Sunday, November 30, 2014

You Will Never Play Professional Paintball

I've stolen this post title (nicely provocative, just the way I like them!) from an item posted at PBN by Grayson Goff of X-Factor (and BKi.) I encourage you to read Grayson's OP here. [Disclaimer: Grayson is both a friend and former player of mine as are all the X-Factor kids.] G's post is one reason I post here and not at PBN. While it has generated 10 pages of comments lots of them have little or nothing to do with the topic presented. While I encourage comments here I also know they will be a cut well above the PBN norm.
If you were the lazy slacker you usually are and didn't bother reading G's post the upshot is that the dividing line between pro level play and not pro level play is the mental toughness, determination and drive of the players and that the current generation shows a decided inclination to be *ahem* soft. And further Grayson's answer is to drive those showing any inclination to be the best with a combination of positive and negative reinforcement--though the article focuses on the negative.
While it's easy to get hung up on what form that negative reinforcement takes the real issue is how best to drive players to reach their potential. And make no mistake most players of any era or generation require some outside influence or motivation to maximize their ability whatever the game or sport may be. Is an unrelenting barrage of negativity the best option? Probably not but does it have a place in the process? For many perhaps even most there is a time and place for negative reinforcement. It's not all the time or in an absence of occasional positive reinforcement but nothing but pats on the head and "good job" will never get the most out of most players.
The other contentious point challenged the dedication and drive of the players of today. And not a minute too soon. If I hadn't made the same claims myself in the past I'd second Grayson's claim without hesitation. That doesn't mean there aren't some dedicated driven up-and-coming young players but again the issue raised was the next generation of pro players. And the reality is there have been individuals making the move (rarely) but the current generation has been passed by. The great majority of today's pro players whether they are Challengers or Champions are in their mid to late twenties and there is no wave of late teen phenoms pushing to take their places. The reason isn't a lack of technical skills. It is in part a developmental failure based on how most teams and players currently train but it is also a failure to bring to the table the requisite intangibles. (A case might be made that the pool of potential or future pro players has shrunken too making it more difficult to replace the current crop of aging players.)
There may be reasons. There are always obstacles to be overcome and hardships to be endured but there are no excuses.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holidays & VFTD's International Audience

Consider this post a little bit of public housekeeping. Not necessarily all that exciting but occasionally required. If you are on Facebook you might have noticed a recent campaign to bump up VFTD "likes." (If not you'll just have to take my word for it.) It was conducted by a friend of the blog who works for FB as an experiment and in an effort to increase VFTD's reach among paintballers. It has yet to have a similar impact on this blog's analytics but it may have broadened the international audience here and there. (And there may be some lag before the campaign's impact asserts itself.) In recent years over a typical month long period VFTD is read in around 70 different countries with a few changes month to month at the end of the listing. In the last week China has jumped up to #10. That means paintballers in China had the tenth most page views this past week of any country around the world. (I think it's the first time China has passed Malaysia.) And that leaves me curious. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who knows more about the effort to bring paintball to China and what if any progress is being made. Thanks!
There's also been a big jump recently in VFTD's audience in France. France has been in the lower half of Euro countries since the blog's start despite the popularity of tourney ball in France so I'm pleased to see such positive movement. (France is currently number 3 behind the U.S. and Canada. Normally it also trails the U.K., Russia, Germany and sometimes various of the Scandinavian countries in ranking the world audience.)
This time of year here in the United States things tend to slow down paintball-wise as winter takes hold and the holiday season begins in a couple of days. Here at VFTD I will keep up with the latest news (and the best gossip) but it may be things won't begin to heat up again until January. That very likely being the case in the past I have encouraged this audience to take advantage of the lack of activity to send in questions, comments, observations or whatever strikes your fancy to Baca's Mailbag using the email link (in blue) on the sidebar as this is the time of year when I have the most time to respond to readers' queries. I'm happy anytime of year to respond to email addressed to this blog but during the holidays I can handle more volume. So I would encourage you drop me a line anytime wherever you're from but for a while at least I'll give priority to email from China and France.
Happy (early) Thanksgiving to all. Whether you and yours officially celebrate Thanksgiving or not there's never a wrong time to take a moment and reflect on our blessings with gratitude. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

TMP in Review: Live or Later?

