Recently, I was able to get out on the paintball field with friends for several hours of recreational fun. Here’s what I absolutely love about weekends like this besides the fact I get to play; there is no expectation save one – have a good time. I get to cut up with my friends and play ball. It always reminds me of why I started playing this sport in the first place. The sheer fun and joy one finds playing paintball with your friends. Sure, the competitiveness and excitement of the sport were aspects that drew me to the game but the comradery within those aspects is what has ultimately kept me in the game. Us against them and no matter what happens, we would still win out because, well… we were us and they were them.
I wasn’t there to coach, teach, help (this always happens anyway), or scout new talent (although I do keep an eye on certain players development and take notice of newer players who show promise), run a practice, learn a layout, or drill. Nope, I was there to have fun with my friends. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing all those things. And it doesn’t mean if I am asked for help that I won’t. As a matter of fact, I am happy to do so. I am opinionated after all (and that’s all it is, my opinion – my personal view on something). But something my friends constantly rag me about is this; when I am at the field where the goal is to play and have fun, I need to focus on THAT. Unfortunately, I can’t help myself sometimes when I see something that could help someone improve. I want to help. This is not ego. This is genuine interest in helping those who enjoy the game get better at it.
This weekend was more of the same I’m afraid. I sincerely tried to stay mission focused which was having fun. But I did find myself helping on a few fronts. However, I still had a great time! Interestingly enough, my friends and I chose to have fun during a layout weekend for the upcoming SPL (Social Paintball League). A few teams had shown up to run points in preparation for the event happening the 9th and 10th of April at Big Indian Paintball in Perry Georgia (this past weekend at the time of this writing).
*Zen note – Big shout out to the two teams who were at this practice and focused on the event. My boys on I-75 and Dangerous Toys. The I75 crew won their division in both 3 man and 5 man and the Dangerous Toys placed both 2nd and 3rd in the D6 3 man division!
Our plan was simple. Step out on the field and play against competitive teams even though we hadn’t played together much at all in the last few years. We told ourselves, nothing matters, go forward, attack! and have fun. And we did. It was a blast and we laughed a lot.
But, as usual, I noticed some things and felt inspired to comment on them this month. Three things actually:
Pace – team practices that involve more than two teams are always a little screwy because different teams (hopefully) have set different goals or have different ways of approaching scrimmages. One thing that shouldn’t be different is the pace. Practices that involve multiple teams should be organized prior to the first point run. Establish or agree to a rotation or system that will get everyone playing time. Have someone or a couple of people in charge of keeping the games/points moving. This person (people) needs to understand clock management and be familiar with or have a contact he can communicate with for each team. The point is to get as many points and looks in as humanly possible. Have a game plan, show up prepared with what you want to accomplish, preload paint, get paint and air after every point, and be ready on the box when called.
Now, there are several subsets about pace we can go into here. Especially dependent on the amount of teams present. Three teams is easy… even four. Practices with more than that can be a cluster but not totally unmanageable. All in all, have a steady pace. 3-5 minutes between points is good. Anything greater than that is boarding on unacceptable.
After point discussion – What is the purpose of scrimmaging teams at a layout practice? If you said to learn the field, you are only partially correct (about a 1/3rd correct actually). But I digress. After you play a point, we need to ask ourselves a few questions:
What did we do well? What did we do poorly/what could we improve? What did we learn? How do we remedy?
If you are not having these discussions (or something to this extent) and having them efficiently then you’re missing the whole point of the practice. If all you’re asking is did anyone see the move you made or how you “blasted that fool”, you’re wasting valuable time and energy. Come together as a team or under the coach and have a discussion about what happened and why and then understand what you will try to accomplish with the next point.
Learning the field – this technically is part of number 2 above. If at the end of the day, there is a player that still doesn’t have an understanding or confidence on how to approach certain in-game scenarios, you have wasted your time (or need to consider some other options surrounding that player). The point is to see situations, scenarios, and the like and to understand what needs to happen when you see them at the event. A road map to success so to speak. By the end of practice, players should have a relatively good understanding of how the field plays and what obstacles they will face at the event.
