We know that till the first book, Slytherin had won the House Trophy six times in a row. As an answer on this site pointed out, this was probably due to winning the Quidditch Cup all those years (an opinion with which I agree).

However, from the first book onwards, Slytherin somehow follows a bizarre a selection policy, going for size rather than skill. This is clearly seen in their player's sizes, which are described occasionally as 'hulking'. The players often seemed to be dim-witted, too.

Angelina says:

"Last year's Beaters, have left, but it looks as though Montague's replaced them with the usual gorillas, rather than anyone who can fly particularly well..."
The Lion and the Serpent, The Order of the Phoenix

And Lee says:

"And here comes the Slytherin​ team, led by captain Flint. He's made some changes to the line-up and going for size rather than skill-"
[...]
Malfoy was easily the smallest person on the Slytherin team; the rest of them were in enormous."
The Quidditch Final, The Prisoner of Azkaban

As far as I could verify, these were the results of their policy:

First year: Lost to Gryffindor

Second Year: Same as above

Third Year: Lost to Gryffindor (and maybe Ravenclaw)

Fifth Year: Lost to Gryffindor and Hufflepuff

Sixth Year: Yet another loss to Gryffindor

There are a couple of matches I haven't filled in, as I am not sure of the results. Feel free to add them if you're sure of the outcome of the match.

My Questions

  1. Despite all these reverses, why did Slytherin stick to this horrible policy of size over skill?

  2. Why did it switch from a presumably successful policy before the first book to this awful policy?

Are there any in-universe explanations for this?

The only one I could offer is that Snape, Head of Slytherin House, was largely ignorant about Quidditch. But the same could probably apply to the other Heads, too.

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    Quidditch games are, like, 80% determined by the seekers. Maybe their seeker during these six years was just that much better than his competition, and they blamed his unworthy successors rather than the "usual gorillas" (who might have not been that different from to their golden age counterparts) for their losses during the time of the books. – Annatar Aug 9 '17 at 13:05
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    Having big and strong dudes that lack skill has certainly been the policy of the British national soccer teams (all 4 of them) for a long time, very much so during the years HP was written. Now they go for players that are fast but lack any sort of skill. I don't think it is so far fetched to assume that some school kids wouldn't make the same mistakes. And of course they are supposed to be unlikable, scary and mean. And the entire sport doesn't make any sense as everyone but Ms JK knows ;) – Raditz_35 Aug 9 '17 at 13:06
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    also keep in mind point of view of the story (and yes, that is an in-universe response) - commentary on the Slytherin team is either coming from Harry (who isn't terribly reliable in unbiased opinions or Slytherins) or from Lee Jordan, who is also shown on several occasions to harbor Slytherin bias or from other Gryf team members. It could simply be that we are just getting what a couple of Gryfs think about Slytherin - (ie - they are dumb giant bullies and they suck) – NKCampbell Aug 9 '17 at 14:00
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    also - we can't assume Snape is ignorant of the game because he officiates the second match in Harry's first year. One would think you'd need to know a bit of the game to do that. We are also shown that Minerva is competitive re: Snape and the games (exact quotes elude me at the moment) - so if he were ignorant / apathetic, why would Minerva be so keen to show him up? – NKCampbell Aug 9 '17 at 14:03
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    Bear in mind that some of the positions that they were trying to fill were Beaters. This is a position where being a brute, a gorilla or whatever you want to call it wasn't a drawback, it was an asset. If you hit Bludgers at people with a baseball bat then you're going to need to be big and strong. Crabbe and Goyle weren't smart and probably couldn't fly particularly well but that doesn't mean that they were bad at their jobs. – The Dark Lord Aug 9 '17 at 20:43
up vote 21 down vote accepted

The problem isn't the Slytherin team, it's being up against Harry.

The Slytherin Quidditch team is actually fairly good in general, either despite or because of their brutal tactics. The problem, quite simply put, is Harry messed it all up for them.

Before Harry: The Gryffindor team isn't good and lost heavily to Slytherin at least once.

Once she sees how well Harry can fly, McGonagall wants him to join the Gryffindor team, especially because their team isn't very successful.