Last week's sorta The Monday Poll (the poll posted in the sidebar in conjunction with the post, 'Too Much Of A Good Thing') wanted to know what you thought about modifying how PBA delivers PSP pro action. Currently it's a live webcast (d'oh!) offered in a ppv format with individual matches made available some weeks after each event. It's an expensive proposition that --according to everything I've heard--doesn't pay for itself much less make a profit. The related post put forward a few other options for presenting the matches and monetizing the process like downloadable single matches or other possible menu-type choices that are pay for what you want and available whenever you want. The not quite The Monday Poll was looking to gauge your collective response. (But as usual y'all are a bunch of lazy slackers who mostly couldn't be bothered.)
The poll choices were simple: No preference, Live webcast, downloadable matches or free or forget about it. No preference received 3% of the votes. Live webcast garnered 58%. Downloads collected 22% while Free or it ain't for me weighed in at 17%. Given the paucity of actual votes--the raw data--it's probably not wise to draw too many conclusions beyond the (seemingly) growing apathy among tournament players--and maybe all paintball players. (If you are a regular reader of VFTD chances are you are a serious paintball addict which would suggest a predisposition to be more actively involved in the game--and consequently more likely to participate in stuff like The Monday Poll. And yet it doesn't happen.)
Otherwise the poll suggests what we already knew--most peeps don't like change--and while most like the idea of or the existence of the webcast they also assume somebody else will pick up the slack in making it happen. Meanwhile I can't decide if that 22% favoring cheap downloads is a positive number or a negative one. Or perhaps more importantly representative of a large enough segment to make a test effort worthwhile.
Realist that I am I'm inclined to think everyone not in the download category refers the status quo whether they buy the webcast or not--probably not--because eventually the PBA makes individual matches available for free. And if that's the case it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Houston Heat By The Numbers

In VFTD's last post, 'Is The Microwave The X-Factor,' I used a recent Champions level pick-up to make a point or two about how teams should think about improving their rosters. Given that I have a penchant for mercilessly beating a dead horse you might reasonably be expecting this post to be more of the same. It won't be. Instead I want to explore some of the difficulties Heat will face this coming season because of the roster changes they made this off season. (I know, it seems counter-intuitive on its face but it really isn't.) Remember it took most of the season for Art Chaos to figure things out.
Let's begin by taking a look back at the original Heat roster. The original Heat roster featured three Russians; Federov, Kniazev and Solnyshkov, a few experienced role-playing pros plus some fresh talent from the divisional ranks that spawned the pro team. (For those of you who insist on calling every pro a superstar my identification of guys like Slowiak, George and Monville as role-players isn't a knock. The Russians played roles too but are both more versatile and brought more winning experience to the team.) The resulting team was built around the Russians with the role-players providing situational flexibility as the inexperienced talent developed in practice with limited spins in match situations. That Heat team was also deliberate, most comfortable with steady, error-free paintball which was arguably a carry over stylistically from Coach Trosen's All Americans background (as a player and coach.) It also proved to be a winning formula.
The "new" Heat retains the players brought in last season to replace the missing Russians; Montressor, Moorhead, Siewers and Taylor plus original Heat members Bouchez and a returning Ryan Smith (who played last season with VCK.) With the return of the original Russian players plus Berdnikov.
One of the key issues Heat struggled with last season was that the replacement stars (for the departed Russians) only superficially filled similar roles. The issues that will manifest as a result this season are lines, roles and spins.
The original Heat ran the 3 Russians plus George and Monville paired on the snake side as their primary line. Now that the team has 4 Russians they only have a single slot to fill for their primary line. (Unless one of the Russians doesn't play up to their standard they almost have to be played together given their experience together and the language issue.) With a single slot available what role is filled? While all the Russians have versatile games whoever fills the last slot will determine the roles of the other players to a significant degree. If it's Moorhead is he still predominantly playing snake wire? If so who plays that wire with him? If it's Siewers, who normally plays D-sire, it likely changes the pairings. Last season the majority of the snake wire spins went to Moorhead (75% of all points played), George (72% of all points played) and Monville (53% all points played). That won't happen in 2015.
Last season the Russian foursome played between 88% - 81% of all points played by Art Chaos. If those numbers are even close in 2015 with Heat it doesn't leave much opportunity for the rest of the roster except whoever fills the primary line slot with the Russians. Any lesser ratio of points played is contrary to past Heat practice and raises different concerns. Last season with the rotation opened up a bit players like Montressor, Bouchez and Taylor all played less than 40% of the available points while as a team Heat under-performed expectations. One reason was because the replacement players skill sets weren't consistent with the players they lost and as a group they had an over-abundance at some positions while being weak in others.
Finally there's the question of pace of play. Heat prefers deliberate and the PSP seems determined to try and push teams to play faster. The issue isn't whether or not Heat can adjust--because I think they can--but will they or will they try to sustain their pace of play? (Remember how Impact opened the PSP season? Same situation but to their credit Impact realized very quickly they needed to make some adjustments and went on to have an exemplary year.)
To sum up: despite having a terrific roster on paper the team is going to have a number of serious issues to contend with even if all the players take a selfless attitude and are collectively determined to serve the best interests of the team. But if discontent sets in at some point or success doesn't happen right away this roster could implode or quietly undermine every effort to re-build a winner. Ironically the one thing that may unite the team is money. If rumors are correct Heat players will make more as a group than the entire budgets of virtually all the other pro teams. And it's a little easier to set the ego aside if you're traveling the world and making a viable living playing--or not playing--paintball.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is The Microwave the X-Factor?

