Paintball Builds Character

Paintball Builds Character -by Kurt Dugger, Rives, Tennessee

You see it—30 yards away. A trash can lid hanging in a tree. If you touch it, you win. Sweat is pouring down your face, your lungs on fire from the 100-yard sprint. The other team is dug in ahead. You just want to catch your breath and wait for the clock to wind down. That won’t win the round.

Paintball player with flag.
Paintball player with flag.

You grip your weapon tight in one hand, your flag in the other. Looking at your only remaining teammate, you shout, “Cover me.” He spins from behind the safety of the big oak and starts firing. You charge.

The whole world erupts in chaos. Rounds are smacking trees all around as you fight your way up through the underbrush. Your legs have nothing left but somehow you’re moving forward. Only 20 yards to go. Firing as you move, you hear your teammate cry, “HIT.” Your support is eliminated but he bought you a few precious seconds. Ten yards. You’re going to make it. You reach out then—whack, a familiar sting behind your right shoulder. You raise your arms “Hit.” The other side cheers their narrow victory. Oh well, you’ll take ‘em next round. Reload, relax, and grab some water before you do it all again.

Welcome to paintball, my favorite addiction. Most people I talk to have no idea what it’s all about. From the outside it appears to be a chaotic group of hooligans shooting each other with guns, and that’s never good. Education brings enlightenment, so let’s get this gel-filled biodegradable non-toxic ball rolling.

What is this paintball? What values could a game involving such “violence” possibly teach? Or maybe, how do I get in on this craziness? Paintball is played generally by two teams using paintball guns called “markers” to tag (shoot) their opponents. Winning ranges from the elimination of the other team to grabbing a flag and running it through your opponents to their base.

You can spend as much as you want on a marker, but like in most sports, the athlete is much more important than the equipment. A tough, semi-automatic Tippmann 98 marker can be had for $50 used. I picked up a pair of decent semi-automatics and quite a bit of other gear for $25 at a yard sale. Keep your eyes open.

Markers use either a tank of liquid carbon dioxide, or less commonly, compressed air, to fire a ball at approximately 260 feet per second (FPS). The safety limit in most places is 290 FPS. The ball itself is similar to a gel tablet, hard on the outside and filled with liquid. The paint inside can’t hurt you if swallowed, doesn’t stain clothes, dries to a powder, and washes off trees with the next rain. They can be bought for around $30 for 2000 rounds. The last case I bought lasted over 2 months, including sharing here and there. Compared to a night at the movies, it becomes some of the most inexpensive fun you can have.

Isn’t it dangerous flinging balls of paint at your friends at high speeds? Like any other sport, if it’s done right, there’s very little risk to anyone. The most important (and required) piece of gear will be your Paintball mask. Note: An Airsoft mask is not a paintball mask.

Paintball mask spattered with paint.
Paintball mask spattered with paint.

If you must choose, it’s better to put more money towards your mask and go with a cheaper marker. You get hot playing this game because you are constantly moving. With a cheap mask, the lens will fog over from your body heat in a few minutes. You’ll be almost blind for the duration of the game.

Avoid anything that says “Fog Resistant.” Look for a good “thermal lens” or even better “dual pane thermal lens.” A good “thermal lens” mask can be had for around $30 from Amazon. If it’s approved for paintball, it will provide more than adequate protection. I use a JT Flex and love it. Armor is also available but not required.

Creative thinking, decision making and confidence are life skills learned through paintball. Above all else, though, is firearms safety. Fewer and fewer youngsters are being exposed to firearms. As a result, they are curious but dangerously uninformed about how to respect and handle them safely. Paintball games are an excellent way to learn safe firearms practices. Mistakes are not life-threatening. There are ample watchful eyes of all ages to make sure that all markers are on safe, barrels plugged, and zero marker horseplay between rounds.

Paintball also draws a clear line between games and reality that video games do not. There are rea

Paintball team taking cover during a paintball game.
Paintball team taking cover during a paintball game.

l consequences for every action. For example, “overshooting” your opponent (tagging again intentionally after getting them out) results in being told to leave the field. Most likely you won’t be invited back. There is no reset button here.

Sportsmanship, and respect for others, once called honor, is also of vital importance. If you get caught breaking the rules, your friends will impose whatever penalty is agreed on, which is a humbling attention-getter.

If this sounds like your kind of sport, find a field and spend an afternoon trying something new. Or get in touch with me at We’re always looking for new players of all skill levels and ages to spend an afternoon with.