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.


Brad Johnson said...

I see what you are saying, but couldn't this be said for every sport ever?

Anonymous said...

The commitment is too high for such little payout. The current crop lives off the industry and now that they've invested their whole lives into said industry, they can't quit until it's time to actually retire, this putting the next gen out of business because there are hardly any new industry jobs to go around!

Anono-Q said...

Also, there maybe aren't as many rich bill-paying parents around as there used to be...

Anonymous said...

So you need to have high payout events for young age groups (think Dynasty and Spyer Cup).

Encourage the best days crop of sub 18yr olds ever to compete.

Anonymous said...

I believe the problem lies in the thought process of most 'competitive' players and teams.. -- You don't get any reps at the national level because you don't have as much experience as the other guys.. But how are you supposed to gain this "make it or break it" experience at a national event when you don't get reps because of your experience?

Why is national "experience" the only real benchmark so many teams/coaches/owners use when determining the number of spins a player gets? Why not performance in practice? Performance in other events? Some other methodology?

I also think that the mindset of playing the lowest level ball, until you're forced out of it by ranking systems, or sand bagging "just to win" doesn't help anyone get any better.

I may suggest that some people would be more willing to bump to higher divisions if there were better prizes but I don't really believe that.. I just think that most paintball players aren't really all that "competitive".. They just play tournaments because it's what they've been doing for so long.

Lastly, I think one of the bigger hurdles for anyone wanting to play at the highest level is the funding of some of the top teams (even within each division). It's difficult to be better than the other guy when the other guy can spend 3x as much as you on practice. When Houston Heat came about and started dropping twice as much money on practicing as everyone else- and it worked- a lot of the other pro teams changed how they do things (or so it seems).

My final thought on the subject- does anyone else think that maybe the old school system of having open, amateur and rookie divisions may have bred better players than our current system utilizing d4-d1, challengers and champions? Having to play the best players in the world at events likely taught you some things you may not have learned elsewhere..

Good post Baca.

Baca Loco said...

To an extent, yes, but I think given the developmental stage of competitive paintball we are more susceptible to this sort of thing than long established sports.

807 Anon
But it's more than that. We aren't seeing a younger generation pushing the established pros for roster spots and where we do see younger players moving in we don't see results. (That's not purely a player issue but even so ...)

True but if the upcoming talent was there we'd see the best of it on the established top rosters.

1042 Anon
That doesn't address the problem, it just helps support the status quo

1228 Anon
Without addressing all your comments I think one of things that is missing is learning from veteran players. I wouldn't match the technical skill of the generation that came out of the woods with today's best players but that generation understood how to play the game and passed that knowledge on. Too many of today's younger players don't really seem to understand the game very well. (Making new friends daily here at VFTD.)

Anonymous said...

The younger generation has no reason to challenge the establish pro's.

It is a tilted playing field.

Established Professional Players play the game to a new level. They have been able to do this by having large sponsorship and funding by major inside industry companies.

The "new" players have small sponsorship, funding is done through they're wallets/parents. When you watch pro's carry almost a case of paint out onto the field per point it makes one more player quit. They know they cannot continue down this path. What is there to gain?

A dream unreachable due to economic factors. Sport is suppose to be the exact opposite of that. This leads to the conclusion that paintball is not a sport but a hobby.

We have moved from woods to fields, from fields to completely mirrored inflatable playing fields, all in the progress of even fair play. Why is this last hurdle so hard for the sport?

Industry pushes webcast, player bio's,team bio's, insiders, E-magazines, guns and gear but not a fair and even playing field.

Competitive gaming is in the Xgames now. Xball was named to accomplish this goal for paintball. The virtual simulated version beat the real hands on game to mainstream exposure. How did that happen?

Patrick Smith said...

I think Brad nailed it. Saturated industry, negligible economic incentive, and on top of that a very "exclusive" culture. And I don't mean exclusive in a good way. Since everything bottomed out, many sport industries have made concerted effort to build a more sustainable structure. Paintball has instead chosen to circle the wagons and horde what we have instead of looking for a better way.

When a field sees a league as competition, what incentive do they have to encourage players to improve? PSP has been 'sanctioning' tournament series for almost a decade now. Ideally this would create breeding grounds for the next generation. Would you say there has been significant talent to come out of a sanctioned league since CFOA?

Lacking upward opportunity or incentive, much less the structure to develop any potential talent properly, are you really surprised that the top tier is becoming stagnant?

Joshua W. said...

I would say that age range means that paintball is maturing. Older professional player means that it takes time to learn everything you need to know to play. If we had a bunch of 16 year old pros that would mean that it takes 6 years (official age to start playing is ten) to learn everything necessary to play professionally. As it stands the numbers mean it takes at least fourteen years to learn everything. What I get from that is that is there a lot more you have to know to be able to play professionally. The average age of NFL teams ranges from 24.98 to 27.15. Successful teams are pretty well scattered throughout. While they are distributed a bit more towards the bottom it is not weighted enough to say age is a significant factor in success (as per a USA Today article). Also, peak age for physical activity is usually considered somewhere between 20-30 depending on the person, the average age for professional paintballers is pretty much in the middle.