Tuesday X-Factor announced the pick-up of Carl Markowski, formerly of Aftershock, for the 2015 season and as usual the internet onlookers offered up nearly universal praise, predictions of success and congratulations. Which is all well and good--and considerably better than sticks, stones and Romany curses--but it also provides an opportunity to take a closer look. Too often high profile player movement is uncritically assumed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread and frankly I think it too often, intentionally or unintentionally, influences how lower level teams look at improving their own rosters. (I am not, btw, suggesting that picking up Carl was or will be a mistake but it does provide a real life example to analyze. The same holds true of the major roster shake-up at Heat which VFTD will also analyze in a future post.)
Breaking down the X-Factor roster reveals a number of interesting, related factoids. Billy and Mykel are primarily snake leads. Meter plays both snake wire positions but is a better lead than support. The primary snake side support (insert) is Archie. And according to PBA stats he played 86% of the team's points (while earning top gun honors.) Dixon can play anywhere but mostly plays snake side or center. Besides Arch the principle snake side players ranged between 58% - 50% of the points played. Now toss Carl into that mix and realistically he simply takes spins from other players. Does he play the snake side better than the others? That is at present an unknown. One alternative is to begin moving some players around. Experiment and see if there are any performance advantages to be gained by being more flexible. However by 2014 stats Colt played 84% of the points while Scotty played 67% and they typically work together as the primary pairing on the D-wire. Grayson frequently filled in on the D-side or in the Home. So where and how does Carl fit? It's not enough to simply grab a really good player.
Even the best players aren't plug and play. And as a team sport each of the players have roles to fill and in a given point particular jobs to do and it is critically important when working to improve a roster that first one understands the team's current strengths and weaknesses in order to focus on needs. Ideally then roster additions are both good chemistry fits and address areas of weakness with personal strengths that will enhance overall team performance.
Let me put it another way. If your team needs a d-wire lead you don't solve that concern by bringing in the best local player (not on the team) if that player's strength is playing an insert or support role. Yes, he's a very good player but if he isn't what the team needs then you haven't addressed your real area of concern and gotten better as a team in ways that change the outcome of matches.
So what about the Markowski pick-up? If X-Factor is losing a dedicated snake side player or making a change Carl brings a lot of potential pluses and fits the team's aggressive style. On that score it can't be faulted. And Carl is versatile enough to play either wire so in that regard he's a net positive but the real question is does the Markowski pick-up address the team's most pressing need? Perhaps. Keeping in mind that any roster change impacts the whole team and potentially forces changes that might not otherwise have been made in terms of lines and spins.
Otherwise X-Factor remains a solid Champions team and should continue to be a serious competitor going forward. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Too Much Of A Good Thing

