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.


splatkid10 said...

Baca -

When you described someone moving as soon as they hear a call from their teammate took my mind immediately to Oliver Lang, Marcello, Pestana, etc. The seasoned seasoned veterans.

I've seen and heard enough at practices in CA and watching events that there way of thinking about the game is different and is very instinctual.

The amount of prep they put into the game translates into some of those big moves we see on the webcast. "He's shooting outside." and without hesitation 2 guys get bunkered out. That kind of awareness, I agree is from taking the time to learn a field, but I feel it is really developed through years of play and countless reps being exposed to those situations.

I feel the best way to reinforce this is when you have an experienced coach. Someone who can come up to you after point is over and say, "y'know when you hear his gun turn you can make this move..." and over time those little things aggregate and improve a player's instincts. Sometimes I've found it as simple as, "he hit snake 1, where did you think he was going next?!!??" Next time that happens you hear the snake call and you throw paint that way, make the bump, or tuck in to protect get the kill, stay alive, whatever - but those little things definitely add up.

Personally having someone very seasoned watching you and a willingness to listen I think is a huge contributor here...perfect practice makes perfect after all.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff Baca, Ive only been playing about 5 years now but this definitely gives me a better mindset to take into practice. Keep em coming.

Baca Loco said...

I'ma disagree with you on two points--and these are two points I hoped this series would help make.
What you call instinctual--isn't. Now it may even seem that way to some of the players themselves. What I will agree with is that some players have a higher aptitude for playing a game but that isn't the same thing. Everybody goes thru the same process and experience alone is worthless unless you learn something from that experience.
You are however in the ball park. :)

splatkid10 said...

Definition of instinctual: done instantly and without conscious thought or decision.

Instincts in humans and animals were part of evolution, they were learned. I'd argue these instinctual moves I mention above are learned years of play on the paintball field.

I've seen personally by evolution of a player increase significantly during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but now not so much. Part of it was I played less events in 2014 and made it to the field less - life got in the way. The other part was 2012 and 2013 were the first two years I really tried putting a lot into the game...playing every weekend, clinics, events, etc. Like working out, big gains are seen early on. At the same time, in 2013 I moved away from Santa Clara Paintball (where Royalty was playing) and the knowledge I tapped regularly from their players/coaches disappeared. I no longer had them to talk things through with and gain insight.

My learning curve definitely stagnated as a result of losing a "coach" and already realizing my early gain .

splatkid10 said...

My evolution - not by evolution.

Baca Loco said...

I'm sorry but you're simply mistaken--and don't understand evolutionary theory either. What you are calling instinct isn't, it's learned--which is why spending time examining how we learn and make decisions has value in the context of training and player development.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, paintball is a survival game at heart . The smart player will climb all the way down the snake and shoot the enemy in the back the unintelligent player will shoot out of the first knuckle, waste paint and move down snake later in the game to put pressure on a dorito/inside player to get a kill . So in a tournament situation you choose B but practical you choose A but due to amount of volume of paint in air and risk of getting eliminated you always chose B . " NEVER FIRE FIRST UNLESS YOUR SURE YOU WILL HIT YOUR TARGET".