutal competition.
Despite the loss to Art Chaos on Sunday VCK continues to prove they are a team that belongs in the pro division and may yet prove to be a team to be reckoned with--although their first time in the Champions bracket will certainly be an unforgiving learning experience.
If you missed it the other day we had a unique situation--an inadvertent buzzer caused by a paintball. It happened during the RL versus Ironmen match. Ironmen were rolling up the Legion when suddenly a buzzer sounded. At first it was assumed the Legion had conceded the point but no, they hadn't. Neither had the refs or the tower. It had been the Ironmen's buzzer that sounded but why would they concede a point they were about to win? Turns out they didn't. In a truly bizarre fluke the wind had blown the net up against the pit scoreboard and a shot paintball hit the buzzer button flush and set it off. Under those circumstances the rules specify all live players go to their respective starting stations, the clock is set at ten seconds and the completion of the point is played from the horn. Turned out (after reviewing webcast video) that the Ironmen had five alive while the Legion only had one player. As you can imagine it didn't last long but for all practical purposes it was just the completion of an interrupted point.

As each field finished tear down began and by the end of Sunday much of the process was already complete. The pro field scoreboard still needed to be taken down on Monday and thousands of feet of cable needed to be cleaned but the majority was taken care of on Sunday. Of course that still left repacking the scoreboards and related equipment and then stacking all the gear on pallets that are then wrapped for shipment. But every part of the process is constantly being reviewed for improvement. For example, at MAO we had electrical failures do to all the rain. Chicago could have easily been a repeat but between MAO and Chicago new routines for set-up were instituted and there wasn't one similar problem in Chicago. On the ref front early on this event we were at the mercy of the weather as storm after storm cancelled, delayed and diverted flights. The last of the missing refs finally arrived Friday morning. It's both frustrating and nerve-wracking to have everything organized and ready only to see it fall apart at the last minute do to forces beyond any control. Despite the complications though everyone stepped up, worked hard and generally with good cheer--except me, of course, I'm old and grouchy.

* No dogs, yappy or otherwise were actually harmed in the creation of this post. So lighten up.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

PSP Chicago: Saturday

As often as the weather forecast changed leading up to this event Saturday remained the one "good" day, a promise of mostly blue skies and sunshine. And there was some blue sky and sunshine but there was also a lot of dense grey clouds, pummeling rain, thunder (not just the Seattle kind) and lightning that slowed the day's match schedule and saw the final games of the day played in a downpour. The aftermath left the fields virtual swamps as the surviving teams prepare to compete on Sunday.
The Sunday forecast is for intermittent afternoon thundershowers. I guess we'll see. Regardless the games will go on and the action will begin at 8 am with the Champions relegation avoidance matches. Despite winning both their matches today X-Factor will square off against Vicious in one relegation avoidance match and the other will see Shock fight it out against Upton 187. At the top of the Champions brackets Damage outlasted Dynasty to earn a semi-final berth as did Heat in their group. In the other bracket a strong Ironmen showing put them into the semi-finals along with Impact. A credible effort from the Russian Legion sees them remain in the Champions bracket for the Cali event.
In the Challengers half both Infamous and Art Chaos stumbled slightly which left an undefeated VCK atop the bracket as the one seed going into Sunday's semi-final match-ups. It also means that Infamous will play Art Chaos in one semi-final which will leave the loser in Challengers for the next event. VCK will take on Red Storm in the other semi despite the fact Storm dropped both their matches today. Infamous dropped a match to Top Gun and Art Chaos lost to VCK in the last match of the day. Newcomer Revo acquitted themselves well going 2-2 and even though Boom went 1-3 on the scoreboard it wasn't indicative of their solid play as they gave all their opponents a strong effort.
And despite being acknowledged as a "fast" layout teams are managing to find ways to slow the action down, sometimes to a crawl and it isn't because of the weather. Across the divisions there have been more games to time than I think anyone expected. (I'll break the layout down next week and explain how and why teams played the way they did.) In the meantime I'm trying to dry out nearly everything I brought with me to Chicago and hoping it will stay dry tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Friday, June 20, 2014

