My Personal Seinfeld

Recent conversations this past month (not all paintball related) led me to consider writing about Intrinsic Motivation. This is when our behavior is driven by internal rewards, not external. Then a few other conversations steered me towards the topic of “righting the ship” (see what I did there?) and how to fix a struggling program or player. Then the idea of having another guest blogger popped up because a recent conversation at a wedding brought up an interesting topic. I guess I should be thankful I have 3 potential topics lined up. And I am.

Then I realized… this blog really has evolved over the years from a “this is what my paintball team is doing and why” to a “how to” from a coaching perspective and eventually to what it is today – an amalgamation of my personal psychological, tactical, strategic, and leadership experiences and approaches applied to the sport of tournament paintball.

And that can get tiring.

So what I want to talk about this month is… nothing.

The old man and his dog

That’s right, the topic will be nothing specific. Rather this will be more of a steam of thought (nothing new there) about how I personally overcome obstacles and what led me to write this blog in the first place (in a broad sense). If you read that last line and are still reading… thank you. Hopefully, what follows can help someone.

Life can and usually is, filled with missed opportunities. Usually from fear of failure, the unknown, injury, embarrassment… But what is fear really? Fear is essentially a signal of danger, a threat, or motivational conflict. It manifests psychologically and physiologically (that’s mentally and physically). There is a lot of it out in the world today, much of it unnecessary. So I thought maybe we might touch on a microcosm of it this month.

I started writing this Blog (albeit under a different title and perspective) in 2010. There was no fear of doing so because it was just going to be a chronicle of a team I was playing with and I was going to have help. But as it evolved and Zen was born, there came doubts. And that was okay. It has turned into something that, based off feedback, has helped a few people out. In addition to that, it has helped me as an individual grow in a path I didn’t think was ever planned or possible for that matter. And that all happened because of how I approach my fears.

Fear only exists in our minds. We ultimately control it and it’s effects on us. I had no real idea what I was doing when I stepped into this world of blogging, coaching, and clinics. All I had was my experiences and ideas. Would they be good enough? Would I write something that was perceived as “stupid”? Would anyone care? Am I sure I want to put myself, my thoughts, and my ways out into public domain for consumption and scrutiny?

Of course those thoughts arose… but they didn’t stop me. I never really thought about it until now. But I understand it more now than ever.

I think my background in the martial arts helped prepare me for the endeavor as it did for many things. My martial background taught me numerous things about fear, limitations, and more. As I trained (when I was younger), I overcame many fears and doubts. I got faster, stronger, more confident. Ultimately, it taught me that getting out of my comfort zone was where the greatest growth was found and accomplished. For the record, that fear was accompanied by lots of injury and pain. And if those components don’t teach you something, nothing will.

Becoming a fighter is not easy just like becoming a good paintball player isn’t. All the same principles apply in both worlds in order to meet success. Whether it is being physically fit, having a solid foundation in fundamentals, training, you name it, both require a lot of WORK. If you are adverse to hard work or like to take short cuts, you will not succeed and if you do succeed, you either have an incredible natural born and God given talent… or you cheated.

My work outs are a lot different than when I was younger. But don’t stop.

As my confidence grew when I was younger, so did my willingness to step out of my comfort zones. The willingness to learn, the willingness to understand differing thoughts and perspectives, all helped me recognize there are a myriad of ways to train and prepare. I was exposed to different styles, philosophies, and training methods. All strong in one way or the other but many with flaws too.

I also began to push my own limits. Where were they? Where is my envelope? This also opened my eyes to believe the only limit… is you/me.

The key to all of this, besides having an open mind, was adaptability. If you are so rigid, so set in your way that only your way will suffice, you’re missing out. If you want to stay with what you know and what is familiar, that’s fear rearing its head. It’s “safe”. Change can manifest growth… or, it could prove that maybe your way IS the right way… or it can IMPROVE your way… this is adaptability. And it is paramount to being a successful PB player (just like being a fighter).

Nobody is perfect. But should we settle for where we are? Do you strive to be the best you can be? Whether it is being a better PB player, accountant, Dad, friend, ditch digger… I’m constantly learning. As a matter of fact, I love watching lower divisional players. Why? Because you can learn from them too! And they ask great questions that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. Remember your fears and how you overcame them when first starting PB? When you meet a new player, do you empathize with them when they ask you a question? Do you recognize your opportunity to help them? Well… do ya?

Identifying opportunities in others


We shouldn’t be afraid to expose our weaknesses. Once we recognize them, accept them, we can work on them. And, if done correctly, turn them into strengths. But guess what that takes? Yep… hard work. Like all things in life, you have to commit. You want to fix something in your game? Put yourself in scenarios that will make you face your weaknesses or shore up your strengths so much they compensate. Trust me, when you are no longer afraid to make mistakes or deal with your weaknesses, you will improve.

Be water my friends

Boss Level

You may not believe this but I am an extraordinarily competitive person. However, I don’t show it very often. And when I do, it isn’t usually or immediately apparent. I internalize it mostly. But let me be clear… I’m not necessarily competing with someone opposite me. I’m competing against myself. How many of you are like that?

“But don’t you want to win?!” Yes, certainly… and with integrity thank you. But there is something else you need to know. I want you to read this very carefully and let it sink in…because it took me a long time to realize as well.

It’s not about winning for me. It’s about preparing my guys, helping them see the vision to playing a layout or a specific team, trusting one another, building each other up, creating strong character, confidence, and giving 100% at all times. And if done well (which is the GOAL), then winning is usually the result. Does that make sense? Winning IS A RESULT. Read that again and again and again until you understand. Yes, I will make mistakes in the preparation, the vision, trust, etc. (that’s what makes winners BTW…prep among other things).

We have a finite amount of time on this earth. I want to live it well and if I worried about what others thought of me all the time, especially in paintball, I would be miserable and damn sure wouldn’t be writing this blog. I don’t let “the noise of others’ opinions” drown out my own inner voice (I made that mistake once…okay…several times… but I have learned from it and moved on). That’s the part you don’t see or hear. If you did hear my “inner voice”, you might try and sell it to Hollywood as a horror film or the first 20 minutes of a Full Metal Jacket reboot.

It would be dishonest of me to say this concept isn’t sometimes pushed to the limit. That happened at the most recent NXL event near Philly. No, I am not speaking about the field conditions. Although, if you want a comment on that – we found them manageable – and we used the elements to our advantage on day 1 of play. We decided to play the field a little differently: we noticed one side had a better lane snake way which we leveraged dependent on what side we played. And we used the dust that was kicked up by opponents to let us know where they were… then changed things up on Day 2. But I digress.

No, this was more about the first match Sunday morning. Our Ocho match on Sunday morning at 8:40am versus the New England Hurricanes. We have met the other Canes 3 times in the past. First was in Chicago 2019 (prior to my arrival as coach) where we tied them 3-3. We met them again at World Cup 2020 on Day 1 besting them 5-0. And finally, this latest match in Philly where we beat them 10-5. Do the math on the last one since we play 15 minute matches… 60 second average per point. It was epic! Don’t let the score fool you. It was back and forth until the last 6 minutes. Now, internally, I wanted to DESTROY them. I wanted there to be no doubt about when these teams meet, we have the upper hand. I kept a calm demeanor, coached my guys, they executed, and we got the win. For the record, the “guys up north” are a great team and there is a lot of history there.

First match on Sunday. See my face?

Now… where am I going with this?

How many of you know what “extrinsic incentive” is? It’s a psychology term. “Extrinsic” simply means the motivation to act or behave a certain way is decided or rather created by external means as opposed to internal means. In other words, you act or behave a certain way because you will be rewarded for said behavior.

Competing is fun but make no mistake… I believe winning is more fun. I don’t like to lose but I have been on the receiving end of the latter outcome more than I can count. Someone has to lose. We have seen it throughout the history of organized competitions. From the first Olympic Games to today’s organized pro and collegiate sports. The NXL is no exception. But how come we keep seeing the same teams performing well almost every event? The top 10 professional teams in paintball haven’t changed much in the last 5 years, would you agree? Sure, there is the occasional outliers each event and the last 2 years have seen some shake ups… but why?

I promise to bring these two streams of thought together… the Hurricanes match and the top Pro’s consistency… hang in there. First, a quick detour that should lend to the journey:

Paintball players/teams don’t have to be high level athletes. They don’t have to have the best gas tank or the best snap or guns on the break. No, I have coached teams who had none of those things but still saw success. Why? Because they gave great effort. They gave their absolute best that day and at practice. They competed well when it was important. Remember? RESULT…

I’m not yelling. I am simply projecting so everyone can hear me.

