To Be or Not to Be…What was the question?

I want to start this month off with a “thank you”. I have received several great messages and ideas as of late from many of you and they are all greatly appreciated. This whole Zen thing started as a rough idea and has turned into something I never imagined. So thank you! FYI – look for an “audio” version coming soon! A lot of my friends tell me they enjoy reading the blog but that, sometimes, it can be a chore, especially with my longer pieces. I had intended to start the audio portion this month but, you know how it goes, things happen.
So, this month’s topic… Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a rather fascinating phenomenon. I watched several young men and women attend a paintball try out for a team that is trying to create a program. No, this will not necessarily be a “how to” on try-outs. This will be more of a cautionary tale I guess. If you want to understand my perspective on the “How” and “why” of tryouts, check out these previous blogs posts:

Now, understand, running a program is a different animal than just having a team. It requires much more time, energy, and effort to be done well. That being said, and without going into too much detail, let’s establish some context. Here are my thoughts on the matter right, wrong, or indifferent:

Try-outs – fun times

A TEAM is a group of individuals that, together, have a singular identity or are associated together in an activity with a goal.
A PROGRAM would be more than one team, usually sharing the same identity but separated by divisions, or skill level, and managed under a coordinated system to have mutual benefits and meet mutual goals.

*Zen note – I also use the term “Camp”. This is a team that isn’t quite a program but has elements of a program or is moving in that direction.

Now, over the years, I have run or assisted in many paintball try-outs. In this case, I was simply an observer. I enjoy watching paintball. You can learn a lot from watching games at all levels. I also enjoy meeting, watching, and learning about the latest crop of newcomers, visiting and catching up with familiar faces and old friends, as well as just being around the sport. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to observe how others do things.

I’m always looking for ways to learn, find ideas and efficiencies, to improve myself, my own methods and processes, so that I can share with others. I try to expose myself to other people’s ideas and approaches as often as possible. You can also learn what NOT to do. And this is every bit as important as it’s opposite.

*Zen note – I believe we should constantly challenge ourselves, evolve, and grow. If you aren’t doing so, there is a high probability you’ll become stagnant and eventually fade. I like to encourage this in others (challenging themselves). Look around you. Everything changes. Everything on God’s earth is in a continuous state of evolution. Whether it is improving or adapting or changing. None of us were put here to grow stagnant. I would never tell you, ‘Today is the best I will ever be.’ I can no longer grow or improve. No, we need to continuously pursue improvement.

Showing what you got

Anyway, back to the try out – Personally, I’m very particular when I run these things. I like structure. I always have a process worked out to help me find what I am looking for. Everything is pre-planned to lead me to my goal. This can be broken down further depending on which team, program, or camp, I am doing this for but let’s not get off topic (or should we?)

Whether it is a specific layout chosen to play to specific skill sets or “position” (this is relative), specific drills to measure strengths and opportunities within the skill sets, an agenda/schedule, name it… all of it should be thought out and pre-planned so that we can keep things efficient and use everyone’s time wisely. Something some people hedge on is the rudimentary “introductory speech”. I find these important and not just because it sets the mood or tone for the day (important BTW). More importantly, it should manage expectations – let them know what to expect and why. You should tell them what you are specifically looking for, why, what they should expect to experience, and what will happen afterwards. Hopefully you can do this in a way where everyone understands. At the end, you should ask if there are any questions so you can ensure you have successfully communicated the goal(s). In some instances, some questions you get may tell you a little (or a lot) about the player asking the question …but I digress.

Getting after it in the snake

So, there I am watching, taking it all in, occasionally engaging those putting on the try out, talking with players, you know… being annoying. They are circled up starting to stretch, about 20 guys and gals and then a gentleman I’ve never seen or met before (not uncommon) steps to the center of the circle. He introduces himself and gives a little background. This is the “coach”. Everything seemed perfectly normal for a divisional try out. He wanted everyone to know who he was (good), where he is from (OK – good), why he is there (Nice – good), and that he is “big *&%$ swingin’ (wait…) and what he said goes (hold on…), he was in charge and you may not like it but you would get over it (huh?), and they were all “gonna learn today!” (Whiskey Tango Hotel). Coach Machiavelli much?

“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”
“Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.”