I am often amazed when I watch a player face the same situation time and time again on the field and they continue to make the same mistake. I actually did this during my time on the field at the recent rec day I was speaking about at the beginning of this blog… I got caught by a blind shot… twice. After that second time, I didn’t get caught again… as a matter of fact, I used that aspect to my advantage.
The point of all this is simple – manage your time effectively at practice. Not everyone has access to a private field or a closed practice. If you find yourself at a layout practice the weekend before the event with a bunch of teams, have a plan and insist on efficiency. Get your reps. You will be glad you did (usually).
The first event of the NXL 2022 season is just four weeks away. Building off last month’s blog, I have continued to received even more questions about my personal thoughts on
1. How well I think we will do
2. How we will prepare
3. What we think about the draw
All legitimate questions and I am happy to answer them to my best ability one on one. However, let me answer as best I can right here:
1 – Simply, we will do our best. And that can mean a lot of things. We have a tough road ahead of us on several fronts. And we will meet it with the same vigor and aggression as before and then some.
2 – We will prepare as we always have: thorough study of layout, apply our strengths to said layout, and develop what we feel is the best approach to game-planning and execution dependent on layout/opponent.
3 – It’s a tough one. Say what you will about recent events, Impact still has tremendous talent. Their depth is substantial and they will have an axe to grind. Reports have Russian Legion back to full strength. That’s scary as hell for any team in the division. We know AC Diesel well and those cats are hungry. They were a semi pro team just 3 years ago and are a top 10 team already. And you can never look past Uprising. They have plenty of weapons on that team. They were a top 10 team as recently as 2019. So yeah, baptism by fire is coming.
It’s interesting because no one really cared when we were Semi-Pro. As a matter of fact, there is a large faction of NXL pro fans who still don’t know we are a professional team. That’s on us. We haven’t done a very good job with our brand. That will change. And it will change because we have decided we need to make that change. Us… the New Orleans Hurricanes. We decided to do better. So we are doing our best to up our exposure. We have decided as a team to take a positive approach to this new endeavor. And this is where we build off last months blog.
Last month we discussed developing SMART goals and how they can lend to creating a positive mental attitude… this month we will talk about what that positive mental attitude looks like from my perspective and how I think others should create or incorporate into their routine and, in essence, practice it.
Competitive Paintball teams devote hours upon hours of practice to honing their skills. At least, serious ones do. The physical aspect of our game requires a lot of training. Talent within that aspect of the game can take players pretty far. But only SO far. There needs to be several other components such as communication, teamwork, chemistry… But something that is occasionally overlooked and required (in my opinion) to maximize a player’s (and team’s) true potential is having a positive mental attitude.
Do you believe any elite players in any sport are successful because they hate what they are doing or have a negative perception of themselves, their team, or their capabilities? Positivity can be that force multiplier to get you where you want or need to be. Physical and mental energy, whether low or high, can and will affect how well you ultimately perform. So why wouldn’t we take note of it?
I believe in a positive culture but one that is ruled by accountability. When you have a negative Nancy culture that’s all finger pointing, no affirmation, dissing each other, and a coach yelling… well… yeah, sometimes that environment can create growth but only for so long. Negativity can promote a drive, sure… but not for the right reasons usually.
Being optimistic is not necessarily the same as being positive but it certainly can help. I try to build my guys up and I encourage each and everyone of them to do the same. Now, to be clear, should a mistake be made, and made again… and again… well, this is where the accountability “fail-safe” kicks in. Positivity is obviously not working… now it’s time for tough love. But be honest in that tough love and be sincere.
So what are some of the things that affect us in a negative way? Besides the obvious, like injuries, making the wrong read, giving bad data/communication during a game that costs you the point or match… think there is anything else?
For me, I sometimes get adversely affected by something I read or perhaps a family friend’s troubles (or my own) or all sorts of awful things present in the outside world (of paintball). But I have taught myself to recognize that and try not to bring that into my “other world”. I don’t always succeed and when I don’t, I make sure my guys know. And they usually know too before I say something.
