Learning to Juggle

I learnt to juggle when I was about 10. I was home ill for a week and my dad had the classic juggling book Juggling for the Complete Klutz so I taught myself to juggle. It took me most of the week with a bit of practice each day to really get it solid. I’d tried once before when I was 6 or 8 years old but I think I was just too young at that point to really be able to get it.

Anyway, with a week of practice under my belt I was a juggler. I went back to school and started teaching the other kids in my class how to juggle. I’ve got vivid memories of standing in the hallway outside our class 6 classroom teaching two or three people how to juggle. But they couldn’t get it and didn’t seem to have the patience to learn. I’m sure that I, at 10 years old, didn’t really have the knowledge of how to teach them either. Twenty years later I think I’ve now mastered the art of teaching someone to juggle.

Everyone Can Juggle

After 20 years as a juggler, and over a decade as a professional teacher, I’m pretty confident in saying that anyone can juggle 3 balls. I’ve taught thousands of people to juggle over the years and in around 80% of cases I can teach you to juggle in 45 minutes. Some a little longer, some a little quicker. I’ve had people pick it up instantly and I’ve had people who can’t quite crack it after an hour and a half.

However, it always surprises me how many people come to my juggling workshops and right at the beginning – before I’ve even started teaching them – tell me they can’t juggle. “If you say so” is a fairly standard response. There is only one thing that stops you from being able to juggle. Saying “I can’t juggle”. This is the one and only thing that is going to get in your way. You may think your mal-coordinated, or think you have bad hand-to-eye coordination but the truth is probably more like you haven’t ever spent much time practising catching.

I come from a very sporty family. From a very early age – literally from as soon as I could walk – my dad and grandpa were teaching me to catch. Then it was constant hand-eye coordination games: football, tennis, table tennis, baseball, cricket, etc. It was constant and it was fun. I practised. By the time I taught myself to juggle I’d amassed a huge number of hours practising hand-eye coordination. I guess a lot of people don’t get that.

Teaching Juggling

You Never Learnt To Juggle

I’ve done a lot of work coaching, both in personal and professional settings, and I coach from an ontological perspective. When I teach juggling, I teach in much the same way. If who you are is that you cannot juggle then you’ll be right. I don’t mean to say that you should be telling yourself “I can juggle” as that kind of affirmation very rarely helps. Instead, confront (stand and face) the simple reality of the situation: you’ve never learnt to juggle.

That’s it. You never learned to juggle. It’s a good job you came to my workshop because I know how to teach you to juggle.

How do I keep all the balls in the air?

That’s probably the most common question I get about learning to juggle. And the simple answer is: You don’t.

People often think that you have all three balls in the air but for the most part, you only have one ball in the air. You only have one thing to deal with at a time. And we can all handle dealing with one thing.

Juggling is very simple. It’s one action repeated over and over, first on the right, then on the left. Right, left, right, left, right, left.

Driving a car is far more complicated. You have to carefully and precisely coordinate a steering wheel, gears, three pedals, mirrors, indicators, wipers, lights as well as all the other vehicles on the road, pedestrians, animals (even a circus Zebra recently!) and concentrate on where you’re going!

You can drive but you think you can’t juggle?

People have no problem spending weeks, months or even years learning to drive. They expect driving to be difficult and have no issue persevering with learning. However, there is a clear pay-off in being able to drive. There isn’t often a clear pay-off in being able to juggle. So there has to be something else. You have to create for yourself a desire to be able to juggle. You’ve got to want it. If you don’t want to be able to juggle, learning will just be a chore. And if it ain’t no fun for you, it just ain’t worth it.

Throwing, Catching & Dropping

People think that in juggling catching is really important. One of the hardest things to get people to accept is dropping. People think that if they drop, it means they can’t catch, it means they aren’t any good at it. People get embarrassed when they drop, they wonder what other people think of them when they drop. And sometimes they’re so afraid of dropping that they’d rather not try to learn.

And dropping really isn’t a big deal. Dropping certainly doesn’t mean you can’t juggle. Juggling has been around for thousands of years (since almost 2000 BC). There isn’t a juggler in the world that hasn’t dropped. But people are so fixated on not dropping that they forget the most important part of juggling: a good throw. If you do a good throw a catch is easy. If you do a bad throw a catch is difficult. Jugglers are concerned with throws not catches. If you can do good throw, after good throw, after good throw, your body will take care of the catches on it’s own.

So if you can get that you simply never learned to juggle…

And you can get that the simplicity of juggling is not beyond you…

And you have the desire to learn and don’t mind a drop or two along the way…

Then you can learn to juggle.

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6 thoughts on “Learning to Juggle

  1. Great article – and so much to learn for life from it as well – and as a juggler you will have a few tips for those around you that just haven’t started yet.

    If you think you can, you can, if you think you can’t you can’t . And practice is so more important than talent (which is often overrated) – as Malcolm Gladwell shows in his book called “Outliers”.

  2. Jolly good article! Self-belief is important.

    Another top tip – practise over bed when learning. Stops you walking forward & not so far as ground to pick up drops!

    • Thanks! Beds are good, although sometimes a little big. Sofas, tables and desks work too. Try not to drop them on your cat though. They don’t like it.

  3. What an amazing post, thank you! I too am a juggling instructor and many people also tell me they can’t do it without even giving it a shot. Some walk by my booths at events, smile, and say, “I’m way to uncoordinated to juggle.” Right, they forget they have to LEARN first! Just like with riding a bike or executing a yoga pose correctly.

    The funniest thing is that the first person in my class to say they are probably too uncoordinated to learn is usually the first person to be able to juggle! I’m not kidding.

    I think everyone should learn to juggle – it is awesome for the mind, body & spirit!

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