Monday, November 24, 2014

Reflections from a Captain

By Kyle Jeon

My name is Kyle Jeon, and I am the captain of the quidditch team at New York University (NYU). I am so humbled and thankful that Andy Marmer has asked me to write a personal article about the growth of my team this semester and our run to the Northeast Regional Championship (NERC) finals this past weekend. Humbled, because there are so many hard-working teams that deserve recognition and praise, and thankful that we happen to be the ones being recognized in the present moment.

Looking back on the semester feels rather like hiking up a mountain; you don’t really remember the trails you took to get there, and instead you just appreciate the view from the top. I’d like to take the time now, however, to map out the trails that took us to the NERC finals.

1. A Team’s Spirit is Revealed in Bad Losses

The first and perhaps most important realization I’ve had from this past season is that the true spirit of a team reveals itself during bad losses. Bad losses are simultaneously the most dangerous and most opportune moment for a team. If a team falls into a cycle of blaming each other and finger pointing, it permanently breaks the trust between teammates that is crucial to success. On the other hand, if a team can come together in its lowest moments and resolve to improve together, it creates a sense of unity that becomes an invaluable tool.

Here is the cold-hard truth about becoming an elite program: you have to lose and lose badly against some really good teams before you can get to where they are. There is no faster way to get better in quidditch than losing. The important thing is to learn from the loss, adopt the strengths of your opponents, and most importantly, not let the loss affect your team. This truth is why it’s so important to have players who like each other, who can trust each other to play their part, trust their captain to put them in the best position to win, who can laugh together after a bad loss, and who can make the trip seem worthwhile even after having a bad tournament. During the rise to the top there will be hardships along the way, and the only way you’re getting there is together.

2. A Strategy is Only as Good as your Players

The second realization I’ve had from this past season is that strategy is only as worthwhile as the capacity of your players to carry it out. After all, this is my second year as NYU’s captain, and if strategy was all it took, then NYU would have experienced this growth last year. This means that strategy isn’t simply planning how to play against the other team, but how you train your players in a way that lets strategy flourish. My philosophy with training is that you do not fit a player to a team; you fit the team around the players. Instead of training players to carry out a certain play, be in a specific position during defense, or follow the do-as-you’re-told system, I like to explain exactly why you chose to run a certain drill. I have a discussion about why I think it’s best for them to do something in certain situations and in general try to show them my thought process in any way possible. This discussion/sharing process increases the likelihood of a player being able to more quickly understand the strategy I want to implement and even improve upon it on their own because they know exactly how I think.

For example, at Turtle Cup IV, we lost our pool play game to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) 160-30*. We met them again in bracket play, and in the five minute warm-up before the game, I quickly went over how to run a modified Baylor zone and transition offense. This was to a group of kids, most of whom had never even heard the term zone defense, let alone run them in real games. Instead of panicking, they placed their trust in me and in themselves and carried it out to perfection. The end result was a 130*-100 UNC win, a 160 point turn-around in a matter of hours.

3. The Spirit of Quidditch Matters

The third realization I had is how important it is for a team to embody the spirit of quidditch. As I’m sure most of the quidditch community can relate, I joined this sport because of the people (though quidditch itself is one hell of a sport). Quidditch has put me in contact with some of the most sincere, open-minded, and welcoming souls that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. When I took over as captain of the NYU team two years ago, I knew that I wanted my team and the players on it to embody this wonderful spirit. I believe NYU has succeeded in this regard, and because of this, we are on good terms with most teams, even the ones we consider to be rivals (I’m looking at you, UNC, Tufts, and QCB). This friendly spirit of competition and mutual love of our great sport is why other programs can simultaneously be our strongest opponents and greatest teachers. Instead of hating each other and playing a zero sum game, we admire and appreciate the qualities that make each other successful, and the sum of the parts becomes greater than the whole.

4. Making the NERC Finals

As far as making the NERC finals goes, I would like to say that it takes you to a magical land of quidditch full of snitch-shaped cakes where Ethan Sturm says nice things once in a while, but it’s not the truth, at least not for me. Our path to the finals was a murderer’s row of an oft-overlooked Macaulay Honors College team, an Emerson College team on the rebound (if it was ever down at all), a very experienced Warriors team, and Tufts University. With each win that got us closer to the final, I was simply filled with more nervousness and weariness. The finals was a blur for me, as I played harder and faster than I’ve ever played before. It was an amalgamation of panic and gut-wrenching desperation as I tried to do whatever I could to put my team on top.

What I do remember, however, is that after the loss, instead of being downcast and depressed that we’d gotten so close, my players were right back to joking around, trying to cheer each other up, and talking about how they were going to get in better shape to do well at World Cup and win next year’s the regional championship. I’m not a teary person, but when I heard these conversations pop up amongst all my players, I had to try very hard to hold back the tears at how proud I was of them. When I took over as captain, I promised myself that I would make this team recognized by the whole community as a great team that was a close-knit community where people could come together to be great friends. Suffice to say, this team has far exceeded my greatest expectations.

Is it a bit disappointing that finally reaching the top of the Northeast wasn’t as exhilarating as I thought it would be? Maybe. But I think it just reaffirms my belief that the best part of quidditch, much like anything else, is the journey and the people that surround you. I truly believe that whether or not you are the best team in the nation, or just a team starting out from scratch, you experience the same range of hardships and joys. There’s a certain beauty to that thought.

When I joined NYU’s team three years ago, I was simply looking for a hobby, something to keep me in shape. Instead, I found something more akin to a family, a group of people for whom I would do anything. I doubt I’ll ever write anything like this again, so here is my final parting words to the quidditch community: as long as you fill your team with kind, caring souls who like each other, you’ve already achieved the best of what quidditch was meant to accomplish, and the rest is just in the details.

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