What is it that every paintball team wants but doesn’t always have? I’ll give you a hint… a drill or coach can’t make it happen. If you guessed wins, nope, that’s not it either although I can certainly see why you would answer that way. This particular thing certainly can lead to that and will most certainly have an effect on the consistency of winning but no, it is not that.
Almost every paintball team these days is looking for the secret that makes them a better “team”. What does that even mean? Becoming a successful paintball team requires its members to step up commitment levels that weren’t necessary not too long ago. Teams with the right personnel and direction could practice twice a month and succeed. That is not the case these days. To reach the level of success that other winning programs have shown requires team members to invest significant time on and off the field honing our craft. In other words, if you aren’t out on a paintball field almost every weekend with a day during the week once in a while, you will fall behind. Now, you may say, my team only practices twice a month and we have won. Sure, but that team that you walked over last event is putting in the time and they certainly won’t be a walk in the park the next time you meet. The point is, teams are catching on and realizing what it takes meaning they are catching up to you.
Older players paved the way. They were piecing it together, creating and innovating training regimens as they went. They developed processes, concepts, and drills that improved the learning curve for paintball players everywhere. Players today can pretty much throw a rock and find an older player who is familiar with these processes and who can take a D5 or D4 team and show them what is necessary to progress and improve. DVD’s and YouTube videos are everywhere on how to snap, how to lane, how to drill, how to practice, on and on. There are even stupid bloggers out there who think they know what they are talking about (I know a guy). Yes, it becomes more difficult in the higher divisions but we will talk about that some other day (I don’t want to debate the “which jump in divisions is hardest” question – It’s pro duh.) I believe that some of the newer generations of players were hurt by the introduction of X-ball. The coaching aspect and crowd interaction placed less emphasis on teamwork and paintball IQ and more on listening to the guy who is telling you what you needed to know, what you needed to do and when to do it. It took a lot of the skill out of the game. So, there are a few players out there who didn’t learn the flow of the game and became automatons rather than educated players.
Barring that thought, how did the successful teams find the lightning in the bottle that improves that sense of “team” and team work? Some of it was luck. A lot of it can be summed up in something I have said for many, many years. A good paintball team is not a bunch of friends who happen to play paintball. It is a paintball team full of good players who happen to be friends. In other words, there has to be that dynamic we have talked about before. But let’s get serious. What would that look like?
Create ground rules for practice. There needs to be a rigorous schedule of drilling/playing, watching film, then more drilling/playing based off the data we take from the film. Then repeat it. The goal here is to not only learn from your mistakes but do so EVERYTIME you are out on the field. Players who refuse to grow or improve are either not putting in the work, giving lip service while hiding their true intentions, or would rather just be told what to do instead of learning what to do. No automatons need apply to successful teams. This brings us to the next point…
Everyone participates. Not everyone is going to learn at the same pace. But there is no learning if you aren’t there with your team. Don’t take suggestions for improvement or critiques as personal or criticism. Take it for what it is… data. We need to know where we need work. If everyone on the team recognizes their strengths and weaknesses openly and fairly… that is one hell of a team right there and half the battle is won. Listen to understand, not listen to respond or make excuses. Have a dialogue so that both of you understand where each other is coming from and how each is thinking. Make sure everyone on the team has contributed both physically and verbally. Be heard, voice concerns, and show up. And once again, this leads us to our next point…
Don’t assume. Not everyone knows every aspect of the game. If you believe someone may not be aware of a particular technique or thought process, share it. And those that are receiving the information should not be offended if they do know. Obviously you did something that made them think you didn’t and they are being a good teammate to point it out. Be open. Honesty is an amazing thing and crucial to the success of a team.
Share, analyze, and decide. I read this somewhere, I can’t remember where, but it stuck with me (a stocks/money magazine maybe?) I don’t see why it can’t apply to paintball. Too many teams aren’t “systematic” enough. I’m not just talking about teams. I’m talking about doing everything as a team. Drilling, scrimmaging, eating as a team, watching film as a team, staying in the same hotel as a team, etc. Everyone needs to share space and everyone needs to share knowledge. In the case of share, analyze, decide, the team needs to share what they know (or think they know), analyze possible alternatives, and then make a decision. If that doesn’t work… simple… repeat the process again with the new knowledge you have as to why it didn’t work that time.
Finally, and this is one that is very near and dear to me right now, recognize that failure means you are succeeding at learning. Most teams become nuclear at the thought of losing – but losing is essential to understanding how to win. It should lead to new innovation. As a leader, I try to model certain behaviors I have seen in friends and family who are successful. I also do this in hopes that my teammates will be inspired to do the same. The right attitude isn’t about winning or losing or your performance at an event went (sure, that is included and the performance should be noted) but rather should center on understanding what we learned each time (even when we win).
“It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” That line from Rocky keeps dancing in my head. A friend told me recently that it is how you respond to defeat that defines you. I had to be reminded of that. We all do. So what is the lightning in the bottle that makes a great team?
Go make it.
Be water my friends.