Thursday, October 3, 2013

Flyball Boxloading

An incredibly important part of a successful flyball team is a box loader. With the dogs and handlers all at one end of the course, someone has to stand on the box at the other end and load the right ball into the right hole for each dog. This past weekend was my first time boxloading for one of our teams full time at a tournament. Previously, I've only filled in for a race or two, or boxloaded during practice.

A sample ball bucket from "Flying Underdogs"- included here are regular tennis balls, rubber chuck-it balls, half bounce balls, and small squishy balls. These buckets get set behind the barricades behind the box so the boxloader can grab more balls between heats to reload the box.

For some teams, boxloading is super easy. For others, it can be horribly complicated. I got off pretty easy with three of the six dogs on the team I was loading for all taking a normal size tennis ball and all in the same hole on the box. Most flyball boxes have four holes, two on the right and two on the left, and it is essential to put the ball in the right hole so that the dog can smoothly grab it while doing its trained turn. Also of key importance is getting the right kind of ball into that hole, and doing it in the right order during a lineup of 4 dogs.

A relatively easy lineup for this boxloader still requires holding onto four tennis balls at once and remembering which hole to put the ball in for each dog. It is generally a good idea to keep a ball in the box for the start dog, hold onto the balls for the other three dogs, and have at least one extra ball in your hand in case of a rerun. Aprons and pockets can be used to stash extra balls as well, but can take longer to get into.

For instance, Koira takes a racquetball in the far left hole- which is to the boxloader's right when standing on the box. Pallo's ball goes in that same hole, but is a small size tennis ball. The ball options I know of people using include regular tennis balls, small tennis balls, half bounce tennis balls, racquetballs, squishy balls, small squishy balls, fuzzy chuck-it balls, rubber chuck-it balls, black tennis balls, and foam balls. There is certainly a possibility that other people are using other balls as well! And while some dogs will still run okay if the wrong ball is loaded for them (Pallo will carry a full size tennis ball most of the time just fine), others will completely ignore the ball or spit it out if it is the wrong one (such as the Jack Russel on our team who uses fuzzy chuck-it balls).

Another method of organizing all of the different types of balls used by a team. You can see this team mostly uses standard tennis balls and small size balls.

So the boxloader of a team might get off easy (like I did) and just have to chant to themselves: right tennis, right tennis, right tennis, left small squishy. Or, they might get a more complicated line up like: right big hole tennis ball, left small hole small tennis, left big hole rubber chuck-it ball, left big hole racquetball. And, keep in mind, while only four dogs run at once, you are allowed to change the order of those dogs during the race, or switch out any of those four for an alternate dog listed on the team (each team can list up to 6 dogs). So the boxloader has to have really good communication during the race from their team in order to keep up with any changes in the lineup.

Another sample ball bucket, with tennis balls, small balls, half bounce balls, and small squishy balls

In addition to loading the box for the team during the race, the boxloader has some other responsibilities. The most important one is to know which side of which ring their team is going to be in for the next race and get the box into the ring and set up, get the ball buckets set behind the barricades where they can be reached to restock balls between heats, and help with the warm ups. Extra people sometimes will help with these tasks as well, especially if the warm ups use a lot of props.

A "prop castle" being used during warm ups. The jump helps remind the dogs to get all four feet on the box while the striped gutters on either side help keep the dogs turning tightly back into the racing lane. Different teams have different warm up routines that require different props and numbers of props. Warm up time is 1 minute (2 minutes for the first race of the day) so all of this has to be set up quickly to warm up and then removed from the ring before the race starts.

In our region, it is also customary for the team who was just in the ring to leave someone to fill the seat of box judge. On our team, that generally is the box loader. So after the race is done, the box loader removes the box from the ring, moves all the ball buckets and props (if they were used) back away from the racing lanes so that other teams can get ready to set up, and then goes and sits in the box judging seat for the next race. I actually really enjoy box judging, but am embarrassed to admit I forgot that I was supposed to do it a few times this past weekend.

Boxloading can be a lot of fun. You are right in there as part of the action, and you are absolutely essential for the success of your team. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I'm boxloader for polish team Unleashed Road Runners. I have started to be part of team, when I had no my own dog. So it was funny :)
    Our boxes have only two wholes, but we use small and regular tennis balls. You have really hard work! :)
    At the beginning it was tricky to have fast reaction, but now I have more calm inside me.

    Right now, I have a dog, it's 5 month old, and we are waiting for spring to start a flyable course. Maybe he will be grate flyball dog, if not it will be good too, because I really enjoy be boxloader! Be part of team :)

    Best from Poland,