“I shall speak to Professor Dumbledore and see if we can’t bend the first-year rule. Heaven knows, we need a better team than last year. Flattened in that last match by Slytherin, I couldn’t look Severus Snape in the face for weeks …”
*- *Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 9 (The Midnight Duel)**

In Harry's third year, Oliver Wood laments that Gryffindor hasn't won the Quidditch Cup in seven years, so that means they lost it for at least 5 years (Wood wouldn't have been at Hogwarts before that so might not be counting the time before he began) and then the two years Harry was there.

“Gryffindor haven’t won for seven years now. OK, so we’ve had the worst luck in the world – injuries – then the tournament getting called off last year …”
*- *Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 8 (Flight of the Fat Lady)**

Every Quidditch match at Hogwarts we know of:

Harry's first year:

Slytherin v Gryffindor (Harry's first match) - Gryffindor wins

Slytherin was ahead 40 - 20 before Harry caught the Snitch.

Gryffindor v Hufflepuff - Gryffindor wins

How much either team managed to score was unclear, but the game lasted less than five minutes as Harry caught the Snitch in record time and won the game.

Gryffindor v Ravenclaw (no Harry) - Ravenclaw wins

Harry's second year:

Slytherin v Gryffindor - Gryffindor wins

Slytherin was doing quite well in this match, scoring 60 points to Gryffindor's 0.

Gryffindor v Hufflepuff - canceled because two students were Petrified

Harry's third year:

Gryffindor v Hufflepuff - Hufflepuff wins (because Dementors made Harry panic)

Ravenclaw v Hufflepuff - Ravenclaw wins

The Ravenclaw team is described as having "flattened" Hufflepuff in this Quidditch match.

Gryffindor v Ravenclaw - Gryffindor wins

When we last heard the score before Harry catches the Snitch, Gryffindor was ahead 80 - 30. This is also the first match Harry plays with his Firebolt.

Slytherin v Gryffindor - Gryffindor wins

Gryffindor was ahead 80 - 20 in this match, with the combination of Harry as Seeker and having a Firebolt.

Harry's fourth year: Quidditch canceled because of the Triwizard Tournament.

Harry's fifth year:

Slytherin v Gryffindor - Gryffindor wins

Slytherin was ahead 40 - 10 when Harry caught the Snitch, and Draco Malfoy only narrowly missed catching it.

(Harry gets banned from Quidditch)

Gryffindor v Hufflepuff - Hufflepuff wins despite Gryffindor catching the Snitch

Hufflepuff wins 240 - 230 although Ginny, the substitute Seeker, catches the Snitch.

Slytherin v Hufflepuff - Hufflepuff wins

Hufflepuff wins narrowly over Slytherin in this game.

Gryffindor v Ravenclaw - Gryffindor wins

Ron barely scrapes by a win for Gryffindor.

Quidditch Cup: Gryffindor

Harry's sixth year:

(Since Umbridge is gone Harry isn't banned from Quidditch anymore)

Slytherin v Gryffindor - Gryffindor wins

Malfoy is off as Seeker, and a substitute called Harper takes his place. The last score we hear is 60 - 0 and Gryffindor is mentioned after that to have kept scoring. However, they couldn't have been any more than 140 points ahead of Slytherin when Harry caught the Snitch, because he knew Slytherin would win if their Seeker caught it instead. In fact, Harper did nearly catch the Snitch, but Harry taunted him and distracted him.

Gryffindor v Hufflepuff - Hufflepuff wins (because a Bludger hit Harry)

After Cormac McLaggen accidentally hits the Bludger into Harry, Hufflepuff wins 320 - 60.

Gryffindor v Ravenclaw - Gryffindor wins (despite Harry being banned)

Harry is banned from playing Quidditch as a punishment for using Sectumsempra on Draco, so Ginny substituted in for him as Seeker. Gryffindor still beats Ravenclaw 450 - 140.

Harry doesn't show up for his seventh year and we don't know about any of the matches.

Once Harry is able to play in top form, every other House team loses.