One of the ways I use to defeat the negative creep is by (stand by for something that is going to sound crazy in 3…2…1…) talking to myself. I’ll turn my thoughts around and pump myself up by reminding myself of who I am, where I come from, why I am here in the first place. Or sometimes it is as simple as saying one of my family’s traditional Christian prayers. You can make one of your own – create a “catch phrase” or maybe words from one of your favorite songs, hell, listen to the damn thing if you have one of those little boxes with earphones that plays music (phones can do that now too, yeah?). When I’m feeling particularity spicy, I’ll reach back into the old man’s repertoire… I have been quoting Conan the Barbarian for quite awhile (movie came out in 84 I believe):
“Conan, what is best in life?” “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!”
Of course, sometimes just seeing my teammates lifts me up. Just takes that one to realize the camaraderie you have with these men.
Anyway, I find this an effective way to manage any negativity that can get in the way of me doing my job well.
As a matter of fact, research has shown that this technique not only helps reduce anxiety but effectively improves performance. Constant practice of this over a long period of time was shown to be more effective than just physical training alone. Start incorporating it into your training. You will be glad you did.
How many of you have used visualization? I talk about this all the time and tell my guys before each match to play the game in their heads. Visualize what you will see, what you will do, how you will do it, what it will all look like. I use to do this all the time when I was on the field. Still do actually… that is when I find myself on the field which is rare these days. Something I hope to remedy.
A positive attitude can not only help you stay motivated but help you meet any anxiety you may have head on. Listen, it doesn’t happen overnight. As with all change, it can take time. But I promise having a good attitude vs a bad one will positively affect your performance. Create that new mindset and see where it takes you.
Thinking positively before an upcoming and important match is a necessity to grow whether you win, lose, or draw. Self-affirmations have to be there. You have to believe you belong there. You have to believe you earned it. And that is what we will do in preparation for the first NXL event.
We did earn it. We do belong here. And we are going to do our best to be a positive force in the NXL pro division.
I value positive mental attitudes. I currently have 10 under me. All 10 know how to pump themselves up. All 10 know how to control their demeanor. All 10 have confidence in themselves and each other. And all 10 trust me and each other. That’s powerful stuff. But that is only half the battle. It will require us executing, playing as a team, communicating, hitting our shots… but you gotta start somewhere. You have to believe that you can do all those things. And if things go south? Okay – what did we learn? We know where we stand and we will just have to work harder and harder…
Failure is not a catastrophic end. At least not in this sport. But it can be a powerful motivator… as long as you stay positive about it.
2020 was a pooch. But there was one thing that came out of that season that I remember with great affection. The New Orleans Hurricanes won the coveted World Cup of paintball in the Semi Pro division. I call it the “covid cup” because we were neck deep in the pandemic and only had 2 events that year. 19 teams showed up in the semi pro division for that event, down 6 teams from the Vegas event, including Camp Factory (TonTons). The team went 4-0 in the prelims outscoring our opponents 22-7 which included Annapolis A team (4-2) and the New England Hurricanes (5-0). On Sunday, we would outscore our next 3 opponents 17-8 winning against TCP machine (5-4 in quarters) Indianapolis Mutiny (6-3 in Semis) and the finals match against the New Jersey Jesters (6-1).
I was aware of the legacy I had joined. The history of the N.O. Canes (Formerly the Gulf Coast Hurricanes) is quite storied. Believe it or not, the team is 5 years old. There is a pedigree there that some may not be familiar with. Players from Rock-It-Kids, Warped Army, Chicago Aftershock, Birmingham PRIME, and St. Louis Avalanche.
They began their career by entering the semi pro division in 2016. With most of the core players having Division 1 and some Professional experience, they believed they would be competitive. However, they would be served a big slice of humble pie. They were quickly shown to be unprepared finishing in the back of the pack the first few events. When the 2016 NXL World Cup came around, the team decided (appropriately) to play Division 2. Once again, they received another rude awakening. They were beaten in their first match Sunday morning finishing the event in 11th place (I know as my team Birmingham Prime took 2nd at the event in D2). It became painfully obvious they had a lot of work to do. This was hands down THE BEST THING that could have happened to the organization at the time. Sometimes in life, you have to fail in order to learn how to succeed.
