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Since this is my first article for Social Paintball, I might as well start out with our sport’s fundamentals. One of the problems we seem to have is an acute shortage of people who really know what they are doing, leastwise in terms of being able to explain and teach paintball’s true fundamentals.

Of course, all of our sport’s basics need to be integrated into our understanding and, in most cases; commonsense leads the way in determining how everything dovetails back together. Mind you we often witness in our sport dazzling examples of bull-crap where people default to talking bollocks rather than applying some commonsense principles.

It seems some people just love to hear the sound of their own voice and spout absolute nonsense; the tragedy is, whoever is on the receiving end of that clap-trap has no real way of knowing what’s right and what’s wrong.

Our sport is a bit like when people drive a car, a lot of people obviously do drive but just how many really know the technical details of how that car works?

The answer is not that many I’m afraid …. A lot of people may be aware the car has an engine, a steering wheel and maybe even people know most cars have a chipped management system to help run and monitor the car but they know zip about it other than its existence. But to be fair, you don’t need to know how it works to drive the damn thing.

Even at the top end of our sport, the pro players, a lot of them anyway, just play the game as opposed to understanding it and just like the car driver; our pros have no real need to understand the complexities of playing to be able to play. As a general rule of thumb though, pro players will understand a lot more than the average player but even so, a lot of pros still do not possess a comprehensive understanding.

That said, the fundamentals of paintball are astoundingly simple; players tend to make a mistake when they try to prioritize things like technical play, tactical play, fitness, communication and so on. We have to come up with a list of priorities so we can correctly list the aspects of the game we need to focus on when training.

Training time needs to be as inexpensive as possible, it’s a drain on resources and time, and we really do need to make the best of training together. The ethos we employ is termed ‘reductionism’ and to achieve this we need to identify all specific elements and then understand them before we attempt any reconstruction. Hopefully this article will help you guys appreciate what you really need to focus on when playing or training.

One of the more enduring misconceptions our sport harbors is the notion that ‘communication’ and ‘tactics’ are some of the most important skills of playing. This unfortunately just isn’t the case and if I had a buck for every time I have heard players from all levels of our sport waffle on how tactics and/or communication are the most important things a player needs to do, I’d be disgustingly rich. I have heard many players suggest that communication and tactics are the two most important features of paintball play but as I will hopefully show you, communication and tactics are mere pretenders to the throne; we have two other skills that take first and second place.

A long time ago, and in another galaxy, I used to teach mathematics and one of the things I always liked about mathematics was its ability to avoid bullshit and to provide proof by logical reasoning. I like mathematics because it’s unambiguous and unpretentious.

There’s not much room for any cynics when you state 2+2=4 however, it is impossible to state, ‘I think tactics are the most important skill one has to learn to be a better player’, without being challenged with differing opinions.

Opinions have an element of faith; facts such as 2+2=4 are immutable. For those of you who are mathematics graduates, I’m well aware of the sum above requiring the use of axioms and complex numbers to prove 2+2=4 but for the purposes of this article, axioms and set theory are not required.

In fact, you cannot teach anything unless the curriculum you are concerned with is built upon sound foundations. In mathematics, those foundations are proofs. These are the most basic building blocks of mathematics and everything taught from thereon in is therefore validated as long as the subject that is being taught remains within the mathematical remit of those proofs. Paintball, interestingly enough, isn’t that dissimilar.

I try to apply that same commonsense logic to paintball, it doesn’t always work and I fall flat on my ass looking like a right pillark, but for the most part it helps us all to understand and appreciate the necessary interdependencies of paintball’s elements. This all sounds a bit grandiose and pretentious but just because I am indulging in what looks like an academic exercise, this doesn’t undermine the relevance of this approach to our sport. I don’t like bull-shitters, if I say something regarding paintball, then I can prove it.

And so, the first thing I need to do is to define the terms I am going to use, those being communication, tactics, playing tight, and accuracy of shot. Using these terms, I will hopefully prove to you guys the correct priority they take on a paintballer’s list of ‘must-dos’.

My working definition of ‘tactics’ is the area of paintball that concerns itself with a team’s plan of action that is decided upon before the game starts.

Tactics can take the form of playing aggressively or deciding to play counter-punch paintball which basically means, you wait for the opposition to make a move and try to eliminate them as they break cover. Tactics can also mean your team decides to push the snake side more than the other or when you are going to push, all these are classified as tactical considerations.

Accuracy of Shot
This is a skill, it can be best understood by stating, a player’s ability to shoot his marker as accurately as is possible, the more accurate, the greater the skill, simple!

I think this one’s dead easy as it covers the area of play that concerns itself with players talking to each other whilst playing. I am going to disregard any sign-language communication because it’s not relevant here. Things like acknowledging kills and their location is important as well as game info that identifies problems or to alert players to push one area of the field. Communication is like a fine thread that connects different parts of the team at any one time.

Playing Tight
This is another skill because it is an emergent property of your target profile as presented to your opposition. If you got yer big fat blimp ass hanging outside of a bunker, you get what you deserve; you get lip up like Vegas at Christmas time.

