I just got done watching the video of the finals match between USA and France. I had stayed up to watch a few of the earlier matches, but then I got too tired and fell asleep. So after I woke up I decided to watch the video replays of a bunch of the games I had missed while I was asleep. As I look back on the videos I watched (as well as the games I saw live earlier), I realize that I learned a ton from watching these games. So here are five things I learned while watching the IQA Summer Games (Yes, I know most of these points are about Team USA. That should be expected, because they were so dominant, so the most can be learned from watching them).
1. Depth is a wonderful, wonderful thing to have for your team. I don’t mean just having lots of players on your team that you can sub in. I mean having lots of skilled players on your bench who you can swap in regularly and seamlessly. Part of what made USA so dominant is that they had so many skilled players ready to sub in at any given moment. The transitions between subs were almost flawless. One Team USA player would make a big play, run quickly over to the sideline, sub quickly with another player, and then that new player would come in and make another big play. The players all worked well with one another, and every group of players USA put out on the pitch together was equally as strong together as every other lineup they played together throughout the day. There was never any weak lineup the US had. That sort of relentless excellence can be devastating to opposing teams.
2. Good defense is a game-changer. I’m not just referring to Beaters. Yes, there was excellent Beater play from many of the teams and that made a huge difference. Especially for the US, who pretty much always had bludger control and made it extremely difficult for opposing teams to even get onto USA’s half of the pitch. But something I saw at this tournament was just how valuable great defense can be from your Chasers and Keeper. USA’s Chasers, for example, made so many defensive stops before the opposing players could get anywhere near USA’s Keeper zone. They made lots of great hits, swatted down passes, and stripped the quaffle relentlessly. A large part of the reason USA only got scored on three times in the entire tournament is because their Chasers almost never let opposing offenses get anywhere close to the hoops, even if those offenses had managed to get past the US Beaters (which was a rare occurrence in the first place). Also, Keeper defense is what made Australia and France so surprisingly successful. Both of them had arguably their best player at the Keeper position, and it showed. France’s Keeper was terrific at blocking shots and getting in position to force bad shots, while Australia’s Keeper did an incredible job of being physical in his Keeper Zone to force turnovers, as well as leaping quite high to knock down passes and shots near his zone.
3. Good spacing and passing is vital to offensive success. It’s what made USA’s offense nearly unstoppable. And a lack of it is what contributed most heavily to Canada’s surprising struggles. When the US offense went on the attack, they had players spaced out along the field, both vertically and horizontally. It made it so opposing Beaters couldn’t key in on those getting passed to, and as a result the US had very few turnovers on passes. The US also passed quite accurately and quickly, and left opposing defenses very little time to react. The same things were true about surprising silver-medalist France, especially in their semifinal game against Canada. Good spacing and accurate and quick passing managed to create lots of holes in the Canadian defense, even though the Canadians were much more experienced. There’s just no good answer to an offense who can move the quaffle quickly and precisely around the pitch. Conversely, the Canadians had poor spacing on offense. Their players were too close to one another, and didn’t “stack” themselves on enough different levels to stretch the field vertically. It left them with few passing options, and as a result they had to settle for many low-percentage long distance shots.
4. Fast thinking and fast play is a killer of opposing teams. Watching the US play, it became apparent that almost every one of their forays into the opposing half was done on a fast break. They didn’t take time to let play set up in front of them first. One Chaser (or the Keeper) would scoop up the quaffle and immediately start sprinting down the pitch, while the other Chasers would immediately sprint with them and space themselves according to where the quaffle-carrier was. Not only were they running fast, they were thinking and adjusting on the fly. That sort of ability comes with experience, and that was perhaps the biggest contrast between the US and other teams. They simply thought and adjusted as they played, and opposing teams had almost no chance to react to them quickly enough. And it wasn’t just their offense that played fast. Their Chasers got back on defense immediately and really messed up opposing offensive strategies, while the US Beaters were constantly moving quickly around the pitch and taking out multiple levels of opposing offensive players. Speed is a killer, both physically and mentally.
5. Amount of hype and name recognition are not necessarily good indicators of actual quality of players and teams. In the quidditch community, since there isn’t much outside coverage of our sport, we tend to evaluate players and teams based on word of mouth. We reason that those that get the most coverage are the best, and those that have little name recognition just aren’t that good. The Summer Games proved that notion blatantly false. Very little was known about France, so everybody assumed they just weren’t that good and most people picked them to finish last (myself included). That was obviously incorrect. France surprised everybody by having both good athletic talent and good strategy, which led them to the silver medal. Canada, on the other hand, had plenty of name recognition. They were almost unanimously picked to finish second, and were considered to be the only team capable of giving the US a challenge. That was also quite incorrect. Not only did they not give the US a challenge, but they failed to medal, finishing fourth out of five teams. This isn’t a knock on Canada (who did have less time to put a team together than the other nations involved and as a result weren’t able to get many of their country’s best players on the team), but an observation that hype and name recognition aren’t necessarily indicative of a team or player’s actual abilities and skill level.