The Evolution of Zen Coaching

I believe it was Thomas Sowell (the economist) who said, “The beauty of doing nothing is that you can do it perfectly.  Only when you do something is it difficult to do without mistakes. Therefore, people who criticize can feel both intellectually and morally superior.”

Ain’t it the truth?

Marcus Aurelius said, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.”

Facts

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do”.

Amen.

In order to achieve excellence, we have to create good habits.  Good habits alleviate chaos in our lives. The goal is consistency… doing things every day to recognize potential. Now hang in there, I am getting to a point.

I see so many bad habits out there among players, but none are more debilitating and crushing than those with the wrong mental attitude.  Unfortunately, it is more prevalent than we probably realize. Changing a layer’s mentality and behavior is not very easy once they reach a certain point. 

Listen carefully, becoming good at paintball doesn’t happen “naturally” or overnight. 

If I have said it once, I have said it 1 million times.  The mind is the weapon…

And the body is the ammunition.

Jacob Searight is an excellent example of brains and physicality

If you are constantly feeding your brain with good data and taking care of yourself physically, you are more prone to succeed in something that requires you to think while being physical… say something like paintball. 

I have talked about motivation a lot here at Zen but I have come to believe that this is only part of the equation… and it is the weakest part.  The strongest part of the equation is discipline.  When you can develop the right habits that lead to improvement, no matter how repetitive or routine it may seem, but you stick with it, that is discipline, and it will lead you to where you want to be. I get it, discipline can be tough for some.  There are, often, internal and external factors that make things difficult for some. Sure. We all struggle with SOMETHING.  But I wouldn’t look at it as a personal failure. At least, not always. We will all have setbacks.  But if you do encounter a set back or worse, several, then I would suggest changing your approach to becoming more disciplined. I would try to create discipline in myself through “smaller wins”. Build to it, with smaller more manageable goals. Then build upon those. See, it isn’t you who are necessarily failing to be disciplined… it is your tactics, your strategy to said goal. Make sense?

I have found that the key to creating a lasting habit is to ensure I “like” it. I have to enjoy something about it. What benefit and enjoyment do I or will I get from this new habit and make that my focus. And I need to make sure that the benefit encompasses the whole process, otherwise I have all but ensured failure. Wanting to do something and actually doing it are not the same. Wanting to succeed at something and continuing to do the things required for that want are not the same thing. Wanting alone will not create the habit much less allow for it to endure.

Bruce Lee taught, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own”

The brain learns best through small, repeated measures set in the right environment.

How many of you are familiar with the S.A.I.D. or “SAID” Principle?  It is an Acronym for “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands”.  I stumbled across it recently during some research in sports psychology.  The concept is very simple.  It essentially teaches that to improve in a specific sport, you should practice the specific skills and “moves” used in that sport.  But in its more complex version, it is all about adaptation!  Adaptation does not and will not happen in a vacuum.  Adaptation occurs in a response to a specific stimulus or demand imposed by the environment.  I know, this is getting deep.  But this is what I tried to explain to Matty Marshall about teams becoming more academic… why they are becoming more competitive.  Why the Canes were so successful our Pro Rookie season. I just didn’t articulate it well.       

As a coach, I need to leverage my assets (players) to the best of their abilities.  But I also need to create continuous improvement in them and ensure that it is obtained regularly.  How do I do this?  When I have said in the past that my role as a coach is to put my players in positions to succeed, that means playing them in a role that meets their skill set to a specific layout.  And from there, I begin the individualization of their training!

If one wants to replicate success in PAINTBALL, then coaches must train their players beyond the fundamentals and physicality of the sport.  They must be taught the game.  That includes the tactical and the strategic for each and every layout within the parameters of TEAM while emphasizing their individual strengths and abilities… We have to train the brain! 

Most coaches are caught up in execution and not the WHY we do the execution.  They want to teach “when you see this, you do this.” If A then B paintball (a good concept).  This is a speed factor, an efficiency creator… but it is only half of the potential for making great players.  However, the more we teach, explain, understand the concept behind the why, that process of learning will get faster each time, with each layout.  Their own cognition will take over and their individual understanding will assert itself leading to even greater efficiency and use of time.

Asking and understanding why.

