Essays: David Naylor on Practicing (part 3)

Part III
by David Naylor
     In the last two articles I discussed some of the academic
theories about effective practise. At the St. Louis convention I
had the opportunity to ask some real live jugglers for their
thoughts on the subject. This is by no means a comprehensive
survey; I simply interviewed the people who happened to be
available. But I'm sure that the comments made by these highly
experienced jugglers will make us think more about the way we

J.W.: Do you have a conscious practise strategy?  Is there a
"method" that you think works particularly well?

Benji Hill: The most important thing is consistency. You don't want
to practice every day for a week and then not practise for three
days. I've been studying what coaches in other more established
competitions do - such as football, basketball and figure skating.
They do things with the rhythms of the body - always getting up at
a certain time, going to bed at a certain time, eating at a certain
time, practising at a certain time - to get the body into a rhythm.
When you can establish that and keep it up, you are really going to
progress well. Your body gets used to it, and you don't have those
hassles where you go in to practise one day and everything's
totally out of whack and you get nothing done.

Mark Nizer: I start really slow. I try to do easy stuff
consistently - get the flow of it and slowly start to build.
Instead of immediately going POW! right into it all.
     I think it's important to cycle. I work on an upper leg trick
for say fifteen times. Then I'll pick up four rings with a head
bounce for a minute. Then go back to the leg trick. Go back to the
rings. Then work on a club trick I was just working on. Keep
switching - go around until they are all right. It'll help you rest
your muscles a little and it'll help you forget and maybe sink in
some of the stuff you've been working on. A lot of times, if you
step away from a trick for a few minutes, when you come back it'll
give you a fresh perspective on the trick.
     Also, visualizing at night is very important, I think. I used
to do a lot of that. Before you go to bed, visualize your routine.
Imagine how it feels, especially new things. But make sure you
visualize it after you know how to do it. Otherwise, you'll think
of something that's not right.

Nick Gatto about Anthony Gatto: We juggled in the four directions
of the compass because we didn't know the location of the
competition area. So he'd juggle north, east, south, west - facing
the different directions. The direction that Anthony prefers back
at the YMCA in Las Vegas is the exact opposite to the direction
that he had to compete in. But we were prepared for this because
we'd juggled in all the directions.
     We work on both sides at once, even when we are working on odd
numbers of objects. As a matter of fact, we just had a problem with
juggling nine balls. Anthony had a problem with the fifth ball -
getting it off in his right hand, his dominant hand. It just wasn't
working. He just lost the feel for it. So he switched over to his
left hand with that fifth ball for the competition.

Jason Garfield: I start with three clubs to warm up. Then, I mix
everything up - not just 3,4,5 clubs, 3,4,5,6,7,8 balls etc. - I go
balls, clubs, rings, and mix it up.
     Sometimes, like when working on back crosses with five clubs,
I'll concentrate on one trick for an hour or more continuously. If
I keep progressing it's exciting and I can get myself to do that
for an hour. But once I've reached my peak and feel that I'm not
getting any more improvement, I stop and go on to something else.
I usually try to stop cleanly - make sure I catch them all. This
leaves you with a positive feeling.

Jeff Daymont: I'll rotate things. Generally, I'll start with three
clubs. Then four, five and sometimes six clubs. Then I'll go with
just one ball and ball spinning. I usually put boxes at the end
because I really get worn out with that. I rotate muscles. I do the
clubs which are all arms, then the body stuff with one ball and
boxes which are all legs.

J.W.: What do you think are the main causes of drops during

Benji Hill: There is a huge difference between doing a trick in the
gym and doing a trick in performance. The added stress of
performance can catch up with you. When you get on stage errors are
amplified. In the gym, if you are doing a back cross and a club
hits you on the shoulder, you might wing it, catch it and carry on.
On stage that's going to be amplified and you're not going to make
that catch. If you can't do the trick exactly right in the gym,
it's not going to happen on the stage.
      Juggling props are so lightweight to begin with. In running,
you want to get hyped up and get the adrenaline going - it makes you
run faster. In juggling you have to be as calm and relaxed as you
can, because just the slightest bit of extra energy will cause
over-spinning of props and so on.
     A lot of misses, especially in the juniors, are mental
mistakes. Say there's a collision and two objects are sill in the
air. Before they catch the other two objects they'll start thinking
about the one on the floor. They'll go to pick it up and that'll
cause another miss. And misses tend to build like that.

Mark Nizer: The problem with juggling is that by the time you learn
a trick so that you can do it every time, you don't like it any
more. I drop sometimes because I go for a trick that I want to do.
I think that's one of the problems with the National Championships.
Everybody is always trying to do the good stuff that they think is
great - but they can't do it yet. They're just learning it, and
they should pull back and do the stuff they can do every time.

Nick Gatto about Anthony Gatto: Psychology plays a big part in your
performance. If you don't think you can do something, you're not
going to be able to do it. One part of your brain will say "You can
do it. Look how many times you've done it in practise" and the
other part of your brain will say "Do you realize you're juggling
seven clubs in front of an audience?  If they hit, they can go on
the front row table and break the beverages."

