Tuesday, July 5, 2016

In the Presence of Royalty

Having assisted in the development of the Prime Program over the past 6 years, I can comfortably say I am a creature of habit.  Team owner/manager Mike McGowan and I have settled into a few routines which we feel are the more practical and effective means in which to grow a players fundamental abilities as well as assist in creating a team environment.  These routines work, for the most part, when applied correctly to the appropriate and willing player.

I have always felt that when you incorporate routines into your training, you can’t help but promote something that is imperative to any form of success; discipline.  Discipline allows players and coaches to commit to the goal at hand.  Those without discipline will never be reliable and therefore cannot succeed when pursuing a competitive goal or any other goal worth pursuing.

Routine Drills.  They do a body good.

Why do most people in our sport have an aversion to routine?  To me, I can only come to one conclusion; fear.  They’re scared.  Now, I am not necessarily referencing cowardice, although that very well may be the issue, but more along the lines of loathing.  They hate routine because it is boring, it isn’t exciting.  “I want to play points, not drill!”

Despite all the positive benefits that can be reaped from routine, people still resist it.  However, not as much as they resist change and the unknown.  Studies suggest we actually fear an unknown outcome more than we do a known bad one (that vexes me).  I love routine but I am not afraid of change.  As a matter of fact, I enjoy trying new things.  So I am a creature of habit as well as a bit of an adventurer.

How did this photo end up here?  Oh well... sorry California

I fear no man.  Hold up…. Scratch that and allow me to quantify that statement real quick.  Yes, I fear a nuclear Iran or a person carrying a biological weapon.  But I fear no man in my immediate accessible small world.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be made a fool or seriously injured or find my family in danger without me being able to help.  But I know that, put in most situations, I am prepared.  Being prepared is how I look at routine versus change.  They both have their benefits and we should strive for both. Balance of two forces is a good thing.  Yin and Yang… but I digress.

THAT is how I found myself out in San Jose, CA and ultimately in Las Vegas, NV for the WCPPL Sin City Open this past May with the Royalty program.  They had a D2 squad with whom I was playing and a D4 squad who was competing at the event,as well.  It was an adventure I will never forget.  By stepping out, I learned more in those few days than I have from the last 3 events I attended with my own crew.  I highly recommend that, should you find the opportunity to “guest’ with a team, you do so.  Whereas, I am certain there are incidences where it proved to be a difficult, uneventful, or even a terrible ordeal for some, I would venture to say that, more times than not, it would be a truly positive experience.

Don Nosweiger and yours truly

Don Nosweiger captains the Royalty program.  Don and I met through our mutual friend Shane Pestana last year when the Prime Program flew out to San Jose, CA to scrimmage Royalty and the Los Angeles Ironmen.  A truly humble and gracious man, Don made me feel welcome and integral to the program almost immediately.  His approach to his crew is quite different than my own but I found it fascinating and an opportunity to see how others approach running a team.  It proved to be an amazing learning experience.  I truly enjoyed talking shop with Don regarding different approaches to leadership, personality types, team dynamics, accountability, motivation, logistics, incentive, practices, game planning, tournaments, and more.  Some approaches we had in common, some were somewhat similar, but others were significantly different.  It was eye opening and worth every moment.

Then there was actually playing WITH the team.  It’s one thing to practice with a team you have been a part of from its inception.  It’s another to practice with a team two weekends prior to playing the event.  With the latter, you can still learn enough about the team and what to expect from them at the event.  You learn certain nuances and mannerisms.  You can even pick up on the movers and the shakers.  But it is something completely and entirely different coming into an event having never practiced with a single member of the team.  Going in cold, I found myself a bit anxious.  Here was a chance to integrate into a new environment and see where I stood on this sort of scenario.  But I was really excited about the opportunity.  After all, I was going to meet some new guys, hopefully make some new friends and see what West Coast paintball is all about.  I was looking forward to learning and possibly sharing my own insights.

Clocking in

Long story short, I couldn’t have asked for a more fun and relaxing experience.  I want to give a big shout out to the Royalty guys.  They are scrappers and I like scrappers since I fancy being one myself (Me! …  Inside joke, bear with ME!).   Don, Andrew, Alex, Tanner, Clayton, Kona, and Sean, I want to thank you all for allowing me to guest with you.  You guys are family now.  I will make southerners out of you yet!  I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my other crew, too!  Jr, Hugo, Christian, Mason, Mylo and Jason, see you boys real soon! And Trevor, thanks for making me look somewhat respectable in those photos!