At least give me a chance to explain myself before you start in on the rude gestures and profanity. (Fortunately no one has yet discovered how to transmit rotten fruit over the internet.) Oh right. Hard for you to get loud and angry if I haven't said anything yet.
Okay, here's the thing. I think perhaps there's too much of a good thing with the PSP webcast. I know, I know, it's good and getting better. And how else can any but the lucky few attending an event get to see all those pro matches without the webcast? All true, but ...
There's about 10 hours a day on offer when the webcast is live. It seems a little daunting, don't you think? And with 10 hours available if you only watch one or two hours it seems like you're not getting your money's worth even though you'd spend wads more to attend a basketball game or hockey match. And on a Friday? How many peeps are up for 10 hours of competitive paintball on a Friday what with work and school, etc? Even peeps who are serious about their paintball gotta find it tough to block out (nearly) endless hours to devote to watching the webcast on a weekend. And if you buy the whole weekend and watch mostly on Sunday it's hard not to feel like you wasted your money. Even if it is cheap in comparison to other sports entertainment options. (And we haven't even mentioned competing with 'free' sports on TV.) All I'm saying is I can see how it might be a harder sell than it seems like it ought to be.
Is there an alternative? Maybe.
Then there's the individual matches that show up on YouTube (and the PBA website) within a few weeks of each event. You can watch for free and pick the match-ups you want to see. Got 45 minutes before you need to be somewhere--you can watch whenever it's convenient. Now that's what I'm talking about. Between classes? Watch a match. Cooking dinner? Watch a match. Watch a match anytime you like. How many views do some of the most popular matches have compared to how many paying customers watched the same match live? Is it even close? The first match that popped up on my YouTube page was a PBA Match of the Day from World Cup; Revo vs. 187 with over 30,000 views.
What if PBA fast tracked post production on the best matches and began releasing them within a week or two? At the same time they posted summaries of each match so anyone interested in one team or another would have an idea of what happened beyond the final score. And what if PBA made those matches available asap but charged by the download. Like a cheap phone app. 99 cents each? 79 cents each? How much appeal might that have? I don't know but we're gonna try and find out. (See related The Monday Poll.) No doubt the number of views would go down but PBA could still release a free version sometime later on. Just a thought.
By the way, I'm not necessarily proposing changing the webcast but I wonder if it isn't too expensive to sustain indefinitely given the size of the audience willing to pay for it. Is there really too much of a good thing? What if it was Sunday only? Would that reduce costs and increase viewership? I don't know. What I do know is I'd like to see the webcast continue indefinitely--or at least until competitive paintball is a popular TV product--and it may require looking for some new ways to support it. All I'm saying.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In Millenniumland

Our neighbors across the pond have their own silly season. While I've yet to hear anything quite as silly as the (rumored well in advance) demise of Art Chaos things are happening in that corner of the paintball world. The biggest news to date was broken by the kids at GFH. (Check out their FB page here.) Seems that team Hulk out of Ukraine is done--and just after they won SPL1 and earned a golden ticket to the CPL next season. No explanation was forthcoming but it could have something to do with the civil unrest (war?) in eastern Ukraine--or not. That also leaves two Ironmen (Mouse & Marcello) without a Euro home so get in line if you're a Mills team looking for a couple of top notch hired guns. (Or if you're looking for a coach ...)
Hulk's loss could be MLKings gain. They finished third in SPL1 and should get the invite to the CPL next. In second place with their own golden ticket is Amsterdam Heat regaining a CPL spot they lost a couple of years ago. Interestingly they did it with a completely home grown roster that has only three players remaining from their last season in the CPL back in 2012.
For those curious about how the MS is doing keep an eye on SPL1 and SPL2 attrition. Over the last three years or so the divisions have not been full and the league has made a concerted effort to draw teams in from an ever-widening circle which may have reached its limit. So too the open divisions have been a little soft as the MS may have lost some numbers to very strong home grown national leagues in France and Germany. (And in the UK CPPS draws from across the British Isles and is also growing.) It would be good for competitive paintball if the league can hold the line without off season losses in overall numbers of participating teams.
And finally, the Millennium kids have already released next year's schedule--almost. No dates yet for Paris-Chantilly but it will be in September. Otherwise the dates are set. Not all the locations have been confirmed yet but seem likely to remain the same venues. Or, who knows, maybe not. After all doesn't everybody love going to Wart-on-Arse, Germany and Vegas-on-the-Thames? (Okay, it's Bitburg and Basildon but still ...) 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

