Words by Joe Barrett
Recently Te’Shawn hit me up to write an article, and address an issue that’s been coming up a lot lately. With Edmonton Impact being such a consistently dominant force not only in the US, but also in Europe for the past 2 seasons, there has been more and more random chatter on social media and forums that money plays the largest role in their success. Some have even claimed that there needs to be a salary cap, because other teams can’t afford the means to compete at that level. As a long time national player who has had the chance to practice against, and/or hang out behind the scenes with these guys, and almost every pro team, and a huge majority of divisional teams in the game, let me offer some insight as to why some may think this, the reality of a winning teams success, and why it’s kind of an easy excuse to make for teams that simply aren’t working as hard. Stick with me ya’ll, this one may get a little long. But I love this sport and basically do nothing but think about it and analyze every aspect; so getting this in-depth has no short cuts.
It’s no secret that teams like Edmonton Impact, Houston Heat and Russian Legion are well-funded. I think anyone staying up on relative paintball has heard someone else the past few seasons say “they are becoming the Yankees of paintball, simply buying up all the talent”. Impact in particular have been on the podium, played in more finals matches, and won more finals matches in the recent seasons than some teams have in their entire history. These teams have very successful owners who have extreme passions for paintball, and helping the next generation achieve the dream while staying part of the game by transcending to the different role of managers.
From the outside, you may hear rumors of excellent sponsorships and even personal salaries (some real, some exaggerated) and decide, “Well of course they should be winning events with that kind of support. If our team had unlimited resources, we would have the potential to do that well too!” And you may support your argument with the Russian Legion argument. Let me explain. Back in the day of PSP, there was a time when layouts would be released much farther in advance of the event then the current two weeks out. Due to this, teams had far more time to play the layouts and learn every little nook and cranny, tricky move, blind shot, bounce shot and counters to every situation. However, a team with “X” budget might only play this layout on Sundays. A team with “Y” budget may start preparing a few weeks into the layouts release. And a team with ten times the budget may play both days of every weekend, maybe two-a-days, and maybe even more on weekdays. Lets take all the variables of two teams playing each other in any sport. If both teams are evenly matched in roster talent, experience, equipment, and conditions (are both teams rested before the match or is one not? Did one travel and the other is at home?), the team that is more prepared should win the game, maybe not decisively but the extra preparation should give them the edge. This proved true for a very dominant Russian Legion team that had the resources and time to train a lot more than almost every other team out there. Lets say pro team “A” played for 5 weekends before the event, 50 points a day, every Sunday. The Russians were often playing 50+ points for those same 5 weekends or more, both days. So by the time the event comes around, Team “A” has played 250 points on the layout. The Russians have played over 500 points on the layout. By now they have learned everything there is to learn like the other team, but they are going through the repetitive motions to make it muscle memory. Both teams know what to do to win on the layout, but one team has their first shots from each bunker they take a little more dialed in, and the audible to make based on what’s happening around them are now conscious decisions because they have seen them and fixed them several times already. The thought process of the next move no longer has to happen; now it’s just down to proper execution. And this too will also happen easier because of all of the drills and repetition. Textbook plays are created for most every situation, and the early advantage is becoming expected from proper predictions, formulas to deal with them and consistent execution. Do you all remember 2009 World Cup (yes the scorching year of death). Russian Legion was an unstoppable wrecking ball that steam rolled through every match they played this event. They went undefeated through prelims, losing very few points, and went on to play Aftershock in the Finals. Aftershock was also playing great paintball this event, but more on the nitty-gritty side, grinding out several tough matches in a hard bracket, and looking like they would come into this prepared for anything. It seemed like the stage was set for a brutal back and forth match to be remembered. What ended up happening was a match ending in less than 5 min. flat, 7-0 Russian Legion. It looked like precision muscle memory and flawless execution of every play, with the Russians literally hitting their break shots on wide guys, making perfect secondary’s to tighten the noose and shoot for fills, and closing quickly before Shock could have time to breathe, let alone slow the field, communicate and maybe launch some counter punches. There were several points that the Russian front players on either side didn’t even have to make it into the snake or Doritos, often only one bunker out, wrapping and pinching Shock in the pocket until they’d die in a gun fight or force a fill to slow the point (and run through lanes). Shock’s insert players fought about as hard as they could, and made a few decent last stand moves, but it was too much of an uphill battle playing in worse field position, and mostly 3v5. It looked like perfect paintball. Muscle memory had won the match and event. (Don’t worry; this circles around to a point).
