Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Train Smarter Not Longer

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Getting Wide 2

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Getting Wide 1

Struggling to get wide? Thought it was just a particular layout but it's been happening now for a while--across multiple events?
First thing to do is take a hard look at what you've been doing. Here's a partial checklist to get started.
Are you "cheating" in practice? (If you are you are short-changing yourself and your ability to learn and improve--and if you keep getting called out in games you're still not very good at it.)
Are you a creature of habit? (Do you or your team tend to do the same things over and over? Or in certain situations? If so you're predictable.)
Do you set-up on the start a particular way when you're running to a farther primary? (If so, it's predictable.)
Does your team take up start positions well before the horn sounds? (Yes, it's that same predictability problem. Take up your breakout positions in the last five seconds and always show your opponent the same look--as much as possible. That way you give nothing about your intentions away.)
That should get you started. The object here is to take a hard look at what you and your team are doing to see if there's anything there that could be contributing to your struggle to get wide on a reliable basis. Don't rely only on the list provided--use it as a starting point. How many breakouts does your team use in a match? How many has the team practiced going into an event? Track the choices you make as a team. Do any patterns begin to emerge? If they do assume your opponents will have taken note. (This also applies from prelims to Sunday play. A lot of divisional teams discover what worked on Friday doesn't work on Sunday because everyone left competing has had a good look at what your team does. You need to be prepared to mix it up; whether that's with different  breakouts or shifting looks that accomplish the same breakouts.)
That was Step One; an in-depth examination of current practices.
Step Two examines what sort of proactive steps can be taken to improve our chances of success in getting wide off the break. Next time in Getting Wide 2.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sponsorship in Decline?

Probably should have read sponsorship in further decline without the question mark but I wanted to soften the blow a little bit. Hint at some forlorn sliver of hope that might still exist. But probably doesn't.
Despite appearances (or should I say the recent lack of appearances?) Mr. Curious has not been reliving 'Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas', working as a roadie for a KISS tribute band and categorically denies erecting mysterious communications towers disguised as pine trees across the continental United States. Instead he has been on the job ferreting out secrets from the inner conclaves of the paintball presidium. Unfortunately he was discovered, detained and forcibly re-educated in a camp rumored to be in the wilds of Arkansas disguised as a public school. Even after his escape he remembers little, continues to suffer from a disturbing twitch and mutters under his breath something about paintballs drying. So far VFTD has gotten only a few coherent sentences out of him.
Apparently the giants of the paintball industry are reevaluating sponsorships and plans are being or will be implemented that see a further tightening of sponsorships that may mostly affect the highest level teams. According to Mr. Curious even the future existence of some pro teams is in doubt but he has yet to name names--assuming that info exists somewhere in his tortured mind. While the various industry members seem to be aware of the others intentions they aren't acting as a unified front. While each appears to be modifying past practices each is doing so in its own way and at least one industry giant has apparently begun informing their currently sponsored teams of some of the changes coming.
What this will mean across the board to the pro teams is uncertain at this time but further belt-tightening can only make the effort to remain competitive all the more difficult. On the flipside though for the up-and-comers who have managed largely on their own so far it might make taking the next step up easier if the majority end  up in the same or a similar situation. No way of knowing yet and no way of knowing to what extent sponsorship levels at the top of the game will change or the fallout those changes may bring.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


In the world of competitive paintball we talk a lot about team. But for most it means little more than a pre-game chant and cramming 5 or 6 guys into a single hotel room. Don't get me wrong, both of those things can help build the camaraderie amongst the players you want but it can also be superficial. The latest Virtue video featuring the Russian Legion talks about team and team building. PBN has the video here. In the Legion's case it's a largely new team with young players and a blended team as it includes a number of French players from the TonTons. It is a mix of experience, culture and language and they are making it work--and it's happening because they have discovered how to be more than the sum of their individual parts; they have become a team.
In a competitive environment team is more than friendships. It's more than getting along or having fun as a group. It's more than eating meals together and hanging out together on the road. All those are team-building activities but they only lay a foundation for building a team.
A team only truly exists in the crucible of combat on its chosen field of competition. Team has one goal, one purpose with every member acting in accord to achieve that goal and fulfill that purpose.
Which sounds pretty damned inspirational but what does it mean? How do we get beyond the pre-match chant? When do we know we're really a team?
One answer is when you play like a team but that too isn't very helpful. So, whenever the mood strikes (or you lazy slackers remind me) I'll do a few posts that may serve as guideposts for the journey. Next time we'll take a look at team chemistry. In the meantime check out the RL video.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dueling World Cups