VFTD Key(s) To Playing Winning Paintball

This post represents a new feature I intend to make a regular feature--meaning it will reoccur now and again. It's kind of a catch-all but the idea is to keep these short and sweet and on point--and still offer something broadly helpful. (That may be a very tall order. We'll see.)
Today's key is aimed at optimizing practice. There are a number of important ways to optimize practice but today's key is the most important. Key: every possible aspect of practice should replicate game play. The objective is to train your mind and body in such a way that every repetition and action undertaken in practice mirrors those same actions under game conditions. For example, every laning drill begins with players in position with barrel tips on the board awaiting the horn. Every last one every time the players line up to do the drills. This way everything about training to lane simulates the exact conditions of a real match. (Which also means its equally important the distances you're shooting comport with the actual match environment. Laning on short or long fields is almost counterproductive.) Another example would be the 1-on-1 warm-up drill I prefer. The action takes place on one half of the field (a standard RaceTo scale field normally) either the snake side or the D-side. Competing players line up at the other corner opposite the half the drill is being run on. If you're playing the D-side line up at the snake corner. On the whistle a player at each snake corner runs across the back line of their end of the field and may not begin shooting until they reach the other corner bunker. At which point other conditions may be added. The core idea is that I want the player in a mental and physical state during the drill that begins to replicate both the early adrenaline rush or late game fatigue experienced in match play when the score matters. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

What happens when the Champions sit down with RedBull?'

It seems amazing to many involved in the competitive game that a company like RedBull puts (relatively) enormous sums of money into events like airplane racing and an appropriated and manufactured contest like Flugtag but (so far) have completely ignored paintball. (Of course both those events are brand builders and don't even require attendance to do their job.) But even so, why not paintball?
What happens when the Champions sit down with RedBull? What pitch can the Champions make that will make RedBull sit up and take notice? We're the best competitive paintball teams in the world. And? We represent a highly desirable demographic. How much of that demographic? (According to industry analysis not even the majority of paintball players.) See where this is going? It doesn't require too many pertinent questions to discover competitive paintball--even at the highest levels--doesn't, at present, have a whole lot to offer and is really looking for a sugar daddy willing to fund an expansion effort.
So what if the league and the PBA join the Champions and present a united front to RedBull? Sure, but how is this fundamentally different than the Champs alone? It's just more mouths to feed and what is gained? Remember, you need to be considering this from RedBull's frame of reference: How does supporting competitive paintball help RedBull--or any other potential supporter or sponsor? Does the league legitimize the Champions or do the Champions legitimize the league? And is support for the league support for the status quo--and if so, what does that get any sponsor in either the short or the long term? Now advertising via the PBA might free the PBA up to go back to free access and extend its reach but then the question is does that sponsor/advertiser have other avenues to reach that same prospective audience? At the end of the day there might be some hypothetical value in advertising with PBA but if there is PBA has yet to make it happen. Otherwise what's really on offer is potential.
And that is why there have been all the determined efforts to get competitive paintball on TV. If paintball was on TV and enough people watched then the game would have something to sell. That model has recently been abandoned--due to repeated failures--in favor of the PBA model that has attempted to build an audience that would prove attractive enough to start pulling in some advertising money which in turn could keep the effort going and expanding. And it didn't work within the time frame that PBA resources allowed. So now PBA has resorted to charging the audience in the hope of being able to maintain a continuing webcast and hopefully build a larger paying audience in future--which may or may not eventually attract outside advertiser attention. 
Independent of the effort to sell the game some percentage of competitive players find spectating paintball boring and in presentations like the webcast we have yet to be able to follow the narrative of a game or point in real time in any coherent sort of way--despite the fact the webcast is constantly improving. And if we want to build an audience beyond players, friends and family there needs to be an effort to educate potential fans so they understand what's happening when we have opportunities to present the game to them.
Still hopeful there's a bigger future for "pro" paintball? (Yeah, me too.) Here's what you do. Find a venue like the grandstand arena at the OC Fairgrounds and organize a one off event. Call it a Champions Invitational. Take 5 of the top pro teams and devise some half day format. A round robin prelim perhaps going directly to a final. Whatever. Start promoting at least six months in advance. Put a winner take all prize on the table. The object is to sell tickets to the grandstand seating and access to the livestream for a worldwide audience. If it makes a profit for the promoter it might prove to be another avenue for developing a true pro game. Maybe. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Optimizing the OODA loop in Paintball

