What’s Your Shelf Life?

How many of you are familiar with the concept of “perishable skill”?  What it means is that if you don’t practice something often enough, your capability with said skill will diminish. So, as usual, understanding this fact and applying it to paintball is incredibly simplistic. Why?

ALL paintball skill sets are perishable. 

One that has become increasingly noticeable to me, however, are the qualities required to be a good coach or team captain.  Let’s just sum it up and say, “Leader”.  That will be our focus this month.

Unfortunately, many people today do not recognize that leadership is not a singular quality or skill.  Rather, it is a number of qualities and skills combined.  And just like any other skill, all aspects must be put into practice often or, as you have probably surmised the point, a leader’s capability will weaken or at the very least create inconsistencies and diminishing returns (i.e. lead to other lackluster performances).

Keep this one sentence in mind when developing both physical and mental skills in paintball (or anything for that matter)- “Use it or lose it.”

You may ask or have others say (including me), “It’s just like riding a bike,” Some of it is, especially in the physical realm. But that isn’t what we are addressing here. As established in our opening, true valuable and consistent leadership is a multitude of skills.  These skills require emphasis on communication and psychology ON TOP OF knowing the game (STRATEGIC and TACTICAL thinking).  All of this must be practiced and studied regularly to ensure maximum competency. 

What are some basic concepts leaders can leverage when attempting to manage their teams?  Here are a couple of rules I try to incorporate each and every practice (including communications to team members via electronic means):

1. Learn your players.  Every member of the team is different.  An individual with certain life experiences will respond differently than another individual with different life experiences.  I try to learn what makes each and every member of a team tick, what motivates them, what drives them, what pisses them off, how they deal with challenges and opportunities, how they learn, and on and on.  I talk to individual players differently on purpose in an effort to reach them and ensure the message is being understood, to get the best out of them. Recognize the limitations of this approach too.  It’s easy to screw up.  The basic rule of thumb though is to treat everyone with respect (until when? Check back to last months blog to see the answer to that).  Each and every player brings a value to the team. Yes, everyone…  Be advised, the value you see as a leader may not match the value the player sees themself as though.  Be ready to navigate these types of disagreements with facts and examples to back up your belief.  Do not get emotional.

2.  Everyone needs to be accountable.  This should be established from day one.  And no one is immune, including the leader.  You did something wrong?  Own it.  You were late?  Own it.  You didn’t perform or play well?  Own it.  You didn’t follow direction?  Own it.  You made a bad read or call?  Own it.  Do not ignore anyone who exhibits behavior that is counter to this.  Recognize early and call it out immediately.  It doesn’t have to be aggressive.  See #1 above.

3. Develop a culture that promotes positivity, maturity, growth (and identifies recession), recognizes success and failure, right and wrong, and BUILDS upon it.  I’ve talked about culture a lot over the years.  If you don’t get or understand how the concept of a positive yet stern goal oriented culture can breed and ultimately attract talent, you believe wrestling is real and the moon landing was fake. In other words, I can’t help you.  If your culture is finger pointing, loud mouth, no accountability, with a lack of respect because it’s cool…you and your posse suck. 

4. If there is a cancer or toxic element in your crew, cull it immediately.  Explain why this behavior or that behavior is not acceptable in the organization and let them go. If you feel the need to provide a “second chance”, by all means, do so. But FOLLOW THROUGH if nothing changes. You are the merciless god that rules the small universe in which your paintball time is spent.  Find personnel that is down for the cause and rows in the same direction.  Find someone who gets it.  Next! Be sure to set realistic and obtainable goals for individuals and as a team.  The only focus is on the first goal.  No one considers the second until the first is met both individually and team wise.

All of this should seem pretty straight forward.  It’s obviously easier said than done.  Remember, leadership is cumbersome and burdensome. And it isn’t all fun and games. It isn’t about POWER… it is about TRUST.  The most difficult thing to do as a coach, a captain, a leader, is to look a good friend who plays for or with you in the eye and tell him/her they aren’t hacking it and need to take a seat.  You have to be able to remove emotion from the decision process.  In return, they have to recognize it isn’t personal and isn’t the end. 

Putting all of this into practice is a pooch.  Believe me, it doesn’t happen over night and hopefully those of you reading this are rational and intelligent enough to know that.  But with practice, it becomes a little more natural each time… but not necessarily easier.  As a leader, we should constantly look at past decisions to understand what we could have done better and why – which will make us recognize similar scenarios faster in the future and determine a better solution next time we are faced with that exact issue again.  Because you WILL face it again, I promise.  And usually, there is a clock involved… cognitive recognition and resolution will get faster and those you lead will/should recognize and appreciate it.

Take Yogi Berra for instance.  He has a great quote attributed to him (he didn’t actually say it) that applies to this perfectly, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” – Yogi Berra

Look, it’s pretty easy to understand. We all respond differently to pressure and different stimuli. The purpose of incorporating what I am talking about as often as possible is to teach yourself how to appropriately address any and all leadership quandaries. Remember, it’s okay to be uncomfortable. Just don’t show it.

Be water my friends,


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