Fast forward a few seasons and I was lucky enough to have the Russians come to my local field in Syracuse to practice before PSP NJ open. This was one of the best spectacles I had ever witnessed at the time, the honing of the machine. They played 2 straight weeks, every day, sometimes in two sessions. There was a local tournament being played one of the weekends, and they would play some of the local teams at the end of it, and then start their own practice after each day. The field owner said they had shot over a half a dozen skids of paintballs. They looked like a well-oiled machine on its way to simply executing what they had been drilling in and winning another event. To make a long story short, they did not. The team went on to Sunday but came short of the finals and ended up watching a grinder between Damage and Dynasty with everyone else from the sidelines. But how could this happen? They had an excellent roster, the same support, and played for two straight weeks before the event, which I am sure no other team at the event could have matched. So why did the team that could afford the cost and time of extra preparation lose the event? Because budget is not the most crucial factor in paintball success.
Lets make something clear, at a certain point in paintball, there is only so much variance in the physical skill sets. The very best snap shot is not that much quicker than your typical divisional snap shot. The large differences lie in-game knowledge from experience, consistency, and teamwork. Because of this, the muscle memory repetition technique has its pros and cons. The pros are of course doing the things you’re focusing on extremely efficiently. Physical parts of the game, and decisions based on the patterns your taught become robotic. A D3 team can beat a D1 team if they are constantly shooting 2-3 off break, simply because of the immediate advantage they created from tons of tons of practice on a focused part of the game. But what happens when they miss those shots, maybe bounce players, or run into a situation they were not taught to deal with? The playbook team has problems figuring out what to do next in the mid game. Things went wrong, variables arise and now they are on they’re own and it comes down to basic paintball. The more intelligent and creative team, with experience and good teamwork beats the team of unconscious robots. They talk, and adapt and creatively solve the problem. We used to see this in old-school paintball games between the Russians and Dynasty or Ironmen way back in the heyday. The points where the Russians “play” went according to plan, they would decisively and efficiently win the point. The points that did not go according to plan (missed off break shots) or even just did not produce an advantage like a 5 on 5 after the breakout would go toward the way of the creative and dynamic teamwork of the other side. It’s very easy to teach act-react, and what to do next based on a first elimination. As long as the players do their jobs and don’t hesitate, they will win. Its much more difficult to teach a team to problem solve through a situation when the other team does not give you the first advantage or plays an unorthodox way. This only happens through lots of mid game experience and solid communication that develops with real chemistry. Chemistry is the x-factor here.
Lets circle back to the original question and the situation it’s addressing. Does money make top teams win? Is Impacts massive budget its source of success? No! Chemistry is. First of all, lets address the “Yankees roster” argument. They have an outstanding roster, but could some argue they could “buy” a better roster? You could! If it were all about the talent they put together, why not also buy the 4 best Russians of all time, and the very best guy from the other top caliber teams? (Lets say the best players from Infamous, Dynasty, X-Factor, and Damage). You could buy the top 10 stat players each year and see how they play together, however that list changes, at least somewhat every season. This would mean you’d never have the same roster to actually cultivate lasting CHEMISTRY. The top-tier pro teams may grab new rookies here and there, but they all have pretty consistently maintained their same inner core of veterans who work well together and continued to build on that chemistry, team dynamic and identity (look at the Canadians on impact, the vets on Dynasty, the core of Russians that have moved around). There may be a few very consistent and intelligent pro players that are slightly on another level then the rest due to certain skill sets or field i.q., the Greenspans, Langs, Federovs, Edwards, Archies and a few other stat stuffers that have become house hold names even a paintball newbie would hear. But for the most part, paintball has become so competitive, serious and athletic that the massive bulk of pros are about the same caliber. They are all highly talented at the physical skill sets, and make very few mental mistakes. You could argue that most of the starting players could be starters on any other team based on what that team needs. However, a team of all-stars, just assembled together and getting used to each other will lose to a solid, gelling team of good players that have been together for years. What it comes down to is going with the players you have (granted talent and execution level is there) and making them stay together to create CHEMISTRY through trust, similar mindset/goals and the bonds of friendship and caring about the success of the guy next to you as much as your own.