Competing at the highest levels(Pro and Semi Pro) in our sport however requires much more than just hard work and preparation. The teams that always make it deep into Sunday will have done much more than just practiced hard.
They play every game as if it is the championship, as if they are up against their toughest opponent, every point. They are giving 101%. They put in the EXTRA work mentally and physically. But it is the mental game they win every time before every match.

See, not every player is always 100% mentally or physically. But the BEST, the ELITE, well… it doesn’t matter if they are or not. Why? Because even if they are only 75% physically, they are going to give all 100% of that 75% in that point, in that match. That’s the difference. No one can give 100% all the time. But they can give 100% of what they have when it matters.

How many of you before a game realize you aren’t 100% and just figure, whatever happens happens? You’re injured or feeling sick…your girlfriend is mad at you…whatever. Because of these things you subconsciously give up before you even step on the field. But what many of you don’t realize is that you don’t have to be 100% to beat your opponent. That’s right, you don’t have to be your best to win. You just need to play better than your opponent. So, to increase the likelihood of winning, you must learn to play your best with what you have. As I stated above, if you’re only at 75%, play at the full 75%. I think you will find that it will be enough to meet the goal. And if not, well, you shouldn’t have any regrets. You literally gave your best.

And that is how simple it is most of the time. Those who play best win. And that was my thought headed into the Hurricanes match. We chose a few things we were doing well at and stuck to them. We didn’t get complicated, we kept it simple. We capitalized on their chinks in their armor by leveraging our strengths. We went with what we did well, executed the game plan, and it prevailed.

Proud to be a Cane

Look, it is simple but it isn’t easy. You shouldn’t expect competing at the higher levels to be. Hell, that’s the whole point! Yes, there will be matches against teams in your division where you will ask yourself, why are they playing this division? But don’t let those matches fool you. Every match is against Heat, or Impact, or X Factor, or Russian Legion, or Dynasty (choose your top pro team). Every game is your tournament life on the line.

The point of sports is to challenge ourselves. It should be hard, it should be difficult. Tell me… if you destroy a team that you outclass in every way, how do you usually feel afterwards? Accomplished? Perhaps entitled? Doubtful (and if you do… you probably suck and that was the only match you won.)

Winning the mental game is a big deal. Before that match Sunday morning at 8:40am, myself and the team had already won in our minds. Because there are two games we play. The mental game and the actual match. If you haven’t won the former, you won’t stand a chance winning the latter. And that, my friends, is the key. Given equal capabilities and the same playing field, whoever wins the mental game will usually win the real game.

Remember, stay focused from the moment you wake up on game day to the moment you leave the field to go eat. Keep your mind and body in the game from start to finish and don’t let up. Give it your all and I think you will find it is usually enough. And when it isn’t? That’s okay… try harder next time.


Be water my friends

Class Is In

This month, I’m going to touch on a subject many of you will not agree with me on… and that’s okay. I often think it is because I’m older than most and come from a different time. I get that. But some of you need to hear it. Mike Hinman touched on this in his recent summary of the NXL semi pro division. Operative words being “touched on” as I certainly don’t want to speak for Mike. Although I have a sneaky suspicion he would get where I am coming from.

I can hear my friend Grayson Goff saying, “Okay Boomer” … Gen X btw 😉

Truth – it’s out there.

Let’s talk sportsmanship or what I like to call, having some class and WHY it’s important.
Sportsmanship or showing class is simply when competitors treat one another with respect and behave in an appropriate manner before, during, and after their competition. It could also be defined as being fair and ethical (that last word I fear has lost it’s meaning these days – go ask any journalist) to those you’re playing against (and with).

***Zen note*** this can and should apply to fans, supporters, parents, and coaches as well.

Let’s get something out of the way right now. Sportsmanship doesn’t mean taking it easy on the other team. Look, we play an aggressive sport. Hell, we “shoot” our opponents to eliminate them. It’s part of the game. There is a line though, as there is no need for disrespect or malicious intent. Me, personally, am from the camp of “Be nice… until it’s time not to be nice” or “Don’t start nothin’ and there won’t be nothin'”.

“Self-praise is for losers. Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.” – John Madden

Have you ever noticed why so many people use sports as a metaphor for so many different things, especially life in general? Because the traits required to be successful in sports translate almost directly to being successful in anything we do. Think about it. Skill sets are honed with hard work, discipline, determination, sacrifice… all things you need to be successful in the “real world”. Whether you’re a ditch digger or a corporate executive, if you bring these traits to your job, you will not only perform well, you will be noticed and advance.

“A lot of young players don’t really know much about the history of the game and a lot of them are missing out on what the game is all about, especially the whole concept of sportsmanship and teamwork.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I’m sure you have all hear that, “Good things happen to good people”. I truly believe that and not just because of my Christian beliefs, upbringing, and environment. I’ve seen it. No, we won’t go down the rabbit hole of what signifies “good people”. How about starting with being a good sport, being kind and respectful to one another, having fun… that sort of thing? There is already plenty of ugly in the world.

On the way to shake hands and showing appreciation to family, friends, and fans.

Here’s where I use a word that some misunderstand all too often. Integrity. A classy player has integrity and shows respect. He is honest and treats those around him the way he wishes to be treated. He is about the team, unselfish, humble in victory, and understanding/honorable in defeat. This is what it means to be a man really.
All of this contributes to being a good human being. We used to have a saying, “Excellence through integrity”. It wasn’t easy being the “good guy” in paintball. It still isn’t. Trust me, I’ve almost cleared the benches a time or two but I always knew it wouldn’t solve anything. We had to be the bigger men… especially walking the walk and talking the talk we had chosen.

I’ve seen a man cry because he lost a paintball match. I’ve seen young men win only to disrespect their humbled opponent viciously. In both instances, the player(s) instead of appreciating the moment for what it was, they poisoned and cheapened it. See, being classy enhances the experience for both groups of competitors. The team that is defeated is shown respect by the victor. Both can learn from the experience and both can be examples for others. Those of you who weep and moan and those of you who gloat… you’re both weak and have learned only how to be weak. You’re sadists. You have enhanced nothing but an ego. The ego of a jack ass. And make no mistake, that’s how you are seen by the majority around you (or maybe you’re not, maybe I’m the minority – and I’m fine with that.)

Here are my simple rules for being classy. Be positive, be a good teammate, show respect, and play with integrity. The end.

“Sometimes I think sportsmanship is a little bit forgotten in place of the individual attention.” – Cal Ripken, Jr.

To the trash talkers out there – especially the ones who continue to do so after you and your team just got trounced – you’re a joke. But I get it. You’re probably the more talented player on your team and feel you need everyone to see it. Maybe if you spent all that energy helping make and mold your teammates into better players, your team wouldn’t be getting dismantled. Every team I have ever coached or played with, we let our game speak for us. You want your game to speak for you? Shut your mouth and get to work practicing. Or maybe you don’t contribute at all, you actually suck, are a practice all-star, and so you verbalize and vocalize to make up for the fact you are an inadequate dweeb. Doesn’t matter to me. You still suck no matter how loud you get.


You can yip and yaw all you want. Look at the score board knucklehead. That’s ALL that needs to be said.

Shaking hands after a good match

Look, as with any sport, there is going to be a winner and a loser. Sometimes your team will be in the latter category. Be a man when it happens, shake your opponent’s hand after the game, give them a “good game” or “well done” and friggin’ move on. LEARN! If you are the winner, show some respect, and do the same.

“I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” – Lou Holtz

An important measure of how to win or lose with class is to simply put things into perspective. It’s a game. Yes, we are all passionate about it but at the end of the day, you’re still breathing, you’re still alive, and will have the opportunity to improve and do it all over again. So relax.

We need to respect the refs too. Even when they make a bad call. I know, I know. Hear me out. Understand that, bad calls will happen and guess what? Sometimes those bad calls will go in your favor! Now, some self-critique here as I had an issue at the recent NXL with a head ref. Don’t get me wrong, I was respectful when he wasn’t. However, to his character, he recognized he was out of line, calmed down, apologized, and we had a good conversation afterwards. It was difficult for me to respect him at first, I will admit. He was aggressive and didn’t really supply good rationale for his call(s) or seem to have a complete understanding of the rule-book. I recognized almost immediately the calls weren’t going to be overturned, but I saw it as an opportunity to provide critique to HELP him for the next time. It was the end of the day, this guy was hot from high temps, tired, thirsty, hungry, and had been shot A LOT. Always recognize that and take it into perspective. Those guys aren’t paid enough and in a lot of cases not really trained enough.

