Playing Catch 

Playing catch has always been fun. Since I can remember, I have enjoyed throwing any kind of ball. Whether tossing a football or baseball back and forth. There has also been fun had with passing a basketball and soccer ball. Something I did not realize until recently was the importance of playing catch. The value of this activity lies in the coordination required. Making the fun of tossing a ball around valuable to cerebral palsy improvement. Before the pandemic influenced our lives, Bernard had begun introducing this concept. We had spent time in the exercise class room throwing different types of balls. We began without playing catch. Instead working on my coordination in throwing a ball. The first movement was tossing soft yoga balls into a basket.  The first ball I recall using to learn how to catch was the exercise ball. This ball has been used during the entire two-and-a-half-year duration of our work together. It has pretty good size to it and weighs ten pounds. After getting comfortable with catching the exercise ball, we were forced to leave the gym. A couple weeks ago, following about three months back in the gym, we took up playing catch again. Only this time, using the medium sized yoga ball, rather than the larger exercise ball. 

The ten-pound exercise ball has been used for many exercises. The ball has a semi-firm exterior allowing it to bounce off the floor. That exterior surface also makes the ball easier to catch or grab. Something Bernard has focused working with me on has been hand and finger dexterity. Cerebral palsy has carried a significant impact on my ability to control fine motor movements. This impacts the manipulation of my hands and fingers. Translating into trouble grabbing onto, holding, and catching objects with accurate pressure. The pressure coming through the fingers holding an object with the correct amount of pressure. A heavier object with a firmer exterior surface is simpler to grasp. As we get into objects that are lighter in weight or softer in surface, holding them becomes more challenging. These are some of the reasons, it would seem, that Bernard has me work with the ten-pound exercise ball. One of the more challenging things we have done, has been the ball slam. Where the ball gets raised above my head and thrown down against the floor. Making this movement tricky has always been the request of catching the ball when it bounces of the ground. The more firmly I slam the ball, the higher it will bounce. All though it never really bounces too far back upward. Catching it on each bounce has been truly challenging. Placing pressure on many aspects of body control cerebral palsy has impacted. 

Catching the rebound of the exercise ball requires hand and finger dexterity. My dexterity in both the hand and fingers has been compromised. Cerebral palsy has hampered my ability in each area. The dexterity challenge has been a reason we work so consistently with all different kinds of balls. Along with the main reason for working with the large, sturdy, exercise ball. When the ball bounces off the surface of the floor, it doesn’t move upward far. Meaning I don’t have much time to make the catch. Something adding challenge to using my hands has been their desire to stay closed. Like most of my body, which constantly fights the desire to move toward my center. The fingers on each hand want to close into a fist. When experiencing any resting position, someone will notice my fingers curling toward the palms of my hands. The first thing required in catching any object will always be open fingers. Providing the opening for the ball to travel into the palm. Then, the fingers wrap around the ball, securing it to complete a catch. When the fingers don’t collapse naturally, as occurs with my fingers, the skill requires practice to improve. So, we begin with a large exercise ball that has a firm exterior shell. The firm shell makes it easier to latch onto without much concern over the pressure from my fingers. Providing an excellent tool for dexterity work to begin. 

When the exercise ball bounces off the ground all I have needed to think was about getting my palms on the ball. Executing this movement for me, means remembering to extend my fingers. Keeping the hand open and making a clapping motion to the outside of the ten-pound ball. As we began the ball slams, years ago, Bernard talked about remembering to open my hands directing following the release of the ball. When I let go of the ball, while firing it toward the ground, I immediately prepare to make the catch. It was an excellent challenge and required stern concentration. The challenge was different for me this way, as I had done plenty of ball slams through the years. When working with other trainers, they had never required me to catch the rebound after slamming the ball. The new element placed pressure directly on my disability. I could feel my thinking pattern engage when the extra step was implemented. It required me to think quickly about securing the ball as it bounced off the floor. Finding out, more effort placed into throwing the ball, translated into added opportunity for the catch. I started learning how to bounce the ball back toward my body. The move providing less distance my hands needed to travel. When the exercise ball bounced to a low height and straight up, my brain would slightly panic. That bouncing being the most challenging floor rebound to grasp. Requiring my hand to move quickly and sweep up the ball. 

