Wednesday, September 05, 2007

DAM Team and Strategies

SUMMARY: My teams. Our plan: Run fast, run clean, don't get greedy.

For all the thousands of photos I've taken, it never occurs to me to get photos of us with our pairs partners or DAM teammates. Dangies.

Tika and Brenn the Border Collie have been on the same DAM team continuously for two years now. Unfortunately we've not had constant partners. I still think of it as Brenn's team that Tika's on; that's because, originally, at the beginning of the 2006 season, Brenn and Skeeter the ACD were looking for a 3rd (their moms are good friends) and I invited myself to join them.

The team of T/B/S failed to Q our first time out (that story, a tragicomedy of errors, was told elsewhere in this blog: here and here). The second time, S's mom had committed to a different team, so T/B found another dog--who had to withdraw at the last minute due to an injury. We found yet another dog, a good one with a good handler. On the day of the trial, that handler messed up her knee and couldn't run and her dog wouldn't run with anyone else.

For the next Team event, T/B/S were back together with a new name, "Three's a Charm," and we barely squeezed out a team Q. We went to Nationals with that name, where--much to our surprise--we made it to the finals and placed 22 of over 200 teams. We were ready to be together forever. We even had nifty team shirts, which you KNOW is critical to success.

Then Skeeter went blind. Well--she's actually doing not badly, for a dog with glaucoma. There was a while where her mom thought she'd be completely blind in a very short time, but with medication, she's leading a pretty normal life. It's just that her vision is limited, so, her agility career is mostly over. Which is particularly too bad for Three's A Charm, because she was the most reliable dog on the team. Not the fastest, but I'd say the least likely to E.

This year we've teamed with 3 different partners and Qed with all of them, but two had already committed to other teams for Scottsdale and the third had to be arm-twisted to do team at all and doesn't feel that his knee and skill are up to Scottsdale. We just want to go and have fun again, and have a chance to let ourselves really drive without worrying about Qs.

Team Strategy

Which brings us to strategies for Team.

First, you must decide whether you want a Q or to go for the proverbial gold. Jim Basic says that DAM is basically a gimmee and it's almost impossible not to Q. Well, fine for him, but 50% of the teams don't qualify at every DAM event, and I and my dogs have been in that lower 50% most of the time. So my focus, if we haven't already all Qed, is on merely Qing.

Which means that our team strategy has been: "Don't eliminate and don't get greedy." The first applies to Standard, Jumpers, and Relay, and the latter to Snooker and Gamblers.

Don't eliminate: Team scoring for Standard, Jumpers, and Relay is similar: The team starts with a certain number of points per dog and then you subtract your time and your faults--but if you Eliminate (go offcourse or get at least 3 refusal faults), you lose all of your dog's points. For example, in the relay, each dog starts with 150 points (450 for the whole team). If all three of you run clean, your total time might be 60 seconds, for a final score of 390. But if one of you Es and you still take 60 seconds, you lose 150 for the E and then your 60 seconds also, for a score of 240. So Eing really hurts.

Standard gets 130 points per dog; Jumpers 110.

So the "don't E" strategy is to run conservatively, to do anything you have to do to avoid Eing because 5-point faults don't matter nearly as much as losing the whole kit and kaboodle. Might mean don't rev your dog up as much so that they're more under control when you run. You probably won't win the class that way, but you're more likely to avoid the E.

Don't get greedy: In Snooker and Gamblers, your earned points are multiplied by a factor to make them comparable to your other scores. So, for example, if it's expected that the highest-scoring dogs might earn 50 points, they might use a factor of 1.5 to give a total of 75 points towards the team total.

It's harder to "E" in these classes and earn 0 points... well, er, I've done it... but you're more likely to earn *some* points. If your focus is on Qing, though, you're in god shape if your scores are near or above average. (Interestingly enough, if all 3 dogs achieve average in all their classes, the team overall is likely to place fairly high because of the high price for crashing and burning.) So you want a reasonable number of points, but you don't want to be aggressive with risky courses that might drop your point totals too low if you blow it.

In the Gamble, which has typically been a Time Gamble, the "don't get greedy" really comes into play. You earn points in the opening as usual, then, when the first whistle blows, you get double the points from there to the finish line. The rub is that you must cross the finish line before the second whistle blows, or your lose all your doubled points. So it's better to have some points doubled than to go for a huge number of doubled points and lose it, because you drop way below average if you don't get some.

How our Strategy Worked

Our team had a couple or three popped contacts (5 faults each in Standard and Team) and some refusals (2 faults each), but our dogs are all naturally fairly fast, so our times were good. We had only one E in Jumpers, with a fairly aggressive send to a jump that the dog came around and took the next obstacle for an offcourse. But it was a tough jumpers course--fully 1/3 of the dogs Eed, so it was a survivable E--with 38th being an average placement, we were 39th in Jumpers overall.

Huh--I thought we all survived Standard, too, but apparently one of us Eed there, too, so we didn't do well in that--61st of 75 teams.

We all did comfortable snooker courses that were all different, since we have different strengths (e.g., Tika did two A-frames, but the others avoided that since they have contact issues). Again, the dogs are fairly fast and we didn't do anything sexy, and we ended up 9th of 75 teams in Snooker.

In Gamblers, there were lots of choices for flowing courses, and some good options for doubling points, so everyone could choose courses for their dogs' strengths. Don't get greedy, I reminded myself repeatedly, but I timed my planned doubled obstacles over and over so that I'd know, based on when the first whistle blew, what exactly I could do in the 12 seconds I was allowed. So--Tika was a tad slower than I had planned in the opening, so instead of finishing my opening with a teeter and ending with a chute/teeter, I started the closing with the teeter/chute...and I had timed it so that I knew that it would take me about 10 to 11 seconds to do two teeters and the chute and get over the finish line. That's aggressive and probably greedy, but dammit I had timed it. We just couldn't afford any bobbles, not one, and I had to release her off the teeter contact the instant her foot was in the yellow and the teeter hit the ground. So I did it, we raced for the finish, we made it, for a pretty high closing total. With--as I checked later--.14 seconds to spare from losing it all.

So Tika placed 7th of 53 in the team gamble and our team placed 15th of 75, and Tika earned 10 points more than she would have if I had been conservative. This is important later.

In the Team Relay, the other important strategy is: If you E on your portion of the relay, race back to the finish line or to hand off the baton to the next person on your team, because you've already lost your 150 points and any more time you take is like taking it away from other team members' points.

With a really off-the-wall E on Brenn's part (she had a beautiful dogwalk contact but apparently, in stopping quickly, moved all 4 feet off the dogwalk and then put one foot backwards onto the contact zone), Brenn's mom had the presence of mind not to continue her portion of the relay--two u-turns, a teeter, a chute, and 2 jumps, I believe--and hand off the baton. We figure this saved about 10 seconds. This is also important.

Because--with the Es in standard and jumpers and the E in the relay, we barely Qed, placing 38th of 38 Qing teams. The thing is--we were only 10 points away from the 39th-place team. So--if Tika hadn't gotten that last teeter in the gamble--or if Brenn hadn't run back and handed off the baton in the relay--we probably wouldn't have Qed.

But we did. I'm happy, they're happy, now we just need a team for Nationals.

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