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.”- Lou Brock

Now might be a good time to have a bit of an ethics lesson (you all caught me in a mood). Real quick, let’s sum up ethics in paintball. So, there is sportsmanship and then there is gamesmanship. I have talked with many of you and there is a portion who most certainly fall in the category of employing gamesmanship as opposed to sportsmanship. Hey, we have all been guilty of it. There is a difference. Allow me to elaborate: You’re the guy/gal who believes that winning is everything. “You ain’t tryin’ if you ain’t cheatin!” “It’s only cheatin’ if you get caught!” “It’s the refs job to catch me!”. Get the idea? These are the same people who smack talk too when they are losing.

Consoling the opponent after a hard loss (this is not necessary, but I knew the guy)

In other words, you are more concerned about the outcome of the game rather than the manner in which it was won or lost. I believe the argument FOR gamesmanship is called “bracketed morality”. This is the concept that sports are NOT aligned with the real world and that morality or ethics should not apply. These are the people who would say that sports serve as a way to get out aggression, that it serves our primal instincts to win or conquer. Whereas I am not totally opposed to an aspect of this (getting out aggression) it is the level of commitment to this concept that needs to be checked. “He’s a beast on the field but a real gentleman off of it”. Okay… I’ll give you that. However, one who plays honorably and gives his opponent an honorable yet tough (and fair) game is the real “beast” in my book.

“Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.” – Bear Bryant

And that’s my point. A classy player or coach is focusing on things like honor and virtue and integrity. He trusts his teammates; he respects his opponent. This type of player or team is one that is not only interested in winning but doing so by giving their best effort and more than likely, will have more longevity. And probably more success as well.

If I had to define ethics in paintball, it would boil down to 3 things:

  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Respect

Integrity in paintball would require players/coaches to take responsibility for their actions in all aspects on and off the field. When a team loses, the right thing to do is not point or blame but to recognize the aspects of the game that you can control and work on. What about your performance that day could you have done better?

Responsibility should mean that you have trained appropriately and are at the skill level (Ex: playing in the appropriate division) you need to be to compete and that you know the rules of the game. It should also encompass how you present yourself and represent your team (your behavior).

Respect is just that, respecting your teammates, your opponents, your coach, and the refs.


I’ll say it again, sports are meant to not only test our capabilities but ultimately to build character. The first one is important as it can teach us a lot about ourselves. The second is more important as it will mold us and hopefully, God willing, make us better people.


Be water my friends.

You Get What You “Pay” for…

If there is one thing I have learned over the years, paintball players, specifically tournament paintball players, are cheap.  Oh, not in the traditional sense mind you, no I mean in the unrealistic cynical nihilistic ridiculous sense.  They’re so cheap, they won’t pay attention.

“Welcome to Paintball Cheapskates Anonymous.  Would anyone like to start?” “I’ll go. I’d like to say I’m not a PB Cheapskate.  I’m just here for the free coffee.”

I had a couple of interesting conversations over the last few trips to the field. One conversation was about team practice, and the last about team dynamics.  Now, none of the fine gentlemen I was speaking with are cheap mind you; both are upstanding young men.  But the essence of our conversation boiled down to what I feel was a perception of value.

No, this will not discuss the current state of tournament ball.  Instead, let’s talk about the context of cost vs value from the sophomoric cheapskate perspective of your standard PBplayer (genus Cheapskatis Paintaballi).

Advice is usually free but not all of it is worth something

First and foremost, let’s start with something that perplexes me… those paintball teams that show up for practice and then spend the first hour or two on physical fitness/cardio training.  What a complete and utter waste. If you are training seriously for paintball on a competitive level, please stop wasting valuable field time on cardio training. It COSTS you time and the VALUE of it is diminished. 

Why?

Simple – you should be handling that aspect of your training on your own time and not at the expense of limited field time training as a team.  Much like a race car, you should be “tuned up” to perform at your highest capability.  Race car drivers do not tune the car during the race.  No, the car is tuned and tweaked prior and the driver expects/knows it will perform as long as they do their job.  Team practice should be saved and allotted for working on team dynamics, highlighting strengths, and exposing weaknesses.  Not individual gas tanks.  If you show up at one of my practices having not put in the time to address the physical requirements of this game, I will recognize it, I will call you on it, and I will expect you to remedy it on YOUR OWN TIME.  Don’t waste my or your teammates time on the field coming up short.  It’s disrespectful.  Bring yourself straight so we can all focus on the important stuff. 

This does NOT pertain to “warm ups” – running a couple of laps and stretching is valuable as it is meant to avoid injury.  Hopefully I don’t have to explain the difference.

Okay – that’s out of the way – let’s get into it.

Not cheap but worth every penny.

There are many people who think that cost and value are the same thing.  They are not.

Let’s define.

  • Cost is the total amount spent on “the inputs” to create something such as labor, capital, materials, etc.  Simply put, it’s anything that adds to the producers’ expense to create the “something”.
  • Value is more difficult to measure.  It would be the benefit derived by the purchaser or user of the “something”. In other words, it is a perception by the customer. 

We should probably go ahead and define one other aspect of this equation as it pertains to our discussion, price:

  • Price is the amount charged by the producer/seller, in exchange for their “something”, which includes their cost and profit.

That’s about as simplistic as we can put it.  You economists out there, feel free to correct me. Not all of these definitions will come into play in this blog.  You’re welcome.  Now go read a book.

And this is where we get into the meat of the subject… recognizing value.

Having equipment that works and performs is incredibly valuable

As bona fide and proven cheapos, paintballers need to find value in efficiency.

I just physically felt all of your collective eyes roll…

Just listen for a minute.

Jumping to the first of the conversations I mentioned; a young man I’ve known a bit was out there with his team.  He was recounting me with his struggles to keep things moving in a positive direction.  Now, he spoke about motivation which, if you want my thoughts on keeping a team motivated, read these:

https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2018/09/17/whos-with-me/

https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2018/02/12/cerebral-zeal/

https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2017/04/21/only-you-can-prevent-forest-fires/

But his main concern was the financial aspects of competing nationally.

I once did a high-level breakdown of costs for divisional x-ball teams competing in the NXL. (I think I did this in 2017 for two friends who were working with Tom Cole at the time to understand the hurdles of divisional teams).  Based off prices back then, I took an average of several factors:

  • Entry fee
  • Paint cost for 2 two-day layout practices
  • Travel cost for team of 7 (based off 2017 Bureau of Transportation Statistics to the 5 event cities)
  • Lodging costs (based off an average 3 night stay minimum of 2 rooms)
  • Paint cost through prelims (4 matches with low, medium, and high consumption then averaged)

What I came up with for a Division 2 or Semi Pro team competing in a single NXL event was approximately $9,300-12,800.  For Division 3 and 4 those numbers weren’t much different landing between $9,000-$12,500 (almost identical really).  Remember, this is X-ball, not 5 man or race 2 and based off a team of 7…

That comes out to anywhere between $45k to $64k for a divisional team to compete in an entire season.  At least, it did back then.  I’m not saying these numbers are too antiquated to no longer be accurate but there are certainly ways to save.

All that to say is, what value would his team get out of the National circuit?  Not everyone can afford this type of financial commitment.  So, what did they hope to gain from the expense?  Could they compete and find VALUE in the more affordable regional events that offer similar experiences for a reduced PRICE?  Is it worth the team’s COST to prepare?

These are all questions teams must ask themselves.  Whenever this discussion is brought up, it sometimes enters the realm of Prizes (for the crackhead paintballers, not to be confused with the cheap paintballers).  This is a completely different conversation.  I will sum that up real quick: If you value a tournament because of the prizes, you’re a goob.  The chances of winning a paintball event are low… what happens if the prize packages do meet your requirement, you compete, and lose?  What value did you achieve/gain again? It was worth spending all that money because of the opportunity of potentially getting your investment back… Brilliant!

Moving on…

Finally, the other conversation was about a captains’ specific concern about one of his players.  The player in question was a very talented player, a force multiplier on the field.  But he was also a proven jackass… his personality was what I like to call “toxic”. The negative Nancy in question felt he knew everything, pointed fingers at other players for his own failures, and just plain rubbed people the wrong way.  Now, without going into the psychology of why that player is acting that way, and the psychology of how teammates should handle a debbie downer, let’s look at it from a COST vs VALUE perspective.

He’s not worth it.  The end.

Now – as recognizable cheap-o-matic machines, let me finish this month off with a really basic and simple principle all the el cheapo bargain basement pbplayer’s should embrace…

Low paint drills.

Take that bag or two of paint you have left over from a practice or rec day or what have you, take care of it (keep it in a dry, temp controlled area, and rotate/roll it around it every other day) and leverage this common asset to your advantage.  Any drill you run can be a low paint drill.  Whether it is snap shooting (one ball check in slowly emphasizing accuracy and body positioning in bunker), laning (first ball accuracy off the box on a static target), run and gun, (one ball, no ramping, changing speeds, while moving targeting a static target), gun transitioning on target, etc.  The list goes on!