After that first season, they re-evaluated their goals, swallowed their pride, and began the 2017 season in Division 2 of the NXL. They put in the work and we were rewarded with their first win on the national stage. They took 1st Place in the 2017 NXL Chicago Open. Interesting fact, this was my official introduction to the ‘Canes as I was invited down for a 2 day clinic prior to the event. I will never forget it because team members Matt Hamilton and Drew Bell showed me a great time. BTW – at Chicago – the ‘Canes would knock my team out in the Ochos! Some “thank you”…
Once again, they decided to stay in Division 2 for the 2018 season and ended up taking 2nd at Las Vegas, 5th at the Texas Open and rounded out the season with a 1st Place finish at World Cup.
The team would rebrand themselves as the New Orleans Hurricanes for future marketing and set their sights on the NXL’s Pro Division. They made the bump up to Semi-Pro in 2019. They would finish the season in 3rd place for the series. The year consisted of a 3rd place in Vegas, 5th Place in Texas, 3rd place in Philadelphia, an 11th place stumble in Chicago, and 6th place at World Cup. Not how they envisioned the season, but they knew if they wanted to win they would have to work even harder. And maybe add a little something extra (hint hint wink wink zen something or another).
When they first asked me to coach, I remember thinking, “Why?” These guys already had a winning program. But the more I talked and became familiar with this team, the more I realized we were very similar in approach and philosophy. Compatible systems you might say.
The team knows that, in order to be successful, you must have a culture that emphasizes several positive components. Components such as motivation, persistence, and determination. However, in the New Orleans Hurricane camp, those components are tempered with even more important aspects such as integrity, honor, sacrifice, and generosity. It isn’t just about winning. It is also about the pursuit of bettering ourselves and those around us, on and off the field and achieving the results in a way we can be proud of. Benjamin Franklin said that “Well done is better than well said.” In other words, don’t tell us, show us. We couldn’t agree more. Every member is held to a standard and there is no deviation. Steel sharpens steel and we lift each other up and hold one another accountable. Each member brings strengths that will ultimately lead us to our organizational objectives. Those objectives will be met with hard work, resilience, and faith in one another. And that is our mission – to succeed. But not just in the traditional understanding with wins on the field. We want to have a positive impact on our sport and in our communities. To represent our friends, families, and our sponsors in a positive,meaningful way and to make them proud.
“WINNING” is a mindset and a process. Not a RESULT. Not achieving a result is no excuse to abandon the PROCESS of getting better. Achieving a goal is not an excuse to become complacent and abandon the mindset that helped you get there. We expect all members to want to excel all the time. There is never an END to this process.
And that is why I coach the New Orleans Hurricanes. I love these guys and this program. You will not find a more blue collar, hard working team. And I am proud to be a part of such a program. You don’t find a group of guys like this often. It’s quite rare really. I’ve succeeded in doing it twice now. I know I am blessed.
With that said, let’s take a look at this season so far. We already talked about World Cup 2020… lets start with 2021.
Sunshine State Major We went 4-0 in the prelims outscoring our opponents 24-6 (mercy ruling 3 of our 4 opponents). We won our quarter final match with a controlled game and then stumbled in the semis and finals. We lost both matches in overtime to Crisis and Mutiny. A 4th place finish but a top 4 finish none the less. Goal 1 secured. I guess I should mention we set the goal of finishing within the top 4 of every event at the beginning of the season.
Mid Atlantic Major This event was tough but not because of the team. This was failed leadership on my part. I take full responsibility for the teams performance at this event. Whether it was my play calling, personnel calling, my scouting, whatever, no excuses, I messed up on a few fronts and I own that. However, this event is what would ultimately set the table for Chicago… but I digress. The team went 3-1 during the prelims dropping a match to a pretty dominant looking Annapolis A-team (6-3). 20 points scored by us versus 15 points scored by our opponents is not the stat a coach wants to wake up to on Sunday. But there we were, another Sunday (our 12th straight). We would pull the New England Hurricanes for the Ochos match first thing that morning. The matches in Semi pro are 15 minutes long… We won by mercy rule 10-5. That’s approximately a minute per point. A Helluva match. We would go on to mercy the Noobies in quarters 6-1. We were feeling confident as we had finally (or so we thought) found our groove on this layout. We would get mercy ruled for the first time 7-2 by Annapolis A-team who would go on to win the event. We would then turn around and, once again, lose by 1 point to the great off the break shooting of Arsenal taking our second 4th place for the season.