PSP Chicago: Thursday & Friday

On the plus side no real rain the last two days. Unfortunately it poured both Wednesday and Thursday nights leaving the mud muddier and standing puddles here and there--although mostly not on the playing fields. All things considered the fields have held up pretty well though the Champions field has a low spot on one dorito wire that would be ideal for some mud wrestling. Hey if Living Legends can have a bikini contest why can't the PSP have some bikini mud wrestling? Include that as the midday entertainment between morning and afternoon sessions on the webcast and that $10 or $15 bucks begins to look like money well spent. Just saying. Otherwise the weather was overcast early with some late afternoon sunshine with relatively mild temps for Illinois in the summer. The forecast continues to look iffy but Saturday is supposed to be the best day of the weekend for paintball.
There were a few surprises but nothing too drastic. Pro play went mostly to expectations--at least in terms of how the field is playing. Points are fast when bodies drop OTB or a wire gets cleared. For the most part the center has been left alone--particularly off the break with some movement into the center late on close outs. Over in Challengers Infamous crushed and struggled more to keep their game on point than they did with their competition. Art Chaos also went 2-0 but let Thunder into their match with a surfeit of penalties. Revo got their first pro match win by swamping Thunder 7-0 after dropping their first match versus VCK. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day in Challengers was Red Storm winning both of their matches after being the season cellar dweller so far. Seems the faster pace suits their game.
On the Champions field it was a bit of a surprise to see how successful the teams were OTB shooting some inside lanes along with the more traditional wide lanes. While all the spots could be made, including the snake, players were as likely to be eliminated bumping the Cans as attacking the corners. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration but still a little unexpected. Could be a sign teams were wary of strong center moves too and prepared to counter them quickly.)
On the scoreboard Tampa and Dynasty won both their matches today but have yet to play each other. X-Factor lost a couple of tough tight matches while Heat split and 187 struggled with the pace. In the other half Vicious lost both their matches today while Shock, Impact and the Legion split with only the Ironmen going undefeated as they handed Impact a loss. As usual nothing is settled yet and won't be until the last match on Saturday is completed. Here's hoping tomorrow bright and sunny and filled with world class paintball. Until then.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

PSP Chicago: The Pre-Event

It's Wednesday. The competition begins tomorrow with divisional play but the tournament has been in the works for weeks. Weeks ago some of the crew were on site leveling ground and planting grass. More recently besides setting up the infrastructure of the event the operations crew has extended a gravel road and prepped an area for overflow parking--just in case it's needed. In our little corner of the boneyard all our gear, including all the scoreboards is tucked away. The day before an event is final set-up. For our part it's erecting the field scoreboards and the pit scoreboards, prep for the scorekeeper and wire everything together (including the horn) and then testing it all to make sure it's all working. While that's going on back at the boneyard referee field kits are organized by field for the refs to pick-up in the morning and includes everything they need to do their jobs. Radios and chronographs are counted and checked. Packed with fresh batteries. Ref jerseys (that have been washed) are arranged by size and field assignment and ready to deliver as the refs check-in and collect their assignments. Individually none of the details are a big deal but the accumulation of elements and keeping them organized can become a daunting proposition in no time. For example, the pack for setting up the scoreboards has six sets of cables, connecting dongles, a power strip, the air horn, zip ties, straps, stands (the big one needs to be assembled and broken down each event)--and I'm sure I forgot something--plus an extension cord, two pit scoreboards and a main board. And there's lots of consumables that need to be replaced--like batteries, paper towels and water. I almost forgot--ref lunches need to be arranged, collected daily and distributed too.
And that's just our tiny corner of the event. Multiple that effort a couple dozen times or so. Each of the vendors has a similar routine and equally long list of tedious to-do details in order to be ready when the players show up. And operations is busy with a lot more than simply setting up fields with netting. Here the guys are making a new parking lot--along with being responsible for delivering power to the vendors and each field, setting up the bleachers and the superstructure used on the Champions field and every table, chair and nearly every other odd and end that the event requires.
The checklist of to-do's to run a national tournament is amazingly long. I thought I had a good idea of what it took to make an event happen. I didn't know--or at least think about--the half of it.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day, Dads!