All of this can maintain muscle memory, even if you are a dime-store cut rate player.

Is it making sense now?  Those who want it will do it.  Those who don’t will make an excuse.

Be water my friends

Resolutions – (Paintball Style)

2020 is officially behind us. For some, last year wasn’t that bad… for others it will be forever embedded in their hearts and not necessarily in a good way. If it taught you anything, I hope it was to look out for your friends and family.

Hopefully 2021 will hold more promise for all of us. I, for one, cannot tell anyone how to make that happen… but I may have some small insight from a paintball team perspective. But first, a quick story…

This past world cup, a friend of mine called. He was playing with a new team for Cup and they had voted him to be the “player/coach.” He was looking for advice. He realized it was last minute and I could tell he was reserved about even calling. I empathized because, well, I had been there. So I told him two specific things:

  • Don’t be afraid to make a mistake
  • Own it when you do
Big Show time

He did well, taking a throw together team to Sunday. I gave him that advice because I wanted him to understand that if he did make a mistake, it wasn’t the end of the world, and two, if he did, suck it up and move on. See, he was going to make mistakes… But he was gaining real world experience. He was learning. When we make mistakes, yes, there is failure but hopefully we are trying new things, learning, living, pushing ourselves, changing, growing. We’re stepping out of that comfort zone and experiencing things that will hopefully make us better and ultimately teach us who we are.

And just like that we are entering a new year, a new season, with all the experiences of the previous year. How many of you learned from your mistakes? How many of you will actively participate in making your experiences better? Like I said recently, the new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. What will yours say?

Here are Zen’s top 10 pieces of advice for writing this years’ “Book” (in no particular order):

  1. If you are going to learn the “hard-way” then actually learn. Don’t rationalize or make excuses. Recognize the lesson that was taught. If you or your team make a jump in divisions and get your rumps handed to you, what did you learn? No, it wasn’t the refs are “stricter” at that level, the other teams are better at cheating, or any other plethora of excuses some will use to explain away their failure. Don’t be ashamed of your division! Go win in it. If you truly are better than your APPA shows, then prove it by dominating the division and progress accordingly. There is no shame in this and it is the right way to go.

“It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.” –Claude Bernard

  1. There is always going to be someone better than you. Whether it is snap shooting, run n gun, laning, speed, making reads, reaction time, coaching… they exist and you will meet them on the field. And it may just be that one time in that one match at that one event. But it will happen.
    And you need to get over it.
    I promise, if you believe you are special and the next Ollie Lang or Dynasty, your ego is in for a rude awakening. You will be humbled and many people will enjoy it when it happens, especially if you are a braggart. However, to those of you who genuinely wish to be good and are aspiring for that level of performance (those who let their game speak, not their mouth), know that almost every skill set I mentioned can be improved upon. You are in control of how far you take it, how far it goes.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” –Albert Einstein

It wasn’t easy. If it was, everyone would do it
  1. There is a lot more to being successful in paintball than just practicing hard. Working hard is not enough. You need to work smart too. If you want to be recognized then you need to be more than good or competent. You need to noticeably excel. This means you need to work harder and smarter than everyone else around you. A solid work ethic and brains? That’s the ticket. They shouldn’t be mutually exclusive because if they are, that is what will be noticeable.

4. Paintball is expensive and not just financially. It takes a commodity that many take for granted and don’t always understand its worth. It takes time. So if you’re looking to be competitive on the national level but you don’t have the money or the time, then you are better off not playing paintball. Just kickin’ it for fun? By all means, it is a great occasional recreational sport. But to be competitive, you better have the time and the money. If not, you don’t have an understanding of what all is required to succeed at that level and in that environment.

5. Create good habits. Winning is a habit. What that means is, you have to have developed the appropriate habits that LEAD to winning. Good habits will lead to good things just as bad habits will lead to bad things. Choose wisely because habits will make or break you. Work the drills everyone hates, run that extra mile, do that extra push up, get their early every time… develop a habit of doing the right thing and I promise you will see progress quicker than those who don’t.

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” – Bruce Lee

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The dumbest question is the one NOT asked. This is part of learning. Be curious, take in how others approach the game. Watch what they do, how they do it, and ask why they do it. But be wary. If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t. You will be surprised at the amount of people who are willing to help. And just as dumbfounded by those who think they can.

7. You are owed NOTHING. This is a pet peeve of mine. When I encounter those who have the attitude that they deserve something for nothing, it is difficult for me to not call them out. If you step on my field, you will earn everything. I have learned that people that get things easily or that receive things they don’t deserve are usually lousy human beings or rather, good examples of how not to be. Don’t be the one who feels you are owed or entitled to something others put in hard work for. If you are one of these people who gets their feelings hurt easily or puts how you “feel” in front of betterment, keep walking. I have no time for you panzies.

You can be competitors on the field and friends off of it

8. Know where you stand. Whether it is with your teammates, your coach, heck, any relationship, understand where you land in the scheme of things. Avoid unnecessary drama and if you can’t, snuff it out quickly and decisively. Lose that stuff fast. Understanding your place in an organization is important. It won’t always be what you want it to be. Hey, maybe it’s you.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” –Confucius

9. You are replaceable. So make yourself irreplaceable. Bring something worth having. Better yet, bring several things that are not only worth having but needed. When you are a teammate before an individual, when you bring positivity tempered with logic and data, when you build after taking apart, when you are the example, the rest will fall into place. Your actions and effort should speak volumes. Be loud in action.

10. Be physically fit. The sport has evolved and requires a semblance of athletic ability so make it happen. Plus, good physical fitness lends itself to good mental capabilities. Both your mind and your body should be in peak condition (and not just for our sport). They shouldn’t be separate entities. Physical fitness is the foundation for mental fitness. If you have the gas tank, then you can keep the mental clarity and make good in-game decisions.

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Genuine

I will leave you with this one final thought. You probably know who your supporters are, the ones who believe in you and who want the best for you… the genuine ones. But you may not always know who your detractors are (go back and read #8). Remember, the better you get and the further you progress, there will be those who want you to fail. Success will create new challenges, new opportunities, and yes, even new enemies. Don’t give them room to stay at the “inn”. Not everyone loves a winner. Let them sit in their envious hate and rot.

In other words, be hard to kill both on the field (literally) and off of it (metaphorically).

Here’s to 2021!

Be water my friends.

Pontification on Permanent Persistence

“Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”

Alex Trebeck: Answer, “Obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”

Me, you, us: “What is persistence, Alex.”

It finally happened.  The first national win and in the semi pro division no less at WORLD friggin’ CUP.  I will get into the crux of this month’s topic but first – I want to say something:  

Celebration next to Celebration

First and foremost, a huge shout out and thank you to the New Orleans Hurricanes…  Here is a program that already had two national event wins under their belt in Division 2 (Chicago 2017 and World Cup 2018 – the latter they did with only 5 guys!) so they knew what it feels like, what it takes, and what it means.  I had coached some of their players back in the Prime program and had even done a clinic with them prior to their Chicago win.  When they first called me, I thought, these guys don’t need me! What’s this all about?  It’s a trap! Man, I am grateful to the One above that I answered the phone that day.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

I cannot thank them enough for making that call and making me a part of the program.  It has been an honor.  A couple of quick stats:

  • The ‘Canes outscored our opponents 22-7 in the prelims
    • In other words, 76% of all points played were won by the ‘Canes
    • Or for every point our opponent scored, we scored 3
  • The ‘Canes outscored their opponents 17-8 on Sunday (3 matches: quarters, semis, finals)
    • 68% of all points played were won by the ‘Canes
    • Or for every point our opponent scored we scored 2
  • They were undefeated the entire event
    • Once we obtained the 1st place seed, we kept it the entire event
    • Outscored our opponents 39-15 the entire event
      • That translates to 72% of all points played were won by us
      • For every point scored on us, we scored 2.6 points on our opponent
      • We mercied 3 of our 7 opponents

I think those are some impressive stats.  Way to be Canes! Perhaps it doesn’t matter but we did win the 2 event Covid series too…

Lord have…mercy

“The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.”

Okay – pardon that little tangent but I am very proud of their accomplishment.  That is no easy feat.  Some may say, well, the Tons Tons, weren’t there.  Okay, my response would be, had they been, we would have beat them too. See how easy that is?

Now, moving on to this month’s topic… you probably figured it out by the title.