Don’t get me wrong, far be it from me to downplay the importance of masculine, confident, swaggery bad-assedness of an Alpha male. I think we need more of these today more than ever. But this wasn’t that really… this was ego. And there IS a difference. At least, that’s what my instinct told me. It didn’t seem genuine much less earned. Does that make sense?

Then the two day try out began.

What is your opinion… Should you coach during a try out? Some would argue that doing so would show the potential team members a coach’s style. I would argue giving a pointer here or there is fine but that, for the most part, I want to see how the player thinks, how they play, see them in that raw element without influence. See their “flow” so to speak. If I give a player insight into how I expect them to play, then they will (possibly) begin doing what they think I want to see. Do you think coaching a hopeful pick up will give you an honest and accurate assessment of their true playing? Maybe. Personally, I am of the mind to watch and learn. I like to ask questions after I see something go wrong for a player or even when they go right. “Hey chief – what was your thought process on that move? What was your idea when you called so and so over to look this way?” Explain there is no right or wrong answer… you want their honest reasoning. This will give insight into what level they are thinking on. If it’s a two day try-out, maybe you save the coaching for day 2…

Drills, Drills, and more drills

What if your coaching style is “aggressive”? What if the coach is yelling a lot and pointing out nothing but mistakes (in his mind)? This is what the young coach explained to me later (you know me, I have to engage) This translated to him essentially being impatient. And aren’t’ we all at times? I know I am. He wanted to make an impact. He later copped to this and recognized it which led me to like him. Takes a real man to admit it and be that honest with yourself. He will go far and will, most assuredly be a successful coach in the future.
Everyone has an opinion and a way to do things. However, I believe you catch more bees with honey than vinegar. So, if I am at a try out for a divisional paintball team, I don’t want General Patton standing over me beating me into submission for a try-out. No, I am there to show what I bring to the table and you are there to see if it’s what you need. Ego must be left at the door. Bear in mind… that’s my opinion. But it’s worked so far.

Watchful eyes

Managing expectations can be difficult… thinking of everything isn’t easy. But it is a little easier with a little preparation (well in advance – not day before under the guise of delusion of how it will play out). BTW – it’s worth mentioning that it‘s also okay to make changes to the plan on the fly as long as the changes are creating efficiency and moving you towards the goal without undue stress on the players.
A few hours into the try out, I decided to walk around and interview several of the players to get their thoughts on things. Just how they thought things were going. Some were okay with it all because, well, they recognized it for what it was… bloviating. Didn’t bother them because they were there to show their stuff (action), make the team, (goal), and advance their paintball career that way (strategic). But most of them led with unflattering comments about the ” lack of organization (as in organizing/herding cats) and, well, unflattering things about the coach. In other words, the potential program organizers had already lost a good many of the potential good players from the pool.

Why? How did it happen and where did it go wrong?

I can only provide my opinion from an outside observer’s perspective, but I have a good feeling I wouldn’t be too far off. I don’t think the organizers of the try out really knew what they wanted to do. Let me be clear, this is not a slight against the team/organization. Expanding your team into a Program is a Herculean task (that means it isn’t easy). But you must have a plan. I don’t think there was much of a plan past the warmup and first drill or two. Introduce the variable of a coach (ego and all) who didn’t really appear to know what he was there to do and you now have a recipe for things to go wrong.

Put the seasoned guys in there against the new guys. See what’s what

The English writer Samuel Johnson once wrote that, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” He also said, “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”


Look folks, if you are going to put yourself in a leadership position, especially in paintball, you first need to gain the respect and trust from those you are attempting to lead. There is a myriad of ways to do this. BUT… If you have never met me, have no idea of who I am, but step to me and tell me you are the boss now and to follow your lead… expect my inside voice to say, “Sure. After we establish what qualifies you to coach me.” At this particular try-out, there were several players I was familiar with who had played at a D2 or higher level. The coach had not competed past D4. Now I am not saying that a coach must have a pedigree. Absolutely not! That’s a completely different topic BTW. But if I am going to win you over or gain your trust, I need to start from somewhere… telling a bona fide D2 player he “did it all wrong” and yelling at him about “what were you thinking” when we just met… and I come to find out you hadn’t played past D4 or won anything in that division…perhaps podded for a pro team a few times… well… kick rocks. Think it through next time. Be a Boy-scout (well, not the new ones… the old ones). Be prepared.

Be water my friends.

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