What if I told you, the players didn't determine the outcome of the game?
With the 2015-16 season on the horizon, the time has come to identify favorites, contenders and dark horses for each region. For the past few years, I've settled into a tired routine, examining graduations and rosters to predict the future. I've weighed the effects of losing players and adding players for countless teams. I've tried to imagine whether chasers can outscore opponents or beaters can command bludger control. I've looked into my crystal ball, wondering about styles of play and matchups. I've guessed about what will happen on the pitch.
I think it's time to take a step back and consider quidditch happenings off the pitch. Beyond chasers, beaters, keepers and seekers, there's an x-factor that determines wins and losses in quidditch. It's not referees. It's not snitches. It's not match-fixers. It's the captains, presidents, coaches, treasurers and executive boards that operate quidditch programs across the country. While bad organization can spoil great opportunities, good organization can open exciting, new possibilities. Without a doubt, well-organized quidditch programs will be the best prepared to navigate the yearlong quidditch season and keep improving throughout the season. Quidditch success is a function of the players and the organization.
The organizational x-factor is not a secret or a new phenomenon. The three-time defending champions at the University of Texas have enjoyed outstanding leadership and organization. Ain't No Ho in Me provided a behind-the-scenes look at how Augustine Monroe and company recruited, trained and guided new players to an improbable World Cup VII title. Last year, New York University shot into the upper tier of quidditch thanks to a rigorous tournament schedule. The early years of all-star community teams were littered with off-field and on-field problems. Lack of cohesion or coordination off the pitch often translated into losses and disappointment. In recent years, poorly-organized college programs have underachieved and experienced persistent roster issues.
I believe off-field organization impacts the success of quidditch programs in three ways. Good organization...
1. Improves recruitment by maintaining an active presence in the local community. From college campuses to communities, quidditch programs work hard to craft a positive reputation. Social media accounts present the best face of the team for potential recruits. When Twitter, Facebook and Instagram depict a close-knit, competitive and talented team, teams are more likely to attract friendly, competitive and talented new players. As teams become more successful, social media accounts begin to look like self-fulfilling prophecies.
2. Provides more opportunities to get better by scheduling more practices and tournaments. Intuitively, highly-organized programs will utilize their organizational skills and load up the calendar. It's no coincidence that the best programs research tournaments months in advance. However, well-organized programs are also highly selective, knowing that excessive travel can overwhelm the team. For great presidents and executive boards, the calendar is a precise recipe that must be meticulously planned. Thinking long and hard about tryouts, practices and tournament schedules is the hallmark of a well-organized program.
3. Inspires confidence and purpose in rank-and-file players. The best quidditch presidents, captains and executive boards are hard-working, dedicated and impressive people. With ambitious, attainable goals, quidditch organizers captivate new recruits and set the tone for the season. As the season progresses, the microscope only tightens on quidditch organizers. Will team leadership stay determined and focused despite the challenges of life and school? Rank-and-file players will be watching closely. Without a doubt, the actions of team organizers rub off on the players. For example, rank-and-file players will be more willing to make sacrifices of time and money for captains and coaches that make similar sacrifices. The difference between overachieving and underachieving begins at the top.
The Organizational X-Factor and the 2015-16 Season
The organization x-factor matters more than ever. As the 2015-16 season kicks off, the organizational edge has swung decisively towards community teams. Until recently, college teams enjoyed an organizational advantage thanks to financial support, easier recruiting and more motivated leadership. First-year community teams could not compete with the organizational machines of Texas, Texas A&M, Emerson and Maryland. However, today's community teams have never been more sophisticated. Community teams have secured sponsorships to finance travel, uniforms and more. The leaders of many community teams appear determined and confident. Operating popular social media accounts, community teams advertise tryouts and fundraisers to the quidditch community. Most impressively, community teams have created B teams and practice squads to accommodate high levels of interest.
Fresh off 2014-15 season victories, the losses of World Cup VII have faded into the history books for community teams. Last year, community teams placed seven teams in the Sweet Sixteen and won regional championships in the Southwest, South and West. Lone Star, Florida's Finest and the Lost Boys are the early favorites to retain their regional titles. And Blue Mountain, QC Boston, the Warriors, Rochester United and DCQC will challenge for regional championships in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes. Community teams won't be invincible. Nevertheless, only highly-organized college programs will stand a chance against today's sophisticated, all-star community squads.
College programs with the organizational x-factor and identity, postgraduates or history will pose the most dangerous threats to community teams. Here's why and which college squads to watch for.
First, community teams should watch out for college programs with strong identities. Identity describes a unique and distinctive style of play that has been mastered by a quidditch team. Shaped by a team's strategies, personnel and temperament, identity should be tweaked throughout the season, but should not be changed. The middle of the season is not the time for an identity crisis. Historically, the strongest identities have become engrained in quidditch vocabulary (the Baylor zone, Kansas-ing). Ball State has perhaps the most recognizable identity today. Easing into a patient, methodical rhythm, Ball State's chasers circulate the quaffle with short, high-percentage passes. When an opening appears, Ball State pounces and collects ten points. If Blue Mountain falters, Ball State will be ready to spring an upset and claim the top spot in the Great Lakes.
Staring down Lone Star and QC Boston, Texas State and Tufts should also benefit from strong identities. With chaser Tyrell Williams and beater Jackson Johnson stepping into larger shoes, Texas State will probably stay loyal handoffs and one-and-half beating. And Tufts will most likely return to the winning combination of Andrew Miller's smart, calculated beating and David Stack's direct, efficient ballhandling. Both Texas State and Tufts know who they want to be. Therefore, both teams can focus on integrating new players into their system.
Second, college programs with postgraduate coaches and players will also be more prepared to defeat community teams. Providing experience and maturity, postgraduates stabilize reloading processes for college programs. From tryouts to practices to tournaments, postgraduates understand that slow and steady wins the race. Last season, Augustine Monroe secured eligibility to play the entire season for Texas and guided the Longhorns to a third consecutive title. Although Monroe has since departed and formed the Texas Cavalry, other high-profile players are planning extended stays with their alma mater for the 2015-16 season.
|Photo by Nicole Harrig|
When lacking identity or postgraduates, college squads will fall back on the historical strength of the program. The most successful college programs are often well-prepared for the future. B teams and well-trained senior leadership can weather the storm of graduations and manufacture respectable tournament performances. For example, the three-time defending champions are not going anywhere. Under the leadership of breakout keeper David Acker and Michael Duquette, who has evolved into the Southwest's best beater, Texas will never be an easy matchup for Lone Star. In the Great Lakes, Ohio State could easily avenge World Cup 8's losses with chaser Jeremy Boettner slashing across pitches and beater Julie Fritz securing the defense. Even Maryland, who lost Harry Greenhouse, Erin Mallory and Bryan Barrows to graduations, will stay relevant in the weaker Mid-Atlantic.
Happy new season! And remember the organizational x-factor!
Happy new season! And remember the organizational x-factor!