Whereas our outlooks, our lifestyles, our geographies are all different, one thing we certainly had in common and that was the desire to win.  I highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing other programs should you have the opportunity.  If you decide to do this, there are a few things I would ask that you take to heart…

Family isn't always blood....

When you go out on a limb and try something new and foreign, when you put yourself out there… that takes courage.  Interestingly enough, the ability to summon courage becomes easier and easier the more you do it.  After a while, when you call on it often enough, when you become brave, it will become contagious.  This will open a whole gaggle of new experiences and opportunities for you. And guess what?  It might even become routine.  Your “fear” has dissipated.  Congratulations warrior.

When you become courageous, stand in front of a new world, and exclaim, “I am!” you will never be bored, I promise you that.  The constant challenge, even with those of us who are slaves to routine (it’s the challenge that keeps it new for routine people), will always bring excitement, the excitement of bettering yourself.  When you have an opportunity to learn or to grow, you have to jump at that, grab on with both hands and never let go.  Remember, we don’t grow by never stepping out.  We grow from new experiences which allows us to forge new attitudes which forge newer actions, new directions and ultimately new life.

"Bloody!...Knuckles!"  Joining the team in getting pumped up

This doesn’t mean I stop enjoying my routine or what I am comfortable with.  No, I continue to enjoy those things, I am just expanding my appetite. But for me, trying new things isn't about just enjoying a new activity or experiencing the unknown.  I really am content enjoying all the things I already enjoy. But straying into foreign lands, both metaphorically and literally, has always forced me to challenge my beliefs. And as painful as that is, I believe nothing contributes to our happiness more than shattering the delusions to which we cling.  Often we are unable to distinguish between beliefs that are true and beliefs that are false, especially beliefs about ourselves. And for better or worse, we simply seem unable, most of the time, to identify a belief as delusional unless someone we trust or some experience shows us.

In the end, I find the spirit to try new things synonymous with the spirit of self-improvement. And while I can't honestly say I'm intrinsically prone to the former (I sometimes need a gentle reminder to do it from people around me), the latter is a large part of the reason I'm here. 

Bama came to Sin City and saw things

Developing newfound knowledge and making it ultimately our own can be scary, fun, exciting and downright painful.  But it’s the journey of discovery that is ultimately worth it.  Bruce Lee taught, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”  I would add that when you discard what is “useless”, you don’t forget it… for we learn from its uselessness.

Get out and play with different people.  Get out and learn different approaches and theories.  In the end, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Be water my friends,


Good times with new friends.  Looking forward to more

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge

“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” - Patches O'houlihan

I have been reading a lot of journals from the field of psychology (exciting, I know).  I love applying the power of positive thinking and visualization to different aspects throughout our daily routines.  Much like applying the martial concepts to the sport of paintball in a physical and philosophical sense, the psychology behind being competitive and successful can be fascinating.

Recently, I discovered a few articles and studies on what most champions have in common when it comes to state of mind.  They are called the 4 C’s of sports psychology.  When we talk about the 4 C’s of competition, we are referring to:


According to most if not all sports psychologists these are generally considered the main mental qualities required for successful performance in sports.  Let’s try and break them down

Concentration... laser focus on the task at hand

A “no brainer”.  This is the ability to focus on the task at hand.  If we lack concentration, if we aren’t focused on what we are supposed to be doing, chances are we won’t be very effective. 
The ability to concentrate and maintain focus on your goal is key in helping you to continually make improvements towards them. Concentration is always having a laser focus on optimum performance.  This may sound a little like “tunnel vision”.  Obviously, in paintball, tunnel vision is bad a bad thing.  Understand that what we are talking about here is giving maximum effort towards being the best we can be all the time whether it is on the field or off.  Being focused off the field is every bit as important as on.  We need to be “switched on” from the moment we arrive at the event to when we leave.  Remember, outside elements can affect everything we do. That being said, we should try to train ourselves to make performance-focused decisions off the field as well so that we are constantly improving our game.  This will ultimately better our game ON the field.

