Where is the blasted sacrificial knife?

I want to expand upon something that I mentioned last August regarding the blog “Culture in Paintball”. Several things have happened in this off season in particular that have made me want to touch back on this subject. And no, it has nothing to do with the PSP’s new rules, etc. Everybody and their mother has weighed in on that… no need for me to enter that arena as I seriously doubt, based on the lines drawn, there is any true winner in that debate.

Here is what I had mentioned about “rituals” in that previous blog:

“Rituals/Traditions. This is your paintball team’s identity or soul. These are what the team has in common. It’s the glue that binds teammates together. Rituals and traditions can be the setting up and taking down of the field EVERY weekend, the meeting up at a favorite local restaurant after practice, the workouts, the drills, rites of passage for new members…(those can be interesting). You get the picture.”

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Mixing margaritas with the Ironmen’s Mike Paxson in 2008. This became a “ritual” albeit a dangerous one…

Let’s face it. We live in a world of modernism (is that a word?) where we are constantly bombarded with consumerism, the drive (or lack thereof) to challenge ourselves, the increasing divide among us due to different norms or the void of having shared values.   The question then becomes, with all these differences, how do we turn 8-10 guys into a team that won’t eventually self-implode? How do we confront these vacancies among us and bring us back together? How can we build a meaningful bond with our teammate that translates on and off the field? How do we create that elusive true sense of the term, “Team”?

Why, rituals, of course.

Every culture throughout existence has engaged in rituals. It would then hold that they are, in face, a fundamental part of the human condition. Rituals can change things, solve problems and accomplish things. Through history we have used rituals to identify our “tribes”, to orient ourselves and differentiate between others. A paintball team without rituals will, overtime, collapse upon itself because there is no means by which to identify it, nothing to be proud of, to achieve. The team will be bored and will eventually cease to exist.  If it somehow manages to survive, you have a team of guideless zombies who have no life or pride anyway. You know… democrats.

Okay, so what exactly is “ritual”?

Ritual can be defined as “Prescribed, established or ceremonial acts or features of a collective.” Quite simply, a ritual is something a group of likeminded people do regularly for a specific purpose or reason. Here is a good example: Waving to someone or shaking someone’s hand. There is no real reason why waving your hand at someone or gripping another’s hand and shaking it equates to a greeting or establishment of acquaintance. It is culturally relative (there’s that word “culture” again… hang in there). However, washing your hands in order to clean them is not a ritual as there is a direct correlation between your action and a desired result. To use my Catholic faith as an example, when the priest splashes water on his hands at Mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, this is a ritual since the water is not necessarily intended to remove bacteria.


Team Owner/Captain Mikey McGowan participating in the ritual of the “high five” with Coach Shane Pestana of the Los Angeles Ironmen. Co- Captain yours truly participating in the ritual of paintball gun safety in the background.

Okay… enough with establishing what it is and my silly attempt at explaining Catholic Mass. To the point:

A ritual in paintball should be developed as something that carries value to the team. It should instill in the team a behavior. And most successful teams establish these aspects (culture) from the get go. The ritual of drilling a skill set. The ritual of donning the same jersey. The ritual of always being polite to the referees and playing honestly (or dishonestly in some cases). All in all, paintball rituals should involve discipline. By enforcing the ritual, it should create a desired set of effects. Precise repetition leads to better physical control or what we constantly harp about at Prime as “muscle memory”.

But there have to be rules. Rules regulate the ritual. If you “cheat” the ritual i.e. break the rules of the drill, the desired effect cannot be accomplished. Let’s remember the purpose of a ritual, “to have a specific purpose”. The point of ritualistic paintball is to lead to an increase in performance. Put another way, it is essentially thought plus action. A ritual consists of doing something in your mind while simultaneously connecting it to doing something with your body.

A ritual does not have to be some grand thing. It can be something as small as sharing an energy drink each morning before practice. But it should involve these key takeways:

  1. It should bring the team together
  1. It should have a purpose/goal
  1. It should be shared among all members of the team
  1. It should help establish a team’s identity.
This ritual sucked…

Hopefully this post has helped you understand something… I honestly don’t know what I was trying to say when I started it. There was a point. I guess, if you are a lousy human being and you lead a paintball team, you will probably create more lousy human beings with your ritualistic behavior. I prefer to create good people who are good at paintball. Your team can define you as an individual. Hopefully, your rituals are  positive in nature. If not, should my team and yours meet on the field, I promise our ritualistic approach will outdo yours… unless your ritual involves bribing refs or the ritual of cheating, etc. Even then, I believe the ritual of winning will come into play. And we play to win. Ritualistically speaking…



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