The Windy City Major The table was now set. The 3rd event of the season was a make or break moment for us. And we were determined to put in the work. The first issue came when three of my players had life events that could not be avoided. Work, family, and health all come first in our program. These three players all had a life occurrence that would keep them from participating in this event. I wasn’t too concerned since the team does have depth and had no doubt they would step up. We would still need a little help snake way though, just to be safe. So I called an old friend from my past to help us out (shout out to Aaron Barnes). We were in a good spot.
Then Hurricane Ida decided to make land fall on August 29th… the Sunday before the layout drop. $95 billion in damages, homes and businesses destroyed, flooding, power outages… The New Orleans Hurricanes are based out of Slidell, LA just 30 miles north of New Orleans. As you can imagine, the team was adversely affected. We couldn’t reach some of our teammates for a few days due to phones being down. Talk about nerve-racking. The following weekend, we had to move practice north and into Alabama. Unfortunately, but certainly understandably, only 5 players would make that practice. And on top of that, the new pick up for the event, Aaron Barnes, contracted Covid keeping him from practice as well. So we did what we could to make the best out of the weekend and up the learning curve. I pushed those guys hard. The second layout weekend we had all the roster we would have for the event. So we got after it, playing a tremendous amount of points.
Day 1 (Friday) We would meet our old friends the New Jersey Jesters in the first match winning by mercy rule 5-0. We hadn’t had a chance to scout them so it was a matter of doing our thing. We were hitting our shots, executing well, slow steady pressure, and finishing strong with good communication mid game. A good start.
The next match would be against a familiar team. I coached CEP to their Division 2 series win in 2019. I am close friends with those cats and now they were being coached by a good friend who knows my process pretty well. Shout out to I-75 Alex Hicks. Something no one knew outside of our team was that player Jacob Searight, one of our two D-side attackers for this layout, couldn’t play this match. He is getting his PHD/Doctorate or whatever brainy smart stuff he does and had to be on a zoom call for a peer review! Crazy… I know. We would win the match 4-2 but not after another catastrophe… my other 1/attacker on the D-side, Britt Simpson, would dislocate his knee during the 3rd point and had to be carried off the field. *Zen note – even though he was in excruciating pain, he would not let the ref pull him. Instead, he communicated with his 2 (Drew Bell) and they worked together to get Drew down the field to finish and win the point. Shout out to my player and friend Justin Bailey for stepping up and playing the spot like a boss.
Hurricane Ida… Covid…work/family obligations… and now this injury. It appeared the world was against us. But all it did was stiffen our resolve. We got Britt taken care of and had a pretty serious team meeting that night. (Searight’s zoom call went well BTW!) Truth be told, I didn’t sleep. I just kept playing the next day’s games in my head. We had a good plan and we would have one more opportunity to scout our next two opponents to see if/how they adjusted.
Day 2 (Saturday) We would play Utah Bro Army the next morning. We had paid attention to their approach to the field and after watching their first match that morning, we were confident our previous scouting was sound and our game plan would prevail. And it did. Another mercy rule win (7-2). Shout out to those cats. Great group of guys.
And there they were… standing in front of us for the last prelim match. The team that gave us a 4th place finish at the first event of the season. We had beat them at World Cup, they had beat us at the Sunshine State Major. This was going to be epic to say the least. We knew we could win the break but we needed to connect cross field to win this match. We did both. We ended up beating Indianapolis Mutiny via mercy rule 5-0.
After day 2 we were sitting at 4-0 in the 1st seed with a 4.25 point margin. As luck would have it, by beating Mutiny 5-0, it knocked our friends the Jesters into the 8th seed. So they would be our first match Sunday morning. They would be prepared this time. But so would we. Anyone who thought differently would be considered, at least by me, daft.
