Into the Pit!

“A fighter, a real strong fighter, should always look dignified and calm, and I believe that any expression of aggression is an expression of weakness. A strong person will not be nervous and will not express aggression towards his opponent. He will be confident in his abilities and his training; then he will face the fight calm and balanced.” – Fedor Emelianenko

Fedor Emelianenko

We all know paintball is a high energy sport.  There is physicality to it unlike any other.  However, with that physicality comes a mental aspect that is totally in lock step with any other competitive high impact sport.  With the intensity that is tournament paintball, coaches and players have a tendency to face an emotional rollercoaster.  With little time between points to determine what went right, what went wrong, and how to adjust, the importance of “pit control” is often overlooked.   How a coach or team responds when in the pit to growing pressure can tell you a lot about how prepared they are, how mature, and for the most part, their overall paintball IQ.

Pit control is nothing more than maintaining composure as a team.  Keeping a calm pit where players and coach are in sync is just as important as having good practices prior to a tournament.  There should be a cadence, a rhythm if you will, to what happens before and after each point.  There should be an understanding of what needs to happen, a process.  The coach pays attention to the opponent as well as aspects of his players.  The players come in and provide data.  The coach takes that data, combines with his own, and proceeds to develop a response (notice how I don’t say “plan”… we aren’t there yet.).

What controlling the pit looks like!

From a coaching perspective, the composure of a coach is almost always reflected in their attitude, body language and what we will call “presence”.  Remember, coaching is not just about getting the best performance from and developing your players… it is every bit as much about building a confidence in them.  Helping them recognize capability and pushing them past it. Especially in the pit!

Coaching or playing with players who lack a level of composure or are quick to panic is difficult. A player who has a tremendous amount of talent but lacks the ability to remain calm in a high pressure situation can create a wave of doubt among his/her teammates. It also has a tendency to be a telltale sign that the player is selfish.  Players or coaches who make the smallest issue into a nuclear threat are toxic. If you go thermonuclear war over a small issue that was controllable to begin with, your attitude will not only be a distraction to an easy solution, but create a “vibe” that won’t be appreciated among others.  There is no need, as my mother says, to make a mountain out of a mole hill.  In other words, stop overreacting.  It distracts from the real issues.   If a simple issue causes frustration or panic, imagine what effect a real issue would have on that person?  You must be able to adapt.  Solve the problem. Don’t point fingers and take it out on those around you.  Just get it done and check it off the list of things we need to be aware of next time.

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” – Publilius Syrus

This brings me to my first point.  Don’t be ashamed or afraid to admit when a role is too big for you.  If you have a role for your team and you don’t WANT the job, feel you aren’t up for the task, need help or worse, don’t feel you are appreciated for whatever the reason, say something.  If you don’t want the job, say you don’t want the job and be honest about it.  If you feel you don’t have the assets to perform the job, say something or ask for help.  No one can fix something they don’t know is broke.  If you are doing something so others take notice, you’re doing it for the wrong reason and should almost certainly remove yourself from the equation.  If the only motivational reason you are doing a job for your team is so others will look at you, bow down and show appreciation for it, then step off because you’re selfish and not team oriented.  You’re self-oriented and most teams don’t have time for that kind of drama.  Go step in the ring where it’s just you and an opponent.  Then see how much appreciation you get.

Composure and focus

I got off topic… where was I? Oh yeah…

Frustration and panic is a horrible combination and a recipe for disaster.  Coaches and players with composure have the ability to connect the dots of opportunity in the face of pressure.  Good coaches/players quickly recognize causes of adversity and solve for them immediately.  They head them off at the pass.

When leading – especially during times of adversity, crisis and change – you must avoid showing any sign of lack of preparedness that will make your team feel unsure.  Let’s break it down into some steps, shall we?  Here are some ways to maintain a positive pit environment when the team’s tournament future is on the line:

Take emotion out of it – A good coach shouldn’t have to yell (unless it has reached that point and he has to gain some attention – that is another topic).  Showing self-control is imperative in times of stress. When we get emotional about a scenario, players will see this in a variety of ways and none of them good.   A composed coach can maintain his cool and still express urgency just not to where it becomes distracting from the goal at hand.  Logic, cool heads, data and facts will win the day.

