Friday, August 28, 2015

The UK From An American's Perspective

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the Quidditch Post.

by Gina Allyn

This article is intended to address the differences between the states and personalities of quidditch in the United Kingdom vs. the United States. This article is based on my time in the UK this summer, during which I practiced with the Oxford University Quidditch Club once and attended the 3rd Annual Mercian Cup (3AMC) in Derby, England.

Please take this article with a grain of salt. I am in no way an expert on British quidditch, nor US quidditch for that matter. My observations of quidditch in the UK do not represent the entirety of the sport there because I only attended one fantasy tournament and no official games. Therefore, unless otherwise stated, if I say “UK players,” I am referring to the players and teams at the tournament I attended only, and therefore my comments are not intended to represent all UK players. With this article my intent is to objectively point out differences in various aspects of the sport, offer some of my opinions, and not offend anyone in the process.  

Jay Holmes and Fabian Brunt with an unorthodox interpretation of their biblically themed team name.
Photo credit: Anjit Aulakh

Community and Social Media
One of the first things I noticed at the 3rd Annual Mercian Cup was the cheery sense of community. Quidditch is regarded by most players I know as providing a wonderful community, but as quidditch grows in the US, I fear our camaraderie is slowly fading. In the US, it is impossible to know everyone (unless you are Alex Benepe who has a knack for knowing everyone’s names) due to the number of players and the massive size of the country.

In the intimate and much-smaller United Kingdom, however, everyone seems to know everyone, and the community has a small-town feel. Some examples of this include what happens before the teams hit the pitch. At 3AMC, instead of just warming up with individual teams, a lot of the players got into a big circle to pass a quaffle around and play a form of what felt like group quaffle juggling.

After the matches, the teams didn’t just cheer their opponents’ names, but instead offered a nice round of cheering “hip-hip hooray”, which I quite enjoyed. Afterwards, everyone hugged. Everyone. We do that in the US too, but I’ve noticed a lot of players in the US don’t like it and make it very clear that they just want a handshake; to which I usually reply with a hug anyway.

Teams engaging in hugs post-match.
Photo credit: Anjit Aulakh

The social media in the UK has a lot more—forgive me for using the word—“quove” than US social media. I never saw any anger or hate on the UK social media. Quidcrush UK is full of love for everyone, not just romantically (Sidenote: they do have a rather raunchy page called Quidcrush After Dark, which I highly recommend you take a look at.) A couple of people commented on how mean US players can be on social media. I didn’t really think that was true, but after I perused #IQAForums and QuidSecrets more thoroughly, I realized they were right. The QUK page is full of love and jokes. I know it’s not only US players on #IQAForums, and maybe heated discussions is what the page is for, but I don’t think we need as much hate.
The main reason I fell in love with quidditch was because of the community. It’s still there in the US, but not as strong as in the UK. Maybe if we started using the word “quove” again we’d have more of it. Or maybe not... I hope we can strive to bring that inflated sense of community back despite our large size—no more hate on social media, give the other team a great cheer, and hug in the post-match line goddamn it.

Competitiveness, Dedication, and Personality
In the last three years, I have watched US quidditch become more and more competitive. I’ve seen people move quidditch up on their life priority lists. To be fair, quidditch in the US is very diverse, from teams that just like to run around and pretend they are at Hogwarts, to Texas teams, who dedicate five days a week to scrimmages and conditioning. The UK teams seem to lie somewhere in the middle. Two years ago when I was in the UK, I got the impression that a lot of teams were on the former side of the spectrum. Now the official teams are more serious, but the extreme sense of competition and drive to win isn’t as apparent as it is in the US.
I didn’t hear of any team that practices more than twice a week and they aren’t as committed to conditioning, which I’ll elaborate on later. Also, as far as tournaments go, players are less comfortable taking off work and school for quidditch. In the US, we nearly always have to get work and school off since we have to travel so far, but I feel like we are more OK with it regardless because we want to go there and win. In the UK, their big after party—or “social”—is on the first night of the tournament so people can use the second night to get home. When they explained the reasoning for a Saturday night party, I replied, “Oh, we usually just skip school on Monday.” The social includes drinking and staying up late, which I have never seen a team in the US do when there is still quidditch to be played the next day.
Another aspect of personality that is different is the amount of what I’ll call whininess. Players in the US can be very dramatic and whiny. You all know the types of players I’m talking about—the player that you roll your eyes at and mutter under your breath, “Shut up, you’re embarrassing yourself.” Some UK players commented on these types of players and how they aren’t as common in the UK. Again, I was at a fantasy tournament where you’re less likely to see these types of players, so I can’t say anything for sure. But even without the comparison, I do think that in the US we all need to remember that we’re running around on broomsticks, people. Stop taking yourself so seriously.