This is the real reason Impact has found so much success. They have not only found the right pieces, but they have made them all fit together very well through team bonding and chemistry. There is so much a just practicing far more hours than the next team, that can affect the creation of a great team. I say this because I have seen these teams before (even in other sports), which put in an absolute shit ton of work together…however many of the guys on the team don’t like each other, and therefore don’t mesh well. If you don’t like your teammates, don’t hang out with them off the field, and don’t trust them, this translates to less trust, chemistry and cohesion on the field, guaranteed. This team does not play every day of the week, or unreasonable and unaffordable amounts. A few things can explain what they do that gives them an edge, but they all lead back to the biggest cause of success, chemistry.
- The teams that are super dominant enjoy playing paintball together. This can be said about every team that’s ever had consistent success. Look at dynasty, a group of good friends who have all lived with or near each other. These guys are with each other on and off the field, and that constant cohesion of communication, trust and interaction makes them a solid unit. Not just a group of excellent individuals doing their jobs, but a single machine where each part helps and relies on every other part. The same thing goes for most of the other teams that you see win more than 1 event per season. In my own observation, when going by these teams pits or in the venue area, they seem to always be together, and having fun. They are serious about winning, but not so serious that they aren’t enjoying themselves and blaming each other for every little mistake. Instead, they are simply talking about ways to do things better and bringing each other up with positivity, belief and motivation. “Man I know you can do better than that” “this is what went wrong, but I know we’ll do this to fix it” “you got this”. These teams are not living in the past and thinking about the mistakes, they are thinking about the solutions. They are not getting upset that they aren’t doing perfect, they are happy that they can come together and figure out how to solve the problem with each other.
- These teams are not just practicing more, they are practicing PROPERLY. Yes, there is a right and a wrong way to practice. You can have a massive budget, and shoot a skid a weekend, play hundreds of points and not win the event. Why? Well if you played all that paintball against the same team, or doing the same things in your comfort zone, you may eventually perfect what you’re doing…. however you stopped yourself from continuing to learn. You will dominate teams that play the layout the way you expect, but what happens when you run into a new style of play from a distant team? The very best teams in any division see the benefit in getting productive practices. This normally means they’ll play together consistently almost every weekend. When the layout comes out they’ll take a day to learn it, find the bounce shots, drill on the needed lanes and breakouts. The next time they’ll scrimmage themselves or a sister team. And following that they will look to play different teams for different looks. After several practices like this, the team will no how to handle whatever comes their way, whether it be a more defensive team, a more offensive team, a more adaptive team or counterpunch team. They will have seen enough different looks that there will not be a random team that surprises them and throws a wrench in their plan at the event. Taking this one step further, the best way to practice for a big tournament is to play tournaments. “Practice the way you play”. If your playing teams at practice that don’t leave on bounces, or wipe because there are no refs, this will affect the way you play the event. So the very best way to practice for events is by playing more events! Impact for example, is a fluid machine at event paintball because they play more events per year than most Pro teams. Where most pro teams only play 5 NXL events, Impact will play 5 NXL and 5 Millennium each season. Constantly playing in this event atmosphere, with pro refs, brittle paint that breaks every time and real game clocks will surely keep you sharper then going through the motions at your local field without the pressure or realistic conditions. And weather you win or lose an event, you will be at the very least warmed up and sharpening the sword for another one the next week. Keeping your team playing tournaments continues to hone the chemistry and in the very best competitive conditions.