Be nice; until its time not to be nice – Don’t get personal.  And don’t take things personal either.  Decisions and scenarios don’t always play out the way we want them to.  And when they don’t, we have to recognize that, hey, it happens.  We have to take what we can from it and move on.  We can’t afford to get defensive because when we do, it’s no longer about the moment and has become about us.  And that’s selfish.  Selfish players and coaches don’t win long term.  During a match is not the time to justify anything.  Afterwards…maybe.  Do not distract from the task at hand.  Think about it for one moment; the second you take something personal, you have removed sensibility in addressing the problem.  Your decision making has taken a hit and isn’t that what you are there for?   Why hinder it?

Stay positive – Duh.  “We suck again!” helps no one.  Be the example.  How many of you have heard the saying, “You catch more bees with honey than vinegar.”  Same principle here.  If I need a player to believe, I don’t tell him, “Hey man, I need you to do this but… honestly I think you suck but if for some amazing reason you are actually able to pull this off… great.”  Being an example here is imperative.  No matter how bad it gets, if we maintain composure, we can focus more clearly and address what needs to happen or be done.  We have to maintain a positive attitude and manage the goals effectively in order to keep everyone on task and switched on.  This is where a team, player, or coach can really show their capability of controlling a pit.  You have to set a tone before the event, before the match, during, and again following it.  If you have ingrained that positive mental attitude in your players, it is contagious.  That contagiousness will alleviate a lot of issues that may try to rear their ugly heads in the pit.  They are defeated before they arise.  A true team feeds off each during times of stress.   Build upon positivity leading up to things and you can carry that positive momentum into it.  When that first adversity strikes, that momentum blows through it like a locomotive hitting a smart car.  Or perhaps a better more descriptive analogy would be America handin’ it to the Japanese at the Battle of Luzon in 1945? (Okay… that was me just trying to get you guys to read up on some history.  Read a book…and this blog)

Be lions! – If you are able to project your positivity and zeal, you can create a tenacity in your team/teammates that will rival the Roman Centurions!  Make them believe!  If you exude the traits of bravery, strength, confidence, and belief, that can be addictive.  You are communicating these things through body language, attitude, how we carry ourselves and in our words.  Every team experiences slumps and highs.  It goes with the territory.  If you fear the slumps and only expect highs, you make yourself vulnerable to self-destruction.  On top of this, it makes it difficult to maintain composure when you are finally faced with adversity.  Panic leads to mental breakdown which leads to bad decisions or worse, no decision at all.  We have to stay focused.  We have to anticipate.  We have to read the landscape so to speak.  When I am faced with difficulty, I go through a rather simple checklist:  What’s the worst case scenario?  What is the best possible way to affect that outcome?  Do it.  If we can maintain composure and objectivity, we can recognize that things are manageable and we need to resolve them efficiently.  If it doesn’t work out, we MUST learn from it so that the next time that same scenario arises, we are even more prepared.  This leads us to our next component…

Be decisive! –  Don’t show doubt.  Doubt is that evil little villain that creeps in when you least expect it and poison’s the towns’ water well.  Game over man.  Speak with authority, like you already know the outcome!  Confidence is a must; even if you have no idea what you have proposed will work.  Believe!  If you can inspire, you can win.

Be Accountable!  – How many times have we talked about this one?  It goes without saying by now, yes?  Understand something… the buck stops here.  Take responsibility for each and every decision.  Do not fear outcome for if you focus on outcome, you aren’t focusing on the solution.  Does that make sense?  Take action and accept the outcome of your decision.  It’s actually a really simple yet powerful act.  See, when you as a coach or player take responsibility/accountability, you have essentially neutralized the problem from the get go.  You have hit the pause button on the crisis.  Until we meet again crisis!  In other words, ok, the situation won out this time but now I recognize it and I will take steps to keep it from either happening again or defeating it when it does happen again.

Act Like You Have Been There Before – I’ve been saying this a lot lately.  This may seem redundant with some of the things mentioned earlier but that’s because it is true.  Solid coaches and players know that the key to keeping a cool calm pit is to act like you have been in the situation before and that it is nothing new.

Share data and adjust fluidly

Listen, it’s easy to lose composure during a paintball match.  It’s easy to get rattled.  How many times have you been walked off the field, got in the pit, and angrily voiced your thoughts on the matter?
But then, how many of you have experienced a coach or teammate who is cool under pressure, shows those quiet reserves, digs deep, focuses and rights the ship only to rally you to go out and win the next point?

Uh-huh… I thought so.


Be water my friends.

2 thoughts on “Into the Pit!

  1. Tom March 19, 2019 / 10:02 pm

    Thank you for the post great read


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