I think whenever someone discusses winning, the term “persistence” is usually, or should be, mentioned.  Persistence has to be a component and it shouldn’t surprise anyone at least when it comes to a significant accomplishment.  Those significant accomplishments are usually reserved for things that are quite difficult to achieve and require great effort, yes?  It is very easy to fold up the tent and just figure it isn’t going to happen.  Trust me, I have considered this many times because it is rather easy to persist at something when things are good or going well.  It is a completely different animal when they are not. 

Amazing feeling

“Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.”

So what does that look or sound like.  Here is my best attempt at trying to justify or explain my own persistence as well as those I have had the honor to coach/play with and why we try to maintain it:

Goal setting:  If you have read this blog for any amount of time you know I write about goal setting.  Well, I take my own advice on this one.  If I set my eyes on something, I’m going to do it.  A very good friend of mine was speaking to a player about work ethic.  I remember him saying this, “If you really want something, you’ll find a way to get it. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”  I asked him where he got that from and if I could steal it.  He said he had read it somewhere regarding business or entrepreneurship but felt it applied.  I agree… it most certainly applies to the sports world or any world for that matter!

I have watched several of my friends, whether former players I had coached, former teammates, or even just those I met through clinics go on and win a national event.  Ever since watching “Push” in 1999, I have wanted to know that feeling and to be a part of something greater.  The motivation was almost unhealthy at times, I kid you not! And it was all worth it.

Once more into the breech

“Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel.”

All those national  2nd (11), 3rd (4) and 4th (2) place finishes, all those national Sunday appearances (40)… They just made me more determined.  Why? …because each time I learned something new.  Every. Single. Time.  And each time it just made me want it more and more.  I didn’t make or create excuses.  I recognized the shortcomings and worked to improve them.  I took accountability and actively searched out improvement.  I made an adjustment here or an adjustment there.  I let the process work and fixed it where I could.  Was it disheartening at times?  You bet.  Did I make mistakes in how I adapted?  No doubt.  But you have to reach inside and recognize that it IS coming if you truly stay the course.  Staying motivated is hard, sure, but winners stay after it.  You can’t break the warrior if he loves what he is fighting for.  Find that motivation, that desire, and fuel it.

I was told by many a friend and family member to “give up on this childish dream”.  What made it childish?  What made it a dream?  I have never asked anyone to quit something they were passionate about and I wasn’t about to let anyone convince me (unless it becomes unhealthy – I genuinely believe this pursuit has made me a healthier person both mentally and physically).  See, I know who I am.  I know my capabilities.  Ever heard the term “He hits above his weight class”?  I tell myself that every day.  When I get up in the morning, I pray that God gives me the strength and wisdom to be very best I can be, whether that is being a father, a husband, a friend, a player, or a coach. I pray before every match that my boys stay safe and healthy. Do I care what others think of me?  Certainly.  Do I care what others think of me regarding specific pursuits? Nope.  Some things you will not convince me or challenge me on.  I don’t expect everyone to understand.  The more you say I can’t, the stronger you make me.

“Failure is only postponed success as long as courage ‘coaches’ ambition. The habit of persistence is the habit of victory.”

Game planning for Sunday

I have read that winning is habitual and I genuinely believe it.  What that means to me is, in order to win, you must develop the right habits.  Makes perfect sense to me.  Perhaps I’m just pontificating and becoming somewhat introspective and arrogant.  Hell, I am writing a blog as if people care what I think…  anyway… habits.  If you can develop good habits (getting enough sleep, eating right, showing up early, running drills when everyone else stops, so on and so forth) you will see progress each and every time you step out on the field.  If you truly want to reach a goal, you will do what it takes each and every day to reach it.  Otherwise, you’re just full of piss and vinegar.  What you do each and every day will determine your success.  Make it count.

Because if something ISN”T working, you should recognize that.  If I run a guy to the snake twice in a row and he was shot both times going there, and I send him again – whose fault is that?  I’m not going to blindly throw him over their without understanding how to adjust!  I will find a way to get his gun in the fight, get him in the game, and develop a way to make sure he sees a point past the break.  It’s the definition of insanity… right?  Look, sometimes you’re going to meet roadblocks.  There WILL be obstacles to your goal.  The key is finding ways over, around, under, and through them.  Sometimes, that will take time.  So take the time and make that happen.

But it doesn’t stop when you win.  That goal setting now takes on a new perspective.  That adaptation takes on a new meaning.  Motivation has a new approach.  The more it changes the more it stays the same.  Continuous learning is so important, not just in this sport, but in life.  We must evolve with each win as well as with each loss.  Being intellectually honest about capability and sustainability is crucial.

It’s very real

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Which brings me to my final comments – I want to thank some people who were paramount in my learning and who never once, ever, gave up on me.  They saw something I didn’t at the time or perhaps, they saw something and convinced me to see it too.  I don’t know.  I just know they are truly my friends and without them, this win wouldn’t have been possible.  The list is incredibly long and most know who they. After all you have been there a long time. But there are a few that need mentioning:

  • Coach Paul Richards – to the man who helped me see that there really is such a thing as a paintball coach and who taught me what to look for and why.  You gave me a confidence boost when others wouldn’t.  You are the one by which all others are measured.  Rest in Peace Top!  Miss you.
  • Shane Pestana – becoming friends with someone you had only read about and admired is cool. But it is even cooler when they are such an influence.  I sure am glad we shared that pit back in Phoenix. Thanks for the guidance and insight over the years and for giving me the opportunities you did.  Let’s go fishing and hunting soon.  Tell Pax he sucks.
  • Grayson Goff – You may not have realized it but when you respected my thoughts about the game you gave me the confidence to write more about it. For that, I will always be appreciative. Great to see you back out on the field this past Cup Mr. Ocean.
  • Ken Ozvath – you, sir, kept me grounded while continually reminding me of my faith and how to live it, not just through your words but by your example!  Thank you for listening and being there all those times. 
  • Bailey, Barnes, Pate – Don’t have the words, guys. Well… maybe…”Screw you guys.” For real, nothing but love.
  • Willi, Cam, Bruce, Alex, I75 crew, and my former Primates – thank you for always believing.  You’re the best.
  • Finally – to my wife and children – you are the best part of me and I can never appreciate you enough for all the love and support over the years.  I am the luckiest man alive!

Be water my friends,

The Unappreciated

It’s actually happening.  Barring some catastrophic event, the NXL World Cup is scheduled to occur on November 11th-15th across the street from the Gaylord Palms resort in Kissimmee, FL.  Now, seeing as how this is 2020, I’m not ruling out the asteroid hit… but let’s not worry about such trivial things.

With the largest and most prominent paintball event about to go down, teams are doing all they can to prepare or rather, should be.  In this blog post, I am going to talk about an often overlooked yet incredibly important aspect of prepping for an event: 

Your pit crew.

That’s right – the unappreciated, the overlooked, the human afterthought, the shadows… the people who make paintball player’s lives a lot easier and they don’t even realize it.

If you have not done this portion of planning well in advance, you are not doing what you can to properly prepare for the event. Time and time again here at Zen we have discussed and emphasized efficiency in all things we do.  Not just “economy of motion” (physical) but economy of time, energy, and thought.  In this case, we are looking at two points of efficiency – getting your pit crew established ahead of time and how an effective pit crew creates efficiency at an event.

Mo often pitted for Professional Team Damage at the NXL event. I’m no dummy. When he asked if he could help, I said, “Absolutely”

Okay – so let’s establish our reasoning.  Let’s look at what being “efficient” is really about.  Efficiency is “a measure of the extent to which input is well used for an intended task or function (the output)”. Said another way, it is the capability of a specific effort to produce a specific outcome with minimum amount of energy expenditure.  Got it?  So based off that definition, let’s get into efficiency as it relates to event prep.

First and foremost, establishing a definitive pit crew needs to be on your checklist of things to do well in advance of the event.  Along with booking your accommodations, logistics, and practice schedule, planning your pit crew is one of those tasks that you want to get off your plate early so that you and the team can focus more on actual game/event prep (you know…playing well).  Get it done so you can focus on your game and not worry with details like this which have a tendency to add stress.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have run across a team begging people the day before an event for help in the pits. It was an afterthought and then someone finally said, “Hey, who do we have to run pods?” 

Yeah, you’re guilty 😉

A good pit crew is there to help and should help…they are the help!.  They are there to make that long walk from where you parked manageable.  They are there to make your pit manageable.  But most of all, they are there to make your life as a coach or as a player, easier.  And for that, you should take their selection serious.

This is Willi. She’s awesome. So is her husband

Now, a good pit crew needs to encompass, in my opinion, these 3 capabilities:

  • Choreography (efficiency)
  • Game/player Knowledge
  • Be Autonomous

Let’s break these down real quick.

