How we found the best players on our paintball team (Part 1): How it all started

It all started with me saying “You are not fucking prepared!”

Let’s rewind a little before we go there and start with a little background.

The Background

For over 15 years I was involved with paintball in one form or another.

I was:

  • a college paintball player
  • General Manager of Paintball Sports Promotions aka PSP
  • a conference director in the National Collegiate Paintball Association aka NCPA
  • a college paintball coach

For that entire time I was fascinated by how teams beat their competition. It was pretty obvious that some teams were better because they scored more points or received less penalties but other than the things that were easy to see, there wasn’t much to go on.

Which led me to the next question: How do teams pick their rosters? Was it random chance? Watching people play? Choosing the player that showed up to practice most often? I didn’t know. Mostly because I had never coached or managed a team and never had a pool of players to choose from. Even as a college team captain, we usually needed five players and we only had four people with any experience.

The Players

That all changed when I became a college paintball coach. I suddenly was presented with three basic categories of players:

  • Group C: People who had never played before but came to practice all the time
  • Group B: People who has played before but had never been to a tournament and came regularly to practice
  • Group A: People with real tournament experience (regional or above) and who never came to practice

Most of the time, we couldn’t even get the Group A guys to even come to tournaments and while the Group Bs were ok, we certainly weren’t winning lots of matches (we were playing the college version of X Ball).

The captains and coaches always wondered: “How would we do if we actually had Group A guys on our roster?”

Turns out, we were going to find out.

The Event

Magically, we ended up with a roster that looked like the following for one of our events:

  • 5 Group A guys
  • 6 Group Bs
  • 4 Group Cs

Naturally, we thought that starting the A players would be the best idea. As we progressed through our matches, a couple things became pretty clear:

  1. The Group A line was winning just about 50% of their points
  2. They were making some pretty bonehead decisions when it came to match strategy
  3. When we pointed out #2, they told us we didn’t know what we were talking about

“What kind of bonehead decisions?” you might be asking, here is an example:

We are down by one point with a 1:30 left on the game clock. The other team has four players left and we have three.

Our Group A guys just sat there.
No big moves.
No run throughs.

They let the clock run out and guaranteed us a loss.

I was so mad I couldn’t even contain myself. Here were, supposedly, our best players making decisions that went against basic paintball strategy and, on top of that, telling the coaches that we didn’t know what were doing.

The Decision

Which brings us back to the opening quote of this post. At an end of the day team/coaches talk, our Group A players added insult to injury by trying to claim that it “just wasn’t our day”. Since they were very obviously not prepared, I let them have it in no uncertain terms.

In my frustration, it suddenly became clear that tournament experience by itself was not enough to win us matches. Preparation via practice, drills, layout review or some combination of all of those items meant more. The question was how much more?

Right then and there I resolved to find out once and for all: “How do you objectively and empirically determine who the best players on your team are and what is it, specifically, that makes them the best?”

How that all started, will come in Part 2.

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