It goes without saying that when competing you need to be fully focused in order to perform to your maximum potential. Any distractions or lapses of concentration could be the difference between winning and losing. How many times have you let something during a game take you out of the equation or stop you from focusing on your job?  Something an opponent does, a refs call, something your coach or teammate said to you or another teammate… all of these can be distractions that can keep you from performing to your fullest potential.
How do we keep these things from affecting us? Well, the key to making sure these things don’t hamper us is to prepare ourselves PRIOR to the moment.  Create a routine that relaxes your mind.  Just like we stretch as a team to prepare our bodies for what we are about to put them through, why would we not stretch our minds and prepare them?  Some guys listen to music, others chat about life back home… me, I have a few family prayers I say where I ask my Maker to protect those around me.  The point is, prep yourself mentally so that when the time comes, you are ready to handle any outside distraction and stay on task.
And this doesn’t have to happen right before the match.  It can happen the night before, the morning of, whenever.

Confident in the fact you and your brothers can win
This one most paintballers have in spades.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always founded.  Confidence is the   belief in one's abilities.  I read somewhere that confidence is the result from the comparison an athlete makes between their goal and their ability. Most people will believe in themselves if they believe they can achieve their goal, right?
A player who is confident (confidence should not be confused with arrogance – one is genuine, the other is fake) has a tendency to maintain that confidence even when things are going south.  They can inspire, they will enthusiastically promote the team, they will take a positive approach to a negative situation, and they will almost always take accountability whether they succeed or fail.

One must be confident in order to perform well.  Believing in oneself and the team can only promote positivity which will ultimately lead to the belief and drive that one can win no matter the current situation.
You can always identify those who lack confidence.  The negativity seeps from their pores.  They will focus on factors beyond their control.  They look scared.  The teams to look out for?  The ones who are excited!  The ones fired up, smiling, laughing, and chomping at the bit.  These are usually the teams that are going to give you a fight 100% of the time.
Like concentration, we can improve our confidence by external or internal factors.  Players can visualize performances from the past to remember that feeling.  Perhaps you had a really good point during a practice?  Relive it in your mind to remind yourself of that success and flow.  You can also create different situations in your mind.  For instance, you visualize your opponent doing something and then visualize how you will handle it.
I personally like to set goals.  I try to make them as realistic as possible so that they are achievable if I give it 100%.  Remember several months back we talked about “small wins”?  Same thing.  We set those goals and when we reach them, it will do nothing but build that positive confidence.
Confidence is simply a positive state of mind and a belief that you can meet the challenge ahead of you and your team.  You are essentially in control.  No external factors matter, just the moment.  Stay positive yet calm, focused and give maximum effort.  Take chances and believe.  And most importantly, take accountability for the outcome, no matter what it is.

Doing the job
This is the ability to maintain emotional stability regardless of distraction.  This is probably the most difficult of the 4 C’s.  Why?  Because paintball is an extreme sport and emotions are always high when you are dusting people up.   Identifying why we are feeling a particular way can be an incredible advantage in improving our control, especially when the two most common enemies of control (and the most common reasons for poor performance) are anxiety and anger.

How many of you have had to go to the bathroom right before you play?  Ever heard of fight or flight?  Do you get “butterflies”?  This is your anxiety trying to best you and manifesting itself in a physical form.  We need to relax and understand why we are there.  But it can also come in a mental form.  We begin to worry about how we will play; we know the other team is good so we know we are going to lose… Bad paintball player!  You’re here to win.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

How many of you have become angry after a match?  What happened the very next match?  A lot of times, a player will get angry and the cause of that anger (a ref’s call, a teammate’s comment or performance, a coach’s comments or behavior) will become the focus of his or her attention. This then leads to a lack of concentration on the current task, performance deteriorates and confidence in ability is lost which fuels the anger - a slippery slope to failure.  No beuno.

Paintball can certainly make us run the gambit on emotion.  One day we love it, we love our team, and we love everything there is to love about it.  But then, the next, it puts us in the dirt and we hate it.  Admit it; you have gone through those swings.  I know I have.  A solid paintballer will have the ability to control these emotions and maintain a sense of calm.  It is not just vital, it’s necessary.

One last thing in regards to control… it should not be confused with anything other than what it is.  Different players will show control differently.  You have to find that balance and where it best suits you.  Remember, the goal is always maximum effort, meaning we want to control emotions and behaviors to the point where negativity doesn’t affect us.   The decisions you make in the moment can be influenced and trained by regular and repeated practice of your mind.