- The very best teams have excellent chemistry from being together more. Many people think you can just take the top stated players, throw them together for a week on the layout, and they’ll win the event the next weekend. They have the skill sets and potential to do so, but they most likely will not just because they have not had the time together to learn each other. 10 different top-level players may have 10 different ideas on how to win on a layout. All of which may be perfectly logical, but if they are different and not discussed and decided on, you have 10 different guys playing their own game, rather than 1 team playing its game. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians. A team with a roster like Impact has a ton of guys that know how to win. If any one of them threw out their opinions on how to play a layout, it would probably be a great idea. But unless they all decide to go with one ideal and ride or die by it, you’re going to have a lot of different players going out there with their own idea of how to win. Because of this, they are constantly together and talking about how to address issues and what people’s jobs are in an environment that everyone hears and knows exactly what they and their teammates are doing and can be on the same page. I have had the pleasure of being at several events in the same hotel as them, and I’ve come to expect seeing them in the lobby or conference room for several hours every night, discussing the field and the matches they’ve played or will have to play. This part is no exaggeration. There are times when my own team gets back to the hotel and these guys are in the lobby with layouts (maybe a projector). We shower, do laundry, leave to get food, return after eating and they are still going at it. Teams that take it this serious and miss no details, even bringing up things that they may already all know just to be sure the group collective conscience is on the same page, will be hyper prepared. These teams will not stumble upon the wins with good luck, individual efforts stepped up or some iffy ref calls; they will dominate and deserve the wins. And we have seen these kind of dominant Sunday games and finals wins a few times this year. I’ve seen the other side of this too where a team is playing excellent, maybe in an easier bracket or maybe just prepared for everything they’ve had to deal with so far. This team gets through the meeting in an hour, sometimes less, almost not at their own fault but due to not having many mistakes to go over. Sometimes it is due to them wanting to rush through it to go eat, see friends, or go to sleep early. Either way, it costs them the next day when they run into a new problem that they didn’t address what to do if that possibility happens. With the amount of serious scouting that happens in paintball, there is really no way to not have something more to talk about and figure out together. At a certain point, you have to call it quits because you could go on for hours, and you don’t want to over think it, but not having a long enough meeting to hear out everyone’s important thoughts and view points is just lazy.
- This is really part 2 of number 3. This being together more does not just occur around a paintball field. This also occurs outside the event and practice setting as much as possible. Remember when Dynasty or Trauma first started to make their names? Both those teams were made up of good friends who hung out all the time during the week as well. They were inseparable friends first that happened to play paintball well with each other too. Some of the guys were even roommates, so they literally knew each other inside and out, not just what they see out of each other in a controlled environment on Sunday. Remember when you used to hear of the “Trauma house”. My point exactly, and this could honestly be one of the biggest factors. Dynasty had some rougher seasons, but they are always a contending name year after year, no matter the format changes, because they are a family of guys who interact well with each other and continue to keep chemistry. They were always a great team due to being friends who play with each other, and all they had to do was work on the fundamentals and hone their craft to become the machine they are. Teams created from all over the place, may grab all the best on paper talent there is, but they have the much harder job of making cohesion between all of these honed weapons, and they are limited to the 1-2 days a week to do it. A rec baller can practice the snapshot by himself and get quite proficient in about a year. But it may take a team of semi-pro level players 3 or more full seasons to become a consistent and fully developed machine like team and family. I’d say the first is easier. I’ve been on a team like each of these situations myself. One team did not have the highest caliber players, but we were all long time friends from the same home field, and we hung out enough to trust each other and play very well together, using our teamwork to hide certain physical flaws and short comings. Together we’ve won over a half-dozen leagues in a row and became a dominant regional force. Another time I played for a team with a superstar roster, of literally all the very best upper divisional players from two different areas. We had full sponsorship, great outside support, one of the best coaches on earth, and 12 of the most talented players around, a sure recipe for success even in a grinder semi-pro division. The problem was half the team was from a distant area than the other half, and it limited our time to practice together, and hang out in