Practice All-Star

Prior to writing this, a friend asked me what topic I would tackle in this month’s blog.  After I explained what I thought it would essentially be about, he somewhat laughed.  He asked, “So what brought you to this topic?”  I said I was recently watching a tournament where over 70 flags were thrown in one day on one field where most were deserved.  This, of course, elicited a chuckle as the gentleman knew exactly what I was talking about because he had sat next to me that whole event.  He then asked, “What will the lesson be?”  My wife, listening in, answered for me; “It won’t be a lesson, it will be rant.”  Now, I love my wife but yes, there will be a lesson… at the end of the rant.

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Did we just see over 140 flags thrown in a weekend of paintball?  Why, yes, we did.

Who knows what a practice all-star is?  Meh, silly question as I am sure you all do.  Chances are you have either encountered several over your paintball career, you know one or five personally, or, quite possibly, you are one.  They are a lot like a toxic avenger but at the same time a little different.  (https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2017/11/27/toxic-avenger/)

Let’s see if we can define it –

A practice all-star is a paintball player who never feels a hit, never realizes paint broke on them, effectively never gets shot or bounced and always shot you first and just has mad skills….

But only at practice.

See, their all-star powers are limited to practices and practices only.  They have their element, that environment where they shine.  It’s usually a paintball field with no refs or when others aren’t watching.  That is very important distinction as their powers are quite heightened during this time.  However, when they get to an event, those marvelous skills seem to magically disappear.  That incredible run through that they did 4 times at practice, or maybe making the snake every point and never taking any heat while the other peasants can’t make it, those amazing down body points they broke open with an awesome move, the awesome gun fights they always win…well… they never seem to materialize at the actual event.  But why?  Why does this happen!!!????

Because they actually suck.

They really did get shot at practice… a lot.  They weren’t honest with themselves (or you) before, during, or after practice.  And because they weren’t honest with themselves or you, their prowess of paintball thuggery is miraculously gone!  Just like that they are reduced to their true capabilities which amounts to the fiery intensity of a urinary tract infection (you can’t see it but you certainly know it’s there…burning on the inside).  The irony is, when their awesomeness doesn’t materialize, they are often (and this is funny) pointing a finger saying the other guy or team is cheating!  They blow up like a man with a defective metal detector in a live mine field.  They are the vampires of paintball and not just the sucking part. They are sucking the fun out of practice but when they are under scrutiny and when it counts they hiss and reduce to ash sucking away a win with penalties or overall suckiness.

Like a homeless man under house arrest, their teammates are confused and don’t understand!  Why are they losing?  Why all the penalties?  Ah the life of a paintball practice all-star must be exhilarating, just not exonerating. Why do this to yourself or the team?

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Totally and utterly missed me

As a coach, it is my job to get the players and the team to their next consistent capable level and then, beyond.

Dishonest behavior might be understandable, if not justifiable, when large sums of money and high-profile reputations are at stake (pros).  But what about the weekend warriors in our sport, our Practice All Stars?  What drives them to their descent into dishonesty on the field?

There was a study done at the University of Pennsylvania that is cited in the book Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both, that states it is a combination of personality traits combined with external pressures that lead to the creation of our Practice All-Star.

Now, before we go too far down this path, understand this is not meant to condone or excuse any particular behavior but to possibly explain it.  I simply want to understand it (and you should too) so we can combat it as a coach/mentor/teammate in an effort to ensure players are performing at their best.  Yes, I believe in honor.  And when I started looking into the psychology behind all of this, I thought I already knew the answer: weakness.  Turns out, there is more (but weakness is part of it).  Most is obvious but let’s take a look:

Cheating is usually justified based on the situation.  The director of the Ohio Center for Sports Psychology, one Jack Lesyk, Ph.D, says, “One person might not feel bad about fibbing on their taxes, but would never consider taking a shortcut in a race. Others might be law-abiding, but view recreational sports as silly games where cheating would have little impact. This mindset is about how much they can justify.  If a runner has been training for 10 years to make a Boston Marathon qualifying time, and knows they’re going to be just over the cutoff unless they take a barely noticeable shortcut, they’re facing a lot of temptation.  They could make the choice seem “right” in their head.”

Translation – you failed on your goal and rather than fail with dignity and honor, you were weak and compromised your principles by cheating.

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It’s rub

“In athletics there’s always been a willingness to cheat if it looks like you’re not cheating. I think that’s just a quirk of human nature.” -Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Admittedly, I haven’t met a paintballer to date who wasn’t super competitive.  But let’s say I did.  This person would be less likely to cheat or take the risks that come with cheating. But most paintball players, at least that I have met, (most…not all) are incredibly competitive and have that “winning is everything” mentality.  If that is part of your “identity”, if you expect to win, then I would wager that winning is way more important to you than average Joe schmoe.   In other words, if you believe you’re a better player or team than your opponent, but the game isn’t going your way, chances are you are more likely to cheat to maintain your reputation or your “identity”.  Maurice Schweitzer, one of the authors of the study done at the U of PA that I mentioned earlier puts it pretty bluntly, “If people perceive a sport as a game or as a challenge to outsmart, rather than as a true measure of ability, they’ll look to cheating as the smart, winning tactic.”