It's not really a duel. At least not if your metric is participation. PSP World Cup should have around 320 teams based on current registration and past results. MS World Cup will have around 125 teams which will be a ballpark figure for a 2014 Millennium event. On the other hand they will have the Under 19 national teams competing. (Typically those national teams are made up of players already there playing for their regular teams but who knows, the Under 19s may get some unique players. It's part of the MS's finding additional revenue streams and validating the Series international and national cred. Each MS event hosts a different nation-based event; the men's championship, the geezer championship and the women's championship.)
This year the Millennium scheduled their event later in September than usual while the PSP scheduled their event a little earlier than usual in October. One outcome is that two teams, Impact & Heat, from the PSP's Champions division will be competing at Chantilly leaving them only one practice weekend prior to PSP's World Cup. (If they spend that time in Florida they will have the weekdays leading up to Cup to prepare as well.) Along with two Champions teams a number of pro players will be in Euroland instead of practicing with their U.S. teams. Those teams include Dynasty (4 players), X-Factor (3 players), Ironmen (at least 3 players) and Infamous (3 players). There are probably others but with those mentioned the number of players missing will have some impact on their teams preparation as well as their own ability to bring their best game to World Cup. In addition Damage's coach will be at Chantilly as he's currently on the Polar Bears roster as a player--and whether he plays or not he'll be in France.
It's an interesting question--What impact will missing players or other commitments have on their respective teams preparation for PSP World Cup? It won't be irrelevant but it's otherwise hard to say what the consequences might be. For example not only will nearly half of Dynasty's roster be in France but with the travel schedule will be on the road the better part of a month going into Cup. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lazy Slacker Re-post of the Week: Growing Competitive Paintball

This was first posted in a Baca's Mailbag in December 2011. There were some interesting comments you can find here. It's seems like a worthwhile topic to revive and I have an ulterior motive besides. Two actually. One is I've been hard-pressed of late for topics that get me excited enough to post so this is my way of saying now's your chance to guide the conversation--at least for awhile. So send any topics, questions, etc. you have via Baca's email (link on the sidebar) and I'll post and respond to the best of them. I'll address my other motive in VFTD's next post.

 So, do you see any way for the industry to help make tourney play more attractive to field owners, who can then sponsor and give refuge to more teams (who then buy more high end guns and cases of paint)? 

Actually, I do. And I'ma throw in an extra answer besides--consider it an early Christmas present from VFTD. First thing the industry needs to do is stop sponsoring paintball teams. And by "sponsoring" I mean offering direct to teams discounted merchandise. (Did I have you going there for a sec?) Selling direct breaks down the relationships between teams/players and the local field. If the local field/pro shop is the conduit between local/regional/national am teams and discounted product it is a small price to pay to encourage fields interested in supporting competition paintball to do so and builds bonds at the local level between teams/players and their local fields/pro shops. As it stands the manufacturers who go the direct "sponsorship" route are cannibalizing their own grassroots markets. 
While a good start that's not enough. In this time of economic contraction and internet sales (and even some big box store sales) the local field/pro shop--particularly if it has nearby competitors--has to offer something more, or at least different. Given that I think the bar has been raised too high for simple entry into the competitive paintball world I have some suggestions; offer and schedule times for basic paintball training; combine that with restricted but informal afternoon (or morning) (or both) streetball style "competitions" periodically and encourage or directly promote the development of paintball clubs based around the local field. The idea is to begin by teaching anyone interested the fundamentals of the game and then give them a place and a way to begin to experience their growing skills in an environment of their equals. You want more and future tourney players? Especially now they don't appear ex nihilo. The club can be an element the local field organizes or it can be an arrangement between those interested in building a paintball club and their local competition-oriented field. The club exists to develop tourney players and provide a ladder of teams on which to compete.And if the local field is the source of discounted gear, etc. you now have a reciprocal basis for the relationship. And in the longer term the most successful clubs will attract more and better players and more attention from would be industry supporters and everybody would potentially benefit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