between. This team did not win events. We won close grinder matches, we had guys who would win points they had no right winning, and we generally went to Sunday. But we never broke even semi finals because our team never became a solid core. Yes this is tough to do in one season already, but the minimal time did not help. We were all friends, but we just didn’t put in the time to mesh to the point of being able to roll with any punches, and overcome the really tough consistent teams that stand the test of time. And yes, there will always be certain guys who are tighter with some then others in every team. However, teams divided in half, or in clicks never become a complete team. Line a may talk smack about line b. Player so and so may have a problem with another and it translates to them not liking talking or playing together on the field. Worse yet, they may not be able to stay objective and bench themselves for that person or put that person in, regardless if they are hot or not, because they don’t like them off the field. They may be teammates through these limited exposures, but they never hang out outside, hash out arguments, see each other’s viewpoints, and become friends. The newer version of this is seen on Impact (and can be said for Heat as well). I like to call what these teams are doing “reverse engineering a team”. I’m not sure if they know that this is what they are doing (although I don’t doubt it as these managers are very smart men), but it’s a great methodology used in teams in other sports that are meant to stay together long-term. They are finding the players that they want to make part of their arsenal, and developing them into a family. I’m sure most of you remember seeing pictures and videos of Sarge bringing the Heat guys on adventures before or after events just to get them together and hanging out, enjoying life and really appreciating each other more. I have a buddy who’s been to the Heat house for vacations and always tells me about what a great time they all have together. When its paintball time, they are serious, but when it’s not, they have an absolute blast. I’ve been fortunate enough to hang out with the Impact guys a few times after events, including after their Vegas win, and comradere doesn’t begin to describe it. These guys are not just athletes doing what they’re paid to do. They are having the time of their lives together, and celebrating each other! In every conversation, you only hear the positive, the shared stories of what happened, and the respect and appreciation toward each other and their manager for what they get to do. They all seem to be the best of buddies; just happy that this is the way they get to have fun together. The core Canadians have made the American pickups family on and off the field. There are no clicks, there is no complaints about play time, and they all see the bigger picture and act as one, knowing that any part is still the team and as long as your on the podium, the individual ego doesn’t matter. Doing your job for the teammate next to you or because the coach says so is a great behavior and shows loyalty and dependability. But it’s a lot easier to fight your ass off to see the smiles of all your friends around you after you win. That feeling is unparalleled. When all you know is the people around you’s lows and highs during an adrenaline packed sports event, you may not really learn how to deal with them. When you get to become good friends over nights downtown and laughs in new places together, you learn exactly what makes your teammates tick. And this comes to your advantage when you need to know how to bring two different people back up, or settle them down. What works for one may not work for the others.
So now we have talked about the real things that lead to a paintball team becoming a winning team. Let me explain why the argument that money buys wins is a lazy excuse.
Your possible initial thought is…..”Well Joe B, you’ve made some valid points, but hanging out together on cruises, or party buses downtown, weeks spent together hanging out between events (when this may only be possible if you don’t work typical jobs), guys who spend more than 1 day a week of field time together…doesn’t this all take money? Yes, but not a mega budget of money. You can do this all quite easily with creative, efficient problem solving, and the use of time.
First of all, some may argue that if they had a $1 million dollar a year budget, they could grab the players they want, get them unlimited paint, and they would have simply less of a chance at losing then winning. This is wrong because you can shoot all the paint in the world each weekend, and not be practicing the right way. Yes, there is a proper way to practice and there is a way to play a lot of paintball with little productivity. If all you do is drills, you’ll have a laser sharp team of robots, but they may not know the field layout well enough. If all you do is play points, your team may know the layout very well, but they may be missing the finer points. This team could play a million points with the know how of what to do, but if they never drill, they may not be able to execute well enough to take on other solid teams. This team could also play a million points but only play themselves or one team and not know how to handle the dozens of other looks they will run into. Wasted paint…. And lastly, after so many points per day, players will begin going through the motions and doing what they have found effective, or risking not only over confidence and comfort, but also injury from burying something into the ground too much and past the point of fatigue.
