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.