Too many coaches simply teach the fundamental aspects of our sports without emphasizing why.  Sure, a lot of it is self-explanatory.  And don’t get me wrong, the foundation of our sport is certainly important.  But too many take this as the only concept required.  Anyone can pick up a clipboard, call a line with your 5 most talented guys, and ask them to win.  That is not coaching.  That is managing. Great job PB manager.  But what are you doing to continue their growth, to make them elite?  Think about it, if that were the way, there would be a lot more elite players in each division.  But there isn’t… so, in my opinion, it is about the individualized attention and growth plan that must be discovered and then implemented.

Do I know how to do this every time with every player?  Absolutely not.  This is something that will require a lot of trial and error.  And something I started personally about 6 years ago and I am still navigating.

I am a firm believer in training as a TEAM but affirming and supporting that effort with individualized concepts.  None of this is a science.  But we can all be scientists by experimenting and studying results.

I guess my whole point is, as a coach, we need to look at our players in a much more holistic manner.  Their diet, their workouts, their READING, their home life, ALL OF IT… instead of just the one size fits all approach to practice in our sport. They will be better for it, you will be better for it, and the team will be better for it. Who knows, you might be surprised and start winning at a lot more than paintball.

Be Water My Friends,

Zen

NXL World Cup 2022 Recap

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

When Hurricane Nicole showed up the evening before World Cup, the NXL was forced to make some tough decisions. One of, if not the largest Cup to date, they had to figure a way to get 560 teams scheduled into 3 days as opposed to the original 4 day plan. One way they did this was to reduce the amount of prelim games for the pro division and, in the interest of fairness, redraw the brackets. The New Orleans Hurricanes kept Tsunami and NYX from our previous bracket, but replaced LVL and NRG with San Antonio X-Factor. We would have 3 chances to get it right…no wild card for this event. Win a minimum of two or go home (unless you are Russian Legion – wild how that bracket shook out).

We only had one match on Friday and it was against the new comers from Columbia, South America, Tsunami. We had no real data on them save they had beat 4 other teams to get this spot at Cup. Most south American teams I have come across are highly aggressive and like to play the attack forward game. Tsunami was different. When I saw these gentlemen prior to our match, they seemed mature and athletic. I could see why they won the coveted spot. They seemed to understand how the field played but were a little off on their zone control. Processing speed was there at moments but not near consistent enough to be competitive at this level. Good group of guys though.

We wanted to show pocket and not much else in this match if we could. And for the most part, that’s what we did. Pretty much the same play 7 of the 8 points we played. We won by mercy rule 7-1 but I couldn’t help but notice a few issues during this match. The one point we lost was a 5 on 4 power play because we were forcing some issues instead of letting them develop. And we were a little off on a few other smaller things… I commented this publicly on social media after I had a talk with the guys. It was these issues that would come back and haunt us on day two.

Saturday rolled around and our first match was against New York Xtreme. We have gotten the better of them each time we met this year. We have beaten them by 3 each time. We won the first time we met at the Lonestar Open 7-4. We would beat them again in Philly 5-2. However, we knew they would be hungry, especially since they could very well be relegated if they didn’t show up. That can be a powerful motivator. We understood they had scrimmaged some of the best teams in the league prior to this event so we knew they would be well prepared. We scouted their first match against X-factor. Not a lot of data to extrapolate from just a 4 point match but enough to determine they were playing “different” and seemed to have a good grasp on how to play the field. Someone told me that Rich Telford stated they knew how we would play the field from our first match against Tsunami… And that’s what we had hoped they would think. Mission Accomplished, or so we thought.

As expected, it was a knife fight. Unfortunately, we would not live up to nor meet our own required expectations. That falls squarely on us. There are points in there where you see Hurricane paintball. Steady, disciplined, well executed grinds. The points we lost? Uncommon individual mistakes that created holes that allowed NYX to capitalize. A good example would be the 5th point of the match. Mistakes were made. And that happens. We will grow from it. However, as the Coach, I take full responsibility as I should have prepared my guys better. I also share in the accountability of the last point before overtime. The call wasn’t bad and it wasn’t necessarily wrong (the set up) but I could have changed one asset that may have saved that point more than likely. I almost called a time out to run on the field and change it so that is completely on me. NYX were due one. Congrats to them on a match well played.