The final point to your paid players argument is this. Some players will play their asses off for a team offering a full ride. They will do anything and everything to continue earning that free ride and appreciate it because of a variety of reasons like knowing the struggle of paying for high level paintball out-of-pocket from doing it before or simply not being able to afford to play any other way with the expenses of their normal lives. They’ll play very hard for a team that they have to pay for, but even harder for this kind of incentive. Put these players around a lot of other guys their own caliber that make them stay competitive and actually needing to earn their spot and you have a nice combination. These are some of the best guys to have! However there is the other half of those guys who get paid for. They either A. wont appreciate it, take it for granted, feel entitled to it, etc. due to several reasons. They may be well off and really not care about if they had to pay either way; maybe they have always been paid for and forget that others don’t get that. Maybe they have no competition for their spot and know that whether they win or lose, they still get paid. They will vary the event to event due to their own motivation because even if they go through the motions, they are safe. And there’s the flip side of this coin, guys who will play much harder if they are paying for it out of their own pocket. I’m sure you know these guys when you pick them up and after you lose an event. You’ll hear them tell others “well, we lost, but I don’t really care because it was all covered and just fun for me anyway.”. But sometimes you get these guys to pay and now their mindset is more of an investment. “I paid 400 bucks for this event, so I’ll do everything I can to get us out of prelims and at least make this event worth more than 4 matches”. They will work far harder when they’re own money is on the line, as opposed to the first type who will work harder to not disappoint someone who is paying for them and make them feel like they were wasted money.
Now I offer you all the solutions to never have to use the “we don’t have enough money to build a winning team” excuse, no matter what division you are. Starting with the more obvious, how to practice more productively. You do need to practice every weekend to be a serious competitive team, and probably should both days. You don’t however need a skid of paint each practice. Play points, but with limited paint to get to the mid game quicker. We know you can win games by closing after a good breakout. We know you can shoot 10 pods through zones and slow the field enough to methodically break the game down. But what happens when you’re all down to your last pod and still need to break the game open? Play with less paint and you’ll get to this pivotal point of the game quicker. Aside from this, play longer days. Take the time to discuss between points, rather than rushing to shoot through your day’s worth and get home. Its Sunday right? You play paintball right? You’ve got nothing else to do and at least one (if not two) day dedicated to this…use it up. Take a lunch break if you have to, or make it two sessions, but play as much of the day as possible with as much talking as possible, and remember this is not only to work on the on field stuff, but also helps with that chemistry thing we talked about. Hang out and be around each other more and have more time for dialogue. Finally, divide your paint up into sections and do things other than just points. With a typical high-level team, 10 cases of paint could last as little as 10 or even fewer points (we all know those layouts). Those same 10 cases of paint could also be used for 8 hours of drills. It takes a long time to shoot off a hopper of paint doing 1 ball snap drills, and 3-ball run and gun drills (trust me). Especially if you’re not just wildly whipping off shots and going through the motions, but actually taking your time, working on your flaws, using proper form, and focusing on micro improvements. Each players case can be used for a lot longer than each player using their case for points. You can also cut out some of your points and play situational drills with a pretty low amount of paint. These are going to happen at events, you should learn to deal with them and deal with them well and consistently. 1 min. games, 3v2’s, and points designed to practice quick decisive closing after you get an advantageous break are just a few to start implementing. Once again, knowing how to win games 5 alive with all the paint in the world is great, but its better to learn how to win in every other scenario that can and will happen at the event. The very best teams know this and do this.
The more important solution for making a team break its current plateau (and you’ve probably guessed it by now) is spending more time together to build chemistry! This doesn’t have to be fancy, and doesn’t need money. The very best teams all have excellent chemistry right? So practice this EVEN MORE and I assure you it will be far more valuable than more skids of paint. Longer days at the field together, even if it means slowing it down between sets, or hanging out for a while after. More days at the field, even if it’s with just a case or two between everyone to do drills for an hour or two. If you really have a budget issue, realize it’s not the amount of paint, it’s how you’re using it, and learn to practice more efficiently and specialized. More days together OFF the field! Plan affordable team trips out to other activities like bbq’s, camping, concerts, parties, go karts, lazertron, literally anything! Just get the squad together more often and strengthen those friendships so that your team stands the test of time, good season or bad, and learn each other at that next level needed to begin playing off each other with great communication, or even unspoken communication and body language chemistry. Stay together at the same spot during events or away practices, walk around the events together, invite everyone out when you have a good idea. I can assure you that becoming a family is just as important as honing the skill sets of a group of players when it comes to making a winning team. If you still feel your budget is holding you back even with it going a lot further now, then you need to focus on this later part even more! Want to have your team players win for each other? Make them interact more, become a family and become important to each other on and off the field, and let nature do the rest.
And there you have it. Money doesn’t make top teams win. Great teamwork through chemistry from lasting bonds, and working for each other not just with each other, is what makes top teams win.