Gun Fu #8

If I have said it once, I have said it one hundred thousand times…Commitment, belief, and a positive mental attitude are all aspects one must possess in order to become a success, whether you’re in sports, in business or, what have you.  Now, I have a tendency to begin a lot of my blogs with a quote.  Here’s one; I believe it was Muhammad Ali who said, ” It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

Not many of us can say we have won a National paintball event, much less two or more, or even more impressive, the World Cup.  But that’s exactly what the subject of this Gun Fu blog did.  And after reading this, I think the quote will make more sense.

Born in the small town of Madisonville, Louisiana and raised just outside of New Orleans, Stuart Ridgel will celebrate his 28th birthday later this month.  And just like a good many of us ballers, it all started at a birthday party…

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World Cup Champion Stuart Ridgel of the Gulf Coast Hurricanes

“I was around 10 years old when I first played paintball. I was invited to a childhood friends birthday party. I remember one game we played capture the flag and I grabbed the flag from the center 50 area and ran it back to our starting area without getting touched. I thought I was invincible at that moment in time, I was praised for doing that by my friends and the parents. That was my first experience with paintball, it was a positive experience.”

When talking to Stuart (Stu as his friends call him), its obvious he has a love for learning as well as sharing.  It’s pretty contagious actually.  But there is no doubt he is competitive.  And he is a truly honest and humble guy.

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Belief

“I played rec sports throughout my childhood so I enjoyed competing and I was always very competitive. When I made my way to high school I played a season of football and didn’t play much probably because of my size mainly, then I tried out for baseball and didn’t make the team. I was already playing woodsball quite a bit and dabbling in speedball playing a couple local tournaments. After my experience with high school sports, I wanted to do something where I could actually contribute to a team and compete. That’s when I really started to play speedball a lot more, I was playing with guys around the field older than me and actually shooting them. I thought this is awesome I can beat grown men and hold my own, it didn’t matter how big or how strong I was. Then at the end of 2004, at my home field 10 minutes down the road from my house, the New Orleans Rock-It-Kids hosted a tryout because they were moving into Xball from 10-man. For the Rock-It-Kids to be that close to my house I think I was just destined to play paintball. I was 14, tried out and they picked me up because they saw potential and could mold me. At our first D2 PSP event LA SoCal Open 2005 we won first place.  I only played maybe 4-5 points, but I was hooked. First time flying in an airplane, traveling halfway across the U.S. with older guys to play paintball. I was in love.”

In case you missed it, Stu and his team the Gulf Coast Hurricanes won the Division 2 World Cup back in November.  And they did it in an impressive manner.  After their first match which they tied, they found their rhythm.  They finished the prelims with a 3-0-1 record landing the 3rd place seed headed into Sunday (right in front of another team who had a pretty decent coach… but I digress).  They would dispatch their first opponent 6-2 in the Ochos followed by a mercy rule win (6-1) over the 2018 NXL Atlantic City Champions Carolina Crisis.  They would follow that win up in the semis with another mercy rule will of 5-0 setting up their greatest challenge of the event.  *Side note – Yours truly was coaching the team in the pit right next to them most of Sunday morning. The composure these guys showed was awesome to behold.  A back and forth match, the ‘Canes were triumphant in the end winning 4-3.

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Big show

“I always wanted to start my own team and have control of a team or organization. After experiences with other organizations that had policies and practices I didn’t agree with, I knew I wanted to call the shots one day and have more control. Being one of the youngest on these other teams, I didn’t really have a voice yet but I knew I didn’t agree with the way things were. I eventually stopped playing with them and looked for something else.

Then a couple years later after Aftershock and way too many 13 hour drives to Chicago. I decided I was going to start a team of my own. I hosted tryouts in 2015 and we had probably 30 something players (including almost all of the core D2 players) that formed the NO NAMED TEAM. I was just looking for like-minded players at this time to see what we were going to do and where we could compete. You know how paintball players come and go, we lost half of them from lack of commitment before the first season. A couple months after the initial tryouts Matt Hamilton came to me (He was already on the no named team at this time) and told me he was opening a field, Gulf Coast Paintball and wanted to help fund a team. He gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and we agreed to name the team Gulf Coast Hurricanes and that’s how the Hurricanes were born.”

And now you know.  So Stu had seen a lot and learned a lot from teams like the Rock-It-Kids, Warped Army, and Aftershock among others (for the record, he doesn’t consider himself ever having really played professionally.)

“I only played 3 events with them (Aftershock) at the professional level. I can say I’ve been shot by a lot of pro players though”

So he took what he had learned and, partnering with Matt Hamilton of Gulf Coast Paintball in Slidell, LA, the Hurricanes were born.

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2017 NXL Chicago Champions

To understand Stu and the ‘Canes, all you have to do is ask them about their mindset coming into the 2018 season.  I think it speaks volumes about the team and their positive and confident approach.

“The team’s mindset was to compete and win at the D2 level one last year before all of us got ranked up. We felt the 2017 season had a few unfortunate things happen to us at the events (like most teams I’m sure) even with winning Chicago in 2017. We knew our group of guys had the experience and talent to compete with the best D2 teams in the league and we were ready to win.

We just needed to figure out the financial portion of the team and what we could realistically afford. Unfortunately, we could only afford 3 events during 2018 Vegas – 2nd Place, Dallas, 5th Place, and World Cup 1st Place. When you only have 7-8 players in your organization that are ready for this level and 1 is a college student with no money national paintball can get expensive.”

