There are three main components that create Shapes in disc dog freestyle. Where and how the dog moves, where and how the throws are made, and where and how the handler moves. These three elements work in concert to create Shapes and Team Movement. So it is not whether or not you are creating shapes in your disc dog play it is what shapes are you creating in your play.
What Are Shapes?
If you look at a round of freestyle from above, the dog, the disc, and the handler will create arcs and lines while moving on the field. These lines and arcs can and do create Shapes. The coordinated movement of dog, the handler, and the flight path of the disc will create the arcs and lines that make up the Shapes that the team employs in their play.
Shapes in the game of disc dog freestyle are not an opinion, they are a fact. The only question up for debate is what do they look like and what value do you place on them.
Shapes are a stand alone, scored sub element of the Team category in the UpDog Freestyle Showcase Criterion Round and are are partially judged in USDDN freestyle in the Zig Zag, Passing, and Directional Movement, categories, and also probably Field Presentation and Rhythmic Team.
Shapes also have an aesthetic and performance effect in all freestyle play regardless of scoring system as part of Team Movement and Flow.
The Dog’s Role
The natural movements of the dog and the manner in which the dog is run on the field has great bearing on shapes. Run the dog from point A to point B, challenging with low, long throws from an around or a point proximal to the handler and you have lots of lines and linear play. Linear play is, in itself, a Shape.
If you run a dog a bit more slowly with Flatwork and throw laterally, odds are you’re going to get more arcs and softer lines.
Most handlers tend to focus on what kind of dog they have and miss the idea that how you run your dog has more bearing on the Shapes in your game than the type of dog.
The dog’s outrun after catch and the retrieve and approach have great bearing on the team’s Shapes, but that is not the only variable in play. The dog’s natural movement is but one half of 1/3 of the equation.
The Handler’s Role
The handler has at least 3 roles in creating Shapes, and is the greatest variable in creating Shapes in disc dog freestyle.
The handler as a thrower is a key variable in shapes. How you throw it matters. Where you throw it matters. When you throw it matters.
The handler as Disc Manager, orchestrator of movement, and moving team mate, perhaps Field General is a better term, is also an important factor in Shape creation. Where you move matters. When and where you pick up discs matters. How you move your dog matters.
The handler as routine builder is, perhaps, the most important variable in Shape Creation. Your imagination and intent matter. What you intend to do out there is just as important as what you actually wind up doing out there.
The Disc’s Role
The role of the disc and how it is thrown cannot be denied either. Low long throws make lines and, potentially long outruns. High, poorly thrown discs also create lines but lead to zero outrun.
Where it is thrown and how it is thrown matter.
Shapes Are a Measure
Discs thrown with interception in mind create high level shapes that require precision placement and timing by both dog and handler.
What Roles Should Shapes Play in Your Game?
First off, know that they already are playing a role. Your current shapes are how you and your dog move on the field. That’s a fact, Jack.
As far as what role they can or should play in your game? That’s entirely up to you. You can play how you like. Want to play a linear game? That’s fine. Want to run in circles, that’s fine too. Only want to run clockwise? That’s cool. Want to swing both ways, that’s cool too.
Just know that your Shapes are your Team Movement. They are how you move and govern your pace of play, ability to manage discs, and flow. You do not have to be limited by or stuck with the Shapes your dog wants to run, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. It’s freestyle, after all. Do what you want.
What Role Should Shapes Play in Competition?
This is a tough question, and each individual judge needs to have an answer. This is freestyle after all, and not many organizations have discrete judging criteria on Shapes.
It falls upon the individual judges to find a place for Shapes within their understanding and to place competitive value, levels of difficulty, and performance requirements on the idea of Shapes.
It is my hope that more judges and players start to explore Shapes and get a sense for the the competitive value, levels of difficulty, and performance requirements that are already happening within the game of freestyle.
There is so much amazing play going on these days, so many amazing tricks and styles, with the absence of Shapes in the scoring rubrics and in the minds of judges, it truly is hard to subjectively separate this bad ass player from that bad ass player. And there are a bunch of bad ass players that utilize interesting Shapes in their games that are super fun to watch and super talented that are not getting the credit they deserve.
Factoring in Shapes in competitive freestyle judging would go a long way towards removing some of the subjectivity in the game and towards better overall play and understanding of the game.