Consider yourselves fortunate as this is the last post in the OODA loop series. I would promise not to bore you to tears with similar posts in the future but that would be an empty promise. So you will simply have to suffer through these sorts of posts or you know you could skip this one or quit reading VFTD altogether. Whatever works for you and I promise not to take it personally.
The way we optimize the OODA loop is we cheat. (As paintball players you no doubt already have plenty of practical experience. Well maybe not you but certainly all those other guys.) But unlike paintball we won't be breaking any rules or coloring outside the lines--instead we will be manipulating the process. Remember what we're dealing with in an OODA loop. It is simply a systematic way of thinking about how we make decisions. And in manipulating the process we are in fact adding new elements to the process. Elements designed to provide 'answers' that allow the mind to take a short cut or two to a decision.
It is a truism of competitive paintball that experience is the guiding hand to superior paintball because experience provides 'answers' to game play scenarios that help us make better choices. While this is true it is neither universal or a constant. What I mean by that is that my two years of experience isn't always comparable to your two years of experience and this is because 'experience' is just what happens when we play and what we do with it is what makes all the difference. So, while experience is a given it is also uncertain. (This is also why not all players with ten or fifteen years experience are universally better than all players with less experience. Which is why 'experience' is an incomplete metric; it is learning and application that matter.)
Taking 'experience' as a given let's look at the short cuts that can improve and accelerate the decision-making process. First is a comprehensive awareness of the game playing environment--which is a fancy way of saying field-walking--but to be very clear I am talking about a level of preparation well beyond the standard of even most diligent teams. For example, during game play the position of an opponent is communicated to you. The most common response is to then visually check off on the information given--and then consider if there is an action to be taken. What if because of your advance preparation you already "know" and understand the options available to you? And further, given the other positions of teammates and opponents you are aware of you also know what actions you can successfully take or be able to more accurately assess the risk to a given decision? [Okay, it's true, This short cut actually takes quite a lot of real time to accomplish but it's worth it.] A high level of preparation adds information to the Observe phase, filling in the details, and providing a fuller 'picture' of any situation.
Our next short cuts operate within the Orient phase and help prioritize (or replace) the filtering process. These are 'keys' to situational awareness and maintaining focus on the 'Big Picture' goal. The 'keys' are any sort of predetermined guide to acting within a narrow situation. For example, widest gun always wraps to minimize exposure and maintain contain in order to deny opponent a matching rotation wide. Or lead snake always pushes to take up as much territory as possible. Or the priority of players in a support rule is to defend and advance your lead. If you think about it for a bit you'll discover you already act under the influence of various 'keys' whether they were taught directly or picked up indirectly. In this way 'keys' actively replace part of the filtering process. [One danger of course is that your 'keys' may on occasion be sub-optimal too. So while 'keys' can lead to accelerated decision-making they can also lead to poor decision-making.]
The 'Big Picture' goal in this context is knowledge of how your team intends to be successful. (That also means as a team each point you play has to be played with specific intent. Here is where we're going and this is what we're attempting to accomplish. Call it the plan if you like.) Knowing the game plan and what your teammates intend to do to accomplish their portion of the plan provides active and practical context for every decision you make during that point as you execute your responsibilities within the plan.
Preparation, 'keys' and context act as accelerators in the decision-making process because they tend to instill a level of certainty not always present otherwise and short cut or bypass much of the Orient (evaluation) process altogether.
Keep in mind none of this avoids poor decision-making or ill-timed action but it does tell you where to look to get at the root causes and also serves as a reminder that the real speed of the game occurs in the mental game and is only reflected in the action we see on the field.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The OODA Loop In Practice