Commit to getting better and achieving goals
This is the ability to continue working toward an agreed upon set of goals.  Commitment is the inner drive to put your heart and soul into accomplishing your goals.  Think of it as a statement of intent.  This is also the one C that most paintball players fail to realize impacts their abilities the most.  Good performance on the paintball field rests on the player’s ability to fully commit to numerous goals over a period of time.  It does not happen overnight.  Everyone has aspects of their daily life that can interfere with one another.  Whether it is work, school, significant other, or other hobbies, all these things can impact our commitment to becoming a good player.  They most certainly affect us becoming a great player.

It’s simple really.  When things are going well, it is easy to continue working hard because you are actually seeing results.  However, when things are NOT going so well, many players are more likely to give up and stop trying.

THIS is when we see real commitment out of players.  It is during the difficult and dark times your commitment and dedication is truly tested.  So, what are some ways to increase commitment?  This is when staying positive is tough.  But with small wins, highlighting successes, and setting realistic goals, you can generate a positive environment where the team can flourish.  The key is making sure everyone is on the same page, everyone is contributing, and everyone is having fun.  An atmosphere like that will lead to prolonged enjoyment from team members and increase the longevity of the squad.  Plus it will build a strong team dynamic that is paramount to having a successful team.

Setting goals with the team and with individuals will increase the team and the member’s feelings of value.  It will give them a feeling of belonging to something greater than themselves which will lead to personal ownership of the goals. 
Okay, my brain hurts.  Let’s wrap this up.  I’m going to leave you with two quotes.  The first is from a famous architect/writer… the second is a saying among the Teams -
“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen." – Franklin Lloyd Wright

Top of food chain
"Performance, and performance alone, dictates the predator in any food chain”
So cool.

Be water my friends.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Touche' Cliche'

I want to revisit the topic this blog broached back in March.  If you didn’t read that one, you can find it at http://primepaintball.blogspot.com/2016_03_01_archive.html

In that one, we discussed a mental approach to the game.  After a few conversations recently and a few articles I have read as of late, this conversation is far from over.

Most players and coaches in our sport, especially at the divisional level, don't emphasize  the mental approach to our game as much as they probably should.  The physicality of the game, the fundamentals of our sport, are certainly relevant and needed, but ultimately, if you don't know what to do, when, and why, I don't care how good your snap is, chances are, you will get outworked.  I would imagine most if not all of the players on Impact or Dynasty still get out there and drill.  However, I bet that the members of these two teams “practice” the mental aspect of the game more than most.  And it is THIS aspect, THIS approach to the game that, in my humble opinion, separates the greats from the “pretty goods”.  Coaches, take note because, whereas we addressed what the player needs to bring to the party in our March blog post, this one is firmly directly at you and what you can bring to their mentality.

And that is why paintball is like the cherry blossom...
How many times have you heard/said this one, “You are overthinking it!”?  I know I am certainly guilty of using that one and not just on players and teammates but myself.  I am sure we would all agree that our thoughts influence our behavior and vice versa, yes?  How many times have you looked at a player and attributed their lackluster performance to their “overthinking”?  What about, “Your making it more complicated than it is.”? Come on… admit it.  Or how about, “Just play paintball!” 

Yeah, you’re guilty.

We use comments and terms like this all the time, right?  Perhaps we think it motivates a player or is somehow teaching them something.  As if we were paintball's greatest philosopher with our simplistic statements being equivalent to  Plato's Republic. And what really happens when we do this? What are we really saying? Let's face it, we aren't really saying anything. I have been reading some great books and articles on Sports Psychology and I am beginning to see a pattern.  Don’t get me wrong, full disclosure here, but I have read books on child birth too but that didn’t make me an expert…that being said, I have been around paintball and paintball teams for awhile and played sports my whole life.  Couple that with being around some of the greatest minds in the game, you begin to pick up on a thing or two.

Let me ask you something and answer this honestly.  Let’s pretend we were at practice together or an event and you just struggled during a point where you lost or made a mistake which ended up costing the point.  I walk up to you and say, “Stop thinking so hard man!  Just play paintball.  Jeez!” 