Not to say I think paintball is reaching its peak. I think there is a generation coming up that has grown up thinking as paintball as a professional sport. I.e. they think that if they want to play professionally they have to train like professionals do in other sports-a lot. At least that is how I interpret it. As a younger player seeing the webcast and seeing how much the top teams train tells me that if I want to play pro I need to get out and work at it.

The thing that really separates the sport of paintball from other sport is, a) it's not very lucrative to be a professional player, and b) we don't have the same type of advancement system. While there is the opportunity to earn an actual living playing paintball, which includes a ton of awesome perks, it is not a guaranteed thing. Even if you go pro there it is not assured that you can make money doing it; there are pro teams where people pay to play. Which means that the PSP professional division is not really professional. If a parent sees that there son is amazing at football they can say that if you work at it you can make a ton of money by playing, and, assuming the player is actually good, they can at the least pay their way through college by playing the sport.
Paintball also ranks players completely differently than most professional sports. Whereas most sports set up divisions by age, paintball sets up divisions by experience and levels of demonstrated success. An argument can be made either way here and I have no idea which is actually better in terms of making the sport more competitive. However, I think it is a difference worth noting.

Chrish said...

It's hard to ask "So what?" without sounding argumentative. So in the least combative, most honestly curious pixels I can use, so what? Let's stipulate your entire premise, Baca. What will then happen after the quality standard in the Champions division falls? Will paintball lose lucrative TV deals? Will outside sponsorships evaporate? Will divisional players leave the sport? I'm just wondering what tournament paintball has to lose. I'm not saying there's nothing to lose. But as a fan, as opposed to an insider, I don't know what the practical ramifications are if you're right.

Anonymous said...

Just means that we will have a whole slew of new coaches and mentors. They will use 20 years of experience to push the next generation. There is good possibility of a dip in overall skill the way you have put it, but I think the currently guarded info will be eventually passed down to the next generation. The vets in the game will want to see their local teams or old teams succeed

Baca Loco said...

I'm good with argumentative (for future reference.) :)
IT's a very good question. Will the industry take a hit? Will the PSP lose teams? Etc. No, they likely won't but will happen won't be good for the sport. To make my point let's say the best of the best currently play at level 10. Once they're gone what does the level drop to? 9 or even 8? So at that point everyone below striving to be great is aiming for level 8 instead of 10 or even 11.

801 Anon
Where's the last generation of new coaches and mentors? As to the idea that the best players are secretly hoarding the secrets to playing paintball--well, that's just silly. There isn't a pro player playing who isn't thrilled to make a few extra bucks running training clinics as often as possible.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Interesting topic.

First, we are talking about "the old established Pros" like they were 40 years old.... most of them are in their 20s, which is hardly unusual for a "professional" athlete.

Secondly, we have to remember that the current established Pros, have seen the sport develop incredibly during their time in the sport.

Having been part of that development has created some very multifaceted players, where as much of the younger talented is more one dimensional... mostly by growing up with fields that did not require much in the way of creative skill.

Third, I fully agree the financial aspect is a huge factor.

Back in the day, you could play Pro by investing in a case of paint a week.

Today, to play D1 comfortably, you need to spend four times as much to hack it.

It's not just how often you train, it is also about having to play fields that require great paint consumption.

If paintball want real growth, we have to find ways to make the sport cheaper.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps what is needed is more vertical integration in teams. By this I mean that a team is not just a team, but an organization, with multiple teams at multiple levels - pro, D1, D2, D3, etc. The D1/D2 guys get to scrimmage and learn from the pros. The best guys at each level get promoted up. For the even lower levels, a team/sponsor field can run a local/regional tournament series to cultivate new players to feed into their 'minor league' system.

Baca Loco said...

The present age of the elites isn't the issue, it's the threshold age at which such players exhibit elite qualities.

The only substantive way to significantly reduce cost is to severely limit paint consumption and as soon as you do that you've radically changed the game. Who knows, it may happen but then it'll be a new game we're playing.

340 Anon
There are a few similar attempts around--and it's a very good idea.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Ofcourse it will change the game significantly.

But then wasn't paintball also fun when we ran around in the woods with splatmaster?

It is not uncommon for "technological" sports to impose limits on itself, to maintain relevance.

The mere fact that we are able to shoot 3 cases of paint per match per player, does not mean it is the best way forward for paintball.

Baca Loco said...

'Fraid that good old days in the woods recball thing doesn't work on me. I lost interest in recball in about 3 months back in the day and if tourney ball hadn't existed I would'a outta there a long long time ago. :)

Nick Brockdorff said...

Well, I think you know me well enough, to not think I am advocating a return to the woods :)

I was trying to make the point, that it's not the cost of paintball that makes it fun for the participants, nor is it the cost that makes paintball a sport.

We need to find a better balance than where we are at currently (and have been for years), between the cost of participation and playing paintball as a sport.

Currently we are probably in the top 10 percentile of sports based on expenditure needed to compete at a semi-serious level... and I am hard pressed to see that as conducive to growing the sport.