We had now put ourselves in a do or die situation against an elite team in X-Factor. X-factor was showing a slow and steady pocket press approach to the layout, very similar to our own. They were just doing it with uncanny discipline, composure, and communication. Something one would expect from the talent on that team. We knew it was going to be a steep hill to climb. You can’t help but respect the members of X-factor. Those cats are no joke and play a composed game. We decided to take an offensive approach to them. It did not work. The way the field played, at least in my opinion, was you establish your center presence, try to turn guns inside, create opportunity (and sometimes chaos), then spread and bully a gun. X-factor simply beat us to that approach almost every point. Of course, getting a major our first point didn’t help set a good pace. However, the second point we showed why we are here. That being said, X-Factor’s guns on the break were just dialed in and we were playing in a deficit most of the points. Hard place to fight from when your tournament life is on the line. The 5th point saw a great counter by my guys but a minor penalty stole it from us putting us in an even worse position. Drew Bell has a big boy point but too little too late. Not that it matters, but I felt Daniel Camp clearly shot Billy first in the final point exchange. Billy continues and puts a ball on Daniel. Should have been a major putting us in a 4-3 score/position with a minute left. Didn’t get the call, it happens, 5-2 X-factor. They played an excellent match.

And with that, our rookie season came to an end. Not how we wanted it to go obviously but it is what it is. We now have next year to focus on. We have to take the many lessons learned and use them to make ourselves better.

But first, a few first season take-a ways/thoughts…

Our goals heading into the season were simple. Win a point, win/connect two points in a row, win a match, and don’t get last at any event. We accomplished all of these goals at each event. There was another goal we had set at the beginning of the year. Be in the top 15 for the series. However, I personally set a goal for the team which was to be top 10 for the series. Headed into cup at 9th was a good place to be. However, at the time of this writing, they haven’t posted series points/scores yet. I don’t believe we will meet my personal goal of top 10 but it will be close (my guess is 11th). I know we
easily met our top 15 goal as we never finished worse than 14th all season.

We were pretty much written off at the beginning of the season and not without merit. We were unproven among the pro ranks, no one knew any of us, or our potential. History would dictate that we get knocked around. But we weren’t going to let that happen. You were at least going to know you were in fight. I tried to explain that in interviews to whoever would listen. We made two Sundays… I believe we could have made 3 and probably should have made 4 but that is on us. It is ALWAYS on us. I don’t care what the other team did. One solid take away is I believe we are the first rookie pro team to go undefeated in prelims and enter Sunday as the 1st place seed (Chicago/Windy City). With Legion and Heat in our bracket for that matter. Not a bad accomplishment even if I do say so myself. I want the guys to know they are capable of much more. But we have to prove it, we have to show it. It will require more hard work, more time, more repetition, and a lot of study.

We won 86 of 170 points played meaning we won 51% of the time we stepped out on the field. That will have to improve if we want to remain relevant. We placed 14th, 6th, 13th, 5th, and I believe 14th. You could argue there is a small component of consistency in there worthy of notice… But again, I think we are capable of much better.

There are 5 memories from our rookie year that will stay with me during the off season… perhaps I should call them lessons. Either way, I will study them one last time, and move on with my new knowledge.

  • The Impact game at Sunshine State Open
  • The Heat game at Lonestar
  • The Thunder match in Philly
  • The Heat match on Sunday in Chicago
  • And of course, this last NYX match at Cup

All lessons learned and all will simply make us better in one way or another.

Real quick, a little analysis/comparison.

Since its most recent inception, the NXL has seen 8 teams make the jump from Div 1/Semi Pro to the Professional ranks. Seattle Uprising would make the jump in 2016 placing 13th out of 16 pro teams at the time, never making Sunday. In 2017, after winning the semi pro division, PC Katana would place 14th out of 16 pro teams never making a Sunday. In 2018, the NXL would grow the pro divsion from 16 teams to 20 teams. The four new teams would be Sacramento DMG, New York Xtreme, Scottsdale Elevation, and MLKings. DMG would make their first Sunday at World Cup taking 9th at the event and placing 11th overall for the season. Xtreme would take 12th that season making two Sundays but having such low appearances in the other events, it drug them down. Elevation with an incredible debut performance would falter and take 14th followed by MLKings at 19th.

