Playing More Catch

Learning to catch different types of objects has been helpful to cerebral palsy improvement. The activity requires many movements to be brought together. All having to be coordinated in order to make a catch successfully. Playing catch was an exercise I had never thought much about. Going outside to play was as natural as eating dinner at night. Something everyone around me did when growing up. The struggles I had playing were due to my disability. So, I did my best to overcome the challenges holding me back. Never thinking about the physiological reasons for my struggles. Instead, hoping with age and better strength, the challenges might dissipate. The physical challenges that accompanied playing catch did subside. But, never to the point of making the activity easy. When Bernard brought the experience back into my life, it had been many years. I had given up the attempts to become better at catching a ball. It seems as we age, without having children of my own, playing catch turns itself into a less important skill. But, it feels as though Bernard has challenged me with catching for many valuable reasons. Concepts I would have never attributed to the seemingly simple act. The timing, coordination, and hand dexterity needed to catch feels complex. More complex than they seemed to be during my younger years. As Bernard has made the balls to catch more challenging, with my improvement, I begin to understand all the challenges. 

I didn’t have a good understanding of the journey we were taking. When the process of catching began, there was no telling how far it would venture. The first catches were part of an exercise called “ball slams.” Raising a ten-pound exercise ball above my head and throwing it against the ground. With previous trainers, this exercise had been done numerous times. They seemed to take it slightly easier on me, by allowing me to pick the ball off the ground, before slamming it again. When Bernard had me working the “ball slam,” I was required to catch the ball as it bounced off the floor. Our first adventure into the world of catching a ball. It frustrated me when he wanted the rebound caught. The extra challenged felt like it made ball slams 100 percent more challenging. It was hard to gain balance enough after throwing the ball downward to catch its bounce. Through the irritation with myself and pointers from Bernard. I learned how to open my hand to receive the ball and how to anticipate the catch after my release. Soon, I had improved to a space of counting repetitions by the number of catches made. If the rebound of the slam was bobbled and dropped, the repetition had to be done over again. The requirement was a strong signal of improvement. We moved on to catching the lacrosse ball. 

In working with the lacrosse ball, another element was introduced, my ability to throw a ball. We began by throwing the lacrosse ball onto the floor and catching its rebound. Instead of tossing and receiving the ball onto the ground with two hands, we moved to performing the activity with one hand at a time. Making it more difficult to throw and catch, especially when doing so on the left side. As we progressed with the lacrosse ball, the throwing became targeted. Rather than throw the ball onto the ground, where the contact point didn’t make any difference. Bernard started having me toss the lacrosse ball at the wall, in a bounce pass like fashion. My goal was to cause the ball to carom off the wall advantageously. It the way of making it easiest for me to catch. If the ball bounced to close to the wall, it would shoot right back, on a low trajectory. Making it almost too challenging to receive. The ball needed to bounce well in front of the wall. Enabling it to gently ricochet up and back toward my open palm. The drill had me working again on reaction time. More complex than a ball slam, or bouncing the lacrosse ball of the floor. After releasing the targeted toss, I had to move my body in order to catch the rebound of my throw. Getting my body in position, with my hand open, fingers stretched out to make space, and ready to squeeze upon contact. It ignited more lights in my brain. Preparing more movements to actually play catch with Bernard. 

I had no idea this progression was moving itself toward playing catch. Our next step took us back to the ten-pound exercise ball. The ball was brought into the exercise room at the gym. Bernard had a couple of cones set out at different length. The first cone was about three feet in front, with the next about three feet further. Making the second cone six feet from where I now stood, holding the exercise ball. He wanted me to attempt throwing the exercise ball to these cones. The first three feet was done with about medium effort. Then, with more energy I got the ten-pound ball out there six feet. Bernard grabbed another cone, creating a mark nine feet from my anchor point. It was going to take something extra to throw this ball nine feet. With all the energy I could muster, the exercise ball didn’t quite make the nine-foot cone. But, each of my tosses were on target, bouncing just to the right of each cone. Our next step would be playing catch. So, Bernard stepped into the space on the right side of the three-foot cone. Asking me to throw him the ball and he would toss it back. My pulse quickened, lacking the confidence in my ability to catch his throw. I began with throwing the ten-pound ball to him using both hands in an underhanded motion. When he made the catch easily, I waited in anxious anticipation for his return toss. 

There was little doubt over my nervousness. I couldn’t remember catching anything weighted in my past. This exercise ball was ten pounds and would be flying back toward my hands. The small thing I had working in my direction was the distance. Bernard was standing next to the nearest cone, just three feet from my stance. The ball would also be tossed into the air, rather than directly at my body. Making a gentle arc, as it traveled the three feet of distance. The flight path would allow me to drop the ball if needed. Causing no harm to anything on or around myself. The exercise ball was released toward me, traveling on its intended path. I watched it move toward me with wide-eyed concentration. Positioning my hands and body correctly. The catch was made without trouble. We moved the ball back and forth, at that three-foot range, a few more times. I tossed the ball and made catches without struggle. When the three-foot range appeared handled with little trouble, we took our next step. Bernard moved back another three feet. Reaching the cone situated about six feet from my stationary point. The added distance called for more effort. Getting the ten-pound ball to move further would be challenging. I was able to get the exercise ball all the way to him. With a hefty push from my right arm. Generating the added power through my legs and rotating hips. When the ball flew back in my direction, making the catch was tough. It required a sturdier frame. Using muscle in my core and arms to make the grab. While the first couple catches knocked me slightly off balance, I got the hang of remaining sturdy with the ball approaching. Finally, gaining the ability to catch the ten-pound exercise ball without waver. It was the last round of catch we played before the pandemic changed our lives. 

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