Playing tight is what a player does in terms of positional play (remaining still whilst shooting) and when moving; obviously the faster you move between bunkers, the lesser a chance your opponents have of hitting you. This can also be classified as tightness of play; it can also cover the way you get into your chosen bunker, if you dive in like a frikkin gannet, you’re going to make it harder for your opponent to tag you.

In all my years of playing, I never dived once; I sorta collapsed into the bunkers like a 220 pound pork pie. Okay, now we have our terms defined, I can get on with the proof.

I am going to indulge myself in what’s called the Socratic method of teaching which is achieved by asking questions and then those answers provoking the next questions.

Now, before I proceed, I wanna make a quick point; paintball is a sport, as we know; it has many factors involved and if we wanna successfully teach our sport then we need to conduct experiments, and unlike chemistry, it’s not as if we can shove 10 ballers in a test-tube and heat it up over a Bunsen burner. Lucky for us, Einstein showed us the way when he conducted thought experiments as he wrestled with the problems associated with general relativity. Ole Albert wasn’t able to shove space-time in a test-tube and so he had to conduct his experiments in his head.

And so, a lot of what I am going to do now with you guys is going to be imagining suggested circumstances and then learning from that thought process. I apologize if that sounds a bit pretentious and over the top but this is the best way to learn the theory.

Okay, here we go, imagine a team who goes out onto the field of play and they all remain behind their primary bunker positions; the question I am now going to ask here is, ‘Is it impossible for that team to win the game’? The reason I ask this is, if we prevent people moving, then this negates what we tend to classify as ‘tactical play’. It’s certainly not impossible to win; it might be harder but certainly not impossible.

In fact, back in the day, when I used to play for the All Americans against teams like Aftershock or the Ironmen, we used to sit behind our primaries and try to kill as many of the others as possible and then make the moves. We knew damned well Aftershock and the Ironmen would come at us because they were aggressive by nature. Sometimes it worked, sometimes we all got our heads blown off, but we were never known as an aggressive team back then, far from it, we were about as aggressive as a koala bear.

And so, I think we can safely acknowledge that it’s not impossible to win a game by staying behind your bunkers, it’s obviously more difficult but as I said, not impossible.

Of course, when the opposition are all eliminated, you can then leave the bunker and go get the flag but you must remember here, the major part of the game is when you are both trying to eliminate each other and the final clear-up comes after that elimination phase.

Okay, let’s take a look at communication, what about if a team goes out and doesn’t say a damn word to each other, effectively cutting off all communication between themselves, is it impossible to win like that? Once again, it might be more difficult but it ain’t impossible especially when you factor in the players respond to what they see and not just what they are told by others.

Visual stimuli are just as important, if not more than, the audible communication we tend to use. And so it seems, we are able to still win games when not communicating or indeed, employing any ‘tactics’ but even so, is there anything we could justifiably suggest as critical to not losing games?

I believe there are two such factors, these are shooting accurately and staying tight.

If you can imagine a team running out to their bunkers and when they hit their primaries, they look more like a dollop of suet pudding than an athlete. And remember here, our guns shoot from anywhere from ten to fifteen balls a second and if you’ve got anything showing, you’re going to get yer ass handed to you every time. Is it impossible to win when you have a team of fat-ass blimps playing? Damn straight you won’t win, try it and see what happens.

As for our second consideration we are going to take a look at accuracy of shot. Our game is shooting paintballs and not getting shot. This is what paintball is all about in its deconstructed form. And if you can’t hit shit, then you will be taking that loooong lonely walk to the dead box, it’s not even a matter of ‘if’, it’s ‘when’.

Pro players are generally more accurate than the other tiers of paintball players and this is due to one of several things, firstly, they practice more, and secondly, they are just born that way in terms of being able to shoot a gun accurately. I suppose we could introduce a third way and that would be a player who was born a good shooter and he practices more.

If you ever find yourself in a fire -fight with one of these type pro players then I suggest the following maneuver, quickly drop down and sit upright on the floor, pull your legs up toward your chest, push apart your knees and then bend down and kiss your ass goodbye. That always used to work well for me.

I think also, we need to factor in here that most pro teams are going to be playing with extremely good paint and so they don’t have to worry too much about that side of things.

The poor people among us will of course have to shoot what they’ve been given after paying and this can influence many a game direction but for the most part, most players do tend to get good paint.

Okay, where have we gotten now? We have concluded that communication and tactics do not reside in first and second positions of the paintballer’s list of ‘must dos’ and we can reasonably assume this because we can easily envisage games being played where it’s not a certainty you’ll lose. On the other hand, if you don’t have both of the next two ‘must dos’, those being, playing tight and shooting straight, you will most definitely lose.

Well, how does this help us become better ballers? Good question. It shows us the relative value of playing features and suggests we look to practice more on playing tight and shooting accurately than focusing on coming up with tactical plans and coded communication packages. All we are doing here is optimizing our training time and with this knowledge on board, we can, and will improve if you guys adhere to what we have talked about.

Next month we are going to talk about game phases and their relative importance.

Until then, stay tight, shoot straight.

Laters Mortals 🙂