2019 saw the addition of San Diego Aftermath after Chicago Aftershock was relegated. After an absolutely stunning debut at the first event, Aftermath wouldn’t win another match the rest of the season taking 15th for the year.

2020 (the covid year) would see the departure of 3 pro teams; Scottsdale Elevation, PC Katana, and Boom. AC Diesel had won the Semi Pro division thus earning their pro spot. I believe members of Boom would merge with 12th place semi pro team NRG Elite taking a spot and finally, Columbus LVL, the 4th place semi pro team would buy PC Katana’s spot. With the 2 event season, AC would shock the world with a 5th place finish at Cup giving them an 8th place overall. LVL and NRG would finish 14th and 16th. The following season, with no relegation due to the short season, we would see AC take 10th, NRG 13th, and LVL 15th. Interestingly enough, the Hurricanes won the Semi Pro division during the covid season with a World Cup win.

I mention all of this only because I am a bit of a history buff. That, and I wanted to see where we stood in regards to the annals of PB history. With our 11th place series finish, we fall in with the two most successful rookie debuts in paintball history. We tie DMG with the 11th place finish. Do you count the AC rookie 2 event season and their 8th place finish? I guess we could average those 2 events from 2020 and add the next 2 or 3 finishes to give them a season. They would have had an 11th, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 14th. Almost sure to have been a top 10 team (and they did pull a top 10 finish their sophomore year). So I feel AC Diesel keeps the title of most successful Rookie pro team with DMG and the Hurricanes sharing the 2nd place spot. Although I guess you could argue with our Chicago event (undefeated and 1st seed headed into Sunday) and the two Sunday appearances, we would edge DMG out for that 2nd place… just pontificating…

Congratulations to the original boys in blue, San Diego Dynasty. Absolutely incredible performance all season long. Well earned and well deserved. And to all the other coaches and players in this division – I don’t know many of you but I know a little something about you… we all love this game and in order to grind at this level, you have at least one trait I like – perseverance. I look forward to learning from all of you in one way or another.

There are so many people we need to thank…

First and foremost I want to thank our fans. You guys are 100% legitimately the best fans in the sport. Respectful, kind and generous. Don’t think we didn’t hear you at Cup! We did (and so did the rest of Osceola county)! It means the world to us. Thank you and God bless you. We will continue to give and do our best for you! We draw strength from you!

To our families – words won’t and can’t do justice to what we owe you for your continued support and belief. From Parents, Wives, Aunts and Uncles, Siblings, Children, Family, friends and Girlfriends, we are simply blessed to have you. Allowing and supporting this dream of ours with your own sacrifice is nothing short of inspirational. You mean the world to us because you are our world. The Hurricane family is large and powerful and it is one of our greatest attributes as a team.

To our sponsors – I know we are the new kids on the block but we appreciate your thoughtfulness and professionalism. GI, the paint was stellar all season long. Planet Eclipse, no one doubts you have the best marker in the business (and your techs are johnny on the spot man!). Carbon, your support and service has been nothing short of extraordinary just like your products. JT, the masks are classic and we received nothing but compliments on how good we looked in our swag. Virtue, the hoppers were durable and never once the whole season ever let us down. Finally, to Drew Bankston and LA Xtreme Paintball, our home field in Slidell, LA… You. Are. The. Man. Love you brother!
Thank you all!

Until next season.

Be water my friends…

S.C.U.D. (Sustaining Concentration Under Duress)

The NXL’s Mid Atlantic open was June 17th-19th.  The next NXL event (not counting the Golden State Open) was the Windy City Major held last month near Chicago from Sept 9-11.  There was a 12 week, or an approximate 3 month time frame between the Mid Atlantic and the Windy City events.

In paintball, that’s a long time.

So, what are the Professional teams doing during those 3 months?  If you are the New Orleans Hurricanes, you are working your day job (in some cases, two jobs), ensuring your career is still on track, taking care of family and significant others, balancing the checkbook, paying bills and taxes, and then shoring up individual and team paintball skill sets at every opportunity.  Because we are so spread out as a team, members get to the field when they can to work drills and teamwork.  If a member of the team can’t make a practice, they are practicing local to where they are.