Translation – I can’t do it on skill alone so I will rationalize myself into believing its part of the game and therefore I am superior, not inferior, for doing it.

Also a translation – now you’re a tool and weak.  And no one wants or likes a weak tool.

Here’s where it gets interesting from a sports psychology perspective.  See if this makes sense:  a Practice All Star who cheats is quick to justify their cheating as a matter of fairness. Here’s the logic: subconsciously or maybe consciously, they believe they have some disadvantage, and therefore, by cheating, they’re “leveling the playing field”.   How many of you have been at a practice and you KNOW the other team is cheating?  And how many of you reacted by figuring, well, if they are cheating, we will too! Yeah… you’ve done it.  It’s the ol’ “everybody else is doing it” herd mentality.  This can lend itself to and create a culture of, well, quite frankly, dishonesty.  Like socialism or communism, you eventually devolve into chaos.   Just know that both are stupid ways to govern and the people who believe in those systems are destined to fail.  They are also imbecilic.  Life is hard especially if you’re stupid.  Now, hopefully, none of you reading this are that weak willed.  Got a little off topic there… where were we?

Translation – You can’t win so you will sacrifice your dignity and honor to do so. 

Also translation – you’re a weak tool without the skills to hang.

Caveat – you’re trying to harm my family or friends or remove my 2nd amendment rights, I will not be fair, I will cheat, and you will die.

Here’s the thing about a Practice All Stars – they aren’t usually concerned with the long-term consequences of their actions.  They don’t weigh the consequences because if they did, they might be deterred by the embarrassment of being caught and labeled.  See, they are more interested in the short term benefit.   But we see you.  We know who you are.  That’s right, most practice all-stars are known to be exactly that.  And most have no idea they have been pegged.  But you have been.  And we all secretly laugh at you.

#laughatthesuckbag

Some will even admit to their transgression after the fact and wear it like a badge of honor.  But it isn’t.  Once you have that rep…  Some people will take one step, realize they didn’t get caught and it wasn’t that bad, and then another, and then another, and then BAM! They’ve dug themselves into a reputational hole they can’t climb out of.

Translation – you suck and everyone knows it, they just aren’t telling you.  But thank you for the laugh.

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“Get out!”  I totally shot that guy…

Then there are the Practice All Stars who occasionally show up like a snickers bar commercial. Its not necessarily the norm… They get physically exhausted and inhibition goes out the window.  As their mental capacity deteriorates, and frustration and exhaustion set it, they begin to battle what they want to do and what they ought to do.  “If I could just win without effort”

Translation – yep, you’re still weak.  Have a snickers and move on.

“I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.”  – Sophocles

Okay, so end of rant.  Here’s my point.  Don’t be a practice all-star.  Stunning… I know.  Try this instead.

At practice, when you get hit, come out.  If you are preparing for an actual event whether local, regional, or national, and you take a bounce?  Come out.

If you do NOT come out (perhaps you were shot on the break but want to see how the point goes), TELL someone afterwards.  But don’t make this a habit.  If you are having to go to the other team and say, “Yo you shot me when I was here.” Or “You bounced me when I bumped to here” and you are doing this after every point, you are abusing the opportunity.  Just start coming out.

Why, you may ask, should you come out on bounces at practice?  You are probably saying to yourself, “I wouldn’t come out on a bounce at an event?!”  Yeah, I know but follow me here.

If you take a solid hit in practice, someone put a good shot on you, yes?  Okay, trust your teammates and see what they can do without you.  It’s practice after all and your team will find itself in these situations sooner or later anyway.

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There was this time in Budapest.  I met a guy who didn’t know what synapses meant

Or maybe you are shooting cheapo practice paint that are marbles but shoot straight.  Okay, do you think tournament paint will be that hard and bounce too?  Probably not.  Come out and see what your team can do without you.  Oh, and take note of what got you shot.  This is how we improve… by recognizing when, where, and why we were BAD.  Recognition of when we don’t perform as well as the other guy leads to improvement.

See, you should always do something because you really want to do it. If you’re doing it just for the goal (winning?) and don’t enjoy the path (practice, prep, hanging with your boys, learning), then I think you’re cheating yourself.  In other words, how will you ever know how really good (or bad) you are?

Let’s break this down into the most rudimentary and uncomplicated way I can for you.  It all boils down to this.  Ready?  Here it is.

All good is hard.

All bad is easy.

Whether it’s dying, losing, cheating, or just plain ol’ mediocrity… it’s all easy.

Stay away from easy.

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Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.  I just felt like it needed to be said.  I promise you WILL improve once you know WHERE you stand.  If you’re a Practice All Star, you will never know where you really stand.  And chances are, you won’t get very far anyway.  And people are laughing at you.  Thanks for the laughs by the way.

Okay – end rant – point made –

Be water my friends!

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