Just a friendly VFTD reminder. Get the kids started early. Splatmaster is ideal. Show 'em how to switch hands. Get them their own goggles. Take them to the field. Let 'em eat some paint. And make sure they know that Daddy expects them to play paintball as soon as they are old enough.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Best Player Ever

VFTD is looking for nominees for the upcoming Best (Paintball) Player Ever poll which will post early next week sometime. Include as many or as few as you like. VFTD will take the top 15 or so (as determined by number of nominations submitted) to narrow the list for the final poll that will determine who y'all think is the greatest player ever. (After the poll I'll let you know if you got it right or not.) So what are you waiting for? Get cracking. And, you know, post up your nominations in the comments.
It should also be interesting to see what the demographic of the participating readership is by the players nominated too. Sic transit gloria mundi. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Brave New (Limited Paint) World

The last post, 'Peak Performance', spurred some "the game's gotta get cheaper" comments and as should be plain to even the average paintballer that means restricted paint usage, perhaps heavily restricted. (I prefer "restricted" to "limited" because all paint usage in a competitive or recreational setting is already limited and what is really being debated is restricting the amount of paint a player or team may use on a per point basis.) The other costs associated with playing and even competing are available at a variety of prices and are purely discretionary--for the most part (some safety equipment notwithstanding) and allow balling on a budget for those so inclined. While paint usage isn't mandatory it is necessary to compete and in a similar volume to your competitors. And while I am sympathetic to the desire to reduce the cost of participating I remain unconvinced that radically altering the game we play at present is the best (or only) alternative. While competition costs are high the costs that are onerous and impact a team's development and ability to compete are practice costs. And these can be reduced in two ways; one easy and one (admittedly) kinda time-consuming. First, event layouts aren't released in advance of being set-up for an event. This removes the easy practice option of simply scrimmaging the layout endlessly--or as long as your dollars allow--and begins to force teams to rethink how they approach preparing for competition. Secondly, fill the educational void created denying teams the opportunity to scrimmage the event layout in advance. In other words, teach them how to effectively prepare a team to compete without knowing the layout in advance. Without the layout serious teams will be highly motivated to find other ways to get better and the-once-a-season-just-for-fun-hope-we-do-good teams won't be compelled to spend heavily trying to get ready.
Now is that the answer? Probably not but it would be a reasonable incremental step to take and see what happens. It could reduce costs to teams by varying degrees but in all likelihood would probably just shift expenses--and by that I mean teams would likely still spend the same amount but instead of having practice absorb a large portion of their resources perhaps as a team they attend additional event(s) instead.
But if the movement to restrict paint gains momentum there are some easily foreseen ramifications nobody has mentioned (at least that I've heard.) If you've been around for more than a blink or two you should recall that in the last decade a number of paint-making companies have either gone under or been bought out leaving an ever dwindling number of paintball manufacturers. And also keep in mind that in today's marketplace the paint manufacturers are working on smaller profit margins by (hopefully) selling volume. [Although year-to-year sales have been down of late and rumors of the squeeze beginning to seriously pinch have been repeated for a while now. What the major manufacturers need right now is a way to raise prices but they've put themselves between a rock and a hard place with past practices.] So if we all start suddenly shooting (and buying) a fraction of the paint what's gonna happen? Manufacturers who survive the transition re-purpose their tooling and ultimately produce less paint. But in order for the new "normal" volume of production to be profitable the price is going to go up. How much is an open question. Do we see the return of $100 cases? If we use enough less paint shot than today in a restricted paint future we could still be saving some money but if anyone expects vastly less paint to be shot without prices rising they are deluding themselves.
Okay. Maybe. But there's lots of other sorts of paintball out there being played. And if tourney ball really is a tiny fraction of the whole then the paint tourney shoots--even as extravagant as it is--is not that much in the grand scheme of things. Which may be true but won't matter. A quick review of the majority of successful fields and typical scenario games, etc. should demonstrate that paint prices in those environments is already higher than tourney paint, sometimes much higher. In which case tourney paint prices would simply be catching up with the rest of the market. (Which begs a very serious question: Are wholesale prices the same across the board? In which case the retailers are making the bulk of the profits from paint and the volume sold directly for tourney use is largely irrelevant.)
Under those circumstances the next question might be: Do current prices in the rec environment inhibit the growth of the game? In trying to solve a tourney problem we may be missing a larger problem and in any case, the sorts of fields that cater to the low volume low intensity brand of paintball aren't conducive to growing the sport side of paintball any more than Airsoft or laser tag are gateways to hardcore paintball.
It's easy to offer solutions. A little more more difficult to calculate the unintended consequences of decisions made.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Peak Performance