The everyday life grind coupled with the paintball grind can be difficult.  Priorities for one tend to interfere with priorities for the other.  And that is understandable.  After all, this is the only professional sport that I know of where the pros (or at least a large portion of them) must pay to play at this level.  We are husbands, fathers, sons, and men first.  Our priority and ultimate responsibility is to our loved ones.  We must be solid and good on that front first and foremost before we can be solid and good on the field.  I truly believe this is one of our strengths.  Our support system is a large part of our relative success.

Focus. One voice at a time. What’s the goal and how do we execute/accomplish it?

Okay, but what can we do when your team’s focus appears to be a little blurry?  What can you do if the life grind is interfering more than usual with the paintball grind?  How do you maintain the team’s focus?

How many of you are familiar with the 80/20 rule?  Also known as the “Pareto Principle”. It essentially means that, 80% of your results come from about 20% of your work. More specifically that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of all causes (or inputs) for any given event. So how do we apply this?  It should be obvious, we should focus on that 20%… work the stuff that matters and don’t get distracted by the feeling of “we have to”.  In other words, we should prioritize the 20% of factors that will produce the best results.

I see teams fall into this trap quite often.  They over plan.  Whereas, having a plan to begin with is important, and most certainly helps with goal setting, direction, and success, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Do not create an environment where, if you don’t do something, it will cause the team to feel they are not prepared.  No need to hamstring the team by developing a “to do” list that isn’t manageable or practical.  It isn’t necessary to get too detailed.   Understand, details are terrific and important but it is a fine line that must be walked.  If we get too detailed, we can get bogged down and miss out on what the real issues are or will be. Efficiency is key. Try not to do something just because other’s do it. Focus on what YOUR team needs. Is this making sense?

Focusing on teamwork and execution of job sets will lead to success.

All that said, try to identify your team’s key needs and best assets. Then try to shore them up in an efficient manner so you get the maximum value added. Now… this is a concept. A rule rather and not a law. What do I mean by this? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that since the 20% gets priority, then the other 80% can be ignored!

We should also recognize the difference between individual and team planning.  As I sated earlier, efficient use of time is really the key to all of this.  When we do have the time together as a team, I want to emphasize very specific team-oriented material as opposed to the individual aspects.  I might mention to an individual player something I see or want them to work on at a team practice and will keep it in the mental Rolodex (maybe discuss during a short break but not spend a lot of time on it)… but the emphasis is, and always will be, on the team dynamic when we are together.  This isn’t to say that individual attention doesn’t happen. It most certainly and almost always does. However, at this level, the individual issues are usually smaller or fewer and less dire.

I will almost always have a specific agenda in mind and time frame for each item on the agenda before a practice.  However, that agenda is fluid in case I see something that needs to be re-emphasized.  The domino effect is very real at practice.

What do I mean by the domino effect?  Well, it’s the whole point of this blog.  Staying focused on the goals can easily be derailed if we allow things to fall off or pile up.  We get off on a tangent and now the tangent becomes the focus as opposed to the intended goal.  At the end of the day, you can’t always control the results.  But you can most certainly control your effort to meet them and focus on them, yes?

When you get down to it, your team is simply a collection of people with a common interest (hopefully). Not to get too high brow but I was recently reading a little Thomas Hobbes. He nailed the concept, at least in my opinion, of what a team is in his book “Leviathan” (well, really government or an organization of civilization… social contract theory… what have you).  He uses the concept of the biblical Leviathan, a giant sea serpent, as a metaphor for the state.  Essentially the creature’s body is a giant body made up of ALL the bodies of its citizens in the literal sense.  The same concept can be applied to a team.  Team, very similar to the different states here in the US, are made up 3 components;  the people, the processes, and their systems.

    “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

    Aristotle

Focus on what you can control.

Ultimately, my main goal for the Canes at a practice is to function as one.  How can we be more efficient and ensure we are all rowing in the right direction with the same desire or outcome in mind?  Our focus – acting as one, a single entity with very specific goals in mind.  What do WE need? Having everyone on the same page is as simple as getting everyone to agree to a very specific list of goals.  Then create acceptance and agreement among the team on how best to get there… as a team.  Identifying and developing focus for the team can be finite.  But alignment on all of it is paramount. 

You have all heard the line, “Trust the process”. If the process leads to small successes over time then it is having the desired effect.

So stay focused on the task at hand, whatever that may be.

And remember…

Be water my friends.