I’ll never forget when my old boxing coach looked me straight in the eye and said, “You want to become a better boxer…learn how to juggle!” I couldn’t believe my ears. Maybe if he’d told me to do more push-ups, run farther or spar more rounds I’d have paid more attention. But learn how to juggle?
I managed to do o-k in the ring despite ignoring his advice, but what really impresses me is that 25 years later, a lot of individuals ranging from educators to athletic coaches are extolling the virtues of picking up a couple of oranges or rubber balls and…juggling.
Don’t believe me? Check this out: more and more educators are learning that juggling has improved many students in the terms of concentration, eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, reading, and overall behavior. Who’d have thought that a few rubber balls could do THAT? (And just in case you weren’t paying attention, the above-mentioned benefits of coordination, concentration and motor-skills are just the things that can make an average boxer — or any athlete for that matter — into a much better performer).
According to www.education-world.com, educators are the Nowlin Elementary School in Missouri are so serious about the benefits of juggling that it is introduced to students in kindergarten. They practice during classroom juggling breaks. Students in grades three through five are eligible to join the juggling and circus skills clubs.
Greg Goodman — Nowlin’s physical education teacher and advisor for the circus skills and juggling clubs — says he started the juggling program to appeal to children not interested in team sports.
Or how about David Finnigan’s Juggling for Success course – which is presented to schools in the United States and teaches students, teachers, and parents how to juggle and to help schools start their own juggling programs. According to Education-world.com, Finnigan, who’s Juggling for Success program is based in Celebration, Florida, says that besides providing exercise, juggling builds academic and interpersonal skills. Learning to track objects with the eyes improves students’ reading and mathematics and science skills by learning to put objects in logical order.
I haven’t even got around to talking about athletics yet. According to www.resistancetraining.wordpress.com, juggling three or four tennis balls is an ideal addition to any athlete’s weekly plan. Think bout it: every athlete wants to become stronger, faster, and more powerful, but what good are these qualities if you lack the coordination to use them?
In addition to the athletic benefits, juggling will also improve your brain. In a recent experiment (2004) at the University of Regensburg, neurologist Arne May and colleagues found that juggling can increase grey matter within the brain:
“The juggler group demonstrated a significant transient bilateral expansion in grey matter in the mid-temporal area and in the left posterior intraparietal sulcus…” In laymen’s terms, this is simply the brain’s ability to remodel itself (in other words, to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences).
According to an article in The Journal of Active Aging (www.icaa.cc), juggling is one of many ways to revitalize the brain. One reason for this phenomenon is that juggling takes you out of your comfort zone. Most of us are not juggling experts. The average person cannot juggle their daily workload, never mind three of four balls.
When you are challenged with a new task, you must concentrate and remain relaxed to successfully develop the skill. The concentration and effort required to develop the new skill is clearly beneficial for the brain.
It’s a little for me to worry about whether juggling will help me react quicker to a punch. Those days are over, but I think it’s cool that’s juggling (or trying to) for a few minutes each day will help keep my mind and reflexes sharp. According to Juggling.org, there is nothing magical about juggling, but this simple activity will lead to considerable improvements if you remain consistent with your efforts. With just 5 minutes of juggling per day, you’ll notch up over 30 hours of juggling in one year. A five or ten minute investment each day is not too much to ask.
Aside from the scientific data, there are many commonsense benefits to juggling:
To successfully juggle, you must remain relaxed, as you visually track objects in space, and then physically react to the constant (mobile) stimulus. If you are tense, you will never succeed at juggling. The ability to remain relaxed is vital to any athlete, particularly a combat athlete.
Allow me to bring this back to boxing for a second: if you are tense, you will always struggle with defense. Consider all-time defensive masters such as the great Willie Pep or Sugar Ray Robinson, or more recently Sugar Ray Leonard. These men could stand directly in front of their opponents and avoid incoming punches like a magician. One reason for their success was their ability to function in a relaxed state. These individuals also had tremendous reactions, hand-eye coordination, peripheral vision, etc. (attributes that can all be enhanced with juggling).
While juggling will not turn you into the next Sugar ray Leonard, it will improve many of the physical and mental qualities that are required to become an elusive fighter. You must remain relaxed as you react to objects that move up and down, and on each side of you.
O-k, so much for the benefits. You can learn a lot about HOW to juggle at www.juggling.org, which points out that all you need are “…three balls of equal weight and size that will fit in your hand comfortably and are not too light or heavy. Try a tennis ball that has a 1/2″ slit cut on one side with a utility knife, and 10-17 pennies inserted into it. These weigh enough that they will not bounce out of your hand and the extra weight also illuminates the ball from bouncing away…”
At this point what you need to do is practice. And that is the whole point. The more you practice the better your eye-hand coordination will become as you become a better juggler, which in turn will turn you into a better person!