Choreography is pretty self-explanatory.  They need to know what to do before, during, and after a match. This can be something as simple as knowing where to set up in the pit in relation to the team’s movement and where to place pit tables.  I like to have a minimum of 3 pit crew members.  The usual breakdown is 2 pod fillers (supplemented by team members when possible) filling pods and 1 pod runner (this is the cat who runs out between points and ensures the team’s pods stay with the team).  They can, and should, swap occasionally when necessary.  They should be aware of the fact they will be porting some things to and from the pits.  Carrying pod bags with pods or pulling the “paint wagon”.   Understanding their responsibility is a huge must.  The last thing a coach or captain wants to deal with is a pit crew asking, “Hey – what do we do?”  That is not a pit crew.  I decided to reach out to one of the best pit crews I have ever worked with (they are an amazing married couple – shout out to Willi and Cam) and they said the following:

“Understanding the flow of the pit is important.  Once you know it, it is important to be everywhere you need to be, when you need to be, but never in the way.” 

Game knowledge is imperative.  Nothing worse than a pit crew member storming out on the field to grab pods and getting your team a penalty because they didn’t wait for the “point approved” announcement.  A good pit crew will recognize how the game is progressing and understand what needs to be done.  Is the team burning through paint quicker than normal?  Is the team dominating or struggling during the match?  But an even better pit crew is one who not only recognizes those things but KNOWS the team, knows the players.  Keep in mind, many of the best pit crews are paintball players themselves.  Like Willi and Cam again:

“Get to know the team.  Not just them as a person but their tendencies as a player and where they play on the field.  Know how many pods they normally take out.  Know if they like them “up or down”.  If you don’t know these things, ask!”

That’s Cam in the background (camo headband, olive drab shirt) gettin’ after it

Now, the last but certainly not least (as a matter of fact, it very well may be the most important quality of a good pit crew) is that they are autonomous.  They are capable without direction.  They don’t need to be told what to do, they already know.  They know when to be at the pit, when to start cleaning pods, when to start loading paint, when to tell coach/captain the team is getting low on paint (*see previous comment about game knowledge??*), when to clean a player off, where to place extra pods and guns in case they hear “I need an extra pod”, or the dreaded “GUN!!!” when team members are chrono’ed on the field.  They do all of this on their own without instruction.  When you have a crew like this, it is a huge relief to a coach/captain and the team for that matter.  Like trusting your teammates on the field, if you can trust your pit crew to know what to do and when, that is one less thing you have to worry about.  And make no mistake about it, that pit crew IS part of the team.  A comment from Willi and Cam that I couldn’t agree with more:

“You’re part of team (the pit crew).  You need to bring the same energy level as though you are stepping out on the field with them.”

Jeez, I love that mentality.  I wish all paintball players had that type of understanding about roles.

When the team wins, we all win!

Which brings me to a few closing notes…  One, let’s lose this moniker of “pod bitch”. Sure sure, it’s a funny jab amongst friends.  But honestly, if I am volunteering my time and energy to help you for no other reason than to be a good person, and you drop that on me?  I walk.  Who’s the bitch now, bitch?

 Now, I believe in compensation.  If you are paying someone to pit, and I think all pit crews should get something for their work if they are worth their salt.  Some suggestions:

  • Let them stay for free at your place
  • Buy their lunch or dinner for the day
  • Pay them in cash/paint/product

Give them SOMETHING to acknowledge the fact that you appreciate their assistance and effort.  If you don’t, then you sir/madam, are a pudnugget.

Be water my friends.

“Quadraginta” Paintball

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, from his book, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

First off, I hope this finds all of you safe and well.  This is an unprecedented time we are facing and it can be rather alarming.  I am no expert on the matter but I do know that we live in the greatest country ever known and we will survive this and, God willing, be better for it.  For those of you struggling, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

With “social distancing” being the latest fad (so much cooler than “quarantining”… so yesterday), and keeping us away from paintball fields the world over and from the sport we all love, I thought it might be a good time to consider ways to improve our game from home.  Well, what if you don’t have paint?  What if you don’t have air?  The whole physical workout routine has been done and shown countless times (and from the looks of it, several of you will be in excellent shape when this is all said and done – some will not – I see you…lol).  No, I wanted to think of a way to improve your game in a different way.  We are always talking about the mental aspect of the game here at Zen and you have heard me reference “watching tape” several times as well.  Eventually, you can only watch so much.  So let’s DO something.  Let’s DO something that works the most important tool in our arsenal when it comes to our sport.  Let’s work our brain.

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I miss the field…

If you have been around me even a short amount of time or read this blog just a few times, you have no doubt heard me discuss processing speed.  When I talk about this, I am talking about the ability to see data, recognize/understand what that data means, and then do something.  In other words, the speed it takes a person to process information and act on it.  Here are some “official” definitions for those of you who like to take it to that level – “the speed at which an individual identifies, manipulates, and responds to information” or more specifically “Processing speed is the ability to identify, discriminate, integrate, make a decision about information, and to respond to visual and auditory information”.

Now, I want to make something clear here.  If you struggle with processing speed on the paintball field e.g. making a read or understanding what is happening or needs to happen during a match, this does not mean you are of low intelligence.  Every scientist in the world will tell you that processing speed is NOT related to intelligence.  All it means is that, depending on what is happening, a determined task or response is more difficult for some.   Again, all processing speed is in the context in which we are talking (paintball) is the ability to automatically process information, which means processing information quickly and without doing it consciously. The higher the processing speed the more efficient you are able to act.  So, for a paintball player, at least how I have tried to use it, processing speed is the time between you hearing/seeing something to the time you understand it and respond to it.

“Energy and persistence conquer ALL things.” – Benjamin Franklin

I hope I haven’t beaten that horse too badly… okay…. Moving on.

Processing speed is best improved through experience.  Getting out there and playing the game over and over again, “road mileage” as I like to call it.  BUT – perhaps there is a way to work on it at home during our current environment?  Perhaps…I don’t know.  It’s just a theory.  Or is it?

44214541-20130203-IMG_6806
Ah – the days when you could get on the field and ball…

I read a lot of psychology journals and articles, mostly sports related these days, but I read other types as well.  Now, my wife and I homeschool our children and my wife is quite learned (much more than I).  She sends me psych articles from time to time, especially those that involve cognitive development.  Obviously we want our children to have as much of an advantage as possible.  So, I really stepped up my reading on cognitive psych.   Cognitive Psychology is the scientific study of mental processes.  Those processes would be things like memory, language, attention, problem solving, creativity, (those last two are awesome talents to have in paintball), etc.

Obviously there are methods to improving a growing, developing, young mind.  It makes sense there are methods to improve our adult brains.  Heck, we do it all the time!  Just like an adult who decides to learn a new language, we can “train our brain” to think or process things differently when necessary.  We are all capable of learning no matter how young or old.  Perhaps we can learn to improve our processing speed on the paintball field while sitting at home?  But how?

Video games, board games, and card games of course!

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson

As with any cognitive training, we need consistent practice to improve and maintain the skill. So, when we can’t be on the field, perhaps we could use other means to practice and improve our processing speed.  Research has suggested that playing a game that challenges a child’s cognitive recognition (this is the ability to recover stored information and compare it to information immediately in front of us) can result in functional and structural brain changes if played several times over a period of time.  Their brains actually grow.

Gabriel 2
Block stacking… to a timer?

According to that same research, games that focus on rapid visual detection and rapid motor response can improve processing speed in children. Said another way, games that require a player to look and respond quickly while maintaining concentration can impact/improve the speed at which we process things.  There are several studies out now that prove developing physical dexterity is linked to language and speech in children too.

A specific study of children 7-10 years old over a period of 8 weeks (led by Dr. Allyson Mackey, University of Penn) demonstrated a 30% improvement in processing-speed scores.  They used board games as well as video games.  The board games and video games used, if your interested were:

Board Games                                     Video Games

  • Pictureka Mario Kart
  • Blink Super Monkey Ball
  • Perfection Feeding Frenzy

So who is to say that these games can’t help us?  They can’t hurt, can they?  Why won’t Call of Duty or similar video games work to improve processing for an older generation?

But what if your power goes out!  Or you’re just old school like me and enjoy these sorts of things like board games.  For instance, puzzles…

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How could I forget CHESS!!!???

A puzzle would obviously make us work on our visual processing don’t you think?  Especially if we timed ourselves!  Puzzles can be very useful for developing and understanding the interrelationship among shapes and visual images. Or if you have to stick with the video game approach, puzzle games such as Tetris, Candy Crush… okay I don’t know any others but you get the idea.  Any game that can teach “sequential thinking skills” and/or cause and effect could be useful in our theory for developing better/ faster processing speed.

