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

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