The only matches Gryffindor loses after Harry joins are the ones that Harry either couldn't attend, or was injured or otherwise unable to play well (like when the Dementors invaded the pitch). Once Harry was present and didn't get injured or panicked by Dementors while playing the match, his team won every time, no matter which House they were playing against. Slytherin actually seems to have come the closest to beating Harry.

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    I wish I could find my double-upvote button..... – Skooba Aug 10 '17 at 20:05
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    And we see typical Slytherin apologetics from Bellatrix Black. Slytherins being biased as usual in their own house's favor. :P More seriously, amazing answer, it definitely deserves more upvotes. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 12 '17 at 12:54
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    @Bellatrix Thanks for your meticulous answer! (+1) I've accepted it! Congratulations on reaching 10000 reputation points! – Harry Weasley Aug 21 '17 at 9:35
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    No offense, but I'm a little confused why this answer was posted and accepted as correct. This is almost an exact duplicate of other existing answers (including mine), with less emphasis on the Slytherin perspective (which was the point of the question). Rather than saying what Slytherin does well/poorly, it just emphasizes that Harry is a good seeker, which we all know. – EvSunWoodard Aug 22 '17 at 22:38
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    @EvSunWoodard Mine gives more information on the individual games, as well as how other Houses fared against Gryffindor (with and without Harry in play) for comparison with the Slytherin team. – Bellatrix Aug 23 '17 at 4:09

1) They kept size over skill because it was very effective for them in the past, and it seemed to beat most other teams even in the present. The Slytherin team was often in contention for the cup, even while Harry was at school. It also has a precedent in the real world - eg Alabama's football team. Let's look at the results of Slytherin that we know outside of Gryffindor in the years Harry is at Hogwarts:

First year:

Win over Ravenclaw, loss to Gryffindor, but it's fully possible they won the cup this year too

remember in the first year they also went up 60-0 on the presumably 'more skilled' Gryffindor team before Harry caught the snitch.

Second year: after losing to Gryffindor, the season is cancelled and we don't know how they fared vs Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff (if they even played these games, Gryf vs Slyth is often game 1 of the season it seems)

Third year:

Slytherin defeated Ravenclaw (narrowly)

Slytherin defeated Hufflepuff (heavily)

Fourth year: didn't happen because of Triwizard Tournament

Fifth year:

Hufflepuff defeated Slytherin

Sixth year:

lost to Gryffindor, no other Slytherin matches reported but we can assume they lost another because Ravenclaw would've won the cup without a solid thrashing from Gryffindor.

Seventh year and up we have no info

2) It was effective before because Gryffindor didn't have Harry. The whole purpose of Quidditch is to make Harry a hero player (I don't know why, but that's why it exists). Anyone who catches the snitch basically wins the game, and Harry catches the snitch very quickly in almost every match he's in, excluding the Hufflepuff game third year.

As for Snape not knowing things about Quidditch I find that unlikely but plausible, we never find out whether he was very involved in that. We do know he attends Quidditch matches, and that he got involved with it when Umbridge was at Hogwarts, and that he tried to stop Harry from being involved by giving him detention during Quidditch practices. As noted in the comments, Snape was also a referee of a match, meaning he did know the rules, even if he didn't get as involved as McGonagall. He also did sent Flint to the practice fields with a note in CoS.

McGonagall on the other hand, is very involved and loves the game and wants to win very badly. Plenty of evidence of that.

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    I think the first point here is the real reason. The tactic never caused them to lose badly enough to question the method. – amflare Aug 9 '17 at 13:42
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    Size as a factor is one thing, but you said they took size over skill, which is patently untrue – Kevin Aug 9 '17 at 16:42
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    The game's scoring seems heavily weighted toward the one activity that the protagonist engaged in. I think its a really good point that the only place Slytherin was really lacking relatively was in that one position. – T.E.D. Aug 9 '17 at 16:44
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    "remember in the first year they also went up 60-0 on the presumably 'more skilled' Gryffindor team" Since I'm currently re-reading the book... Technically true, but five of those goals were apparently scored while everybody was distracted by Harry's issues with his broom (caused by Quirrell). – Anthony Grist Aug 9 '17 at 17:24
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    Snape had to know something about Quidditch to referee it. – Stephen S Aug 9 '17 at 17:31

I think the main issue is ironically, not Marcus Flint as captain, but Malfoy.

