I am always looking for ways to improve. Not just myself, no, I am genuinely interested in finding a way that can translate into improving others. The pursuit of developing processes to improve an individual or team capability is important to me (why else would I do this blog?) Trust me, when you see that lightbulb go off in a players head, when he/she “gets it”, it’s a great feeling. And you can learn a lot from watching and listening to others, as well. I also appreciate a good success story, mostly because I enjoy learning about someone else’s path, the struggles and the successes. This is one of the reasons I am more interested in Divisional player’s accomplishments and journeys. I think they bring a great perspective and insight to the process. Which brings me to this month’s Gun Fu article.
I met this player in 2016 at a WCPPL event. We were teammates. We were both guesting on a team and hit it off. I learned back then that this guy was motivated and I appreciated what he brought to the pit as well as the field. We would meet again that same year, except this time across from each other in the Semi-finals of World Cup. Afterwards, we shook each other’s hands and promised to keep in touch. And so we have.
Stephen Mazurek is 27, lives in San Diego, CA, but is originally from Commerce, MI. He first stepped on a paintball field at age 13 with his church group. He already had a passion for toy guns and nerf so, it was a natural fit. This happened at Atomix Paintball, an indoor field, close to his house.
“The first game I played I did some work in the snake and decided it was my calling.”
Stephen plays with the Camp Pendleton Raiders these days. The program has had some big names on its roster: Ryan Martin and Toke Hamil played with the Raiders (Ironmen), along with Andrew Johnson (TMG Outlaws), Ryan Collette (Ironmen), Rich Avila and Joel Buffington (XSV), and Rodney Squires (Dynasty). They are currently ranked 2nd in the NXL series less than 2 points out of first place.
“They started in 2012, as Camp Pendleton’s home team, which is I think when NPPL was reborn again. They had their first professional win at the New England Open in 2013.”
The road to the Raiders roster was a long one but not lacking of adventure or experience. It even involves a solid name in paintball that has been mentioned here before regarding our last Gun Fu interview:
“Prior to the Camp Pendleton Raiders, I played with quite a bit of other teams from Michigan. My friend and I started our first 3-man team, Detroit Vengeance and took 3rd at our first young guns. From there I went onto Detroit Action, then Grind, a couple guest appearances with the Farside Kids NPPL team, a few events with CRU LT as well, but then spent a majority of my blood, sweat, and tears with 810 Thug Life! Gotta throw a quick shout out to Raw Material as well!”
So how did he end up with the Raiders? After all, they are based out of Camp Pendleton (its right there in the name) out near San Diego:
“…I was in somewhat of a repetitive cycle back home in Michigan. For Christmas my family took a vacation to California. My sister, brother, and I each got to pick one activity to go do while we were there and of course mine was to go to the infamous Paintball Park at Camp Pendleton. I got dropped off at this awesome venue, with 4 turfed fields, complete with pits, air stations, gun racks…and no one to play because of the holiday weekend (the recreation side and tournament side are almost two different worlds). Luckily two now good friends, Fran and Nikki showed up, along with a couple walk-ons and we got to play a few 3 on 3’s. By noon everyone was done and as I was getting ready to call my dad. Nate Schroeder (former Ironmen, currently Infamous) showed up and Nikki introduced me. We had a good drill session and after he invited me to experience San Diego down in Pacific Beach; let’s just say I had too much fun followed by another awesome day at the Paintball Park! About a week later there was a post for a Combine at the Paintball Park. That was my sign. I talked with my parents and they were very supportive. So I drove out with all my savings and nothing but a dream. It was a 3 weekend long combine and by week 2 the Camp Pendleton Raiders claimed me as one of their own!”
Think about that? When this guy decides to commit, he commits! That is truly believing in yourself and your dreams. So I decided to test him, to really see what he was about. Without fail, he showed a maturity and straight forward thinking I find rare these days. I pressed him about the Raiders’ record in the NXL’s semi pro division. They struggled in that division but saw some success in D2 in 2016 with two Sunday appearances.
However, they went back to Semi Pro in 2017 and struggled again. This year, Stephen and the Raiders have been competing in NXL’s Division 2 and started the season off right winning the first event of the year in Las Vegas followed by two Sunday showings in Texas and Atlantic City. So I asked him about that decision process.