MS Chantilly-Paris Layout

Unless the center is being pushed aggressively this layout will play like two separate fields with the majority of the action being vertical confrontations up and down the wires. There are a few crossfield shots but the likelihood is one wire or the other will be blown when teams reach the fifties and beyond. Strong center play will mitigate that to one degree or another if it creates early mismatches. Despite initial appearances it should be easier to dominate the snake wire. The layout is capable of both 20 second points and 2 or 3 minute points. The more evenly matched teams are skill-wise the more tactical superiority will determine outcomes. Passive, defense-oriented teams will struggle mightily unless their technical skills are superior to their opponents.
Let's take a quick look at some of the reasons why. Most teams will meet with limited success laning OTB so both wires are makeable. A few useable lanes exist but expose the shooter to counter-lanes. The quicker teams shouldn't have too much difficulty making a wire the majority of the time.
Even when teams make a wire OTB the dominate feature of this layout is the gatekeeper aspect of the four insert Temples. Each one serves as the primary access point to a wire and the primary means of denying access to the wire. (The pink arrows indicate the direct confrontation created at these gaps feeding the wires.) Much of the early action and focus will revolve around these Temples and much of that action will be direct gunfighting. The only other primary option to control the wires comes from the (orange) CKs. Their placement (and size) limit both their effectiveness and defensibility--they will be hard to live in once opponents are on the wire(s). The result is contain or control from the interior of the field is at a heavy disadvantage further pressing the Temples into direct confrontations or else give up access to the wires.
Once on the wires most of the available shots are on the same wire (or that half of the layout) until the fifty--or beyond--is reached making the standard of play battle to reach a wire, battle that wire to get upfield, eliminate your wire to get positional opportunities to finish off your remaining opponents.
Breaking up the wire-centric focus are the upfield options in the center of the layout. While the M is playable I've focused on the props marked in green to represent center play objectives. The goal is to disrupt your opponent's breakout and rapidly attack one or more of their primary positions or early transitions in order to gain a quick body count advantage. Thereafter the center of the field can be used to deny counter-movements and pin the remaining opponents in place. The MT is better suited to the task as it is more defensible and has better lines-of-sight than the Can.
Players on the wires have limited ability to contain or control other wire props. For example Snake 1 cannot stop his mirror from bumping to Snake 2 so for players on the wires the game becomes a race to the 50 and against opponents on their same wire. (The d-corners can contest wire movement, unlike the snake corners.)
Finally the snake wire is more easily dominated because it is more difficult to contain and/or control movement on that wire. Center (green) positions have some options as do the (orange) cakes but all are limited. And the corner TCKs are not in position to deny movement up the wire but are able to aggressively attack the insert (gatekeeper) Temple making gap contain very difficult. While the snake appears more open and exposed it should be easier to push bodies up that wire.
This is the kind of layout that could easily engender upsets.

From 1 - 10 on some varying factors. 
Plays Fast. (promotes quick points) Fun to Play. (players enjoy it) Easy to Ref. (clear and open lines-of-sight) Balanced. (allows teams to play their way) Spectator Friendly. (solid action and exciting play for the knowledgeable fan)

Plays Fast: 7 (Win the gunfights, win the war. Still kind of a crapshoot.)
Fun to Play: 6 (If you've always wanted to be a front here's your chance)
Easy to Ref: 5 (Center of the field action could be tough to control)
Balanced: 3 (Defense? We don't need no stinkin' defense)
Spectator Friendly: 6 (Boring timid teams make for boring timid paintball)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pr1me Country

Pr1me is a program out of Birmingham AL much like the old Gridlock program in the Carolinas. They boast a number teams playing at both the PSP and regional level, the MiLP. And they have proved highly successful in recent seasons. They also have a prime facility with private fields that are a joy to behold better to play. I'm here this weekend putting a number of the squads through their paces in preparation for the MiLP final and to assist in the whole team's continued growth and development. Had a solid first day and am looking forward to tomorrow. This sort of vertical team structure is one of the best ways to provide young players with the direction they need and the opportunities to flourish. And this season the MiLP has proved to be both well regarded by the competing teams and highly competitive. A shout out to the Pr1me guys and a reminder there are positive stories in the world of competitive paintball.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ripped from the Forums of PBN