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Ah yes, don’t we all know it.  But the story of their win at World Cup doesn’t end there.  There is one other aspect that I think makes this a great story about a team that not only overcame adversity financially but one other thing as well… they won the event with only 5 guys!

“This was our last opportunity to play at the D2 level together and we were playing no matter what. We have played events in the past where 90-95% of points were played by 5 players with only 7 on the roster. I knew we had the stamina to run the race, we just couldn’t get hurt and luckily no one got hurt. This is a group of veterans that have put in years and have made their sacrifices to compete and win. I wasn’t really worried about only having 5, I believed that whatever was meant to happen was going to happen and it happened for us. The guys on this roster have a lot of heart and I knew you would have to drag their lifeless body’s off the field for them not to play.”

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Andrew Rodriguez, far left, played with the team on Thursday.  Not pictured is Jacob Searight who showed up Friday and played the rest of the event

Motivating yes?

But what’s next?  The team is planning on stepping up to the Semi Pro\Division 1 next season.  So what adjustments will they make and what do they feel they need to fix in order to be competitive in a division that has teams like Indianapolis Mutiny, NRG Elite, and Montreal Image?

“We need to be better at working together and communicating. We all have very good gun skills, but where a team separates themselves from the pack is their level of communication and how well they can accomplish points together. Communication is the key to success in this sports.

We’re still trying to figure out our player situation and who is looking to commit possibly new players, but our core group is still around and I know they can compete at the semipro level.

This organization needs a dedicated coach and scouting/assistant coach. The top teams have that coach they can count on. This is something that we really don’t have at practices leading to the event. We do have Jamie helping at events, I’d love to have a coach with us for practice running practices and giving us feedback. It’s extremely difficult to do that as a player.”

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Okay, so they won World Cup with 5 guys and are headed to the semi pro division for 2019… but how does Stu plan to approach the next season?  What keeps him and his crew motivated?

“My own progression and watching the people around me work hard, want to progress and get better motivates me. THE EFFORT motivates me. It’s a gratifying experience to watch someone dedicate and sacrifice so much of their time and life just to try to accomplish a goal. It motivates me to want to continue to work hard for the team, people around me and contribute to winning. Wins can come few and far between, but when you finally get it, you’re on a natural for that moment that’s indescribable. Paintball has taught me to be disciplined and if you work hard eventually you will be rewarded. It took me almost 10 years to get my third national tournament win, from 1st place Boston NPPL 2007 to Chicago Open 2017. Then 2005-2018 to finally get my first World Cup win, it takes time.”

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Stu is always one to give credit where credit is due.  What I love about the guy is how he is quick to rattle of the people he credits with his success.  He will tell you he didn’t do it alone.

“I look up to Matty Hotard old captain of Rock-It-kids for teaching me how to lead a team and play with heart. Drew Bell for always putting in the work week in and week out throughout the years and just leading by setting the example.  Then just almost all of the guys in my organization, in the league and around me that I’ve come in contact with. I try to look for, look up and be influenced by any and everyone that I can take something good away from. I like to search for little gold nuggets in everyone. I’m a strong believer that any and everyone has the potential to influence and teach you something positive, you just have to observe and listen.”

Any favorite Pros or team?  I love this answer by the way.

“No favorite pro team. I just enjoy the grind and watching great play.”

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Some other things you may not about Ol’ Stuart Ridgel.  He has been published – that’s right.  You could say he wrote the book on paintball communication (literally).  You can order it here!

https://www.amazon.com/Paintball-Communication-101-Guide-Tournament/dp/1542682398

And he has a youtube channel!  Check it out here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6msmaaRbQog521LKw1Lp_g

When you ask him about what is the one piece of advice he wish he had been given when starting out, the response is almost predictable.  Same goes for what he tells other teams just starting out.

“Communication is the most important aspect of tournament paintball. I wish this would have been stressed to me from the beginning.

I’d tell them that an okay team that can work together and has an open dialogue during the game can beat a group of good players that can’t work together any day. Study the aspects of communication and learn how to work to accomplish points together. When a player not only has the capacity to have complete field awareness for himself and know the accurate kill count, opponent’s positions, and his team count, but he can make every single teammate on the field completely field aware and understand the game situation that’s when you start to become a truly great player.”

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Here’s another thing I like about Stu.  All of you know how I emphasize the basic fundamentals of paintball.  I believe no matter how experienced you are, you need to find time to do certain drills.  After all, these are perishable skills since muscle memory can fade.  So I asked him, what is your favorite drill?

“Fundamentals – Breakout shooting and snap shooting. Win the break and your probability to win the point is exponentially higher. Win a gun fight and you possibly win a tournament. I feel like if I would have won this one gunfight in Vegas this year during the very first point, we would have won that event.

There is a communication circuit drill and a communication situational drill we do that is a lot of fun and helpful, but it’d take me quite a bit to write.”

Love it.

So, in case you were wondering what it feels like to be a World Cup Champion, Stu sums it up for us.

“It feels like all the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices I’ve made to play this sport finally paid off. I’ll cherish that moment for the rest of my life. Being on the field with my brothers and sharing this moment with them will be etched in my brain until I leave this form. We have all worked hard together and that day we became Champions together! It’s something special.”

Be water my friends

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