Friday, June 24, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on Team USA Head Coach James Hicks

By Danielle Lehmann 

Starting as a wary spectator at World Cup IV, James Hicks has experienced quidditch in many different facets over the last five years. He started as a keeper in the Mid-Atlantic region for Maryland Quidditch (UMD) before stepping up to coach the District of Columbia Quidditch Club (DCQC), but in a few months his quidditch experience and expertise will take him abroad once more. This time, however, he will not be one of the players on Team USA, as he was in 2012;  instead, he will be the head coach of the USA National Team traveling to Frankfurt, Germany this summer.

James Hicks stumbled upon quidditch for the first time during World Cup IV in Nov. 2010. The tournament was held in New York City, where Hicks was born and raised. He was interested in the sport, but his athletic passion came in the form of baseball, a sport he had been playing collegiately. However, when Hicks arrived at the University of Maryland for a graduate degree in special education, he reached out to not only the baseball club but also the university’s quidditch team, Maryland Quidditch. At the time skepticism made him hesitant, but Hicks decided to attend just one practice. He had no idea that this small decision would ignite a long and influential quidditch journey.

James Hicks at World Cup VI. | Photo Credit: Harry Greenhouse
Baseball was familiar and enjoyable, but quidditch provided a different challenge for Hicks. 

“I love baseball and I didn’t know how fun [quidditch] would actually be to play until I came out to the practice,” said Hicks. “The people there were awesome and I hadn’t had a workout like that in quite some time, and that’s what drew me in. It was fun, but it was difficult and challenging.”

Enjoying the challenge and the incredibly passionate and talented people on his team, Hicks devoted more of his time to Maryland Quidditch and became the chaser captain for his second season. 

“James joined the UMD team right as we began transitioning from a more casual to a more competitive team, and he was a major catalyst for that change,” said Logan Anbinder, president of the team from 2010 until 2012. “James is a great player and also a great leader, and very soon after joining the team, he became someone whom we all looked for direction from on the pitch, and looked up to off the pitch.”

Hicks graduated from the University of Maryland and his team after his second year, but his quidditch career was far from over. He joined the community team NYDC Capitalists as a keeper for the 2013-14 season, but the team didn’t make it to bracket play in World Cup VII, which led to the team’s split over the summer into two community teams in two different regions: Capital Madness in the Mid-Atlantic region, and the Warriors in the Northeast

“After NYDC, when the team split into seperate NY and DC branches, I was really planning on moving on from quidditch and just being a spectator [or] volunteering to do something within the region,” said Hicks. “But Steve Minnich reached out to me and I decided to become certified as their coach.”

Being the head coach for any team is not an easy task; Hicks knew his job would not be simple, but he was ready to step up to the challenge. Hicks set out to evaluate Capital Madness and the skills it had in order to understand what the team needed to work on. In order to develop his approach to the team and become a friendly yet driven coach, Hicks looked back on his high school basketball experience when his father coached his team. In order to decide the next steps he would take as head coach, Hicks thought about his father and how he organized practices and handled players. From this experience, Hicks arrived on pitch with some advice for Capital Madness.

“I came out and told the team that all the teams they’d play against were going to be more athletic and talented than they were, but we were going to be more conditioned,” said Hicks. 

Hicks understood the importance of being practical, yet setting high goals for the team as a whole and each individual player. The conditioning was the biggest challenge for the team. At first, the intense training didn’t show significant improvement as the team went 0-4 at Turtle Cup IV in fall 2014, but Hicks wasn’t deterred. They conditioned longer and harder and planned for the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. The regional championship became an important moment for Hicks, particularly in the game against his old team, Maryland Quidditch. 

“[Maryland Quidditch] was clearly the best team in the region, and I believe the best team outside the Southwest region,” said Hicks. “I made a game plan; they executed it perfectly and lost a snitch-range game. That was the moment I said to myself, ‘hey, maybe we can do this. If we keep our conditioning up and combine the strategic side with it, we may lose to the better team, but their heart rate is going to be up this entire game.’”

After coaching Capital Madness for a year, Hicks was ready to retire. Officially, he did, but only for a few weeks before Minnich offered him the coaching position on the Washington Admirals, an MLQ team.

Chasing for MLQ’s Washington Admirals stopped Hicks from retiring. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
The summer brought Hicks back into the sport and renewed his passion to coach, so when the current season came around Hicks was resubmerged in the sport as head coach for DCQC, a rebranded Capital Madness. 

Hicks’ return was bolstered this time with both a year of USQ coaching and a season of MLQ experience behind him. Turtle Cup V in fall 2015 had a very different turnout from the year before: DCQC walked away with a 5-1 record. A few weeks later, the team won the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, which showed Hicks that his intense conditioning and creative strategies were not going to waste.

James Hicks holding the Mid-Atlantic Championship trophy. | Photo Credit: Nicole Harrig Photography
“What I learned while coaching is that you need to know your players,” said Hicks. “What they can and cannot do, and you have to go with your instincts. You also have to know your opponents.”

Experience as a coach was vital for his appointment to the head coach position for Team USA, but this won't be Hicks’ first experience with a USA team. In 2012 Hicks was the keeper for the National Team and flew to London, England, for the tournament, which took place near the Summer Olympics location. The experience was unforgettable for Hicks, who was able to not only play next to the torch relay in Oxford, but was also able to play with some of the most talented players in the country. Just watching these players on the pitch is an experience in itself, but Hicks knew it was an honor to play beside them; they were integral to his understanding of gameplay and his own personal goals. 

This year when Hicks attends World Cup, he will not be on the pitch to play, but this doesn’t bother him. He looks forward to the opportunity to pass down his knowledge to the team and to have that knowledge precipitate down through different teams and players like a good family story. Although this could be seen as a prideful boast, it is anything but that. Hicks is quiet with his achievements, and at the time of the interview hadn’t even told his family about the honor of being head coach yet. 

But it wasn’t just the opportunity to meet other teams or share strategies and ideas that drove Hicks to apply for the position, nor was it just his passion to bring home the gold. 

“I want to make sure we play well enough so that we can bring home the gold, of course, but I really want to be an ambassador,” said Hicks. “I wanted to lead a team of 21 players who could play hard and respectfully, represent the country, and in turn be an example for international quidditch. The last time I went, I was driven to become the best. This time, I want the team as a whole to be the blueprint for quidditch to all these countries that are coming so the game can continue to grow and so they can pick things up from us and bring them home to their practices.”

James Hicks with his fellow Team USA keepers at the 2012 Global Games. | Photo Credit: Kean Goh
Hicks isn’t just looking ahead to this World Cup, but also to successive World Cup occasions to imagine where the international sport could grow. 

“One day, I’m not going to be involved in the game anymore and the game is going to be so much more advanced because of the people who really wanted the game to move forward everywhere,” said Hicks. “One day at World Cup, the scores are going to look like USQ bracket scores. One day that team from Uganda or South Korea is going to play the US in the finals and it’s going to look like a USQ finals match. That’s what drove me to become coach.”

Quidditch is no longer focused on just the United States; it’s experiencing rapid growth in many places around the world. Frankfurt, Germany will be the focal point for many national teams to come together (in some cases for the first time) to experience many different levels and forms of the sport. With his vision leading the way, Hicks and Assistant Coach Mollie Lensing will surely craft and train a team who will not only bring home the gold, but who will use this opportunity to support the purpose and name of the tournament to help drive the expansion of quidditch worldwide.

No comments:

Post a Comment