Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Art of Calling Passes

Originally Posted on Sept. 21, 2008

When joining a Flyball club there are many roles to choose from to pitch in. The glory seekers jump in the lane with both feet handling and training the dogs. We heap praise on others who are doing the heavy lifting hauling mats, lugging the box and setting up jumps. The social coordinators are most content to make tasty snacks for all to partake at tournaments. My niche seems to be in information technology so to speak.

That's where the scribes, schedule and record keepers and pass callers are found. In this blog entry, I'll do what I can to share some techniques that work for me as Sure Shots club pass caller. By no means is this an end all, be all directive. If you have other techniques that work for you, please let me know. I'm always looking for new ways to improve what I do too. My email is:

* Find a camera that you can work with: pass calling by the naked eye has never come easily for me. The dogs are running way too fast to make an accurate pass length determination. That's why I depend on my digital camera. I spent over an hour and a half at my local chain electronics store testing out cameras one day. I am absolutely sure they were ready to kick me out the door by the time I was done. I was oh, in a word, picky. Not because I was looking for the finest in optical quality or I was counting the number of Megapixels. I was testing for three things:

What do the movies look like, how quickly could I go from recording to playing mode, how easily was it to stop the action, then move the images forwards/backwards. I finally settled on the Olympus FE-340 because it did all of the above and also fit into my pocket neatly with room to spare. If you have a camera that works well for you, please let me know.

* Make sure you have a large, empty memory card a charged battery and a battery charger. An extra memory card and back up battery is highly advisable. These little cameras use memory and batteries like it's nobody's business. Have the extra memory card and battery on your person just in case you need to make a quick change between heats.

* I line up at the 1 foot line and shoot over the head of the line judge. The camera is set as wide angle as possible to be able to view the line calling hash marks as well as a couple of feet on the "early" side of the start/finish line. I found if I line up right on the start/finish line, the photoelectric equipment obscures the camera's view of the line itself making it more difficult to accurately measure the pass.

* I make a short movie of every heat, but because my information is extremely time sensitive, not every part of every heat. For example, most times, I just shoot the passes, not the start or the finish of each heat. I usually hit the record button either when the start dog hits the box or has already made his turn and is headed for his first jump. The more time you record, the more time you have to sift through to get to the passes. If you time this one right, you will be able to get your first pass measured almost immediately after shooting.

* Stop the recording just after the last pass has taken place. Go into play mode immediately and check the first pass by pausing the action and slowly moving the image forwards and backwards until you can clearly see where both dogs are at the time the dog's nose coming back from the box crosses the start/finish line. To save time, this means you need to start the process while the last dog is still racing. The more time you save, the more time the handlers have to make pass corrections or adjustments. Commit this length to memory and do not forget it.

* After you have the first pass called, start walking up the lane towards the handlers as soon as the heat has finished. As you are walking, keep playing your recording and measure the second and third passes for the heat that just took place. By the time you reach the handlers, you'll have all three passes called and the information at the ready. This technique also saves a lot of time. (I sure hope you can walk and chew gum at the same time...) Did you remember the length of the first pass while you were doing all this walking/viewing multitasking? I sure hope so!

* There is usually handler/canine bedlam in the lane after the heat. Handlers tugging and rewarding dogs; incessant barking; the race official is trying to reset the lanes for the next heat, etc. As pass caller you need to get the handlers' attentions quickly and make sure everyone has the pass length information they need. You could either tell the team captain the pass call lengths to relay to the team or loudly announce the lengths at once to the entire team. The latter is most efficient and the one I use most, even though it forces me to yell to be heard above the din. Make sure the handlers acknowledge that they have received the information. It does them no good if they didn't hear/understand/internalize it.

* If the pass is so wide that the camera couldn't see it all, just call it "wide". If the pass was early, hopefully you were in a position to estimate how early it was. Was it more than a couple of feet or was it a matter of inches?

* After you're done giving pass lengths to the handlers, tell your scribe the pass lengths for your team records. It's a good idea to position the scribe fairly close you for this.

* Did you just buy a new camera and you're learning how to use it? Great! Practice all you can to familiarize yourself with its operation prior to the tournament. Do not wait for the tournament itself or you will be all thumbs your first several heats.

* In the course of pass calling the last few tournaments, I've started to develop my own set of slang terms based on the combination of pass lengths:

1-1-1 "Aces High"

2-1-2 "Manhattan" (NYC Area Code is 212)

2-1-4 "Dallas" (Dallas Area Code is 214)

2-2-2 "Deuces Wild"

2-W-W "Redneck Couple" (Two in a double wide)

3-1-2 "Chicago" (Chicago Area Code is 312)

3-W-W "Redneck Threesome" (Three in a double wide)

4-1-1 "Information"

6-6-6 "Satan's Passes"

Warning! You might want to stick to just giving out the numbers as these terms can be obscure and confusing.

1 comment:

  1. Mike- the author of this blog entry...May 19, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    Update: Just calling a pass "wide" was too vague and not enough information for the Sure Shots handlers to make accurate race adjustments. I have figured out that I can estimate the width of a pass that was too wide for the camera by determining where the two dogs' noses meet, then doubling the number of the lane's hashmark. Example: the dogs' noses meet at the 4 foot line, that's the equivalent of an 8 foot pass. Cool, huh?

    * Not calling passes off the camera "wide" anymore was a bummer of sorts because I'd just come up with a new slang term I really liked. A "W-W-W" set of passes was a "Web Page". Believe me when I say, no one on "Team Teal" wanted to hear about my newest term, no matter how clever it was. Hey, the camera doesn't lie. ;~)