Working with a lacrosse ball during training sessions has helped in many ways. it helps with the motor skills in both of my hands. We have improved motor skills by going through a process of gaining skills to catch the lacrosse ball. Most of our work has been done using primarily the left hand. Cerebral palsy has impacted my left side more than the right side of my body. When we began our journey with the ball it seemed too challenging for me to catch left handed. We began slowly with the trainer bouncing the ball in my direction. It was my task to catch the ball with only my left hand. With a one step at a time process, we have improved my ability to use my left hand. Each step has required catching the lacrosse ball in a more complicated way. The challenges become more difficult, as we progress, by shortening the reaction time I’m given before the catch. Until, reaching the most challenging way of catching the lacrosse ball. Which, has been bouncing the ball off the ground with my left hand, then catching it with my left palm down as the ball bounces back upward. The final challenge would be accompanied by a change in thought pattern. Not only was I required to catch the lacrosse ball in this challenging fashion, but also make consecutive catches. The process went from being effort based to being based on results. It has slowly been changing my mind set.
The progression of our process was working to improve reaction time on my left side. When someone bounces a ball in your direction, the action provides extra time to react. Your only goal becomes to catch an object you know is coming. A person can get into position, being well situated to make the catch, and alerted just before the ball is released. My left hand was able to be wide open and in good position, ready to accept the lacrosse ball. The first setup felt comfortable, with ample time for anticipation. Moving on to throwing the ball against the wall brought about some anxiety. In my mind, how was I going to throw the ball with my left hand, then prepare that hand to catch the rebound. This process took more practice and instruction from Bernard. After bouncing the ball into the wall, my mind seemed to freeze momentarily. By the time, I had recovered it was difficult to move the left hand into position for the catch. We were forced to work on timing with my left hand. Once the ball was released, it was important to immediately be focusing on catching its rebound. In order to succeed at this challenge, my thought process needed to increase in speed. Once my concentrating was heightened to transition the mind and movement more quickly, I was able to complete the challenge.
Our next challenge with the lacrosse ball would be bouncing it on the ground and catching it as the ball bounced back up into the air. The entire process would take place using only the left hand. Bouncing the lacrosse ball off the floor with my left hand, then catching its rebound, would require quicker reaction time from bouncing it off the wall. However, I could let the ball bounce high off the floor, giving me time to turn over my left hand, allowing the ball to fall into my open hand. This process was practiced over and over again. Not only did we work on it at the gym, but it was practiced at home. Over time, bouncing and catching the lacrosse ball underhand was helping improve the dexterity in my left hand. When we began bouncing the ball, the challenge was discouraging. I knew the ultimate goal would be to bounce the ball and catch the ball on its way back up with the palm of my hand facing down. But, at this point, letting the ball reach its peak and fall back toward the floor, catching it underhand, on its way down was challenging. After practicing the process until it became relatively routine, it was time to move on. My coordination with the left hand was improving, so the challenge started to become catching the lacrosse ball with my hand continuing to face down.
The next task of catching the lacrosse ball without turning over my hand was going to be a big step. In my first few attempts, it was difficult to grab the ball on its way off the floor. My motor skills in my left arm and wrists were fighting against my brain. It was a test to throw the ball down and recoil my wrist to catch the ball that quickly. The other important step was opening my hand in preparation to receive the ball. My fingers weren’t used to closing as they threw the lacrosse ball, then immediately widening to grasp the rebound off the floor. This challenge would take practice to preform, but it would greatly help dexterity. We didn’t work on it for large quantities of time in the beginning. The goal was to hold myself back from getting to frustrated with the process. Discouragement on to deep a level could have me giving up on the task all together. But, we began in small doses. One idea Bernard has worked on from the beginning of these lacrosse ball challenges has been successes in a row. The idea being how many times can the ball be thrown and caught before it is thrown and dropped. It does add some pressure to the task, but also instills a thought process.
When we began, our final challenge working with the lacrosse ball, it was tough to get many consecutive catches. I was just able to make two or three catches in a row as the ball bounced off the floor. It was a good start, but not where we wanted to finish. The key to getting better would be practicing and understanding. It turned into realizing my fingers wanted to close around the ball too soon. There is a spastic reaction in my fingers that would require concentration to slow. So, as soon as the ball was released, my key thought would be to immediately open my fingers. The following step was to try and let the ball hit my palm before wrapping my fingers around it. We continued to work on it, experimenting with how many consecutive successes could be achieved when bouncing the ball for two minutes. There wasn’t any pressure at that point, just doing the best I could. Once, the catching began showing improvement, Bernard ended the time by requiring five consecutive catches before stopping. This requirement began to slowly change my mindset. The exercise started moving from effort based to results based. Bernard has a saying that has begun to stick with me, “it pays to be a winner.” It encourages me to summon the focus to complete the task in one try, rather than making light of a mistake, leading to another attempt from the beginning.
When tasks begin revolving around gaining results things begin to change. Cerebral palsy makes physical tasks more challenging to perform. Most of my life has been spent based on simply putting in effort. It didn’t always matter whether something could be completed. The reason being that most everything was more challenging. Bernard has been someone who doesn’t ascribe to that theory. It began right away when we started working together. With past trainers, if they wanted ten repetitions of an exercise, and I only could do eight, it was okay. We would move on to the next set or exercise. But, if only eight are completed with Bernard and he wants ten. We take a very short breather and two more repetitions are required before moving on. This week Bernard set a challenging task. He wanted me to bounce the lacrosse ball, catching it palm facing down twelve consecutive times. If I didn’t catch the ball at any point, I had to begin again with the first catch. The first attempt at twelve in a row took three tries. It was a great challenge, slowly changing my mindset to think about results.