Sponge Ball Catch

Playing catch has been more fun than challenging. Possibly due to the amount it can be adjusted. The ball can be tossed with more or less force. This translates into how challenging it might be to catch. The ball we have been playing catch with is called a sponge ball, after some research. I found the information with a google search. Where the ball is described as a soft, light, inflatable 9-inch ball, used for varying exercises. We happen to use the ball to play catch. Each of those descriptive words make the ball great for our purpose. With it being soft and light, the ball wouldn’t inflict pain. Meaning if the catch is missed completely, I won’t get hurt. Making the sponge ball ideal to use for learning to play catch with a disability. The light weight makes it easy to toss, no matter your strength. While the ability to inflate the ball, paired with its size, create an ease in handling. All of these factors led to a comfort inside a challenging task. Even though playing catch has always been a fun activity. It wasn’t always easy to participate during childhood. With cerebral palsy impacting my coordination and reaction times. I often lacked the ability to play catch with others. Being no fault of their own, kids wanted to spend time playing catch at higher speeds.

Imagine having a ball flying toward you without a full idea of the action to take. Simply being frozen in time, stuck in awe of the speed the ball travels. My best example from youth was playing basketball. Thinking when I watch it on television, the ball honestly didn’t seem to be moving that fast. However, when attempting to play at school, I realized television was deceiving. It was the first time I truly remember feeling different. Getting into the basketball game at lunch and realizing I couldn’t catch. Cerebral palsy left me putting up my hands to stop the pass instead of catching it. In that moment, life told me that I was different from my friends. It didn’t stop me from playing basketball. As I played in the recreational league a year later. Even then, the ball moved too quickly for my reaction. Reducing the amount of contribution, I could make to the team. During the years that followed, playing catch was sporadic. My sports were played around people who seemed to understand. Throwing the ball at speeds I could handle. Whether they consciously slowed the velocity or not, I will never know. Playing with them worked through our school years. It wasn’t until Bernard started playing catch with me, that I began to understand. 

Playing catch with Bernard was relatively simple. He had an understanding of the impact cerebral palsy had on catching ability. Leading him to take steps to ease the anxiety. The first was the ball we used. I could tell from the time we began. The sponge ball was soft and unthreatening. The manner in which Bernard tossed it, the ball wasn’t going to leave a mark. With my familiarity with a ball like this. All of my concerns were quickly put to rest. My concentration could be completely focused of playing catch. Gone were worries from the past. Like being unable to get a hand up and stop the ball before it hit my body. The other step he took was starting slowly. Bernard began by lobbing the ball in my direction with an arch. Many times, a ball is thrown along a direct path. Especially when standing inside of ten feet apart. But, a toss can be given some arch to slow its speed. Reducing the speed of travel gave me ease with the movement. It also provided confidence in my ability to play catch. A confidence which had been lost through the years. Once the skill to play at the slower speed was established. Like most of our activities, Bernard turned up the challenge. Beginning to increase the speed of the ball coming toward me at times. It wasn’t until the speed increased, we could identify some of my struggles playing catch. 

Identifying on of the major struggles was surprising. My form of cerebral palsy seems to want my body close in on itself. Meaning most joints have a tendency toward flexion rather than extension. Telling us that my fingers want to be closed instead of open. This tendency, brought about through my disability, adds challenge to catching. Something Bernard has been working on for some time now. He works with this tendency by having me work with all styles of balls. Using those different types to works the hands with variety. While, my slowed reaction time also plays into the equation. Causing the challenge of extending the fingers in time to make a catch. However, at the slower speed of the toss, catching is relatively simple. With ample time to get my hands in the correct place and fingers extended. As Bernard speeds up the tosses, the challenge is added. With less time to place my hands and open the fingers. There becomes less time to think. Placing pressure on my ability to react to the ball and make the catch. He will tinker with the speed of his throws during our 2-minute sets of catches. Helping me learn how to work my fingers and hands differently. Sometime letting me know when the speed increases. Other times, testing my skills of reaction without warning. As the ball bounces off my fingers at times. I begin to understand they weren’t fully open to receive. When the ball bounces off my palms. I know my focus wasn’t there to collapse my fingers in time for the catch. It has become part of our cerebral palsy improvement process. 

A less challenging aspect of playing catch has been targeting. Growing up I had the ability to throw a ball on target. Something enjoyable to work on was my throwing directions. As a kid, it was fun to pitch or play quarterback in our neighborhood games. While, catching any kind of ball felt challenging. Working to throw the ball on target worked enough for me to participate. Especially in basketball, where learning to throw good passes was an asset. So, throwing to Bernard came more naturally than catching. Because of my concentration on the skill in childhood. The challenge came with being more precise when throwing to Bernard, today. I try focusing on throwing it to the middle of his chest, or where the numbers would be on his shirt. The misses don’t tend to travel too far from the spot. Leaving him without the need to reach much for one of my passes. The skill has gotten better with the time spent playing catch. Sharpening a skill which hasn’t been used in quite a while. Though the majority of our time remains spent on receiving the balls. It has been an exercise full of cerebral palsy improvement. Working on opening my hands properly. Working on the coordination of setting my hands in the proper position. Along with developing strength in the wrist to steadily receive the ball and toss it back. All of these things help in daily life. Even the task of writing this post. As my fingers glide across the keyboard with more efficiency. Less fatigue is occurring. Allowing me to spend more time sharing our work together on my disability. 

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