Over the years of performing the ball slams, I have become better at executing them. While we still work on ball slams. There has been added challenge when learning to catch a ball. I moved from working with the ten-pound exercise ball to catching a lacrosse ball. A ball much smaller in circumference, about the size of a tennis ball. But, like the exercise ball, the lacrosse ball has a firm exterior surface. Removing the requirement of understanding how much pressure to apply with my fingers. The complex challenge of catching the small ball would be catching it one handed. During the following months, we worked on different ways of catching the lacrosse ball. I would bounce it off the ground to catch the rebound in my hand, bounce it off the wall to catch it, catch a bounce pass from Bernard, and try bouncing it high above my head. All ways of challenging hand coordination, learning how to spread my fingers and open my hand, creating space for the ball to land. The variety of exercises taught me how to open and close my hand around the smaller ball. Experimenting with the changing of eye and hand angles to execute the catch. While also challenging the time between releasing the smaller ball and quickly being ready to receive the ball. The advantage of the firm exterior surface of this ball meant it wouldn’t bounce off my hands. The small size also meant my hand didn’t need to open widely in order for the ball to be caught. A factor making the ball a little easier to catch.

These were my first experiences with catching a ball during training. Bernard has been the first trainer to run me through any kind of catching method. Giving me an idea of how important the process can be for CP improvement. Working on how to open my hand to receive the ball was surprising. It taught me something I was unfamiliar with about my body. Again, assuming falsely, that my hands were not far from being typical. I knew they would shake and tremble. Especially when feeling some kind of emotional stimuli. But, those things were often attributed to something happening in my wrist. It felt like weakness was the main reason for the challenges with my hands. Adding to the challenge was my spastic type of cerebral palsy, causing my hands to mildly spasm at times. Again, causing difficulty in the control of my hands and fingers. I was always thinking, if I could just focus enough, my hands would work just fine. A weakness in my wrist was also blamed for my struggles with writing, typing, lifting a glass, or throwing and catching a ball. Little did I know until the previous few years. The challenges in much of my body are more complicated. As we got into learning the process of catching. More concepts were discovered about the challenges in my hands. 

The majority, if not all of my body, wants to fold toward the middle. Meaning my shoulders want to hunch over and my abs want to bring me into the fetal position. The legs would much rather bend than straighten and my arms would like to curl at the elbows. But, how does this all translate to catching an object? The concept I understood was that my wrists didn’t want to extend. They would rather fold down against my wrists. Everything we are talking about here felt understood. Throughout my life, I could experience my major limbs wanted to be folded. Always noticing, by glancing in the mirror, my legs for some reason didn’t want to stand up tall. I was always in this semi-crouched position walking by the reflection. I also realized my wrists didn’t want to extend and as a result I held things a little different, especially when fatigued. But, I failed to translate this concept into thinking about my fingers. Which, found their natural position in being slightly bent at the knuckle. My fingers discover a good resting place somewhere between being extended and being curled into a fist. This very concept, along with the other difficulties with my hands, makes it challenging to receive an object. My hands aren’t ready to catch at rest, I have to think about opening my fingers to catch any object.

The things we learn about ourselves can be fascinating. For many years, I hadn’t understood the particulars about cerebral palsy, and the impact on my body. The only concern for me was making through each day. Doing the best I could with the situation presenting itself. But, as this blog continues to be written. My curiosity about cerebral palsy tends to heighten itself. Causing a better understanding of the disability and the impact on my life. While, also providing interesting concepts to write about. With the hope of having impact on the life of another person. Opening my hands to catch an object may not be my first thought with something flying toward my body. Usually, my first thought has been to make sure I won’t get hurt by whatever it might be. The nice thing about working inside the controlled environment of the gym is our ability to work on patterns. Changing my thought pattern into opening my hands and having confidence in myself to make the catch. Because, we can set up situations where the concern of getting injured becomes minimized. When this takes place, I start understanding my bodies reactions better. Allowing us to slowly progress through objects more and more challenging to catch. In doing so, we reach cerebral palsy improvement. 

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