Teams at 3AMC were never in danger of taking themselves too seriously.
Photo credit: Anjit Aulakh

Demographics of Players, Gender Rule, and Sexism
The most evident difference I noticed between US and UK quidditch was the large number of non-binary players in the UK. There was one team at 3AMC that consisted of five different genders. I’ll admit I was ignorant as I didn’t even know that there are that many genders. The only non-binary terms I ever heard in the US are gender neutral and gender queer. But I met people at 3AMC who identify as agender, gender flux, and gender fluid, and I’m sure there are others. I know two players, two players, in the US who identify as non-binary. I also never understood how the “four maximum” is any different than the “two minimum” rule until I played in the UK. For example, a couple of times I saw a lineup consisting of four males, one female, and one non-binary player, which would not be allowed under “two minimum,” but is for “four maximum.”
Bex McLaughlin snitching at 3AMC.
Photo credit: Anjit Aulakh

Why is there a difference? I kept asking myself that question, and I’m eager to hear other opinions. Here are some of my theories. It may be that people in the US are less knowledgeable about other identities and therefore do not know if they would classify themselves that way. It also could be that quidditch in the US attracts a different demographic than in the UK. As I previously mentioned, the community in the UK is wonderful, kind, and supporting. This kind of community is welcoming to all, and I think would be more appealing to me if I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere else, as I’m sure non-binary people feel some of the time. In the US, we are gradually attracting more and more people looking for just a sport, not a supportive community.
This is not to say that the US quidditch community is not welcoming or supportive. As a LGBTQ* player who has felt like an outsider in other places, the US quidditch community is incredible and I am grateful for the love and support we have. However, there exists a debate amongst some US players as to whether the original intent of the gender rule was to be—or actually should be—the sex rule, referring to one’s biological sex assigned at birth, rather of the gender an individual identifies as. When I mentioned this debate to some UK players they were very firm, saying that it is about inclusivity of gender, not fairness of sex.
Lastly, I perceived the treatment of women in the UK was less sexist than in the US. I had a discussion with a UK player about sexism and their impression is that women are not valued very much in the US. They said their experience in the US consisted of being told to just “stand by the hoops.” Hopefully players like Vanessa Goh, Kristin Jakus, Becca DuPont, Emily Hickmott, Hannah DeBaets, Mollie Lensing, and Audrey Wright are debunking the idea that women are worth less than a male player.

Gina Allyn goes up against Melanie Piper.
Photo credit: Anjit Aulakh

The person I chatted with also pointed out how in articles, positions are referred to based on sex, i.e. women are referred to as “female chaser” and “female beater” as opposed to just “chaser” or “beater.” Why is there this distinction? Is it needed? I’m still not sure what my opinion about this is, but I look forward to the debates that will follow about the worth of players and drafting in a mercenary tournament.
Finally, at 3AMC there were several girls who played keeper and seeker, which is rarely seen in the US, unless there are very few males on the team. A fantasy tournament is a great venue to try out new positions, but I think that the girls who I saw also play those positions on their regular teams. I would never feel comfortable playing keeper or seeker in the US, even at a fantasy tournament, because girls just don’t do that in the US. At 3AMC, however, I felt really comfortable saying during the finals, “I’ll go in as seeker!” I’m glad I did because I don’t think I’ll ever want to—nor will my team want me to—play seeker back home.

