Don’t Do It!

by Aaron Pate

*Zen Note: This month’s blog post, as you can see, was not written by me but by one of my closest friends.
Trigger warning – Aaron is blunt and pulls no punches in how he addresses friends and strangers alike no matter the topic. This is why I asked him to write this months’ blog; to expose you to different points of view and delivery similar to my good friend Nolan Osvath’s article earlier this year (found here – https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2020/03/17/mushin-state-of-no-mind/ )

I asked him if there was anything in paintball that really ground his gears. Well, here you go… read on and enjoy…

Most topics that are discussed during an off-season revolve around keeping one’s skills sharp while waiting for the next year’s schedule of events to roll around. I know, I know. Boring, right? Luckily, this is not that article! Unfortunately, it may be one that breaks your heart – but that will depend on what division you and your teammates think you should play in the upcoming year…

Zen and the author Aaron Pate

Each year, there is one team or several teams that decide to make “the jump” to “prove themselves” at a higher level. By now, you have already thought of at least one team that fits into this category, and if you are on that team, share this article with them. It will save you and your teammate’s hard-earned money, time, and hopefully, dignity. The result of teams that do this is the same – they all fail. Period. Destined to have zero wins and four-ever losses (0-4), and at the end of one or two seasons, the team folds, and every player has a higher ranking they should not have.

What motivates teams to act in this way? I can only speculate because the teams I have been on commit first-degree murder on those teams. Could it be the millennial mindset those boomers keep talking about? Perhaps.  Or maybe it is hubris from staring at a target for two seconds before pulling the trigger and claiming one’s self as the two-time snap shooting champion? Honestly, I think it boils down to one of two factors: One, your team wants the badging and accolades without anything to show for it; or (2) the team genuinely thinks it can rise to the challenge and overcome mediocre finishes.

“Please, do not ask me for autographs until after practice.”

The first option is simple to address. No one gives a (Zen edit) that you are the highest divisional team in the area because everyone has the internet, and everyone can see how sorry your team is performing in real-time, and that is no joke; those live scoreboards are the best thing an overpriced entry fee could pay for. What kills me the most are the players that have told me, “I play division X,” but I have done enough research to know they are ranked division X less four. When your team holds tryouts this offseason, do yourselves a favor and write off those people from the start. They do not want to get better. They are creatures of ego and not performance. (This reminds me. Go buy a LV1.6 today! Brought to you by Planet Eclipse. Full disclaimer: I play on a team sponsored by Planet Eclipse.)

Don’t be this team. 42nd out of 42 teams

“We smoked those guys at practice! How did they win the event?”

Let us turn our attention to the second option, and maybe, just maybe, we can right the ship before that first entry fee is due. Think back to the practices before the COVID Cup, err World Cup. Everything seemed to be going well, but then the event happened, and you may still be asking yourselves why the event went the way it did.

I’ll tell you why – you wanted to win practice.   

*Zen Note – See https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2019/09/21/practice-all-star/ for further detail).  Which is somewhat coincidentally funny when you think about it…Who wrote this month’s blog and who is being eluded to in the linked blog.

But Aaron, isn’t the goal to win? Well, yes and no. The goal is to win the event. Too many teams get caught up in keeping up appearances or wanting to stunt on the teams in higher divisions and lose sight of the goal. My advice? Forget about winning the practice scrimmage and drills at practices and learn how to play. The team’s focus should be on asking questions and obtaining answers as time goes by on the field layout. Tailor your layout practices to the competition. A good rule of thumb: Increase the aggression against upper divisional teams and do the opposite for lower divisional teams. The idea here is to test the best breakout shooters (in theory) and plan accordingly for your division. For lower divisional teams, you should be testing pocket plays and progressions – along with that, taking advantage of their lack of experience as fast as possible. At the end of the two weeks, the team should have a very good indication of how the field will play. Winning practices should be secondary to learning the field.

Seriously – don’t. Last place and mercied every match

If you are reading this, your team has cut its discount pro player(s) and now understands the purpose of layout practices leading up to an event. So, what division do you play? Here is where the PBLI/APPA ranking system becomes useful. What are the rankings of the players on the roster? The player rankings set a baseline. For example, if every player is ranked D4, then D5 is out of the question.  Has the team made the podium in the last year or two? If the answer is no, then chances are, you are right where you need to be, and if you think otherwise, please reference the “zero wins and four-ever (0-4) losses” portion of the article.  In cases where the podium has been achieved but the roster is significantly different since that win, I would encourage you to not make the jump until the current roster gets a medal. Some refer to this scenario as the “rebuild”, and this is nothing to be ashamed about. If anything, people notice that your organization is something special when success is attained no matter what the roster is, and people want to be a part of that.

If only one team is saved from complete annihilation due to reading this article, I would be happy with that. Sadly, it is inevitable that teams will still make the jump with no data to back up the decision. To those teams, I say, “good luck”. I hope you can put up a point or two to show everyone you “competed”.

*Zen Note: There is a similar article to this one from this past summer.  See also https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2020/07/10/facts-vs-narrative-reality-check/

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