There is something that you are overlooking in your base assumptions, which is that, while Slytherin have been losing to Gryffindor, they have been doing very well against other teams.

Year 1 - Despite losing to Harry (winning the match with a catch, though the team itself was down), Slytherin wins the Quidditch cup in the first year. And if you read through the match, it's easy to see why. Early on, Wood is knocked off his broom and the goal is left open. Even a bad team can score on an open goal.

Year 2 - Slytherin has faster brooms and it shows. They are WRECKING our red and gold squad. Harry's catch is the only thing that wins them the game. And it appears that Marcus Flint even accounts for this in his captaincy. While, yes, Harry outflies Malfoy, Malfoy is a good seeker. He is the smallest member of their team, but the most talented. Flint knows that their biggest weakness is seeking and he tries to reinforce his team by giving them a better seeker. It's not Flint's fault that Malfoy was too busy being a jerk to keep an eye on the snitch. Quidditch is canceled the rest of year two, so it isn't surprising that Flint kept the line up. It may not have won the match with Gryffindor, but it did perform extremely well against them, for the most part.

Year 3 - again, Harry is the bane of Flint's existence. His team won both of their other matches this year, but couldn't beat Harry and the Jets. Harry has his shiny new firebolt, so what are they even going to do? Honestly?

Year 4 - No matches.

Year 5 - And now, it's Montague! A new captain, time to smash the red and gold. Remember Weasley is our King? What a great bit! Well, again, Slytherin is winning, until that Scarfaced Potter kid with his fancy professional level broom sweeps them away by catching an early snitch. Slytherin also lose in an upset to Hufflepuff, which might actually be their worst loss to date.

Year 6 - Malfoy straight up doesn't go to the match this year. He basically throws this year. Too busy trying to be a murderer and all that.

Year 7 - No Harry, who even cares.

So, what we've seen overwhelmingly is that the Slytherin team, has been the better team every year but year 6. The only problem is that Harry has consistently outperformed the Slytherin seeker, (all but one year on a broom that literally flew faster than the competition). Let's be honest, the scoring system is really bad, especially when your seeker is literally performanced enhanced.

Summary: the Slytherin team is the best team, so the reason Marcus Flint keeps the players he has is because, despite absolutely brutish play, they get the desired result, winning. He tries actively to shore up his team weakness by putting the best seeker he can with Malfoy. You can say what you want about him buying his way in, but he's definitely not bad, and Harry literally dominates based on his superfast broom. They do everything short of physically assaulting Harry to win, and even that shows great restraint and game smarts. Flint could have had his team attack Harry, but the seeker is the most rule-protected member of a team, so he does not, he assaults the Keeper instead to try and run up the score before Harry can catch the snitch. A strategy that doesn't end up working, but a good one nonetheless.

Quidditch Scores

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    I think this is the best answer here. – The Dark Lord Aug 9 '17 at 20:24

Quidditch practice keeps the school's worst troublemakers busy and tired.

It's a subtle tool for maintaining order at Hogwarts by enlisting the students' unknowing aid in their own policing. The benefits of this unspoken policy are made particularly evident in Order of the Phoenix when Umbridge bans Fred and George from the Gryffindor team.

Snape is smarter than Umbridge.

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    @NKCampbell: As a 17/18 year old student, if the head of your house/department comes and "suggests" you add someone to your team... you (at least) find a spot on the bench for them. – tonysdg Aug 9 '17 at 16:53
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    This seems highly speculative, do you have evidence to support the claim? Most of the players don't seem like trouble makers at all, and just because you are a big brute and/or in Slytherin automatically make you a troublemaker. – Skooba Aug 9 '17 at 17:01
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    agree w/ @Skooba - on the Gryf team, it's really on the Weasley twins (and Harry if you consider all his rule breaking) - and sports or not, the Weasley's are troublemakers. None of the other players we are shown are troublemakers at all - even on Slytherin. How many actual rules do we see the Slytherins break? They may be bullys but they, at the least operate under the radar. Angelina Johnson, Alecia Spinnett, Cedric Digory...worst troublemakers? – NKCampbell Aug 9 '17 at 17:35
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    Funny answer, but absolutely no content suggests this is the actual answer. – EvSunWoodard Aug 9 '17 at 20:08
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    @TheDarkLord - It's a serious answer to the question of why Snape would be satisfied with the performance of the Slytherin team during Harry's years. Sports are a constructive outlet for competitive behaviours, and Snape's memory-trip in Deathly Hallows showed that he had more concern for students' well-being than he let on publicly. – Gaultheria Aug 9 '17 at 20:52

