How we found the best players on our paintball team (Part 7): New vs Old Players

To recap what we’ve covered so far:

If you remember from the first post, one of the main reasons we decided to start keeping statistics is that I really wanted to know how much better our so called “tournament experienced” players were than our players who had little or no tournament experience.

That answer came slowly because over time we discovered that there are a lot of dimensions to what makes a player “good”.

“Pair up in groups of three then line up over there in a circle, alphabetically by height”
-Anonymous Football Coach

In the aforementioned first post, we broke our players down into three categories. The category we were most interested in were the “Category A” guys: players with local, regional and sometimes national level experience. Were they really better than the Cat C players who came diligently to practice?

Before I answer that question, let’s think about what it means to be in each category. If you are Cat A player your story probably sounds like the following:

I started playing on the kids team of a local D1/2 team when I was 14. They were kind of disorganized but overall they had a good direction for the team and practiced if not twice a weekend then at least every other weekend. I went to all the practices, most of the regional events and eventually the PSP events on the D4/D5 team. After a while, I moved up to the D3 team and by the time I was 18 I was playing on the D2 team. This year we’re bumping up to D1 and my goal is to eventually play pro.

Next, we will switch to Cat B players:

I first played at a birthday party when I was 13 and then started playing with some friends of mine pretty much every weekend. We started to play some local tournaments and we lost pretty much every game we played so a lot of my friends stopped playing. However, a couple of us kept going to events and pretty soon we started to doing better. After a while, I got better and started playing with other local teams. Most of the time, the team wasn’t very organized and the roster kept changing so I was usually playing with people I had never met before. Nobody was really ever in charge and it was a bunch of teenagers so whoever yelled the loudest decided what was happening.

Finally, here is Cat C:

I played high school football/basketball/soccer/hockey etc for four years and first played paintball when I was 16/17 at a birthday party. I played with my friends for a couple years and we entered a local tournament or two but that’s pretty much it.

Given the above, hundreds of hours of data collection and processing and thousands of hours thinking about this I can tell you this: every player is both really good at something and really bad at something else. I don’t care what player you choose and and what statistic you are measuring, everyone has a weak spot (at least in college).

If you go back and read the descriptions of the player in each category you can probably guess why. Playing time is the biggest limitation in paintball especially when considered to other sports. It’s pretty easy to set up a pick up basket ball game but you can usually only play paintball on weekends.

Inside of that limitation, you have to pick what you want to work on. If you are a Cat B player, that usually ends up being two things: how to maximize your individual skills and doing what looks good to the people that are selecting teams to go to events.

Why individual skills?

The secret of winning football games is working more as a team, less as individuals. I play not my 11 best, but my best 11.
- Knute Rockne

If you are playing with people you’ve never met before there is not going to be a lot of “teamwork” going on. You don’t have common codes and you certainly don’t know how the other players will react to situations that come up during games. Your best option then is to focus on things that you can control like gun battling and moving yourself up the field. This shows up in the stats as being fantastic in any scenario “less” than a 3v3 e.g. 3v2, 2v2 etc.

Basically anytime one person can win a game by themselves by making the right moves. The fact that these skills are also the “flashiest/look good” is even better because that’s the easiest thing for team managers to use when selecting a team. Given that these managers don’t have an objective system and are going solely on personal observation, that’s the best they can do. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t the best option.

Why? The most common scenario a paintball player will face is a 5v5. The two next common are a 5v4 and 4v5. All three of these require substantially more teamwork than a 3v3 or 2v2. Winning a 4v5 requires patience, discipline, field awareness and tons of communication. These skills don’t look very good and are not easy to see so they tend to be overlooked by most team managers. However, they are the most important purely because they happen the most often.

If you are player trying to maximize your tournament playing time, your obvious choice then is to focus on the skills that are the easiest to display and that team managers are looking for. Since nobody is tracking the statistics that actually have a big impact, why focus on developing those skills?

I’ll give you a specific example: one of our best Cat B players was fantastic at gun battling. He easily won over 60% of his gun battles. This was because he came from playing at an indoor field where quick reaction times pay off a lot. His problem? He was terrible at 5v4s. Like, out 25% of the time terrible. Again, since the team he was on before college played at an indoor field, they selected for and rewarded player who made quick aggressive bumps. That works great in a small, crowded indoor field but not on a regulation sized field.

Because of the above, we realized as time went on that a lot of what we thought of as Cat A guys were really Cat B and that there was quite a lot of variation within each category. What we really needed was some kind of number that could give us an overall view of a player’s effectiveness.

You’ll have to wait for an upcoming blog post to find out how we did that.

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