So you want to play Pro?


As you stare down the barrel of your decision, are you standing at the crossroads or diving headlong into a freefall? Not to worry, PRO Paintball has your back with a road map, sound advice, and even a reality check.

With all the negative talk, economic uncertainty, and ‘woe is me’ that surrounds paintball these days, YOU have decided you can and will play Pro paintball. It wasn’t an easy decision to come to. Yet, here you are, resolved and committed. Done and done!

Um . . . not so fast. You do have a plan right?

Paintballs aren’t exactly falling from the sky as in free ones. Then there is that sticky obstacle of not living and playing on the (fill in the blank) Coast. Given that the closest Pro team is a gazillion miles away, your objective is formidable.

Yet you’ve been playing for a while now, have come up through the ranks, and consistently doing work. So just where do you need to focus your energies to get your skill set to the Pro level? On the physical or tangible side of things, we want to take a look at a set of skills that you would do well to hone. Similar to baseball, we call these . . . .

The Five Tools of Paintball

Run & Shoot Think about it this way. You cannot outrun a paintball. With your gun up not only can see movement down field, it can help you make your spot by making the other guy flinch or tuck in. Also, accurately shooting on the run provides an opportunity to get a kill. Taking ground AND getting an elimination put your team in a good position to win the game.

There are times when you just have to get there. These bunkers tend to be shorter runs with a big enough gap for the laner to turn and shoot. But having the ability to run and shoot accurately is a valuable tool to have in your arsenal. The two main areas for this skill are off the break and the first three steps out of a bunker.

The key to building this skill is quality reps that require good mechanics. Take running to the corner for instance. Having your gun stable right off the post. The early balls need to be in the kill zone.

A common mistake players make when working on this skill is to try to run to fast right off the bat. Slow it down, get it dialed in, and THEN gradually speed it up.

Laning Getting G’s off the break may not be sexy, but wow, does it make life easier. It is also one of the most underrated skills in the game. Good, consistent laners are very valuable. Your team automatically has the advantage when you drop a body this way.

As a back player, having a consistent kill rate off the break is a touchstone of your ability. If you are a front player, you should take time at the end of practice to work on it. The best laners in the game employ a whole subset of skills.

They will recognize when lanes are worth bursting and then switching or staying on the main cut. They can put paint up to forty yards away in spots that can’t be avoided. They will also recognize body posture to adjust where a runner is going.

Laning percentages will be higher than running and shooting generally speaking because the player behind the gun is stable and not having to adjust for his own movement. Front players should work on this skill as you get a better perspective of what the laner sees. IF you lane well, some teams like to slingshot a front player on a delay just to mix it up.

The key here is without a doubt practice. Experience is another key element as you get a feel for the where the runners are going.

Versatility is playing different spots effectively. The ability to do multiple tasks on the field makes any player more valuable to his team. There are several components that come into play here.

Let’s use the example of playing the one on the snake side. Having the ability, at least in practice to play across field on the doritos side on your feet does a couple of things.

It gives you a perspective of how you are being seen from the snake. You also get a good sense of the speed that the other side will tend to play.

Being familiar and comfortable with the other side of a given layout also provides another competent body for that position. Sometimes due to an injury or sub-par play, an adjustment is needed. Your ability to be versatile makes the roster that much more flexible.

We would be remiss not to mention an often overlooked part of being versatile. Chances are you will never hear a paintball crowd chanting “Defense!” Still, the ability to hold a team off, down on bodies and burn a penalty can be the difference in winning and losing.

If you want to see what players on a team are their best defensive players, watch a game under these conditions. They are playing down one with a penalty, winning by one with 1:20 to go in the game.

One last thought about versatility. It shows a willingness to be a team player. We’ve seen lots of players list ‘everywhere’ as their position, but not many work at it. Become proficient with it. The biggest key here is to not box yourself in as a (this or that) position player.

Beyond that you want to systematically work the various positions. Being ready even when your team may not tend to use you that way says you’re prepared and talented enough to do so.

Impact kills per game ratio, getting up the field. At least one Pro team has as a tenet to their “Rules of Two” that front players get two kills every time they step on the field. It’s an impossible average over a season, but it does focus those players on their job. It can be done in stretches and during key games.

There will be instances where a front player just needs to hold the position and stay alive. Possessing the impact quality is tempered by recognizing your team’s needs at that moment. The goal is that when you walk ON the field, players on the other side are walking OFF.

The rule of two is the kind of mindset an impact player will have. Occasionally, you’re going to get a three-piece or even a four-piece. There will be games where you’re shot on the break. Some players seem to have a better knack for it than others, but getting G’s is the name of the game.

The key to building this skill is to know the shots on a given layout. Working on those shots accurately. Also, keeping focused on the objective, taking the other teams players off the field. Not being out of control or forcing it, but taking advantage of every opportunity.