Think about it, how many hours of video games do you play a week?  With the current situation in the U.S. and abroad, perhaps some board games with family?  Research says that you should try to play at least four different games and shoot for 3 to 4 hours a week over 8 weeks.  In order to maintain any gain or improvement to processing after the initial 8 weeks, try for 1 to 2 hours per week.  Yes, you can change games as long as the game is challenging and requires the criteria mentioned earlier.

We can even take it a step further!  What if we try to target a specific processing speed weakness?  Whereas the research that Mackey and her team did suggested that board and card games could improve processing speed skills in kids who had average processing speed skills, they saw the greatest improvement in children with specifically defined cognitive weaknesses.  So whether that is our speed of input, our speed of interpreting visual and/or verbal data, if we target a specific aspect that we may be weak on, we may see a faster improvement… does that make sense?

“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” – Helen Keller

Challenge yourself with some of these “child” games.  Make it a competition.  Time yourself, set goals (how many times have we talked about that here?), try to beat your last or best time.

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What was this one called?  Rock star?

What other games can you think of that might help us hone processing speed?  Board games, card games, video games…  The key is to ensure they require one to utilize skills that demand fast processing.  Something that makes you interpret or respond quickly to some form of visual or verbal que or “sensory response.”

Here is a list of specific skill sets taken directly from the Dr’s article to help you identify some games that might help:

Games that require:

  • Rapid visual detection
  • Rapid motor responses
  • Automatic and fluent performance of cognitive tasks
  • Performance under pressure to maintain focus
  • Performance under pressure to maintain attention and concentration
  • Speed of input and interpretation of visual information
  • Speed of input and interpretation of auditory information
  • Speed and efficiency of spoken language and communication
  • Speed and efficiency of writing or physically completing a task

Or games that do the following:

  • Become increasingly more challenging during the game
  • Use competition to increase the level of challenge
  • Use a timer to increase awareness of speed of information processing
  • Use competition to increase awareness of speed of information processing
  • Tax and adaptively challenge the speed of processing

So far, all of this is in regards to a child’s brain.  How about an adult brain?  Can these games help us?  I don’t know… but I do know some tips to ensure that, if so, our attempts are done with the most opportunity for success:

  1. Get plenty of physical exercise, eat right, and get plenty of rest – I know, I know but there is a reason you ALWAYS hear health professionals talking about this. Hear me out. Cardio exercise and the right nutrition are musts for us to improve our brain and ultimately our processing speed.  As a human with a brain – thinking (or in this instance processing speed) is really just electrical signals traveling across nerve cells.  Your brain is made up of all of this “wiring” which is fed by the blood vessels in your brain.  Well, where there is blood, there is a need for oxygen!  Translation?  Staying fit and getting plenty of exercise will sustain the brain and, potentially, improve your processing speed!   Couple that with foods that promote and sustain brain health, this sets you up for success, yes?  I’m not a nutritionist or expert on this matter!  So be sure to consult who you feel necessary to do so but I have read that avocado, blueberries, and fish are a great start.  And the whole sleep thing? Duh.

“ A regular cardio routine has also been linked to an increase in the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain important to learning and processing.”

  1. Read a book – put yourself in a state to WANT to learn or, if anything, open your mind. I like to try and learn at least one new word a week and work into my vocabulary (this week’s word was “fortuity”).  The brain is a muscle that needs to be worked out.  So get to flexin’!

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Maintain social distancing – especially from Pestana – Cootie magnet

Alright – that’s going to do it for now.  Again, I’m not expert but why not give it a try.  It can’t hurt!

And remember during these trying times…

Be Water my friends!

P.S. For those of you wondering about the title – It’s Latin – “quadraginta” means “forty”. It is also where the English word “quarantine” came from.  Christians are currently celebrating LENT which is the 40 days before Easter. Interesting no?  It was first used in Italy in 1377 to keep ships from plague-stricken countries waiting off its port for 40 days to assure that no latent cases were aboard.  And now you know!

Control vs Affect

Ah February – what a cool month (except this year – been pretty warm here in Bama).  It’s black history month, you have Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Chinese New Year, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, can’t forget Shakira, Jerry Springer, and Gary Coleman! Oh, and yours truly was born this month too.

An inquisitive and smart reader made a comment a few weeks back on the Zen FB page looking for some insight regarding the snake. We connected via DM’s and discussed my particular approach to coaching snake players.  This was originally going to be this months’ topic (the REAL purpose of the snake player). But then, a few hours later another reader sent a DM asking about back center priorities.  And then finally, a day later during a recent conversation with a close PB friend, we were discussing the importance of communication (specifically codes) as a means of offense and defense…  So I was going back and forth on what to cover this month.

Just a few afternoons ago as I was helping my two youngest children prepare for a quick camping excursion during which, it hit me.  What do all of these things have in common?  What is a way to bring all of it together?  Or better yet, what is one word, one topic that may carry all of it?

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Those responsible for my “flux capacitor” moment…

Control:  They are all about control.  Whether that control is understanding those first shots as you enter the snake, winning the snake war, containing the forward momentum of an opponent’s press, or  “joysticking” your teammates to mount your own defensive or offensive push, it all results in some form of control on both sides of the marker.

“We don’t talk about next year. We talk about today, and we talk about the next game. And that’s all we can really control. The rest of it will take care of itself.” – Bill Belichick

Tournament paintball has a tremendous amount of dynamics to it.  In-game circumstances are in constant flux and preparing for that type of dynamic can be… well… dynamic.  Because our opponents and, in some instances, our very own teammates can be rather unpredictable (there are elements which are predictable but that is another topic altogether), we need to understand from a mental and physical preparation point how to be as best prepared for these variables.  So, as with any sport, we want to focus on the things we CAN control and put those controls in place immediately and with great zeal.  Besides controlling what you can, it would make sense too if we could minimize the negative effects of those things we can’t, yes?  Of course!  Don’t be daft.

If you have played sports for any length of time, chances are you have come across the concept of “let’s control what we can.”  In other words, put your time and energy into the things you have complete autonomy of (nothing affects it but you) and not the things you have absolutely no sway over whatsoever.  It’s efficiency at its most basic essence.  And it can be applied to everything you do, from taking care of your gear, to practice, drilling, and preparation for an event, to the event itself.  Heck, your diet, exercise, sleep, and hydration.  These are all things we can control, wouldn’t you agree?  And why wouldn’t you be factoring these things in?  If you’re not, you aren’t serious about winning.  Why?  Because a well-rested, well fed/nourished body that trains appropriately is going to have a well-rested, well fed/nourished mind that will be its most effective when necessary and needed.  We create optimum performance by controlling the factors that lead to optimum performance.  If we follow an effective process for all things within our control, we can almost guarantee a better performance when it counts.  No one can ENSURE success in paintball (a bounce here; a bad call there)…. But we increase our chances or rather put the odds in our favor so to speak.

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So – where to begin?  Maybe not everyone on the team buys into this.  Divisional players are a flighty bunch.  One minute they are down for the cause, the next their grandma has died for the 3rd time and they can’t make practice.  Control what you can control… you.  That’s where it starts.  It starts with you being the example.  Remember, winning is a habit so we need to get into the habit of addressing all those good habits that lead to better odds of success.

But let’s take it a step further.  Instead of trying to ensure everyone is doing everything like you… perhaps you ensure everyone is focusing on the right aspect of their game?  The appropriate habit they need to focus on specifically?  The whole “strengths and weaknesses” concept is paramount as we have discussed on here several times.

“What a man’s mind can create, man’s character can control.” – Thomas A. Edison

Don’t get caught up so much on whether or not you are controlling every aspect of  the teams “habits” (although keeping track of these things helps).  Rather, try to identify and nail down the aspects that are under your control prior to an event.  And I guess that is my point… that I just tried making… after 7 paragraphs leading up to…

Appropriate control of preparation is important and ensuring everyone on the team is aware and on the same page is just as important.

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That whole “being on the same page” thing?  Yeah, that is certainly controllable. If that isn’t happening, you have bigger issues.

One thing I have really taken into account, especially since I am older than your average bear, is my physicality.  I used to be “wiry” and quick.  I got the wiry back but now I have to build the gas tank.  I am much older, but that is no excuse.  It just means my body recovers differently and takes more coaxing.  As long as I do it safe, recognize my limitations, and control my sleep, my water intake, my diet, and my work outs in a safe manner, I should be good.  I’ll be sure to let you guys know how it goes in a later blog.

Okay, so let’s see… where are we?  We can’t control things like referees, the playing surface, the weather, our opponents.  However, we can control how we address those things.  We can most certainly control our strategy for the opponent, our preparation for the event, our bodies, out attitudes, etc.