This post is not going to be what you think. It is not related to recent past posts at all. I have *hint hint* danced around this subject before but since it offends so many sectors of the competitive paintball community it never gets much traction. (Or argument for that matter.) Will this time be different? Let's find out.
The peak in 'Peak Performance' isn't about maximizing performance--it's about reaching an outer limit and discovering that there is, in fact, a finite limit to performance. In current parlance it usually refers to the latest doomsday scenario. Like peak oil. (Which lasted as long as it took to find a few billion more barrels of oil under some god-forsaken tundra somewhere hard to find.) But I'm not suggesting that the present crop of top players is playing the game as well as it could ever conceivably be played--hence peak performance--largely because I don't believe that for an instant. Our training and player development efforts are still so crude and haphazard that the room for improvement is almost endless. (It's not really endless but that still leaves an enormous undiscovered territory yet to be explored.)
No, what I'm concerned with is maintaining the current standard of excellence of the top teams in Champions. Because the reality is when the current crop of elite players retire there isn't a next generation ready to replace them--and they aren't getting any younger. The youngest team currently in Champions is, wait for it, Vicious, averaging nearly 24 years old. The oldest is Dynasty at 28.5 years old. Everybody else is 25+. (The same average ages hold true for Challengers as well--or did last season--I haven't checked the new kids on the block--which is a strong indicator they are unlikely to get substantially better without significant changes.)
Unlike the lower divisions there is no place for the Champions to go (except down.) They are the standard bearers. When the elite players of today are no longer playing (or capable of competing at the same level) the new standard will be a diminished standard. What is needed is an influx of pro caliber young talent--but I've yet to see any evidence it exists--or is playing competitive paintball anyway. Or, barring that a dominant young team able to challenge the best before they aren't the best anymore. (And those guys have yet to appear as well.) Because when the Champions standard begins to decline (and there are indications it's already begun) it will impact the rest of the competitive game as well. When the peak becomes accessible to the pack it won't be because the pack suddenly got better. Mediocrity is coming--and I don't think there's anything we can do now to stave it off.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Getting Over The Hump

Or, why can't we get a win when event after event we're right there? The cold harsh truth is winning takes more than ability. There are loads of great players in every professional sport. By definition the pros are the best of the best. The differences in measurable talent isn't substantial but even so winners emerge from even the most elite groups. Why? Part of the answer is what football coaches call the intangibles. Recognizable but hard to quantify qualities that players have in different measures. Like work ethic. Or in paintball, heart. But these are qualities that separate players, not teams. (Certainly better players make teams better but there is a limit. Despite countless accolades Peyton Manning never won a national championship in college, but Tennessee did--the year after Manning graduated with a quarterback named Tee Martin.)
There can be any number of reasons why some good teams don't win but it all boils down to being able to perform at your best when the pressure to perform is at its peak. Can you bring your A-game when everything is on the line? The reason some pro teams draft proven winners from lower levels of competition is because they believe those players have shown the ability to perform at a high level in the most stressful situations. A large part of the value in working your way up the divisional ladder in paintball is learning to win. Because regardless of division winning is winning and needs to be experienced. Only in the doing does a team demonstrate it has what it takes to be winners.
Even so, there are things teams can do to lessen the pressure/stress that builds up. (The pressure to perform is a self-imposed response to the stress of the situation. Feeling stress is also an internal response to the elevated importance of the moment for both player and team.) While it would be nice to press the easy button and not feel the stress anymore that probably won't work in most cases. Instead there are routines and ways of thinking about playing the game that both lessen and can transform the negativity of the stress (and pressure) into something productive.
Establish a routine that the team follows every match. External order promotes internal order.
In competition the only point that matters is the next point. Not the last point or the winning point. Only the next point. The team must stay focused on what it can control and not get distracted with what it can't. (And the arguments and recriminations that usually follow.)
Keep the players' focus on doing their job. (This begins in practice and carries through to competition.) No one is responsible for winning or losing. Each player does their job to the best of their ability and that is all that can be asked of anyone. And when we do that good things follow.
It may sound stupid but stay positive. Even in critiquing prior matches keep the focus on improving, not assigning blame. Make every match an opportunity, not a hurdle to be overcome.
Set goals. Practice goals and competition goals. Both achievable goals and grander goals that need to be strived for. The purpose is to create a pattern of successes and to have ways of showing improvement. Success breeds success and turns obstacles into opportunities.

Keep in mind not all teams are alike. A team's chemistry is a unique property. Some teams thrive on pressure and this advice isn't necessarily for them. Some succeed in the midst of conflict. The bottom line is winning and however a team does it is all that matters. That said the above advice will serve most teams well but isn't a one size fits all proposition.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How Much Is Too Much?

