The Nike-clad coach barked out the words as they appeared on the screen: Rules! Opponents! Officials! Teammates! Self!

Her audience was still paying attention more than an hour into her presentation. They soaked it up as she encouraged them to prove themselves to be what they know they can be: athletes. Athletes, that is, with coaches and referees and rule books and tryouts and fans.

But also with brooms. And a guy who runs around as if he's a magical flying ball. No capes, though. They tossed out that idea years ago.

Welcome to the third annual conference of the International Quidditch Association, held June 27-29 in Washington, D.C.

Quidditch, of course, is a game invented by J.K. Rowling and detailed in her seven "Harry Potter" novels. In the game, wizards fly on brooms to score points by catching, throwing and shooting balls through vertical, elevated hoops.

Adapted by muggles (non-wizard folk) at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2005, the phenomenon has grown to include more than 4,000 players on 300 teams around the world today, mostly based at colleges and universities, although several cities have community teams as well.

The game is typically played on a 30- by 48-yard field on which athletes run with brooms or PVC pipes between their legs and throw volleyballs or dodgeballs at each other and through those hoops. Scoring is complex, and the highest-value maneuver involves catching a human embodiment of the "snitch," that magical flying ball who sprints around the field of play.

"Attitude is what matters most," the coach, a paid speaker, was saying now, "especially when you want to be taken seriously."

To have their sport taken seriously, the quidditch players have been certifying their coaches, standardizing the rules and recruiting talented athletes. The conference, at which some 40 players gathered to improve coaching, refereeing and team-management skills, and then play in a small tournament, was part of that effort.

But they've also been trying something else to gain respect: ditching Harry Potter.

In recent years and in conferences such as the Washington gathering, the players have been actively dissociating themselves from the fantasy world in which the sport was born. Though most still love the Potter series, they have decided that quidditch has outgrown its children's-novel roots.

And they're not alone. Seven years after the final book was released and four years after the last movie premiered, the fan base for the Boy Who Lived -- on websites, at conferences and in this sport -- is mostly leaving Harry Potter behind.

It was once common for college quidditch players to dress as characters from the books and talk about "bringing fantasy to real life." Today, Harry Potter isn't even mentioned in the online history of the International Quidditch Association.

Instead, hoping to attract former varsity athletes, the group emphasizes that the activity is a full-contact sport. This year, it has changed the rules so that all quidditch coaches must be tested and certified.

"As we've pushed to be more of a sport, and as the average college team has become more competitive, it becomes more intimidating for the casual Harry Potter fan who has never played a sport before to join, and that's kind of sad," said Logan Anbinder, who has played for the University of Maryland team and the Silicon Valley Skyfighters, a community team founded two months ago in Mountain View.

The day after the quidditch coaching session, the conference continued with meetings on injury prevention, tournament planning and referee training.

But for one hour, 15 players gathered in convention center room 147A for a discussion on Harry himself. The group was made up primarily of the players who came to quidditch first as Potter fans. They are no longer the majority of the participants.

One had tried to start a team in the second grade. Another still runs a blog where she writes in character as Narcissa Malfoy. One bought a new Hogwarts robe every time she outgrew the previous one, so that she could keep dressing as Hermione. The question on the table was right up her alley: Who was a better friend to Harry -- Ron or Hermione?

"Hermione is way more useful. I mean, what does Ron do?"

"Just because they fought? True friendship is sometimes hating each other's guts."

A few players flipped through tattered copies of the books to make their points. Back and forth it went: Is Voldemort redeemable? Is it fair for J.K. Rowling to say Dumbledore was gay after the series ended? Does your house affiliation matter after you graduate from Hogwarts?

Then they gathered up their books and headed over to the next room, where for the first time they could be certified as official quidditch coaches. The questions here were different: When can a team be disqualified? When can a player be banned from the league? Does a medical professional need to be present at each match?

Many would always be Potter fans, but now being athletes mattered more.