“It unfortunately was an easy decision to make. Our team seems to do a small rebuild every year, which is why we are always on the bubble of Division 2 and Semi-Pro. I’ve learned the hard way multiple times to take it slow. Baby steps. Forcing ourselves to compete at a level we are not ready for, can hurt a lot more than it will help. Although, I am always one to push for us to play at the highest level possible but, if it is not productive, it will not be beneficial. The gaps between divisions can be a great one. Not always for an individual but, for a team it can be and you have to do what is best for the team.”
So what’s the big plan? What are the aspirations for himself and the Raiders?
“Of course my aspiration for myself and the Raiders is to compete on a professional level one day but, besides that, it’s really to just continue a forward, positive progression to being the best we can be, whether it is on or off the field. I think that is the most important thing.”
I love that answer… forward progression and being the best we can be on and off the field.
Now that we have a baseline, let’s get into the nitty gritty. Let’s find out what makes Stephen tick. What does he love about the game? What does he hate about the game? Again, he approaches the questions with a well thought out and mature answer.
“Wow, tough question. What I love and hate is the same thing and that is how amplified every detail in paintball can be, yet you only have control over so much. The fact that I can work to have the best snapshot, but my paint can still bounce. You can have perfect game plans but, if you’re team doesn’t work together, they will fail. Win an event, but not know exactly how it happened. On the opposite end you can have had a bad shot but, the paint will break when it counts. Bad game plans but, if the team puts in the effort they can be executed to success. Or lose an event and know every detail why. It’s a constant battle from event to event, weekend to weekend, even day to day, to achieve perfection without knowing all the answers. Once you do achieve that win, it’s impossible to replicate even though it just happened and you can replay it all exactly how it happened in your head. Long story short, the path is always changing. I love it and I hate it, but that’s why I stay on it.”
Excellent. So how does Stephen “stay on it”? How does he train? What does he as a player focus on? What are his strengths/weaknesses?
“I really focus on game plans which turns into both my strength and weakness (funny how that works). I have a good ability to understand the whole plan and what the next step should be to complete it. That brings on the stress of worrying about a lot more things than myself. So I have a constant battle of staying focused in my own mind, while still thinking about the team. Although it’s not a bad thing, there is already a lot one has to do to play at 100%. Adding on extra thoughts just makes it that much more difficult, but when the team needs answers, it’s nice to be able to give valuable input with the overall team in mind and not just what I can do better to win.”
So, what are some of his favorite drills to run? Why? How do the Raiders prepare for an event?
“I do these drills I call “advanced tactics” because it sounds cool but, it’s really just one, two, or three shot drills. Unlike normal one or two shot drills, you do them with the full intensity of a game. Accuracy and speed are both important. I create each “advanced tactic” based on what I think I need to work on. Because no two points in paintball are the same, why should the drills be? For example, the Atlantic City layout I played back center, mostly shooting snake side. So I set up two targets. One for the second dorito on the snake side and one for the corner. I would call the 5 seconds just like the point but only have two shots to hit the targets. Come off the gate full speed and try to hit them in the right time with two shots. If I can do that, imagine what I can do at the full 10.5 bps! I create these for running and shooting to a bunker where I know a player is usually posted, or an odd snap shot (like completely wrapping a corner to put one ball at the back center) on a layout that would be really beneficial to have in my arsenal”
This is somewhat reminiscent of a Bruce Lee thought…
Stephen isn’t shy about who he admires or wishes to emulate.
“Ryan Greenspan. Even though most people know me for playing the snake side, I really pride myself in my ability to be a utility player and I think Ryan is the best utility player out there. He can play all the spots with great precision and can go from the snake side to dorito side and back in the same match without hesitation.”
If there was is one piece of advice you could give to up and coming players, what would it be?
“Be the best YOU can be for the TEAM. I don’t mean be selfish. What I mean is that everyone’s perspective or reality of 100% time, contribution, and, dedication to paintball is NOT the same. As long as you are giving 100% that is all that matters and you will get to where you want to go. I show up early to drill because I have the time, I spend less money on paint because I don’t have extra to spend, I fill extra pods for my teammates, but will play every point at practice if they let me. Do everything you can to be the best individual, always.”
Wise words my friend. Very wise indeed.
Thanks to Stephen for the back and forth and best of luck to him and the Camp Pendleton Raiders as they prepare for Chicago and World Cup!
Be water my friends….