Pretty dramatic, uh? As long as it got you this far the post title has served its purpose. And in fact today's post is commentary on items found over at PBN. But before I get to that there's this little anti-PBN rant I've been saving. About the ads now appearing in every second "post" of a thread in the forums. Really? I know, research says they get seen--actually noticed--by a higher percentage of users than other ad placements but there comes a point where y'all cross over from being a forum for paintball players and become a forum for paintball (and other) advertisements. S'all I'm saying. Oh and I bet users can't turn them off either.
There's a moderately interesting poll asking if the shell color of tourney paint should be regulated--by the promoters presumably. The notion being that brightly colored shells are easier to see by spectators--webcast viewers?--and that helps them understand the action and get a better sense of the speed and energy of the game onfield. I'm not convinced that from the normal spectator viewing angles it would make that much difference but even so it's a no-brainer to giving it a try--isn't it? In fact it's such an obvious no-brainer I can only conclude that for some reason (product differentiation?) that the manufacturers have objected in the past. And if they didn't I can't imagine how such a simple idea was overlooked.
Then there's (another) thread about player reclassification--this time in the PSP forum--wondering if there's a way to get a friend reclassified so he and his buddies can all play Cup together. In this particular case the player in question was supposedly never ranked higher than D1 and hasn't played since 2006 but is still D2 and the team is signed up to play D4 RaceTo-2 or something. I wasn't paying much attention to the details but it got me thinking. (And not for the first time on this subject.) Everyone (with an interest in competitive paintball) is always decrying the seemingly diminishing numbers of players while constantly encouraging all and sundry to do their share to get more peeps playing. Which is all well and good but what about all the people who used to play but have since been discarded by the game because of classification? What about them? Former players. They don't need to be sold. They need to be given an opportunity to play again. Instead, in some misguided effort to be "fair" we've doubled the number of competitive divisions and booted out untold numbers of players who loved the tourney side of the game.
What is tourney ball to the majority of players? It's a competitive outlet where they get do enjoy sports mostly with their friends. Especially at the lower levels. Instead of building on that we've driven the demographic down and helped push the most stable sustainable base of players out. And then we wonder where all the players have gone.
Yet, if the powers that be attempted to change the status quo tomorrow the hue and cry from the present rank and file would refill Lake Mead with their tears. Because it would be unfair. Because there just might be a few more players competing better than them. 

NAX Finals Layout

Our friends to the North (eh!) will be playing for the CXBL's Richmond Cup and the season title on the layout to the right. They will be playing Old Skool Xball at 15 bps. In looking at this layout VFTD won't be offering an analysis beyond pointing out a few characteristics I expect will feature in how the layout plays and aspects of play that teams can expect to see repeated routinely.
The orange arrows indicate potential lanes OTB. The snake side lanes are often narrow and may or may not be duplicated on the event field(s). It won't matter much, particularly for taller laners. With the limited choices in primary bunkers the issue will simply be can the laners get their lanes in place quickly enough to do some early damage. The opportunities are there. If not teams should focus on denying the Temple insert and snake OTB and focus on containment on the snake side and let their center and/or dorito attack do the heavy lifting. It's going to be more difficult to get wide OTB on the dorito wire as there are solid open lanes to shoot. The only counterbalance is the gap between D2 and the corner Can (run it deep and up) but a good lane between D1 and the Pin is perfectly placed to get a corner runner or a runner attempting D2 OTB. Also on the d-wire it is possible for teams to break short to minimize initial risk and it wouldn't surprise me to see that tactic employed much of the time. (And when it is the opponent should press the center and trap the team trying to play safe.) This layout does however lend itself to breakouts of opportunity by which I mean guns up immediately shooting designated lanes followed by movement to primaries that aren't predetermined but chosen based on the effectiveness of the initial lanes.
Perhaps the best feature of this layout is that it invites attacks up the center particularly to the d-side of the X and the fifty MT. Alternately the centerline MT can be used to lockdown wireside rotations and stage a counter run-through if your opponent moves aggressively to the X early.
The bunkers marked with pink surrounds are the principle mid-game contain and control positions (plus the d-wire corner Can) but as can be seen are of limited effectiveness particularly on the d-wire. The centerline MT (containing the d-wire) is strong as long as the opponent is denied the snake. Otherwise it's the TCK which is so close to the centerline of the field that is is open to attacks from superior angles virtually everywhere on the d-wire, especially the corner Can. On the snake wire both the upfieldl Temple (Aztec) and the Can have line-of-sight on the back of the snake though the Can is slightly obstructed (gotta play it standing up) On balanced breakouts teams will settle in for longer points with the critical gunfights defending and attacking entry into the snake and the gap between D2 and D3.
The bunkers marked in green display the disparity in effective attacks between the d-wire positions and the snake. Even from snake fifty there aren't as many good shots and angles as D3 has from the dorito wire. The mid-line MT offers shots on both the d-wire positions and snake wire positions but otherwise it's better to press the d-wire than the snake in terms of rewarding shots--though to be fair some of the shots from D3 require a high wrap and those may be hard to achieve much of the time.

And now for something completely new. Rating the layouts from 1 - 10 on some varying factors. Plays Fast. (promotes quick points) Fun to Play. (players enjoy it) Easy to Ref. (clear and open lines-of-sight) Balanced. (allows teams to play their way) Spectator Friendly. (solid action and exciting play for the knowledgeable fan)
Plays Fast: 5 (Laning OTB will be decisive)
Fun to Play: 5 (Likely to be highly repetitive)
Easy to Ref: 8 (snake will cause some problems as will 50 MT)
Balanced: 3 (design encourages offense but limits creative attacks)
Spectator Friendly: 4 (too repetitive)

Got suggestions for other values that ought to be considered in rating a field layout? Let's hear 'em.