Ahhh… competitive paintball, it brings out the best in us… and the worst. But those of you who read this blog regularly already know this. With the advent of Covid-19 and its impact on people’s lives, including that of us lowly paintballers, I have taken this downtime (e.g. opportunity) to really study players as a whole over this nonsensical season. When I am out at a field or a practice, no matter who is there, I am always sizing players up, even the ones I have already sized up (this never stops). Besides tracking skill sets and capabilities, I will engage in conversation, asking about things outside of paintball, understanding their interests and concerns off the field, gauging demeanor… watching, listening… looking for those subtle cues…
What do we call the action or process of watching something or someone carefully in order to gain information? It’s called observation and it is one of the most important tools in a coach’s toolbox. It may sound cliche’ but it really is true; a successful coach must have a keen eye for detail. And not just for the obvious reasons such as an opponent’s tendencies, tactics, and strategies. Among a plethora of other things, just as important is a coach’s ability to recognize (observe – as stated and emphasized in the above definition) his own player’s situations – their physicality, their growth (or recession), and their mental attitude or state of mind. A small hitch in a player’s step, an aloof or irregular response, subtle changes in behavior… If you are NOT doing this, you have failed. There, I said it. Harsh but true. Unless you are one of those coaches in “title” only where someone handed you a clip board and said, “You play/pretend to be coach so we can take this many people and reduce costs and no one will listen to you anyway.” Seen it!
The topic for this week’s blog… mentality or rather specifically – mental toughness. And do you, or your players have it? Would you recognize it?
How many of us have been described as or have described someone else as “mentally tough”? Personally, I find this to be rather high praise. You don’t get mentally tough from a gene, at least, I don’t think so….maybe. But I believe it is developed through trial and error and forged in the fire of experience. It is most certainly learned. And those who learn it/have it, probably learned through the school of hard knocks. This learned behavior has given them a perspective of how to approach tough/competitive situations in a positive manner and with the proper attitude.
Now – most Coaches in competitive national paintball are dealing with young men (as in 18 or older). So a lot of the work in this area has been done by parents, mentors, employers, or other coaches already. Whether the mental toughness was taught successfully or not is another story. You have it or you don’t. However, that aside for a moment, as a Coach, we are in perfect position to assist players with developing the proper perspective about achievements and the ability to deal with setbacks. If by some stroke of luck, you find yourself coaching a young man who still has room for learning (we all do, even at my age), then you need to really emphasize the player’s attitude when dealing with adversity.
I get this all the time – “You take this too serious coach. Paintball should be fun.” Yeah – sure… go play paintball with your friends on rec days. Get off my field if you don’t want to put in the time and play in a competitive atmosphere to win! Why??? Because Winning is FUN buttercup! We should be pursuing achievements no matter how small or minuscule. We should be trying to move the needle on performance. We should be trying to improve each and every time we step out on the field. And we should be able to recognize what was and wasn’t accomplished each time we step off.
And let’s not forget ladies and gentlemen that anything worth achieving is NOT going to be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it and winning. (You get a trophy, you get a trophy, everyone gets a trophy – for achieving nothing!! YAY!…. ugh. I think I just vomited)
One of the hardest things to do in paintball is to win a national event. It will take a commitment that many aren’t willing to make. You have to want to be out on that field. You have to want the best for and out of your teammate and same goes for him concerning you. You have to want it, need it, bleed for it, hurt for it. And that means being mentally tough and understanding it’s going to push you to a brink. And we must become comfortable with being there…
I think most understand that the process of winning is, can be, will be, an arduous road. You can’t just order it up like a burger at a fast food restaurant. You can’t say, “Please may I be a champion, may I win this time?” You have to mentally and physically prepare to put in the time – practice, practice, practice! Like that chick from the Brady Bunch yelling “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” – yelling it didn’t do squat for her.
Mistakes are a necessary part of learning anything well. So, when you do screw up, and you will, learn from it, recognize it, and understand it. Hold yourself and your teammates accountable. Without mistakes we aren’t learning anything. Mistakes are rungs on a ladder to success. I read somewhere that mistakes are “opportunities for performance enhancement” and that the “only true mistake is the failure to learn from them.” I like that last one.
I believe it was the character of Deadpool who said, “Maximum effort!” That’s what you need to give. As a coach, if that’s what I observe you doing, then I am going to recognize that and push you to get the most out of it. Now, understand that sometimes, even though the effort and attitude are there, the process may take longer with some than others. It doesn’t happen overnight so don’t expect (as a player) that because you are putting in the time that you will automatically be given a spot. No – with that effort has to be continuous improvement. It has to be recognizable, consistent, and repeatable. So a lower division player playing on a higher division squad has to understand that there IS something to be said for experience. There is something to be said about road mileage on a player. Putting in the work needs to show gains too. Meaning, you want that spot? Beat the experienced player for it. Show me you can do it as well, as often, as that experienced player in front of you. But as a coach, don’t lose track with your observation skills that worth isn’t always dependent on performance. Certain players can bring other variables but that is another topic.
Let’s close with this about mental toughness and observing a players capacity for it…
The stress and pressure a player (or coach for that matter) feels is simply your body telling you we have an opportunity to challenge ourselves and make ourselves better. Win or lose, we will get something out of it if we have the mental aptitude to recognize it. It isn’t anything more than a burden we place on ourselves. You can see it as “OMG, we’re all gonna die!” or you can recognize it for what it is, another opportunity to step up, be bold, show you are not afraid to be in this situation, and give it your best shot. Now, that doesn’t mean have a laissez-faire attitude and don’t give a rats butt about the outcome. No, it means, we do care about the outcome and we are going to do everything in our power to ensure it is out desired one. Make it worthwhile whatever the outcome is.
Observe water my friends…
* I want to take a quick moment for a side note and touch on something that I will probably come back to in another blog post later this year. As you know, many of my blogs gain their inspiration from something I saw or heard that I considered relevant to talk about at an event, at a practice, in a conversation with a ‘baller… This took place this past weekend actually and it came from a source that is rare. I say rare because you don’t find many of these guys/gals in the tournament scene. The source was an active officer in the U.S. military who happens to play for a competitive paintball team. The source will remain nameless as I doubt they are interested in the attention but they made an excellent point (which we have made here at Zen several times) – if a program has a “standard” but does not adhere or apply that standard to ALL members, that will breed toxicity and ultimately resentment in the team’s culture. No Bueno. If players are investing in the program (time, energy, money)… the PROGRAM needs to return the favor and invest in the player. Establish standards, live and die by them, or change them. You decide as leaders. Okay – Now… go be water.