Anthony Gatto and Practicing

Andrew Conway once wrote:

Anthony has probably never put in a 10 hour day of juggling in his life. I would guess two hours is the maximum he practices on a regular basis, and that includes pre-show warm ups. To borrow a theme from another thread, the emphasis is on quality practice rather than just repeating mistakes. Nick watches every run closely, and tells Anthony what he is doing wrong. It's as simple as that. (Oh, yeah, Nick picks up the dropped props as well.)

to which Steven M. Salberg replied:

Andrew, you are talking about NOW. How did Anthony practice when he was just learning his first 4 ball fountain, 4 clubs and 5 clubs?

and so Barry Bakalor wrote the following:

I've known Nick and Anthony since Anthony was 8 years old at the Cleveland convention in 1981. I've attended many of his daily practice sessions over the years. Since 1983, I have videotaped 1 or 2 practice sessions a year, and have a fairly decent archive of what he was working on over that period, and how.

He practices an hour a day. Every day. Since he was 6. This does not count 15 minute warm-ups before shows. This regimen has not changed significantly over the years, including when preparing for competition.

I watched Anthony learn 4 clubs in 1981. At that time, I had been working on 4 clubs myself for several months, with a personal best of about 25 catches. Anthony was very impressed watching "the big guys" in the senior competition doing 4 club routines. The next day, he asked Nick if he could try it, which he had never done before.

He spent some minutes getting used to starting and stopping 2 clubs in each hand. He got all 4 and gave it a few tries. Each failure just made him more determined. Nick helped him focus his anger and frustration into thinking about what he was doing wrong, what he should be doing, and then doing it.

Within 10 minutes of picking up the 4 clubs, he was making 4 to 6 throws consistently, in a nice pattern. In the next 10 minutes, we watched his longest run go steadily from 6 to 10 to 15 to 20 and to 30. At that point Nick told him to stop, and work on something else.

When I next saw Anthony a year later, at age 9, I asked him if he had put a four club routine in his act. He said yes, and a 5 club routine as well. Two days later he did 5 clubs in the numbers competition for 1 minute 16 seconds.

In my opinion, Anthony's technical skills are the result of a fortunate combination of circumstances. First, he has an unusually high natural talent that I believe he was born with. Second, as a child, he had a long attention span, and a personality that drove him to keep trying something and never give up. Third, he had Nick right at home as a coach. Nick had had years of training as a coach in several fields, including boxing and gymnastics. He understood physical training, and how to apply it efficiently. And he knew when to tell Anthony to stop what he was working on, and go on to something else. And fourth, between them, they developed an extraordinarily efficient practice schedule, getting more out of that single hour a day than most people get in much longer periods.

No time is wasted warming up. He starts with balance exercises and other slow moves that warm him up naturally as he goes. He moves on to practice of simple tricks to solidify what he can do. He frequently changes props, styles, and techniques, so as not to tire any particular set of muscles. He takes several brief rests.

Except in unusual cases, he rarely spends more than 2 or 3 minutes doing anything. Often he will attempt a trick only once or twice, and then move on. As a result, he is able to work on dozens of tricks every day, making slow but steady progress on each. They break tricks into their components, work on each part, and gradually combine the parts into the completed trick.

Anthony does not focus his thoughts on what he is doing. He simply guides his body through his practice session. In nearly every session I've watched, he spends the entire time telling jokes or talking to me and others about totally unrelated subjects.

I believe some of this can apply to anyone who is able to discipline himself into practicing this way, but it is much easier with a coach who is there every day to make sure you stick to the plan. Without Nick around, Anthony would likely keep working at something longer than he should, and not get to everything he was supposed to work on.

My advice is to find someone else to practice with, and act as each other's coach. Practice 365 days a year. Pick at least 20 things to work on. Work on each for at least 30 seconds, but no more than 2 or 3 minutes. If something starts feeling good, stop doing it. Go on to something else -- it will feel good again tomorrow. If something isn't working, stop doing it -- don't reinforce bad habits. Add new things to the list frequently. Take things off the list that aren't working.

Start learning a new trick by learning how to stop it. Thus begin work on 5 clubs by learning how to catch them cleanly at the end. Don't work on the juggle until you can finish cleanly. When you do work on the trick, never go for long runs, but always do runs you are confident of, and finish cleanly. Don't fill your practice with drops unless you want to be good at dropping.

And of course, choose your genes carefully.

Anthony Gatto and Practicing / Juggling Information Service /
© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.