The Eighth Man

A Beginner’s Guide to On-Pitch Captaining

Zach D’Amico has gained as much notoriety for his leadership on the sidelines as he has for his play on the field. Credit: Matt Ziff

In quidditch, many captains assume both the role of a top player and a coach for the team. This presents many challenges which are unique to quidditch. Perhaps most significantly is the challenge of finding a way to make on-the-fly strategic adjustments while maintaining a high level of play on the pitch.

The captain-coach has many responsibilities during a game. First and foremost among these is the ability to keep a level head. Quidditch is an intense game, and it can be easy for players to lose their tempers and become frustrated. However, the captain cannot afford to do that. Other players will be taking their lead from the captains and expect them to know how to handle the pressure. When the leaders start to lose their cool, it will reflect and impress upon every member of the team until eventually the whole team begins to lose their patience and focus, and then nobody on the field can make the plays that can get the team back into the game.

Sometimes it is necessary to get a little passionate, but it cannot be an angry passion. People, especially the players, react positively to passion, but tend to flake away when confronted with anger. Being vocal is a good thing, but being angry is not.

Similarly, a playing captain must realize that they are setting an example for their team. They not only have to maintain a high level of play, but must make the right decisions for the benefit of the team. They cannot be selfish with the ball, especially when they have open and capable teammates. People are often inclined to the “monkey see, monkey do” adage. If they see their captain trying to be the hero and take on everyone herself, they will adjust their play style to try to do the same. While oftentimes a captain has the skill necessary to make some plays independently, it cannot happen every time. As a captain, it is important to recognize what the best option is for each play, and then play smart.

Substitutions are also an important responsibility of captains. When on the field, it is hard to be watching every other player to know who is tired and when to sub them. While playing, it can also be difficult to keep track of who has been playing a lot, and who has the fresh legs that your team may need.  Many captains have to make these calls themselves.

Some teams are beginning to appoint a non-player coach who can help with the substitutions and sideline coaching. However, since many of these coaches are not used to playing, they may not understand the game as well as the captain, so it is also important to sit down before games and discuss who should be playing when, and what kinds of things to be looking for. If the captain is taking on this role, it is important to talk to all the players before the game and set up substitution rotations that can be easily called out while on the pitch. Many players will just play the entire game, regardless of how tired they are, without a captain or coach calling for substitutions.

Captains must also recognize when they are tired and need to come out of the game, which goes back to the concept of not being a hero. Smaller teams may not always have the luxury of having a reliable substitute for their captain, but it is important that to find a way to rest, regardless. Switching from chaser to playing more defensively as keeper or beater or slowing down the plays without delaying the game can give a short break while giving the opposing team fewer possessions with which to score, which is very helpful against a team with more offensive firepower. The bottom line is that all players, including the captain, have to be well-rested to be effective on the field.

Captaining from the sidelines presents a great opportunity to watch the players and teach them in the game, whether calling out to players on the pitch or pointing out things to the substitutes on the sidelines. If a player makes a mistake, take them aside and explain what they did wrong and what they can do next time to fix it. Quidditch is still a very young sport, and everyone still learning exactly how to play this game, especially younger players will need this help.

It is crucial to keep a cool head when instructing the players, and to give positive feedback as well as constructive criticism. If the captain only focuses on what a player is doing wrong, it will end up damaging their confidence, and they could quit. Often there isn’t a lot of time to pull players aside and talk to them individually, and it will be necessary to yell quick instructions across the field. When this happens, make sure to talk to the player and explain the feedback at the next available opportunity. When a captain gives reasons for a critique, players will be more likely to follow the advice.

Perhaps the most important and unique job of the captain is talking to the officials. The head referee has the sole authority on the pitch, and should therefore be treated with the utmost respect. Assistant refs should be treated just the same, as the head ref will listen to what the assistants say, especially if you are being rude or disrespectful. So please, respect your officials.

That said, refs will get things wrong sometimes, and the captain’s role is to calmly and politely address these problems. In most cases, the official won’t be able to do anything about the missed call, but will likely watch for those those calls more closely in the future. Since other players are not permitted to address the refs during a game, the captain must speak for their team to contest any calls or problems during the game. If the team can see their captain fighting for them and caring about them, they will play harder. It is possible to disagree with referees in a respectful manner, and most referees won’t get upset with a captain being passionate, as long as the captain is respectful, and shuts up if the referee tells her to.

Watching any other sport on television, you can see coaches talking to referees, rather heatedly, at every opportunity they have. This is not only to help motivate their team, but to also subconsciously influence the referee. If one coach is making good cases that her team has been wronged, the referee may be more inclined to make calls in that team’s favor later in the match. The same is true in quidditch. Referees are people too, and can be influenced by solid reasoning just as anybody else can. With any conversations with the head ref, it is vital to respect that the referee, at that time, is absolutely your superior, and should be treated as such.

The role of the captain-coach is highly nuanced and is still evolving. Someday, quidditch teams may have regular coaches who can take on most of these roles themselves. Until then, captains have to do the best they can to balance playing and coaching their teams.

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