Who is Evanghelos?
For our first expert interview, we wanted to start with a BIG BANG! Evanghelos Christofellis is the 2018 World Champion in the art of Distance throwing and holds the most points ever obtained at a UFO (American organization) World Championship.
Dog frisbee is more than a fantastic hobby that makes your dog healthy and wins his heart. It's also a worldwide sport with National-, European-, and World Championships.
The goal of the discipline we are discussing today is to throw about 40m/yards within a pre-set field for 60 seconds. It's not only the distance that matters but also the accuracy counts. It looks and sounds very easy, but believe me, it isn't.
Time to let Evanghelos tell us more about the magic combination he formes with Nove!
Would you please tell us more about Nove and why whippets are extremely good at this discipline?
Nove is my first dog, which means I don't have much prior expertise in dogs. I was looking for a companion in life and not particularly for a disc dog as you never know upfront if they will like it. A Whippet isn’t as nervous as some sheperds which seemed to match my personality the most.
The breed indisputably has some features which are very interesting for the distance/accuracy component of competitions. Their tracking ability (the name sighthounds has a reason) and eye-mouth coordination are a big plus.
The determining factor in distance/accuracy is not the way towards the disc and the catch but the speed when they come back. You can teach almost any dog to obtain the pace when going after the disc. The advantage is that Whippets also attain this speed on the return.
It took almost 18 months of training with Nove to bring the disc back at the same velocity. She used to go after the first disc, catch it, and then run in a circle around me for about 15 minutes. As if she wanted to tell me: "OK, got it, the game is over now."
What makes Nove like this discipline, and how many times can she catch a disc at 40 meters in one minute?
She has an instinct to go and catch the disc and an excellent reason to return the disc. But what she most likes about it is the game! And I want to keep it that way!!! Not only for psychological and ethical reasons but also for performance reasons.
Even during the run in a competition, I will play tug-of-war upon returning with her at least two times to keep her motivated.
Nove will easily catch five discs in one minute at 40 meters. It would take away a part of the fun if I threw faster to get that 6th throw out in time, and I like to throw slow to maintain accuracy. It's all about having fun and not about focus, visualization, optimization, and other terminology that comes to mind when thinking about high performance.
Which throwing technique would you advise to someone starting? Do you use a unique way to hold the disc?
I don't advise on any particular throwing technique. If you have a different style that works for you and your dog, go for that one. There are no forbidden throws in this discipline. Also, think about the size of your dog and adapt. Maybe if you have a small dog, it's more interesting to throw on your knees, rather than standing up straight.
I don't have an exceptional grip. Some people will have all fingers inside the disc (also known as power grip: editor's note), but I will put my index finger on the disc's rim. You will hear people say that you would lose spin by doing this, but for me, the spin comes from the wrist snap and the surface you cover on the disc.
Think about the principle of putting a cord around a spinning top; the longer it is, the more spin you will get. I learned to enhance my wrist snap from Mark Muir (former multiple World Champion from the USA: editor's note). He told me to imagine my hands are wet and you want to put the water off your fingers.
Every good thrower has developed his grip and release technique. It's something very personal and not something you can put into a standard. The only way to find out yours is to throw and throw and throw some more.
Every time you change something in your routine, your setup, or any other parameter, first try it and practice it without your dog. You first want to perfect your throw and then repeat it to activate the muscle memory for the dog's safety.
What is your big secret? Consistency? Mental strength? Practice? Rituals?
There is no big secret. The most significant difference between most people and me is that I tend to work better under stress, so I put myself in that state before starting my round. It works for me as it makes me think faster and respond to changing conditions more accurately.
Practice is something you best keep for when you are at home at your usual training location. Before a round begins, I'll make some practice throws to get used to the conditions.
When you throw for a longer time, the muscles will create a different muscle fiber than when you only throw for 1 minute. I throw for 2 minutes and then rest for a few hours, then toss again for 2 minutes, then rest and repeat this process.
Mentally I try to visualize the field at home on the location of the competition. It relaxes me. I also try to take a visual point in the zone I want to hit, like a flower and project it on the field.
I am known for my very distinct pre-throw ritual, where I point my arm, turn my wrist and then wind up for the throw. I use it mainly for muscle memory, and it adds to the consistency of my throws; it also gives me time to settle my breathing and throw in between exhaling and inhaling. It's not something psychological but rather something mechanic.
What makes the K9-DISC Zenith different from other discs, and do you like it?
I mostly like that you don't require much 'spin' to get it going forward in a straight line. That's probably also the most significant advantage for novice players. I always needed a lot of spin with other discs I threw in the past, and at the end of the flight pattern, they came down very fast.
You can use the characteristics of the discs to get variation in your throws, which makes them suitable for various conditions. You can easily switch from so-called runners (discs with high velocity: editor's note) to air bounce (slower discs requiring more spin and having a very particular flight pattern: editor's note).
Thanks to the dimples, the discs don't fall out of the sky but have a more gradual descent, giving the dog more time to make the catch.
From the dog's point of view, Nove adores the composition of the plastic. For a Whippet, this is very important, as we already discussed in the beginning. This disc is softer than most other discs, but it doesn't compromise the ease of throwing it.
Some final words of gratitude
Ευχαριστώ, and Grazie Mille for your time and expertise. I'm sure whoever has taken the time to read this interview will now have the tools to enjoy their K9-DISC even more than they already did. With the skills you offered in this article, everyone will be able to make their dog more healthy and happy than ever before. And all that in only 5 – 10 minutes a day.
We would like to wish you all the best in the future and hope you'll have years of fun playing with Nove!