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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Drills SPPL Success

originally published in issue 3:4 of RECON Magazine

A few teams have stepped up since the inception of the SPPL to dominate the field, but any team with the right combination of skills, determination and heart can win in this league. The SPPL is the first venue to allow hardcore competitive woodsball teams to stand up and prove themselves against the best in the game, all in the spirit of sportsmanship.

Whether you're a veteran to the two-year-old Scenario Paintball Players' League, or a new player getting your feet wet in a qualifier for the first time, this multi-part, exclusive series will give you what you need to know to compete.

To succeed in the SPPL, as with any competitive sport, you must practice and hone your skills individually and as a team. In the SPPL, one superstar cannot win the game, but three players with substandard basic paintball skills can spell disaster on the field. Before you even start to think about successful tournament strategies, take time to fine-tune the basic skills of every player on your team.

Your team might have perfected more sweeping and advance-to-contact maneuvers than the Marine Corp has people with short hair cuts, but if you can't hit the target with a paintball, you may as well not bother playing the game. You can dump hoppers full of paint to score a single elimination, but protracted gun fights are counter-productive in time-sensitive respawn games. If you are bogged down in a fight, you have stopped moving, which means you can't possibly win the game. The most important aspects of the SPPL are capturing bases and finding props, not gun-fighting every player on the field to score eliminations.

For SPPL success, practice the basic skills required to play paintball. Practice them over and over again until they become second nature. The best teams are built on a foundation of solid skills, and the core skills needed for the SPPL are the same skills used every time you step on the field: shooting, moving and moving while shooting.

Target of Opportunity Drill
In woodsball, a target can present itself at any time and from almost any direction. These are referred to as "targets of opportunity." You were not expecting to see the target, but since you have the opportunity, you must make the most of the situation. When this occurs, you must be able to quickly eliminate the target or suppress the target long enough to withdrawal. The Target of Opportunity Drill is incredibly simple but surprisingly effective. Set an empty paintball case on the ground approximately 50 feet away with an unobstructed line of sight / line of fire from your position. Using an empty paintball case works well since the bottom of the box is roughly the same size as a person's torso. All paintball shots should be aimed at the center of the torso, as it offers the most area to hit. If you're aiming for the torso and the ball lands off-center, you may still clip the players arm or shoulder.
To begin the drill, stand as if you are walking with your marker at the ready, pointed in a direction 30 to 90 degrees away from the box. You should be able to see the box out of the corner of your eye, but should not point your marker or body toward the box. Have a teammate yell 'Now'. Quickly turn and shoot one ball at the box. Return to your original position. Repeat the drill until you can hit the box five times in a row.

When you can successfully hit the box five times, repeat the drill from a kneeling position, then the prone position, changing the start angle from between 30 and 90 degrees to the target. When you have that mastered the drill, do it again from the start, this time using your weak hand.

Proficiency in shooting with your weak hand not only helps make you a more rounded player, it helps you shoot better with your strong hand. When shooting with your weak hand, you think about the mechanics of movement more, since it "feels funny".

The drill sounds overly simple, and it is. If you cannot turn your body and consistently hit a stationary target 50 feet away that is in plain view, you will have no chance to hit a moving person 75 to 100 feet away who is trying to avoid you and may be partially obscured by trees or brush.

Run and Gun Drill
Watch the players at your field who say they can run and gun. In most cases, they are simply pulling the trigger as fast as they can while trying to run toward cover. They have no idea where they are shooting and are just as likely to shoot a crow out of a tree as to eliminate an opposing player. To play effectively, you must learn to move as quickly as possible while still being able to put paintballs on target.

Keep the Run and Gun Drill simple, too. Place three or four empty paintball boxes on the field, spaced so that as the shooter loses sight of one target, the next comes in to view. If that's not possible because of space or terrain constraints, number the boxes before starting the drill, then choose a path through the course.

The first time through the drill, walk and shoot one ball per second. Don't stop walking. Keep shooting until you hit each box once. Every time the course is successfully completed, start again, increasing your running speed and the number of balls per second. The drill is most effective if you keep the marker on semi, because it teaches you trigger control. When you can run through the course at full speed hitting at least half of the boxes, start the process over shooting with your weak hand.

Fire and Move Drill
SPPL games are played on fields that are, at the minimum, as large as two football fields. That's a lot of space and, with only 10 players on each side, it gives players plenty of room to move around. Make use of it.

The hardest part of practicing the Fire and Move drill is you cannot teach a person exactly when to move. It's more instinct than science. This drill-through trial and error--can provide players with a better sense of when to move. On successful completion the drill will, hopefully, give your team the confidence to move aggressively up the field.

During SPPL games, you will most likely work in small groups of two or three, so practice the Fire and Move Drill with only two players.

Have one teammate get behind a bunker downfield with a full hopper, ready to shoot. This will be the defender.

Have the two attacking players line up in full gear with no paint. The attackers will not be shooting. The defending player will shoot one ball at any attacker that is visible, but cannot shoot again until the first ball has broken (only one ball in the air at a time). He should alternate shooting between both attackers. It is important that the defender shoots only one ball at a time. This gives the attackers enough opportunity to move, allowing them to practice the drill and build their confidence.

If an attacker is not being watched or shot at by the defender, he must take that opportunity to move up.. Once in the new position, the attacker should keep an eye on the defender and wait for the other attacker to move. By alternating move and pause, the attackers will quickly close in on the defender. Continue the drill until one of the attackers has passed the defender's position.

Regardless of how many times an attacker is hit, continue the drill to completion. The purpose of the drill is to learn how and when to move. The paint being shot by the defender motivates the attackers while they work on timing their movements.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Standing in a corner of the field shooting paint at a box for hours while your friends are running around the woods having fun playing paintball may seem like a waste of time, or even a boring way to spend your weekend. But the only way to be your best and increase your chances at winning an SPPL qualifier is to practice, practice, practice.

Before your team can move on to more complicated maneuvers, all players should be confident in their individual basic paintball skills. Stepping on to the field at an SPPL Qualifier and knowing that your team can out-move and out-shoot any other team may be the boost you need to make it all the way to the SPPL finals!  

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