Doubble Troubble: Last night [St. Louis Nationals] it was lack of
communication. Usually, we do our trick, stop, and take the
applause a few seconds after. But by the time we did the trick, the
audience was so loud that he couldn't hear the calls to stop
juggling. That's why we dropped out of seven last night.
     Other times it's the stress and the nerves getting to you. For
the competitions that's it. The worst part is that you are
performing in front of jugglers. You have a harsher crowd - they
know what to look for. If a club is caught backwards they see that.
With a normal audience you can get away with almost anything that
isn't a drop.

Jason Garfield: In a performance I think most of my drops are due
to nerves. I may practise a trick thirty times in the gym, but all
that practise is for one time on stage. That's where a positive
image is important. If you know you can do a trick - you've done it
thirty times in a row in practise - you won't be nervous. Like,
three club back crosses. I could do that in front of the President.

Jeff Daymont: My drops are caused mainly by the odds catching up
with me. For some tricks I may drop the first couple of tries and
then get it every time. But to have it in a routine and have the
whole routine work every time - I'm still just barely getting that
part of the discipline. I've not taken the time that I should have
to actually practise a routine over and over.
     For me stress isn't a big factor. My shows have been at
renaissance fairs, and they're a lot more relaxed. I'm so prepared
with things I can say when I drop. I'm expecting this many drops in
my ball routine, this many in my box routine, and this many during
my club routine, and I know how to cover it. There are times when
I do too many drops and run out of things to say. I look at the
audience and say, "Sorry... I'm really sorry."

J.W.: Do you do any non-juggling warmup exercises before a practise

Benji Hill: Yes. I recommend five to six minutes joggling or
jumping rope - also, you should do a lot of stretching. In juggling
you have to be able to get your heart rate up and keep it up and
you have to be flexible. The biggest problem that American jugglers
have, that I see, is that they don't concentrate on the positioning
of the body and flexibility. Therefore, when they try and do a
trick, such as an Albert throw, the body is already in the wrong
position before they even start to make the throw - so they're dead
in the water right from the beginning. If your body is flexible and
you can get into the correct position, you're more likely to be
able to do the trick. I think that's very, very important.

Mark Nizer: I stretch a lot beforehand. If you don't stretch your
neck, your legs, your arms, and your shoulders, you're going to
pinch something. Every time I don't do it, I hurt myself. People
think juggling isn't that physical, but it is. And as you get older
you are going to wish you had that flexibility.

Nick Gatto about Anthony Gatto: Yes. Anthony's been doing some
stretching and lately doing some walking.

Doubble Troubble: No, we don't. We should but we don't. We juggle
by ourselves for half an hour to warm up before we get into

Jason Garfield: When I practise it's because I want to practise,
and I don't want to do anything else. Stretching is sort of calming
and it's not how I want to start - it's better for a cool-down at
the end.

Jeff Daymont: I usually walk a mile to the gym rather than drive.
I should stretch out but I don't.

J.W.: Do you have any general practise tips for other jugglers?

Benji Hill: I see a lot of jugglers in the gym getting very
frustrated when they're trying to learn a new trick. In practise
and in performance, it's very important to keep your emotions under
control. If it's to the point where you're cursing and throwing
props around, then it's time to stop and do something else.
     Also, I have a general comment for numbers juggling. I see a
lot of people trying to do long runs with seven balls and seven
rings before they are even ready to do a flash. When you learn
numbers, start with flashes. If you can always correctly make seven
throws with seven balls - if you get to the seventh throw and all
seven of those balls are in the correct position - its very, very
simple to make the next two throws. Once you get all nine throws in
the correct position, it's simple to make just two more throws. So,
if you can always hit a certain point correctly, it's much easier
going beyond that point. Never, ever do endurance run, endurance
run, endurance run. Your body's not meant to do that.

Mark Nizer: Don't do a trick because everyone else does it. People
always copy because they see someone else do it and they think "Oh,
that can't be too hard."  They watch others instead of believing in
themselves. Believing in a new trick can be the greatest part of
juggling. Dare to dream and think of something new.

Doubble Troubble: You need a partner you can cooperate with. We
have some problems with fighting during our practise sessions. When
something's not working, neither of us likes to admit he's at

Jason Garfield: Don't get too stressed out. When I practise I get
really angry if I can't get a trick. That's why I've gone through
a lot of sets of clubs. I've put holes in walls, broken windows...
It's not really that serious. It's supposed to be a fun thing.
Don't practise any one trick too long. It's got to work over
periods of weeks or even months, depending on the trick.

Jeff Daymont: With numbers juggling, instead of going for long runs
and trying to go for as long as you can, go for shorter runs and
make sure every throw is perfect. Instead of learning how to
correct bad throws just learn how to make every throw good to begin
     I have one tip specifically for boxes. Work on repeating the
same trick over and over so that when you finish the trick you
don't stop before you do it again. This way you will learn how to
start a trick even if the boxes are a little off kilter. That'll
really help in actually getting your routine together - being able
to perform and keep going.

Essays: David Naylor on Practicing (part 3) / Juggling Information Service /
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