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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Recon Magazine: A Case for the Defense

originally published in issue 3:2 of RECON Magazine 

There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of grabbing the flag and running it back to your base for the win. The sound of paintballs whizzing past your head like angry bees as you make the dash for glory or the ear to ear grin as your teammates' congratulate you in the staging area are feelings that are hard to replace. In paintball, as with many other sports, glory goes to the offense and barely a mention is made of the defense. Yet the defense can, and often does, determine the outcome of the game.

Everyone wants to silently stalk the other team, scoring that perfect elimination to win the game. Let's face it, sitting in the bushes and guarding the flag on a hot summer day, waiting for the other team to show up, bugs crawling up your nose, legs cramping, mask slowly fogging from the top down, can really suck. It can also be very stressful waiting as your marker remains tucked into you shoulder. Every sound could be 10 players trying to flank you. Your mind is racing with a thousand things can could go wrong while at the same time hoping that something happens soon because you have a full hopper, four full pods and 3000psi of air that you just gotta use.

The offense may get the accolades but the establishment and execution of a well-planned defense can make the difference between victory and defeat on the paintball field. The importance of defense changing the outcome of a battle can be seen throughout military history. Perhaps the best known example of defense turning the tide of a campaign can be found in the recent film 300 based on Frank Miller's graphic novel about the battle of Thermopylae.

In 480 BC a Greek force of 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians and 6000 Greek allies led by King Leonidas of Sparta defended the pass of Thermopylae against a force of over 2,500,000 Persian invaders. The forces under King Leonidas delayed the Persian army's advance for four days and inflicted casualties greatly disproportionate to the size of the defending Greek army. The delay gave the remaining Greek forces time to prepare their defenses and ultimately defeat the Persians. The battle of Thermopylae has been used throughout history as an example of the advantages of training, equipment and good use of terrain to maximize an army's defensive abilities.

The lessons of strategy and teamwork applied to defense learned in the pass of Thermopylae two and a half millennia ago can be applied directly to the paintball field, today. A group of players heading out on the field to defend the base without a plan will have little chance of success. A great football coach and player motivator teaches that, people who work together will win. The key to any effective defense is teamwork and coordination.

Not all defensive tactics will work in every situation. The defenders must work as a coordinated unit with the knowledge and ability to change tactics as the need arises.

Alamo Defense
Typically used by walk-on players at the local field, the Alamo or Line in the Sand Defense is the easiest of all defensive tactics to implement, requiring little in the way of coordination from the defenders. The idea behind this tactic is simple; pick a bunker, watch, and shoot anything that moves. The defenders each have their own area of responsibility and don't communicate with the others or have any fallback positions. Once the attack starts the defenders will stand and fight until they, or the attackers are eliminated.

Layered Defense
The layered defense consists of lines of defenders positioned out from the base toward the opposing force, much like ripples on a pond moving out from a stone's splash. When the attacking force punches through one layer of defenders they will run smack into another layer. The constant attrition of fighting through layer after layer of defenders to get to the flag will grind the attack to a halt and allow the remaining defenders to counter attack and go on the offensive.

Lazy D
Vince Lombardi once said, "On the goal line, the defense must attack." These simple eight words are the premise behind the Lazy D. In the Lazy D, defending players initially offer only a token resistance, allowing the attacking players to overwhelm and envelope the base. Once the base is overrun the defenders spring their trap and ambush the attacking players. Crucial to the success of the Lazy D is the defenders' counter attacking at the same time and, since the opposing force will have the flag, closing off any route of escape.

Loose Perimeter Defense
Spreading the defenders loosely throughout the area yet close enough to the base to be able to collapse on the base, or shift the area of concentration as the attack develops is the premise behind the Loose Perimeter Defense. This tactic makes the defending force seem much larger than it is as defenders will seem to be in all areas at once. With only a small number of defenders engaging at any one time, the defenders who make initial contact must communicate the attacking force disposition and intentions to the other defenders. Defenders not engaged will then have an opportunity to adjust their positions to best engage and eliminate the opposing force.

Advanced Perimeter Defense
Elements of different defensive tactics can be combined to create an unbreakable defensive position. Setting a layered defense close to the base with a few defenders loosely deployed in advance of the main body is the Advance Perimeter Defense. The players in advance positions engage the attacking force with the intention of eliminating two attackers for every defender. This advanced contact will take the element of surprise away from the attacking force. Additionally this contact will take the momentum out of the attack as the numbers of the opposing force are diminished before they can reach their main assault line. The defenders set in the layered positions will now, thanks to the advance contact, know the opposing force direction of advance and approximate numbers.

Defensive Set Up 101
Regardless of the tactic used in defense there are a few basic principles to defensive set up that should be followed.

Interlocking fields of fire - Defenders must be able shoot the maximum amount of paint at the attacking players from different directions. The more markers capable of firing at the opposing force at one time the more likely are the defenders to succeed.

Clear line of sight / line of fire - The defending players must be able to see and engage the attacking players at the longest range possible. Long range line of fire is essential for slowing the opposing team's advance and scoring eliminations before the attackers can coordinate and move forward to optimal range.

Displace and Re-engage - The defending players must, once their initial positions become untenable, be able to break contact and pull back to a new defensive position to resume the defense. An effective defense is fluid and changing. Be prepared to adjust as the opposing force changes tactics.

Communicate - A player's position is known when in contact with the opposing force. Players in contact should be screaming out information about the attackers for everyone to hear. This will help the other defenders know what is going on and demoralize the attackers since their plans and disposition are now known by everyone.

The more you practice defense the less likely the other side will be able to break through your line. Practice different defensive strategies with your team and don't be afraid to improvise and try new tactics. If the other team cannot get your flag, you cannot lose. 

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