Round up the usual suspects

Jeff Stein, head coach of the 2016 NXL Division 2 series champs, Bay State Bandits, and former owner/coach of the New England Hurricanes, wrote an excellent piece on PBNation recently regarding try-outs.  It addressed both sides of that equation, the team looking for pick-ups and the players looking to be pick-ups.  You can find that article here:

Jeff beat me to the punch as I was planning on addressing this very topic here at Zen.  During the off season, this subject is often one that is on teams/players’ minds.  As such, I thought I would add my 2 cents to the conversation.  Being involved to a small extent with the recent PC Katana divisional try-outs this past weekend and getting to see the talent and fun out there, it just made sense.

From L to R- Air n Paint, yours truly, and Jeff Stein at World Cup 2016

When I host a try-out, there are very specific elements I look for in players.  I will engage and watch several players when everyone shows and is gearing up.  To the casual spectator, I am just being me…chatty, intrigued, and curious.  Unbeknownst to most, I assure you, I am being most nefarious.  I am looking for “tells” as well as gauging them on several different parameters (we will get into these).  I have a devious little system I developed several years ago regarding note taking in case I leave my clip board lying around.  In some instances, I have purposefully left it out as a test. What they will find are names with symbols and numbers next to them.  They will not be able to decipher it or glean anything advantageous from it… but I certainly learned something about you when I saw you try to read it.


I have always believed that being prepared is the half way point to success. That belief has served me and others I know well over the years.  So pay attention to those who have what they need for the day.  Many a player have come to me and asked to borrow something, whether it was a hopper, a tank, the notorious need for batteries, etc.  At that EXACT moment, I know you aren’t taking this serious enough to have the most basic necessities.  It speaks volumes about what I can come to expect out of you for the season. You are almost 90% done in my book at that point.

Let’s put that into perspective.  Would any other professional, no matter the profession, not be prepared?  Would a doctor operate on you before he or she understood your health history or performing the appropriate tests?  Doubtful, but if you find yourself with a doctor like that, I suggest you leave their office immediately.  Granted, we are talking about paintball, not someone’s health, but I firmly believe you should approach all activities in this manner.  If you don’t, we may not get along.  Before you attend a try-out or host one, ask yourself, “Would I be impressed by my own preparations?”   Teams/coaches know what you are looking for and know how you are going to look for it.  Have a set itinerary where you have a basic idea/guide of what you want to do during the day.  Players, be prepared to give your best and make sure you have everything you need as if you were already part of the team.

Be prepared.. for every contingency


This one takes a little explaining.  Most people, when you use the term in this context, think it’s about being social or “mingling”.  That is certainly something we should look for.  How comfortable is the player in his surroundings?  Is he easily engaged?  Does he listen intently, does he look you in the eye when you are talking (a factor I look for religiously), what is his demeanor?  But it is so much more.  Socialization is essentially learning appropriate behavior within an environment.  It’s a process.   Without attempting to teach a 101 course here, we want to understand if he can adapt to the team’s culture and how comfortable he is within it.  This is not something that necessarily will happen right away or that we can necessarily identify after so many hours (we will talk about that).  However, is this individual mature enough and socialized enough in a team environment in such a way that they can meet your requirements as a team member?  Perhaps there are aspects that denote they can evolve or are willing to do so?  There are nuances and behaviors you can look for, all of which involve our next topic.

This is our culture or, at least, a part of it


I mentioned “tells” earlier.  The verbal and the non-verbal communication of a player can tell you a good bit.  Is he loud and abrasive or is he polite and helpful to others?  Does he talk about himself too much or does he not talk much at all?  When he speaks is he articulate?  Is he not afraid to ask questions and when he does, are they well thought out?  This goes both ways of course.  Did you give clear and concise directions?  Did you articulate well?  Did you explain from the outset what you are looking for?  Honesty is the best policy in these scenarios.

Regarding non-verbal communication, does the player avoid others and keep to themselves?  Do they carry themselves well?  What are they doing in between drills/points? What do these things say to you?  Watch them during the warm up.  Are they genuinely putting in an effort to stretch?  How quickly are they ready to go?  Are they first on the field or always lagging behind?  What are their reactions to losing a drill?  Are they helping others?

Communicating – it does a team good

One thing that I find most important is do they listen?  And when they listen, do they respond accordingly.  For instance, if we give instruction on a run and gun drill; “I want you to run straight to the corner on the break shooting back at home and the home player will be trying to lane you”.  Do they stop at a bunker on their way and edge out?  In other words, they want to beat the drill as opposed to follow directions (Another blog topic to be sure).  Perhaps they wanted to show us how a “smart” player would do it.  All you showed me is you don’t listen. No Bueno.


This is probably the most self- explanatory.  Nobody likes the Debbie downer or, in particular, the guy who starts picking those around him apart, even if he is doing it quietly.  I like there to be energy whether it is a quiet fire of focus or a loud happy positive guy who you can tell just loves being there and is thankful for the opportunity.  Look for people who will be themselves.


Obviously, you want a person who can handle the physical stress of our sport and they should have a sense of coordination.  Whereas, our sport has become more and more about athleticism, you don’t have to have a Bo Jackson or Usain Bolt.  But the individual should at least be able to run a few points without strain.  I am a firm believer in the importance of the fundamentals, as well.  They should show a competent amount of coordination and at least have a basic understanding of these fundamentals.  This, of course, can vary depending on your division.  There is no forgiveness for a D2 player or higher who does not have an understanding of basic fundamentals. (Possibly a D3 player as well).  This goes hand in hand with the communication part though.  Are they coachable?  When they listen to they really make an effort?  Do they adjust and try your suggestions?


What’s in your wallet?

Some other notes

Be up front from the get go when hosting a try out.  You need to manage expectations from the start.  “We expect everyone to be able to afford a minimum of 2 cases per practice” or “We will be out at the field every Saturday at 8 am to set up and everyone will participate”.  Something that is beneficial is have your goals, requirements and expectations typed out on a hand out that you can then dispense amongst the guys there to try-out.  Put some serious thought into this.  Don’t be draconian, but have some fun with it too.  It will show the guys you are human.

I think it goes without saying that you shouldn’t commit to a player after just one try-out.  Be sure to state this from the start as well. Whether your try out is one day or two, when you decide on a player(s) that you feel will compliment or add to your roster, explain that you liked what you saw and you would like to see more.  Would they be interested in joining the team for the next few practices and see how things go before you commit?  This will allow you to see their consistency (if it exists) as well as a better feel for their interaction and abilities.  This is in the player who just tried out best interest as well.  He may not like what he is seeing or feeling regarding the team.

I will close with this.  I would much rather have a hard working, coachable player, who listens and wants to be there and who wants to improve then a superstar any day of the week.

Be water my friends


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