In response to the last post a question came up about the lower divisions. The gist of the question was: Isn't it too much to expect from the lower divisions (attempting to train full field preparation) when they're still working on mastering even more basic elements of play? The answer of course is no. The real issue is how you go about it and what expectations you bring to the process. That doesn't mean there isn't any limit to what you can expect your team to learn--only that you don't intentionally leave important stuff out or assume some element of the game is beyond your players to at least understand. Both understanding and mastery are perpetual goals.
At a practical level however there are some easy do's and don'ts. Regardless of the game phase you're working through never overwhelm players with theory. The baseline is to tell them what they need to do. (As individuals focus on technique and as a team focus on objectives.) If (when) somebody asks why then explain in as simple and rudimentary a fashion as possible and move on. Core fundamentals are learned by repetition. (Always making certain those reps accurately simulate game play as closely as possible.) At some point the question of why will come again because you're first answer wasn't responsive enough for the more cerebral of your players. (For those willing to simply do and those willing to do with a basic explanation they know what they need to--for now.) Here is the time and place for a fuller explanation of theory--but note it's provided only to those otherwise unsatisfied with the information already given. In most situations the majority don't require--and aren't helped by--information overload.
The other difficulty that arises is the time and resource cost and how many times they must be divided in order to cover all the training territory desired. It is a real and unavoidable problem for nearly every team at every level but I am of the opinion that in the long run everyone benefits from a more (rather than a less) ambitious and fully realized practice regime even if less time and resources are committed to some aspects of the training. It's like training a boxer how to punch but failing to teach him how to defend himself. Of course the offense is critical but his results will certainly vary until he learns the rest of the pugilistic art. So too with paintball. Cover the full scope of a long term training scheme into place from Day 1 and the players and team will grow into a fully rounded team that much sooner.
Keeping in mind too that the guiding conception doesn't preclude periods of more or less intensity in various aspects of that training.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Failure Begins Where Preparation Ends

Ponder that for a moment or two. Let it sink in. Now review for yourself where your preparation (as a player and part of a team) to compete begins and ends. Are you missing something? Don't lie. Of course you are. I already know it's true and if you refuse to admit it there won't be anything you can do to fix it.
(Did you really ponder it or did you just read over it and keep going? If you didn't ponder the title before do it now.)
Okay. Let's begin. There are a few essential axioms of competitive paintball. The title of this post is one. Another is--Practice like you intend to play. These two axioms alone are sufficient to guide your training if ruthlessly applied to every decision.
The most that most teams do to prepare is find some lanes to shoot OTB, vaguely discuss likely primaries and if they feel like putting in a full day's work may toss in a few ideas about secondary options. With all that tedious field-walking done they can then get down to the business of scrimmaging for as everyone knows--it is after all the conventional wisdom--that's where teams really learn and improve. (Yes, the sarcasm was intentional.)
How often have you seen teams pull defeat from the jaws of victory? It's lots, isn't it? (How often has your team managed it? Too often, yes?) What happens is simple. Positively predictable even and yet almost no one acts to forestall this inevitability.
Your breakout goes like clockwork. Everyone makes their primaries. Guns are rolling. Snakeside lead makes a successful bump. The team has achieved its prepared goals and at this point it should be mostly down hill and yet ... somehow the team loses a body, then another and before you know it what looked like an easy win turns into a difficult to understand loss and brings with it the concomitant frustration, confusion and doubt (which kills teams.) So how does it happen?
It happens because teams fail to properly and completely prepare to compete. That simple. Take a moment and think how most points play out. By the late mid-game, unless the point is a complete blowout, both sides are down bodies with one team carrying either a numbers or a positional advantage, and sometimes both, as the point transitions into the end-game. More often than not who is still alive? Inserts and back guys. And if they've done their jobs correctly they've taken ground and moved upfield as opportunity permitted. But did they ever walk that portion of the field? Did they ever take the time to find the angles and shots upfield? Have they played those props in practice? How many close outs did they simulate in practice to get ready for the real thing?
The usual answer is none--or if they want to expand the meaning of "prepare" they might suggest they played some of those spots in various scrimmage points. But odds are that at no time during their preparation did they make a concerted and conscious effort either as an individual or a team to learn about that portion of the field and play it sufficiently to get comfortable and confident being in that position.
And the failure to include every phase of a point in your preparation is how players turn victory into defeat over and over again.
Don't get me wrong. It's not a panacea. There are no guarantees. Sometimes the other guys are just better but one of our goals in practice is to be in control of as much of the game as we can and if we routinely fail to fully prepare before competing we aren't doing everything we can to succeed.
Ponder that for a while.