Saturday, August 6, 2016

World Cup From Their Perspective: Team Australia Coach Gen Gibson

Hello, friends. My name is Gen Gibson, and I was the coach for the Australian Quidditch team for the 2016 World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany. Before I start my story, it’s important to acknowledge that success is never achieved alone. I would like to take a moment to thank the players and reserves of the Dropbears, captain James Mortensen, assistant coach Liam McCoppin, team manager Carolyn Themel, Nic Hirst [President of Quidditch Australia] and Quidditch Australia, the Dropbears cheer squad and helpers, the Aussie quidditch community, the teams at World Cup, and the people who made it happen. You are all the real MVPs here.  

Head Coach Gen Gibson after Australia’s win over Germany in their exposition match. | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Now back to quidditch… I am still in shock that we have come away as champions, and I honestly never thought about winning. My aim was always for my squad to play their very best tournament and be able to walk away, heads held high, saying, “I did the best that I could and I am happy with that.” I suppose that probably already sets me apart from many people in this sport. Winning was not the ultimate goal; doing right by my athletes was. Not only did we depart World Cup as grinning winners, we departed with all 21 players uninjured. That is a very uncommon occurrence following a full weekend of international level quidditch. 

My World Cup journey with the Dropbears started in October 2015, when soon-to-be captain of the Dropbears, James Mortensen, encouraged me to apply for the coach position. He had significantly more faith in me than I had in myself. I have worked within the sport community for many years coaching gymnastics for over a decade, working at Gymnastics Victoria and program managing gymnastics would flow into quidditch. I have played quidditch since the beginning of league play in Victoria in 2013; I immediately fell in love with the sport. Despite all of this, I had never specifically coached quidditch. I was not sold that I was the right person for the job. 

The Australian Quidditch community did not share that unsure sentiment, and I was voted in by the team representatives to be the coach for Team Australia. I was overwhelmed by the support of the community and the magnitude of the task that lay ahead. Australia had never had a non-playing coach before. There was no guidelines and barely any literature from other countries either. Everything had to be created, and there was a huge amount of trial and error. 

Despite popular opinion, the Dropbears did not begin training a week before World Cup. They began working together in January over two selection camps, and then again for four training camps (once a month from March to June). At the first training camp, I didn’t think I’d ever felt so lost. I had these amazing players for a whole weekend (14+ hours of training time), and I had no idea what was going to be the best thing to do to actually train them. So I adopted a mantra that I retained throughout my time as coach: “Fake it till you make it.” The first camp wasn’t terrible, but there was a lot of room for improvement. I buckled down and read every article and blog I could get my hands on. I watched hours of footage from previous World Cups and European Quidditch Cup. I talked to everyone I could; it was an absolute team effort from the entire Australian quidditch community. From there, the plans for the camps became easier and easier, and the tactics I wanted to impart to the players more and more clear. After every camp, the players left with new skills and more and more appreciation for themselves and the rest of the team. They worked harder than I think anyone could possibly fathom, both during camps and during the time in between.

From how Gibson carried herself in Frankfurt, there definitely was no faking involved; Gibson’s amazing coaching was purely authentic and showed that weekend. |Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
The trust and respect that grew between the players during these camps was amazing to watch. The synergy that stemmed from this was equally amazing. By the final training camp, we found that all of our players could be on the pitch with any other combination and still play well. The skill difference between our top and bottom players was very small. This meant we actually didn’t have first, second, and third-string players; just players who had slightly different strength sets. It was a truly inspiring effort by the entire team. 

I believe that the cohesion on pitch and trust of each other was an integral part of our win, especially in SWIM games. Our chasers knew to trust the seekers and beaters to handle the snitch, so they were able to pull ahead and keep scoring goals. We were also able to alter the lines on pitch very easily with such a large amount of talented players. I am ecstatic to say that all 21 of our players made the pitch in the grand finale, and all of our chasers scored goals throughout the tournament. No player was undervalued, and everyone played their part. I also have to credit the work of my assistant coach, Liam McCoppin, for standing by my side throughout the whole tournament and managing subs. He changed players for me at the drop of a hat, and I will be forever thankful for his strategic knowledge as well. We made a formidable team. 

I would like to take a second to give mad props to all the teams we played at World Cup. We definitely didn’t have an easy run coming out after Day One in the No. 5 seed. Our toughest games were Belgium, Canada, France, and (of course) the USA. Each of these teams motivated us to work harder to hit those goals, lay those beats, and lock out our defense. The USA has always been the pinnacle of what it means to be the best at quidditch; their hard work was our biggest inspiration. I know our win has caused an “unmitigated disaster,” but I believe that’s a good thing. Every national quidditch team now knows that the top doesn’t belong to one country; it’s anyone’s for the taking. World Cup 2018 is going to be spectacular, and Australia will be ready to bring it all to defend our title. 

There is so much more I could say about this incredible experience and these fantastic people. I could go on for hours, but I’ll finish with just a few more lines. I have never been so privileged as to have coached such an amazing (and slightly crazy) group of people. They respected and supported me to make me the coach I am today. As they warmed up before the grand finale, my heart swelled with pride for how hard they had worked and how far they had all come. As I quietly supervised warm up, I shed a few tears knowing that regardless of the outcome of that final match, I had worked with and supported some of the most incredible athletes I will ever have the good fortune to meet and call my own. Quidditch is an open door that allows you to be the person you always had the potential to be. All you need is a bit of faith, a bit of inspiration, and a hell of a lot of perspiration.

Australia Dropbears with their coach. | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

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