I remember when I ran and played like everyone else. I remember doing all of the normal things kids do and never had the occasion to think that I would someday lose that “simple” ability. Isn’t that the way we often referred to the games we played? They were simple for us. We simply took to the playing field, jumped into the square, climbed the tree, ran the course or twirled the rope while waiting our turn to jump. Few of us had to “think” about how to do those simple things once we were old enough to become involved in the activity.
Let’s take the “simple” act of dribbling a ball. It could have been a basketball, a four square ball, or any ball of that variety. Without a thought we would volley the ball between our hand and the ground with relative ease. Remember when you would run and bounce it? Remember when you would dart back and forth with it, have to chase it when it got away from you, and throw it when the time was right? And now…how would you play with that ball? “What do you mean you can’t? When is the last time you tried?” For many of you, you don’t have a clue when the last time was, do you? You only know that you can’t and it’s out of the question to even try at this point. And that is what I thought as well!
So here we go gang. We’re going to go to the courts. Yeah, the basketball court where the normal people go to play like kids. Wasn’t that you once upon a time? I don’t care what you thought your ability level was back then, this is now, and we’re going to prove something to ourselves. Here’s the challenge I gave to myself in my attempt to “bump it up a notch.”
It was about a week after I joined the Wellness Center, I was on the treadmill desperately trying to look like the other jocks on the adjacent treadmills…OK, ok…attempting to portray the masculine form in its skillful walking mode as the women jogged effortlessly beside me,
when the idea took shape.
While walking on the treadmills, the basketball court is at the two o’clock position. There is a clear glass door through which I was watching ten guys playing a game of basketball. I had been watching them for the 20+ minutes I had been on the treadmill. My walking speed was set at 3.5 mph, the grade was on 4, and the sweat was beginning to roll off my forehead. I looked down at the towel in the holder in front of me. It’s taking most everything I have in an effort to maintain the pace and keep my balance, but I need the towel. Hey, the women use it while they jog so…here goes. It wasn’t pretty, lasted all of three seconds….the grab and swipe method….and I had to repeat the scenario a good four times to get most of the rolling beads.
And of course, each time I wasn’t the coolest dude in front of the….uhhhh….feminine admirers! (It’s a wishful thinking thing.)
The episodes took me back down memory lane when I could walk and dab at the same time, then I once again focused on the game behind the glass door. Simultaneously, a replay of my youth also began as I recalled how I used to have the ability to play basketball as well. Then the thought came and the vision followed. I’m going in there and do that….my way….by myself. I made the commitment to myself to make it a part of every work out routine. “You’re going in there and dribble that ball and shoot some hoops. It’s going to help you with your flexibility, weight change, movement skills, coordination and confidence…..go for it Doc….do it!”, I told myself.
So, a bit later after I cooled down, I walked through that door, chose a ball from the rack, and walked with it to the far end of the empty court where fewer people could see me through the door. I didn’t start off pretty, but it worked. Now I practice with the ball every work out day with very few exceptions. (The gal teaching the Pilates class wore me out a couple of times. Guys, I have a new found respect for those “girlie” classes. Go try them once!) My vision and intuition about the ball was correct and I have “bumped it up another notch.” Read on for the how you can as well.
But first, heed this disclaimer. You should not try this until you have mastered the starting tips, one through four, which I have posted on this site.
Be safe, not careless!
The location of where you try this isn’t important as long as you’re on a hard, even and stable surface. Ideally, it should be just like a basketball court with a large surface which is empty. You don’t want to have to worry about falling over something, tripping over the dog or breaking the lamp. Look around for a safe area where you can have some privacy from those who would make you too self conscious to give it a go. Also, dress the part. Wear supportive shoes and loose fitting clothing which will allow you to move about freely.
Begin by standing in place and dribble the ball in front of you with your dominant hand. Move with the ball to keep it in front of you. Use two hands if you need to. This is one time where double dribbling is allowed. I want you to focus your attention on your posture while you keep dribbling the ball. What are you not doing that would make this exercise easier and less work?
Look at how stiff you are. Hear ye, hear ye….the Tin Man hath returneth!!!
Loosen up. Flex those hinges as you envision the oil starting to soak into them.
Remember what you learned to do with your knees and hips back in Starting Tips 1 & 2? Now is the time to bring it back and apply it. Flex those joints and follow the rhythm of the ball with more flexing as you get the hang of it; play with it. Shift your weight from foot to foot and alternate hands at the same time while bouncing the ball in a “V” pattern in front of yourself. Practice dribbling it low to the ground as if someone else wants to steal it from you. Protect it. Get down there with it and keep the bouncing low. Now do the opposite. Bounce the ball in the same pattern while standing upright.
What happened? Chances are good that you shifted your weight too far back on your feet and became unstable and the ball got away from you as you stumbled. Old habits die hard. In rising to the standing position, your focus was partially on maintaining control of the ball. Since you weren’t focusing 100% on your posture, you forgot. So did I. Try it again. This time remember to keep your center forward when you transition from the upright posture, to the stooped position and back to the upright. As you learned before, keep those feet planted under you. And how do you keep your feet planted while you’re moving up and down and maintaining control of the bouncing ball. And the kid says, “Like this…..see it’s easy.” What did you “see”? The kid relaxed and flexed everywhere! And you didn’t. We forgot how to relax while fighting our ataxia. So get loose and treat it as a game.
Next, start to move around with your feet, take some steps and maintain control of the bouncing ball. Sometimes you’re going to be following the ball around and sometimes you will get to call the moves. Right now it doesn’t matter; just go with it. Forward, backwards, to the side and in circles keep bouncing the ball. Think about your feet. What are they doing correctly, and what do you have to do to correct the mistakes? Are you relaxing and flexing everything? Imagine yourself as a pro player and go with it.
Play the part. No one else has to know what’s going through your mind. It’s your game.
Now it’s time to walk and dribble at the same time. At first simply randomly walk forward and go in whatever line you, or the ball, take each other. Try it with one hand, then the other. You are getting better. Pick a real line this time and stick to it. Keep control of that ball and maintain the line. Go full court on the line. The big game depends on it. Each time you get a little better so start to mix it up a bit. Initially the other team just let you stroll down the court. Now you’re in the last few minutes of the game and they want YOUR ball. Mix it up. Change your dribbling pattern and footwork.
Take the ball in circles, dribble it while walking backwards into your opponent and change directions without thinking about it and keep the ball.
“Hey, wait a minute Doc. You said to think about what I’m doing with my body, not the ball.” Yep, but that was then and you just passed over to the “pump it up a notch” point. Begin focusing on the ball and keeping it right where you want it as you move around with your imaginary opponent. Work it. And don’t forget to watch your opponents as well. Remember, they want YOUR ball. Keep your head up as you make your way down the court. Be creative and be flexible. Become that really cool relaxed kid on the court having fun!
Now take the shot!
It’s a three point game winning swish and the crowd goes wild!!!!!!