The Hidden Athleticism In Shapes and Flowing Flatwork

Working with shapes explores and demonstrates athletic understanding in a much deeper way that simply throwing a Zig Zag or Around the World.

Flatwork, Flow, Shapes, Throw Placement and Flight, and Release Diversity all require and can demonstrate athletic ability. How these skills are demonstrated or performed may or may not have an impact on Athleticism and Showmanship.

Spice and Jack Fahle demonstrate some flowing disc dog Flatwork with a focus on Shapes and Flow. Shapes are created by the movement, patterns, and position of the dog, handler and disc. This video has been brought to you by the Patrons of Pawsitive Vybe – become a patron to support this kind of work for the future –


The play must be translated and read on the fly and related to the wind and field conditions. The dog’s speed and direction must be calculated and read. Throw placement and timing must be computed on the fly and executed in flow.

Some athleticism and showmanship can be harvested from Shapes and Flatwork. It requires athletic knowledge, position, poise, and a playmaking ability to pull this stuff off.

This playmaking knowledge and ability is distinctly different from the throw placement and flight and diversity and difficulty required in, say in throwing a zig zag. This knowledge is also completely missing from the collective consciousness of disc dog freestylers and disc doggers in general.

The Whole Story and the Full Equation

The requirements for the throwing skills are in there but they are not the full story. The Flatwork is in there but not the full story. The Flow is in there, but it’s not the full story.

The full story in this little Spice Jam requires athleticism, the type of playmaking and game reading that separates top shelf players from great athletes.

A Zig Zag and Around the World requires throwing skills like placement and flight, but the athleticism knowledge, the playmaking knowledge, timing, and ability is managed by the pattern itself. The handler simply fills in the blanks. The only athleticism scores that apply are how bad ass you were when making the throw. And of Course this is a simplification. Zig Zags and Around the World are great skills that require great skill.

Flowing Flatwork without a pattern demonstrates an athletic playmaking ability that is not there within a tightly defined, mechanistic pattern like an Around the World or Zig Zag where the playmaking control and the read is defined by the pattern itself.

Flatwork + Flow + Shapes = greater Athleticism & Showmanship + Throw Placement & Flight

Clock and Counter

Like being able to go both left and right as a basketball player or fighting from both stances, playing a game that displays clockwise and counter clock balance is an athletic endeavor and has applications on handler Athleticism scores.

All things equal, the athlete that works in both directions is superior to the athlete that only works in one direction.

Scale and Separation

Working remotely and placing well timed targets at the right spot is also an athletic expression.

Just like there is a difference between a 12 inch throw for a flip or a vault and a 1-2 meter throw for a flip or a vault in Athleticism, Separation between dog and handler during work requires athleticism to manage.

When all the tricks start at the handler either from front position, through, or an Around, that is an athletic expression. It is a necessary and functional expression, but it is only one.

Working with the dog away from you enhances athleticism as it tests the ability to work and think at various distances.

All things equal, the athlete that works and throws at distance and at multliple angles, scales and distances will have displayed better athleticism than the handler that did everything from Front position or at 20 yards.

Defining and Hitting a Moving Target

It is well understood that hitting a moving target is harder, athletically speaking, to hitting a stationary target. And simply throwing with no regards to a target isn’t very athletic at all unless you’re going for distance.

A crazy throw might be athletic, but a crazy throw to a moving target is crazy athletic. If you ascribe a crazy athleticism score to a crazy throw, what do you do when a similar crazy throw is delivered to a moving target? Isn’t it more athletic to deliver to a moving target?

Creating an intended play via flatwork and delivering a disc to a moving target should have some kind of impact on athleticism, all things being equal, right?

On Playing Blindfolded

Blind tosses complicate the situation. Is that complication an athletic failing or a demonstration of skills and creativity. What separates the two?

When does doing something creative and cool become a boneheaded play? When does the boneheaded play become a clever expression of creativity?

Sometimes breaking the rules is necessary and proper, other times it is best to be proper. Both following the rules and knowing when to break them are a part of athleticism and showmanship.

There is a difference between luck and skill. There is a fine line between bravery and reckless behavior. There is also a difference between a fearful response and courage.

Crazy throws and outlandish, flashy movements that don’t pan out maybe shouldn’t deliver a big boost to Athleticism. Discretion being the better part of valor and stuff…

Staying True To Your Roots and Leveraging Knowledge

The combined athletic prowess and coordinated skills are developed and required in the UpDog games but seem to be the first thing to disappear when freestyle begins. They are no longer relied on and are treated as irrelevant to freestyle. Nothing could be further from the truth.

UpDog Gamer:

“I need to learn how to do cool stuff!”
You already are doing cool stuff. You’re just not trying to look cool while doing it…

The games teach the base level athleticism that should allow for and create better showmanship, but we cast all of that intangible knowledge off in freestyle in order to look cool. It’s like saying I don’t need any of that music theory shit, I just want to jam in the guitar, or forgetting that you went to Juliard school of music and treat the guitar as some kind of foreign instrument with no instructions.

What Does This Mean?

“Aren’t you just ruining the pure athletic expression with this idea?”

Not at all. Hand eye coordination, a key athletic attribute is hand + eye. The eye part is key. Fast reflexes don’t matter, athletically speaking, if the eye is off. All the hand eye coordination in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re not looking in the right place or are facing the wrong way. 

If you are consistently in the wrong position and have to rely on reflex and superior speed to recover and get yourself into position, you might be fast, but you’re not a good athlete. If you move and throw really well but don’t know where and when to put it, you need to work on your mental understanding of the game. Athleticism scores should reflect some of that. 

Being in the right place at the right time is not about luck. It’s about reading the situation, handling the variables, understanding the game, and putting yourself into position. 

Being athletically fast is not just about speed. It’s about understanding the game, understanding position, reading the situation, keeping your poise, being aware of changes within the game and moving with purpose. 

As judges and players we should try to keep those things in mind as well when it comes to judging and developing athleticism. There are many places where less physically gifted people can demonstrate athleticism and earn athleticism scores.

All things equal, players who demonstrate athletic intangibles should get a better score than those who have trouble with athletic intangibles. 

For those who are not super athletic, work on your intangibles, shore them up. Become bigger, faster, and more athletic with your mind/body, not your body alone or cool throws. 

This discussion plays on the nuance of Athleticism & Showmanship in disc dog freestyle. There are many ways to skin the athletic cat, and all of them do not and should not revolve around BIG, fast, freaky, and flashy. There are many intangible attributes of athleticism that can be displayed and evaluated and should be weighed in the final measure. 


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