Communication Have you ever been so focused on a task that when someone spoke you didn’t hear a word they said? Then you can appreciate how difficult it can to be to communicate during a paintball match.

One meaning of communicate is the ‘interchange of information’. On the paintball field, that’s not easy. As noted it involves talking and listening. Good communication, once again can change a game. Relaying a change of field position by the other team will allow your team to readjust.

With regard to the receiving or listening end of this skill, here is a basic tip. If you’re in line of sight of your coach or teammate, a simple nod of acknowledgment suffices. Sometimes you find a player who has the reputation for talking constantly during a match. That’s good IF . . . it’s clear enough to be understood.

When relaying information, doing so in picture blocks makes it easier to hear and assimilate. An example would be where the snake corner, dorito corner, and home bunkers are occupied. Instead of calling them individually, ‘three across the back’ is concise and builds a mental image quickly.

The key to building good communication is to do it during practice, make it a second natured response. It needs to be natural for you to the point that you can focus on your job and it not affect your concentration.

Specific Practice

Some of the hardest things to work on are ones your weakest at. Generally, we like to practice what we are good at. But to become a complete player and even put yourself in the discussion of making a Pro roster, you need a range of abilities.

Several years back, one paintball player spent an entire summer playing left handed (his so called off-hand) whenever he could. His snap shot actually became quicker and a little more accurate than his right based on drills.

The key to the above was the timing. This was worked on before becoming Pro. There are many areas where this direct improvement approach can work.

One example that a lot of young players have a tendency to do is running to upright. Being flexible, body lean, and first step explosion are three ways to improve your body mechanics and quickness. This applies to the breakout and moving from bunker to bunker.

Have a plan. Making a checklist is a good way to keep track of your workouts. If you don’t know a drill that can help you improve a particular skill, ask someone who knows. The national events have all the Pro players and coaches right there. The vast majority of them are easy to approach and talks to. Be specific, not just “how can I become a Pro player?”

Mental Toughness

Here are a couple of thoughts on mental toughness. When we think back over past and current players who were solid Pro players, there are some common threads.

Namely, they tend to let their play on the field do their talking. Another is rarely do you hear them talk down about another Pro player. Still another example is they are not self-promoting. What I mean by that is you don’t see them throwing their name out on message boards or chat boxes.

It is a safe bet, no make that a lock that you will never get picked up or looked at by doing such. So how does that apply to mental toughness? In this way; any endeavor you undertake involves uncertainty. There are few guarantees and certainly none when it comes to playing Pro paintball.

However, having the inner confidence to fight through those times where doubt creeps in, staying focused on the goal and the task at hand. That takes mental toughness.

You are never going to have 100% support. Especially when attempting to play at a level that has limited availability. It takes a resolve that win or lose; you are going to give it your best shot. Even then, there is another matter to be aware of.

The Reality Check

Ok we are not going to lie. The odds are not in your favor. There are 120 roster spots in the PSP Pro Division this season and approximately 112 (8 times 14 teams) in NPPL Pro. Even with some 232 spots, six of those teams and many other Pro players cross over playing both leagues.

Should this diminish your determination? Well, if it does then you already knew the outcome right? What you want to come away with is that down the road when the window to play Pro has passed, you have no regrets. No regrets that you should have done this or tried that.

It is true that there is a glut of pro and semi-pro players due to contraction of teams and upper divisions. The key is to focus on your abilities and your opportunities. When we look at the PSP MAO Pro roster, when did these players make the jump to Pro?

Of the 123 roster spots, 29 players or 24% came out of D3 or D2.  Some Owners, coaches, and captains tend to look at taking talent they can mold themselves. So it does happen.

For the right kind of ball player, odds like these are just that much more of a challenge. We can’t promise you that employing these suggestions and developing these skills WILL land you on a Pro roster. What we can tell you is that, these will without a doubt improve your chances.

Now What?

To be clear, we are not advocating dropping everything your doing. An education, developing a good work ethic and appreciating family are the kind of staples that will have the most lasting impact on your life. With that said, you want to play Pro and we dig that!

So after reading over this article, what would YOU say is something you need to do in conjunction with these directives? That’s right! Be in great physical condition. It takes hard work to get there. We have seen numerous ‘flash in the pans’ that end up not sustaining a Pro career. So that should tell you it’s not over by just reaching that level, it still requires work and dedication.

To be sure, there another set of skills that you’ll need to employ if you want to get to the Pro level. They are the intangibles. They can’t be measured with a stop watch and you will never see them charted on a layout. But without them, your game is not complete.

Be sure to catch part two of “So You Want to Play Pro‘ when PRO Paintball breaks down “The Mind Game”.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Hickey Photography