Speaking from the point of view of someone who participates in a physical contact dependent ball sport.

When skilled players are lacking, do not underestimate the advantage of shear brute strength in a player. Both for intimidation and for the ability to move the ball rapidly down the field.

Often successful amateur teams concentrate on the current squad and neglect to bring up new players, the statement that all the beaters had left in the same year means that this could have left them with nobody with the skills or knowledge to train up new players to fill the spaces. Replacing them with the most physically powerful potential players in such a situation isn't actually that bad a decision.

A year or two down the line, they should have picked up the skills required to play the game.

Your mistake is thinking it's a team sport.

In most games, the points difference based on goals is well below 150, meaning whoever catches the Snitch wins the match. As long as your team is good enough to prevent falling behind by 150 points or more, there is little incentive to become better, unless you can become good enough to get ahead by 150 or more.

They had Malfoy as a Seeker, who was able to fly well.

Ultimately they lost frequently because they didn't have Harry Potter, who was unusually gifted at flying.

The other players are there mostly to keep the crowd from getting bored by playing a game of basketball that has little impact on who wins the game of 'catch the snitch'.

The main important thing the other players can do is protect their own seeker, and interfere with the other team's seeker. Strength, more than skill is useful here.

  • The winner of the game is not necessarily the team that catches the snitch. Catching the snitch just ends the game. The winner is the team with the most points. – PC Luddite Aug 10 '17 at 1:04
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    @PCLuddite houses aren't going to build a team around the 1 in a million chance that the goal difference will get to 15 or more. They will build a team around likely outcomes. In which case, whoever catches the snitch, wins the game – Scott Aug 10 '17 at 1:06
  • That's reasonable, but it doesn't really change the fact that the person who catches the snitch is not automatically the winner like you suggest. The Harry Potter wikia does cite some precedent – PC Luddite Aug 10 '17 at 1:13
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    @PCLuddite - that link calls out a specific instance when it occurred. But by doing so, they are making my point that this sort of goal difference is noteworthy, i.e. not common. Much better to have strong, rough players who can interfere with the seeker, as in virtually all matches, this decides the winner. I've edited the post to more clearly focus it on 'this is what usually happens' – Scott Aug 10 '17 at 1:24
  • The game is called "Harry is great.". Everything else is just fluff around that. This is why this game makes no sense. – Florian Schaetz Aug 14 '17 at 13:24

There are some good answers here, but one thing I haven't seen mentioned is the nature of Slytherin itself.

In other words, politics and social influence are likely to be more of a factor in selecting players than on other teams.

The perfect example seems to be Malfoy becoming the Seeker, accompanied by an expensive purchase of brand new Nimbus 2001s for the whole team by Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy was also the very reason they lost his first match, because he was more focused on insulting Harry than in looking for the snitch, allowing Harry to catch it first.

This might also explain why Crabbe and Goyle were eventually brought onto the team during their 5th year.

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    If this is the case then why were Slytherin so all-conquering before Harry turned up? They would've been crippled by corruption and hereditary privilege during this period as well, right? – The Dark Lord Aug 9 '17 at 20:22
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    @TheDarkLord that's a bit of an argument from extremes. I said they're likely more influenced by politics and personal influence. That's a far cry from saying it's the sole driving force. Absent strong family influence, stronger players would still be naturally selected. Even in cases of potential favoritism, it's not like Malfoy was a bad Seeker. He just wasn't as good as he should have been. – Beofett Aug 9 '17 at 23:48

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