Let’s say you are at an event and the playing surface is muddy and its drizzling rain… how many of you are focused on those two things?  “Man, that mud is going to be an issue and this rain… when will it stop?”  Now – do you think this is a good frame of mind before the match?  Or perhaps something along the lines of focusing on what you can control?  “I need to make sure I stretch well so I can get a good jump in this mud.  Good thing I brought my visor since we knew there was a chance for rain.”  See the difference?  Don’t let the stuff you can’t control, in fact, control you.

“If you learn a martial art, you learn to be dangerous, but simultaneously, you learn to control it.” – Jordan Peterson

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We all have to understand that we can’t control things outside of ourselves.  But we can almost always have an impact on these things in some form or fashion.

But don’t get confused.  Let’s understand the difference between controlling the things we can control and influencing those things outside of our control.  And why wouldn’t we want to have some form of impact on those factors outside of our total control?  You bet we do!  Again, we want to put things in our favor.  I would argue it comes down to timing; when and where to control and when and where to attempt to impact something beyond our complete control.

When at an event, players and coaches should ask themselves what can we control right NOW, what can we do, to make sure we perform at our highest level. Is that even making sense?  It does in my brain… but let me know if I’m not explaining this appropriately.

Control the “controllables” and do your best to affect those UN-controllables in a positive controllable way.  We want to build an environment that is conducive to winning!   But we need to recognize that there is a time and place for each.  Standing in the pit with 2 minutes on the clock before the match starts is not the best time to be thinking about anything not in your control.  It should be all about what you most certainly can control.  Does that explain it better?  TIMING OUR FOCUS.  There it is!  That’s what I’m trying to say!  Know when to focus on what you can control and when to focus on affecting those things you can’t.  Strategic focus!  I like that better.  Force multiplier.  Yeah…

Be water my friends.

Division Decision

“DON’T WORK FOR RECOGNITION, BUT DO WORK WORTHY OF RECOGNITION.”

One of the most important aspects of being a good paintball player or coach is preparation.  Come tournament time, you will face some teams that are not much of a challenge and your game alone will suffice in being victorious.  But then there are those teams who will be the real test, the real challenge.  The ones that will make you dig deep. The knife fight where someone is coming away bloody, maimed, or dead.  THOSE are the games you prepare for.  THOSE are the games where data, feedback, perception/recognition, execution, paint, etc. all must be on point to win.  As a coach, it is your job to make sure the team is prepared to address THOSE teams.  As a player, it is your job to be able to address the needs of the coach and help him find solutions to the issues at hand.

With all that being said, an interesting phenomenon has occurred the last 3 months.  I field it at least once a year but for some reason this season, I have had several conversations with different players regarding what division to play.  Or rather, what division they WANT to play.

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It’s a topic that is always out there in some shape or form.  And there is certainly nothing wrong with the topic or having that conversation. But I want to be clear about something; this is not in reference to those players out there who care more about a rank next to their name on APPA or who think they are better than others because they have a higher rank.  I don’t have time for people like that.

No, this is for those who genuinely wish to know where they need to be.  For the record, those I have spoken with recently about this topic are in the latter end… genuine.  They are not the “I’m cool cause I’m this D-rank” crowd.  Yep, you’re a “D” alright… just not the way you think.

Here’s the conversation in a nutshell I have had recently with a few different players:

“We are looking to play (insert next higher division rank here) at the national level.”

Really?  Curious as to why you would do that?     

“I think we are ready.  I think we could be competitive.  What better way to learn faster?”

Have you won in (insert the division right beneath the division they wish to play) nationally?

“No.”

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And there’s the rub… you haven’t won nationally at the division you are ranked.  Why would you then decide to compete above that level?  And how do you know you are ready for the next division?

Let me get something out of the way… do I believe teams in lower divisions can be competitive in a higher division?  Absolutely, yes I do.  Do I believe they should compete? Sure, in some instances.  However…

Let’s break the argument down into its components.

I THINK WE ARE READY

Many players are in a hurry to see improvement in their game.  Some players have natural ability and things come to them quickly, some have to work at it, and still others may not be suited for the game (doesn’t and shouldn’t keep them from enjoying the sport we all love though).  But paintball is a team sport…

Here is my question to the statement “I think we are ready.” –

Based off what?

It’s a simple enough question and one that a truly prepared team would have the answer for almost immediately.  “We won our division at the Las Vegas NXL, placed in the top 5 the last two events, and have been holding our own when we scrimmage this top higher divisional team.”  Or perhaps “We have placed in the top 4 the last 3 events in our division at NXL” or something to that extent.  I would even consider “We won the series title in our division at this Regional event landing in the top 4 every event, have the financial backing, practice every weekend and are really gelling as a team.  We made Sunday and took top six in our division at our debut at NXL.  There are a few more things we need to hone, but we are well on our way.”  Hmmm… not a bad response.  Still, why not try to improve that 6th place first?

Winning an 8-10 team regional event or a 4-5 team local event is not indicative of how well you will do at a national event.  There are lots of factors to consider before making the jump and lots more than just a few wins at small venues here and there.

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I THINK WE COULD BE COMPETITIVE

What is your team’s definition of competitive?  Do you consider it competitive if you were to go 2-2 in prelims and just miss the cut?  Is that acceptable?  Maybe tying a team in the division above you denotes being competitive?  What does it mean to be “competitive”?  Not losing every match?

There is a word in there that should catch everyone’s attention – “could”.  Don’t you mean “would”?

Here is my question to the statement “I think we could be competitive” –

Based off what?

When I travel to a national event, I’m not going to see if I can be competitive, I’m going because I know we are.  I’m going to win… not compete.  If you are confident that you play above your divisional ranking, then you need to prove it.  Put your money where your mouth is and go show everyone that you can play above your pay grade by winning your division.  I believe that in most cases the top teams in any division at the end of a season should be competitive in the next division the following year.  Sure, there are some anomalies but not many.  Look at just the examples from 2018 to 2019.  Semi Pro to Pro: Aftermath; D2 to Semi Pro: TBD Jits, Gulf Coast Hurricanes; D3 to D2: Grit, Padres, Royal City, Blastcamp, Vintage; D4 to D3: Paintballfit.com.

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WHAT BETTER WAY TO LEARN FASTER

I have always been a proponent of playing better teams in order to advance the learning curve.  Taking the time to bang with a better team will show you holes in your game pretty quick, especially if you are practicing with a team that believes in sharing knowledge.  There are always those teams that feel it is a privilege for you to share the field with them and therefore don’t share anything but the ass whoopin’.  Not cool but hey, that’s going to happen.  Take what you can from it.

Here is my question to the question “What better way to learn faster?” –

You’re basing this off what?

Here’s my thought on this – If you wish to compete at a higher division to “learn” faster, then you obviously have money to burn.  I would suggest scrimmaging not just a higher division team, but a winning higher divisional team to better know where you stand.  Otherwise, you are about to have a rather expensive practice called a tournament.  Enjoy spending all that money on plane tickets/rental cars/entry fees/hotels/paint/food, etc. to play 4 matches.  Instead, how about taking that money you have burning a hole in your pocket and spend it on more paint for practice?  Spend more time at the field shooting it in useful ways, learning, and getting better. Put in the work to EARN the bump up as opposed to just declaring it.

Now, remember at the beginning of this blog we talked about being prepared.  As a firm believer in preparation, it simply makes sense to understand the level at which you SHOULD BE prepared no matter the arena.  We have talked about it before.  Working harder now saves you even harder work later.  Preparation is a continuous improvement process.

Remember, there are two things to prep for: the expected and the unexpected.  Obviously, the expected is the easier to prepare for.  There are countless examples of how to do this in paintball.  As you can imagine, if we don’t spend the time prepping for the most basic of things (laning, practicing a layout, etc.), this will more than likely lead to disaster at an event.   That being said, not prepping for what we can’t perceive can be disastrous too.

If you aren’t prepared for the unexpected, then you didn’t really prepare now did you?  That goes to the nth degree when you bump divisions.

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Coaches get shot too… oh and we will have new merchandise coming soon

Here’s how I look at it overall.  If you haven’t really proven you are prepared for the higher division, don’t return from a failed event attempt with excuses.  If you didn’t take the time to prepare appropriately – e.g. KNOWING you have the capability to win because of your preparation and experience – then don’t do it.  You’re just hurting yourself in the long run.

In my opinion (and that’s all it is), if you haven’t earned it, if you haven’t prepared for it, then it really didn’t matter to you anyway.  Ultimately, you have a duty to come prepared for anything that matters to you. There are no excuses.  When things matter, you should want to be prepared. It shouldn’t be a choice.  It just is what it is.  Do the hard work of preparing for the expected and the unexpected. There aren’t any shortcuts.  Put in the time and do it right.  In the long run, you will be happy you did.

Be water my friends.