In a VFTD first I'm posting a completely different post than promised in the OODA Loop series. (Yes, I've done this before--but not with this series.) For the simple reason that in thinking about how to follow up I decided I was leaving some necessary information out which will (hopefully) prove useful when I finally get around to posting, Optimizing The OODA Loop For Paintball. 
Remember what the loop represents; Observe, Orient, Decide & Act. Collect information about the game playing environment. Given the nature of the game determine what information is relevant. Choose from among the possible responses. Act on your decision. Repeat constantly. It seems simple enough but there are some common pitfalls to be aware of. First, there is never perfect information. That means that much of the time decisions still must be made on incomplete information. This is where inexperienced players get hung up initially. Not only is the available information incomplete it's always in a state of flux, it's constantly changing and the inexperienced player struggles to process the seemingly chaotic input to a decision. And in a game where seconds often matter failing to make a timely decision is a default decision--and usually not a good one. The second common pitfall is a failure to examine the personal filters we bring as individuals to the Orient (evaluation) process. The inexperienced always bring a higher level of uncertainty--they frequently aren't sure at all what constitutes a good decision in a given situation--to the process along with their personal filters. These filters can be characteristics like caution or aggression. Fear is perhaps the most common. (I don't mean fear in the sense of being afraid so much as fear of failure. And nearly every player contends with that fear to one degree or another.) It is important to have a sense of our personal filters so they don't have undue influence on our decisions.
(If you are wondering about the relevance of breaking down and understanding the decision-making process the most obvious line of separation between D1 and Pro level players is the mental pace of the game--how quick;y decisions are made.) 
On a practical level the tendency for most competitive players to scrimmage and learn a field layout instead of the game itself tends to inhibit a player's development at the decision-making level. This happens because of the player's innate fear of failure and desire to succeed--and more often than not success means doing those things the player is already comfortably doing and confident will work. And given the repetitive nature of the training process it is very easy to develop safe habits and fall into a rut; a pattern of playing it safe. (This also manifests with players "cheating" in practice.)   The best way to combat this tendency is to relentlessly encourage players to push the envelope in practice situations. (And I don't mean play the gray or commit penalties. I mean make aggressive choices and see what happens.) Take risks and ignore the consequences. Success reinforces confidence in the process and decisions made--and the value of this is almost impossible to overstate. Failure requires reevaluation of the whole process to see where, how and why a decision failed so that we learn from that mistake. In either case the focus remains positive as both outcomes, success or failure, are a learning opportunity. Without the risk the result is we play within our comfort zone and our comfort zone is making those decisions during gameplay we are already familiar with--and tend to be focused on staying alive--playing it safe. Pushing beyond those self-imposed boundaries is the beginning of experience. Experience that will carry over to competition.
Okay, next time I really will deliver 'Optimizing The OODA Loop For Paintball.' 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Monday Poll in Review: Dead Pool

A Very Special The Monday Poll wanted to know which teams you lot thought were most likely to turn in their PSP cards and call it a day. During the vote Art Chaos announced they were not only not coming back to the PSP but were pulling the plug altogether. And, if you're gonna go out you might as well do it in style which Chaos did winning the last three events they competed in including World Cup. Which is a long winded way of saying they screwed up the poll. If they'd waited a few days ... Also, over the Halloween weekend GI and Empire announced (respectively) they'd signed up VCK and Revo for next season which, barring the end of the world, makes their intentions pretty clear. Even so the results are in -- and they are kinda predictable. I'll let you in on a little secret. I was hoping we might see an indication or two in the results that suggested who might be next. Thing is players talk and every secret or even discussed possibility eventually leaks. The fact that the numbers mostly don't offer any clear signs may be a good sign. Let's hope--even though Mr. Curious assures me more teams will fall before the spring brings the 2015 season.
By the numbers XSV is the most likely to close shop and there have seemed to be a variety of indications that is the direction things are going but nothing official has been announced yet. CEP is the second most likely to call it a day according to the poll results. (Everything Mr. C has heard to date suggests a desire to see CEP continue but again, who knows for sure?) Art Chaos was running third when they ruined the poll and officially quit leaving that distinction to Red Storm. Having struggle most of the season in the back half of the Challengers bracket and with the expense involved in competing in the US as a Russia-based team makes them a reasonable guess. It has also been suggested in some quarters that the Western sanctions imposed on Russia is having an impact which would also affect the Russian Legion. Five other teams were in double digits ranging between 16% and 10% of the vote. In descending order they were Thunder, Aftershock, Top Gun, Russian Legion and Damage. Infamous came next at 8% with everyone else between 1%--6%. The four least likely to quit teams were Impact, Ironmen, X-Factor and Revo.
At this time VFTD is aware of two more teams on the list that will make official announcements at some point in time (unless things dramatically change) and believes there could end up being two or three others when it's all said and done. We'll all know soon enough I suppose.

And for those already counting the Houston Heat victories next season with the formal announcement the Russians (plus Malloy) are coming not only should last season provoke some caution but juggling that roster is going to be a prodigious undertaking. Not least because of the expectations but in any sport first stringers expect to play and some members of the team will be disappointed.