By Diana Schulberg
The bond between beater partners is one of trust, reliance, and possibly too much dependency. As the sport of quidditch grows exponentially, the average size of teams becomes less exclusive and larger in general. This wider pool of players has presented teams with more strategic options in terms of player organization and tactics but has also begun to call into question one of the traditional practices of quidditch: that of beater partners.
Having a specific person as a beater partner promises, with time and practice, easier coordination and a person who can play to the other’s strengths and weaknesses on the pitch. This partnership works well with beaters who specifically learned to play quidditch in general with each other and developed skills and abilities in relation to another beater.
“I was used to playing with all the beaters, [but Jonathan DeFreeuw] and I just got so good at reading each other’s movements on the field, and our two different playing styles worked so well together, that it was a breeze beating with him,” said former Virginia Tech Phoenixes beater Jessica Majors. Majors played through most of her college career with a specific beater partner, namely DeFreeuw, who himself is now president of the Virginia Tech Phoenixes.
Playing in a partnership such as this also encourages attention on developing specific skills over working toward well-roundedness. While this can establish a more complete tandem beater pair, there are downsides as well.
“Once you start playing in games with a specific partner more often than other players, it can be difficult to adapt and play the same way with another beater,” said Majors.
As the typical story goes, an individual is not always available for a given tournament, game, or scrimmage. Banking a team’s strategy in terms of beaters on just two people puts a lot of weight on both beaters being present, uninjured, and at peak performance; it becomes a delicate system that falls apart easily should someone get sick, injured, or have other obligations. It also becomes a handicap on a player’s abilities, who may have become so used to working with a certain person who can run quickly or throw far that they never felt the need to develop that skill themselves and instead focused on a complementing skill. This can leave the other half of the beater set at a distinct disadvantage as they have to play with someone new and unfamiliar. The incohesive beaters may take up precious game time on pitch to fully get on the same page with each other, which can put the entire team at a disadvantage.
In opposition to the set beater partner method, a growing trend in many quidditch teams, especially as average team size grows, is a rotating pool of beaters who have no set partner but work equally with one another. This way, all beaters have generally the same amount of play time with any of the other beaters thus opening the team strategy for a tournament up to more options that hinge less on one person being gone or unable to play at that moment.
“When I was on [Wizengamot Quidditch Club of] VCU, we kind of had loose beater partners,” said Natasha Conerly, formerly a beater with VCU and District of Columbia Quidditch Club [DCQC]. “[DCQC] essentially worked in just general girl beater-guy beater rotations and played with everybody.”
Conerly played almost all of her quidditch career as a beater, competitively and noncompetitively, with no specific set beater partner, but with a wide range of partners. Starting with VCU and then going on to play with the DCQC community team, Conerly has had experience with various methods of organizing beaters.
“On the one hand, one person was easier because I knew what he needed and what my role was,” said Conerly. “However, to me it seems unreasonable to pull out someone just because their partner needs to stop.”
The beater set itself is a partnership that can easily fall apart if, as Conerly points out, one half of the set needs a break in game or gets injured in play. While there may be comfort in knowing exactly what is expected of a beater by their partner, there is also a dependency and reliance on the other person to hold their own on the pitch and fulfill their role in game.
Having a set beater partner can be a tactical advantage if set up and played correctly by the team. The partners should be able to work very cohesively to make up for not only their partner’s faults but also be a good player in general so as to help their partner recover from mistakes or unexpected plays. The popular 1.5 beater play can be effective with a set beater partner as the pair of beaters would be close enough with their partner to tell when the play might have gone wrong, or to be suddenly expected to defend the hoops or the other bludger on their own. Most defense plays — zone or man-to-man — would also excel from a set beater partner with the idea that the set of beaters would be able to make up or cover equal ground with their partner. Having a beater rotation might make plays such as these less effective as they rely on the set of beaters to work well together when they might be mismatched.
A beater with a strong arm has a better chance of making a well-rounded team with a beater who might have speed over strength. Set beater partners allow a team to know exactly what it is putting out on the field with the guarantee that the two players are able to work together rather than the chance that they will not. This is not an option for every team, but on the other hand a beater rotation does not leave a gap in the roster if one person cannot make it. The rotational pool method also encourages beaters to be more well-rounded rather than focus on having a specialty or working on a specific skill. Each side has its own tradeoffs that might make it fit better to some teams rather than others.
All in all, the organizational method of beaters, like many things, is situational and based on many team factors. Large teams have more choice in which method they prefer to employ based solely on numbers while smaller teams are less likely to have the ability to enforce specific beater partnerships over a general pool of beaters. Even then, the region or possibly just in which tournament the team is playing, competitive or not, can itself be a determining factor in how a team wants its beaters to assemble. Competitive teams most likely just want the best beaters the team has to offer overall to give them the strongest chance of winning, regardless if they come as a set of partners or not. Non-competitive teams may have the ability to have a combination of methods, going by how the beaters themselves prefer to organize and interact as well as which method they feel more comfortable with. While each method has its own pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to what works best with each team for each situation. Neither of the systems themselves are cut and dry but change regionally and with each individual team, leaving no real correct answer. Instead, it leaves a willingness to accept the benefits as well as the ramifications of one method over the other.