Discussing what needs to happen when, where and why
What does that even mean???!!  Chances are, I elicited one of 3 reactions from you; A. You become motivated and full of determination and focus and will now go out and play your heart out because these words somehow magically tapped into your visceral self! HULK SMASH!  Perhaps B. You’re a millennial who now needs a safe space or safe zone or whatever trigger word protection you are calling it these days so you crawl up within yourself and ask to be sat because, God forbid, someone depends on you for production.  Or more than likely C. You think I should go jump in the nearest lake creating resentment between you and I and now your mind has another issue to contend with and you are anything but focused on the task at hand.  How are you as a player supposed to translate what I said into action and what am I really trying to say to you?  Are you relaxed now?  Are you really going to “stop thinking” as it were?  Doubtful.

I have an idea, let’s TALK about that funny little pinko commie Bernie Sanders.  We are going to talk about him, how we feel about him, and give our opinions about his political policies.  But now, while we do this, don’t THINK about him. . . Come on now, don’t let the image of that goofy cartoon of a man creep into your thoughts. . . Don’t think about Bernie Sanders!

What’s the first thing that just popped into your head?  You probably thought of that ridiculous human muppet who thinks Cuba’s economy is what we need here in the good ol' US of A, amiright?  More than likely.  See how this may be an issue?  I am asking you not to think about something I am SPEAKING to you about!  In other words, I tell you to stop thinking about it and just play paintball, what are you inclined to do?  Probably think about it… and try something that I had no intention of you trying on the field.

Granted, this is but one aspect, one simple and narrow example.  Still, ask yourself, did we make them better and help them focus on the task at hand?  Did we add anything meaningful or productive to our player?  Did we assist their mental approach to the game or did we just add another obstacle to their learning process?

 My next question is, how many times have you told yourself NOT to do something but then you go out and do the exact thing you told yourself not to do?  “I better not miss my runner on the break!” or “I better trade with my guy at the W” only to miss the guy or not trade?  "The guys will think I suck if I don't do this right!"  "The coach is going to be pissed if I don't stay alive this point".  Uh-huh... psych yourself much?  Did the coach's insightful and definitive "say something but not really" speech help?  Doesn't sound like it.

It boils down to this. . . for every fundamental drill you do, you better find a mental equivalent.  Coaches (and players) need to emphasize this to the nth degree (that means a lot for those of you wondering what an nth is).  We must learn to think with purpose . . . deliberate and effective purpose.  When we do this, we will gain confidence in our actions.  When we gain confidence, we can maximize our potential in action.  We will become competent.  And competency is the first step to greatness.  This needs to be the goal for all practices leading to an event.  We need to know how to help them LEARN... and in some cases, UNLEARN (that is a different blog altogether)We must choose our comments, statements, questions, and thoughts carefully so that we elicit the appropriate and desired response.

Understanding and documenting game play
Now, we have talked about the mental aspect of PERFORMANCE but just as important is the actual mental aspect of the GAME.  Tournament paintball is not just 5 guys with paintball guns who go out on the field.  You’re a front player, he’s a back player, and we will all go here and there and yonder. BAM!  Good luck!  

Absolutely not. 

There is a flow to this game.  There are things that need to happen when executing a game plan.  There are things that need to happen when and if the game plan is broke or countered.  There are things that need to happen and then there are things that will go wrong.  It is a chess match.  Coaches will make mistakes with the wrong call/approach but a player still has to execute/produce.  Questions we need to ask ourselves; what’s our goal on the snake side, the middle and/or the dorito side?  What is the first, second, third goals of our D side attack?  If A then B?  Or if A then C?  How do we know if it’s B or C?  THAT is the mental part of the game that lower divisional teams seem to miss.  I have said this several times over the past few years, “Just because a bunker is forward, does not mean it is the right bunker at the time.”

Recognizing the flow of the game

Teams, players and coaches (especially coaches) need to realize that a game plan is NOT just the breakout.  These five guys will each go here on the break.  Okay . . . Why?  What is the purpose of that particular break’s configuration?  Where are we putting our guns on the break and why?  Why are we putting a player here?  What is his job/goal from that point on?  The game plan is what is supposed to happen AFTER the break.

We will revisit this topic regarding the mental aspect of our sport in next months’ blog.  I hope to emphasize something I have been reading about called the “4 C’s” of competition.  Until then…

Be water my friends,

Michael Bianca