Don’t Fear the Reaper

If you are not a sci-fi fan, you may not be aware of a famous series of books written back in the 60’s and 70’s by a gentlemen named Frank Herbert. The Dune series is considered one of if not the bestselling sci-fi novels of all time. In it, there is a quote by the main protagonist Paul Atreides that I absolutely love. Here it is:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will allow my fear to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone I will turn my inner eye to see its path. And where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 

So cool.

How many of you get nervous prior to an event? Perhaps you get a little anxious on the box when you are lining up for that first point of the event? Any of you ever panicked when you realized you forgot something? Do any of you become overcome with the fear of losing, not performing well, or maybe suffering humiliation or injury?

You’re not alone.

Paul Atreides portayed by Kyle MacLachlan in the film DUNE (1984)

Everyone has experienced some form of fear at some point in their life. Fear is our response to perceived physical or emotional danger. How often are we afraid of something that isn’t life or death or legitimately important? Take for instance, oh, I don’t know, not winning a paintball match? Would you put that up on that level? Some of you would, of that I am sure!

Whether you are a seasoned player or brand new to the scene, we will all have specific fears, admitted or not. And that’s okay. Fear can be good. It is how we react to fear that will ultimately define us.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu

The most important thing a player or team can do is understand the “worst case scenario”. Try to identify the worst possible outcome of what it is you fear. Once identified, now we face it, understand it, and reconcile ourselves to that possibility of outcome. Really think about it… is it the end of the world?  In paintball, probably not. If you absolutely cannot face whatever the worse case potential outcome is, then you probably shouldn’t be playing. But let me tell you what happens when and if you are able to reconcile that potential scenario… it will free you to truly perform at your highest level. If you accept whatever outcome, from best to worst, you can compete without real fear. However, if all you can do is focus on the fear, you will never perform to the best of your ability. You should be thinking about, and visualizing, the positive outcome at all times. After we recognize potential outcomes and accept them, now we focus on the best possible outcome. We visualize success. If we only wrestle with the worst scenarios, it will distract us from the desired outcome. In other words, always focus on what you want to happen, not what you don’t want to happen.

Fears were overcome for this young player

Here’s where we are going to get a bit psychedelic. The most common reason for fear is the possibility of failure, yes? But here’s where I want to blow your mind for a second. I once read that failure isn’t real. That’s right, it doesn’t exist. See, we invented failure or rather the concept of it. It boils down to this: failure and success are two different ways of looking at the same thing. I would go as far as to say there is no such thing as failure, just attempts at learning how to improve. Now ask me, do I really believe what I just wrote? Sometimes… but let me get to the point or rather the big picture item.
Once you understand that there is no failure, you will begin to recognize what it really is. It’s data. The more data, the better armed we are to face our fears. When we first met our fears it was with a spoon, then we learned the spoon didn’t work, so we grabbed a hammer, and that kinda worked but it was hard and still scary, so we grabbed a M249 LMG, rechambered it in .308 and let loose. Heck that wasn’t scary at all… as a matter of fact, my fear called me up and said, “Leave me alone please. I will never bother you again!” When this happens, we have essentially desensitized ourselves from that specific fear. Congrats! You are now free to perform anxiety free.

Embracing our fears on and off the paintball field can be a difficult and a time consuming endeavor. It is a true struggle for most. But trust those who have succeeded in doing so. Ask them about it and I bet you will be met with a person who is confident and a winner. A person who can focus and maximize their potential every opportunity they get. But I bet you will also find a person who failed more times than they succeeded…

Okay. Let’s dig a little deeper. I also read this sometime ago and it came across my research again recently.

“F.E.A.R. or False Evidence Appearing Real. It appears real, even though it is a fear of the future and is not happening now. Therefore, it has no real substance, arising when the ego-self is threatened, which makes you cling to the known and familiar.” – Neale Donald Walsch

Whoa. Also cool.

Again, each and every athlete experiences some kind of fear or anxiety to some extent. I think we can agree that any person or team who can control their fear on and off the field will be a ferocious and daunting opponent, a capable and inspirational team, and just a plain cool.

Its lurking but it doesn’t have to win…

But be advised; any fear, if left unchecked, will do nothing but grow. We need to address any anxiety, whether it occurs before a match, during a game, or even afterwards. Fear is obviously a negative mindset and will ultimately diminish you and your team’s capabilities. You have to face it! How many of you see players with earbuds in walking about in pit row? I’m not saying these people are scared of something but I would venture to guess that they are using that music to focus themselves, whether it be to calm themselves or pump themselves up for the upcoming “unknowns”. Others may need a teammate or friend to talk to.

There is an old Japanese proverb that says, “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Any fear, no matter how big or small, maintains a potential to overcome and create a mind numbing negativity that limits a player’s ability to perform. Don’t get me wrong, I seriously doubt any of you have any anxiety or fear to this level on the paintball field… that doesn’t mean it can’t manifest itself to the level that it is a distraction though.

“Courage is the resistance to fear, the mastery of fear…not the absence of it.” – Mark Twain

As with any problem, the first step is acknowledging there is one.  Regarding this particular topic, we need to recognize the fact that we are in fact, nervous, anxious, or afraid. Developing mental toughness (which we have discussed in a previous blog) is crucial and not just to our mental state, it is every bit as important to our physical performance! The greatest players have always had both a solid mental game as well as the physical capabilities.

Paintball has evolved so much over the years that it now requires many variables to have a winning season and team. The physicality of the game has increased and as players become more athletic, the demand for a better mental game and psychology has also developed. Players and coaches need to be able to maintain a positive thought process before, during and after the game.

Don’t fear the reaper…

Karl Menninger, the famous American psychologist, believed that fear is educated into us, and can, if we work on it, be educated out. How profound. I couldn’t agree with him more.

One thing I try to do when coaching is help a player focus on the successes they accomplish no matter how big or small. No, this is not a participation trophy approach. This is, once again, developing data… learning. If I can focus a player on how they succeeded and not on how they failed, it will slowly build confidence. I have seen too many players and for that matter coaches, focus on all the wrong things! This is a petri dish for building fear. They think more about not making mistakes than completing the goal of the drill or the point. How many of you have heard me talk about setting small goals and focusing on those first? See, if I point out the small success as opposed to the failure, the player begins to recognize they are moving in the right direction. They can then begin to visualize the positive. Once this happens, the fear no longer controls his or her approach to the goal which ultimately removes any hindrance to learning. They begin to visualize the result which helps them accomplish it.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to an approach on how to conquer fear. If a player has a fear of loss or embarrassment or what have you, then we need to refocus their attention. That attention needs to be on efficiency and consistency. If you can get them to focus on performing efficiently and doing so consistently as opposed to worrying about perfectly, you have already won the mental game and so have they. To put it simply, you don’t have to be perfect to win. There will be things outside of our control. We need to focus on us, not those things. Once a player or team understands that mistakes are a natural part of the game, they are already well on their way to improving performance. The goal is for players to trust in their skills so they can play more freely and feel less tight or controlling.

Does that make sense?

Be water my friends (The spice is life…)


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