Wednesday, July 27, 2016

World Cup From Their Perspective: Team USA Head Coach James Hicks

My name is James Hicks, and I have been involved in quidditch since 2011. I was the head coach of the 2016 Team USA.

Team USA Head Coach James Hicks at the closing ceremonies for the 2016 Quidditch World Cup. | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

Before I get started, I would like to thank the Quidditch Post, and particularly the sections abroad. For the past year, I believe that your coverage of international teams and events has helped keep us updated on quidditch around the world, not just in America, and I’ve enjoyed following international quidditch because of it. I would also like to thank you for reaching out for a different kind of interview - for giving me a platform to share my personal experience and my feelings after a tough weekend for USA quidditch. Not many sporting media outlets do that after a tough loss, so it’s very much appreciated.

First, as a fan, I absolutely loved being at World Cup. I mean, look at all the countries that attended. There have been and will be complaints and criticisms about the level of quidditch that was played by a lot of new teams, but when I wrote my application to be Team USAs coach, I wrote that I hoped international teams would be able to learn things at this tournament and bring them back to their countries to make quidditch grow. Yes, some of the quidditch played there would be called “bad quidditch” by people in the United States, but I saw a foundation for growth in those countries. Programs aren’t built overnight. For example, I saw some really smart plays and talented players from the South Korean team. Their chaser number 7 was her number, I believe [Annie Lee] is talented and played through injury and seemed very passionate about her team. That team had a rough weekend, but the way their players played, you can tell they are in the beginning stages of “getting it.” It’ll come soon for these teams. Wait and see.

On to Team USA. I’d like to note again that QP gave me a personal platform, and these thoughts are mine and not necessarily the thoughts of any other member of Team USA. Let me say that like any coach, there is going to be second-guessing after a loss. What if I did this? What if I did that? That’s for another day. Let me say this, though. I was nervous this year. I was nervous about Australia. I’ve watched Australian quidditch for four years, and they know how to play. The first day I was in Germany, I headed straight to the sports complex upon learning I had landed in time to view Australia’s first practice slot (each team was given two one-hour practice slots during the weekend). I learned they had been practicing there for a week…and we had yet to play together. I had known it wouldn’t be easy before, and after that I knew that we really needed to try to build some chemistry - and do it quickly.

Contrary to what other people may say, this team knew nothing was going to be handed to them. They weren’t cocky, and they didn’t act mightier-than-thou. They knew this wasn’t the same old World Cup. They knew these teams were good and went into every game knowing it.

I do want to speak on what is being said about Team USA in the forums, as well as the referees. Did we get booed in Germany? Yes, we did. Usually when the announcer asked who the crowd was cheering for before the game, our opponent would get resounding applause, and we would get a few cheers from our parents and friends, which was an atmosphere that was very exciting. That was until one game when the announcer asked who was cheering for the United States and the boos came. Do we feel like there was some anti-American sentiment in the atmosphere and in some of our games? Yes. Listen. I’m a sports fan and I know what it’s like to go into enemy territory. This is quidditch, though. It’s just different. I don’t think my players deserved that. One thing I didn’t expect to deal with was the morale of my players after a game we won out of snitch range. They felt it. They knew it was there. Maybe it was a difference in gameplay and interpretation on the international level, and maybe it wasn’t. I will never know. Nobody will ever know. It was difficult for all of us.

These players are great people. They interacted with other teams, signed autographs, took pictures, did interviews, and played with kids all weekend. These players are all in their early 20s, and I think we forget that online from time to time. These aren’t professional athletes. They play because they love the game. There are no sneaker endorsements in their future. Their jerseys aren’t for sale at Dicks Sporting Goods or in your local malls. There is no multi-million dollar contract to be negotiated for being the best players in the league. They play in a World Cup that they have had to work two jobs and create temporary businesses for in order to raise money just to get there (AND BACK!). These are regular people with jobs and classes.

This may get me in some trouble, but I want to talk about the finals. The controversial snitch grab, the beat. There’s a saying in sports that you shouldn’t have been there in the first place. That you “control your own destiny. This is sports! Anything can happen on any given day. Saying the United States should have never been in that position…but what about Australia? Does that not take away from them? What a matchup for us. They were big. They were tall. They were quick. They were long. They were experienced. They practiced for a week leading up to World Cup. They built a great team down under, and they matched up with another great team in the finals. This is SPORTS, a compilation and exchange of right and wrong decisions. THIS is why other sports have replay when it comes down to a game-deciding call. Regardless of the position the teams have put themselves in, they are both in that position from that point going forward.

Do I believe Margo [Aleman]’s catch was good? I do. I think it was taken away from him and it shouldn’t have been. Do I think Max [Havlin]’s beat was good? I wasn’t sure. I thought I saw it. When asked for clarification, I was told the assistant referees said a beat never occurred on the seeker. That is, until someone from Australia came up to me after the game and showed me his phone video of the beat happening from the angle he had right in front of the action. Do I blame the refs for us losing? Absolutely not - we were outperformed and we did not execute. Do I think the calls were correct? No. I think we should have won with Margo’s catch and I think the game should have continued after Max’s beat. I’ll always feel sorry for those two in particular.

The controversial catch that was called off in the USA vs. Australia final, resulting in Australia’s victory. | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

What about me? Did I make some mistakes? Hell yes. Absolutely. There are some things I would change and I’ve already started losing sleep because of it. Through everything, though, I have to remember that nobody is perfect. Just like their players outperformed ours, their coach outperformed me.

I already watch the video of Margo’s grab over and over and over and over again, and sometimes I stare at the screen and wait to hear three whistles and our celebration, but it never turns out that way, obviously. I watched the team that played as hard as us, practiced for a week, and was a physical matchup nightmare for us leave with the victory.

To my team, you guys are great at what you do. Don’t be down on yourselves. Nobody is perfect. You represented your country well through adversity and lost to a great team. I know you’ll use it to fuel your passion for the game and make yourselves better players as well as better human beings.

What about Team USA’s future? This is my plea. This tournament shows that we can’t just decide to tell our players to spend their own money and show up and win anymore. Please fund Team USA. Give us money to go and practice for a week like Australia did before the tournament. By the time Team USA’s fundraiser came alive, Team Uganda’s travel expenses and uniforms had already been paid like two months prior. Make an account, start saving, and send the next team to World Cup. Reserve a practice facility for them. Get the team sponsorships. Let us look the part and show off our patriotism like Team Canada did with their apparel. Our hotel costs, jersey costs, and tournament fees were all paid for by our fans and supporters. We need you guys to get behind us too. You have to put the money up in order to take the throne back, because the rest of the world will do it for themselves. Take your country back to the top!

Team USA in Frankfurt, Germany. | Photo Courtesy of US Quidditch

To Australia, congratulations, WORLD CHAMPIONS!

We’ll be back.

James Hicks

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