Physicality and Athleticism
The next biggest difference I noticed was the athleticism and physicality of the players at 3AMC compared to US players. The athleticism and physicality is not yet to the level of the teams who competed at USQ’s most recent World Cup. I don’t think UK quidditch is dominated by athletes yet, but rather healthy young people who enjoy physical activity; not players who go through weekly conditioning, like those who attend World Cup. By one definition, you could classify everyone who plays quidditch as an athlete because they play a sport. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll define “athletes” as people who have played competitive sports before and carry those lifestyle habits into quidditch.

For example, I noticed several people who do not know the proper mechanics of how to throw a ball. I hope this doesn’t sound offensive; it’s just what I observed. One possibility as to why there are few athletes who play quidditch is because soccer—or rather, football—is the main sport of the UK. Perhaps not as many former football players transfer over to quidditch because it involves different mechanics. In the US, a lot of the players I know are former American football, basketball, and lacrosse players. I’m not sure, but it’s something to think about. As far as physicality, there was definitely less. I saw less tackling and physical engagement at 3AMC than I see at US tournaments.

In the next section, I will talk about strategy and where it stands in the UK. On the subject of physical execution of that strategy (i.e. skill), the UK players are perhaps one-two years behind the US. Beaters were less fierce, despite their awesome war cries when running toward opposing players. That’s not to say I didn’t see some awesome beating. Lucy Quidditch, Sally Higginson, James “Jesus” Burnett, and the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Murtles beater all impressed me with their strategy and execution.

Ajay Gohil is a victim of some impressive beating.
Photo credit: Anjit Aulakh

UK chasers are behind in their passing accuracy. I saw a lot of passes that seemed like the thrower just hoped that someone would be where it was thrown. There didn’t seem to be as much skill in the primary ball carriers as I have seen in the US. Because of that, there was a lot less driving and a lot less hero-balling, which was a very nice change, to be honest. In addition, I only saw one player who used the technique of holding the quaffle in the broom arm while pushing the defense with the other free hand. I saw some awesome chasing by Vincent Fouré (comparable in skill and on-pitch personality to Tony Rodriguez, but in the UK), Warren McFadyen, Tom Heynes, and Dan Bridges.

Strategy and Progression of Quidditch
The strategy of the UK players seems to be a little less than a year behind for beaters and a bit more for chasers. The only thing I saw very little of from the beaters was one-and-a-half beating. I am interested to see how the chasers of official teams work together because there was not a lot of good strategy among them at 3AMC. Ninety-nine percent of the plays I saw consisted of the primary ball carrier making a really long, inaccurate, improbable pass to someone behind the hoops who was often guarded by several defenders or beaters. I couldn’t believe my eyes when it happened over and over again. The chasers and beaters were in sync but the chasers were not in sync with each other. As far as defense, I asked several players if anyone ever plays defense similar to Baylor University or “Baylito.” Few had heard of those styles, nevermind played them.

The last difference I noticed was how fluid the players were with their positions. Some players on my team played every position. I think there is a less specialization in the UK than the US. When I first started playing quidditch, my captains wanted us to be proficient at all positions, but now I think a lot of US players just focus on getting really good at one position.

I absolutely loved my time playing in the UK. Other than a few America-haters, everyone was really nice and welcoming. I am excited for the future of UK quidditch. I am impressed at how fast the sport has grown there. The UK is pretty small—a little bigger than Utah, for comparison—yet it has over twenty teams. They are kind and excited to represent the UK. Most importantly, they are proud to play quidditch.

Hannah Watts modelling the ever-stylish 'pizza dress'.
Photo credit: Anjit Aulakh

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