Day 3 (Sunday) Headed into Sunday morning and preparing for the match against the Jesters, we knew they were going to adapt. Unfortunately, there is only so many ways you could adapt on this layout. Being familiar with their squad and using statistical analysis, we called it. Those guys don’t quit, they are tenacious and I think that is what I love about them. We would mercy them 6-1.
We knew we would get the winner of the Noobies (4th place in series at this time) and the NE Hurricanes (3rd place in series at this time) match (I believe they were the 4th and 5th seed respectively). We watched the match intently. It was back and forth with the Noobies prevailing 4-3.
This was it. We were not walking away playing for 3rd and 4th again. And it was a knife fight. Back and forth, point for point. Headed into the final point of regulation time, the score is 3-3 with a little over a minute left. We make a last 20 second push, get the last kill, and hit the buzzer. I saw it, the team saw it, several people in the crowd saw it… we hit the buzzer with 1 second left. The ref gives our player a check and the thumbs up. YEAH! WE DID IT! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! SEMI FINAL SLUMP ENDED! WOO-HOO!
But wait… I get called over to the scorekeepers booth. The scorekeeper is overruling the call saying that no, by his clock, time had expired just as my player hit the buzzer. I didn’t even bother arguing or wasting any energy, Suit up boys, overtime. The call is the call and I respected it.
You’re not going to believe this but that point went all 5 minutes. But in the last 20 seconds it became a 3-1 advantage for the Noobies! It looked like the slump wasn’t over after all! But Jacob Searight got crafty and scored two quick kills, protected the buzzer, and traded with the last player. Wow! I picked a bad time to quite sniffin’ glue… (that’s a joke. Go watch the movie Airplane!)
So now it comes down to a 1v1 first blood win with 1 minute on the clock. Drew Bell steps up for the team, rolled his gun, got dominance, and even with refs following/chasing him the entire time bird-dogging (in their defense, they thought they saw some spray but he was clean) kept his opponent in the home bunker and on the defensive (in that players defense, I think he was exhausted), marched down the field, onto his opponents side of the field, and scored the elimination. Finals bound.
Never doubted it.
We are now headed to the finals. I think we finished the semi final match at 1:20pm? We were scheduled to play the finals against Blast Camp at 3:40 but they were running behind. We had scouted Blast Camp early knowing we may very well meet them and with good reason. That team has shown tremendous growth over the past two seasons. They took 7th place last year at World Cup losing to Crisis in the quarters. At the Sunshine State Major, they didn’t make it out of prelims placing 13th. They would turn around and right the ship at the Mid Atlantic NXL event taking 2nd place losing to Annapolis A team by 1. But then the Astra event happened. And they showed a new vigor that has propelled them to the forefront of a lot of paintball discussions about up and comers. And rightly so. Their strength is in their communication. It is top notch.
We knew going in we would have to be perfect. And we weren’t. We weren’t hitting our on the break shots (they were). We hadn’t drawn a penalty all weekend but got 3 in this match. And, just like Philly, our gas tanks ran out. We dug a hole we couldn’t get out of. But we never quit.
And we won’t.
World Cup is looming large. God willing, we will be back to full strength for that event. Preparation for the New Orleans Hurricanes started immediately after the loss to Blastcamp (By the way, congratulations to them, they played almost flawlessly).
Regardless of what came before or of what is yet to come, what matters most is how we choose to respond to what is in front of us…World Cup. There is no way this team lays down. You can most assuredly bet we will fight and finish strong. After all, starting strong is great… but finishing strong is epic. There will be those who say we don’t deserve it for this reason or that. I don’t care what they say. What they think is arbitrary. We are the only team that has been in the top 4 all three events. We have beat the top teams consistently. And we have done it against a lot of adversity. So, love us or hate us, I promise you this, we are here to play, we are here to win. John Dresser came into the pit just before the finals match. He looked at me and my old face and Britt on Crutches… then looked over our shoulders at the rest of the team and said, “Ya’ll aren’t spring chickens.” No, we are not. And that’s why you should respect us and our game. “Beware an old man in a young man’s game, he is there for a reason.” And if you pull us at Cup… you damn well better bring your best game because we hit above our weight class.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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? Easy.
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.
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 😉
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.
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.
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.
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 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.