The “Correct” Way to Train Difficult Tricks

Within the juggling community, it seems a somewhat frowned upon practice to spend extended periods of time attempting a single difficult trick in front of a camera hoping to get lucky and eventually pulling it off. While I wouldn’t recommend making this a primary part of your regular practice routing, I do believe that one can experience significant progress and growth by trying tricks that seem moderately out of reach for long periods of time.

Let’s begin by looking at why this type of practice has such a bad reputation. This method of practicing seems prevalent in young jugglers who have only been juggling for a few years and are motivated to improve quickly, as they have seen what is possible on YouTube when juggling is pushed to its limits. It will seem to them that the fastest way of achieving skills is to repeatedly attempt difficult tricks until they are successful. However, when a person only trains in this way, it is inefficient and causes poor form to develop.

Older, more experienced jugglers, can be quick to criticize a practice technique that they believe to be inefficient, in the hopes of guiding a rising juggler in the right direction. Whenever you watch someone practicing in this way, it really can look like a hopeless waste of time. It is hard to be optimistic about one’s likelihood of nailing a trick that requires strength and precision when they are covered in sweat, exhausted, and on their fiftieth attempt. Finally, practicing the same trick for long periods of time can lead to overuse injuries, which is never a good thing and can impair one’s ability to get consistent practice time.

Hopefully I didn’t make too strong of a case for why practicing one trick over and over again can be bad, since I actually believe that if done right, it can be one of the most effective practice methods for improving quickly. I’ll take an example of how I use it to my benefit and then I’ll relate that example to any type of juggling to show that this practice method can be universally beneficial.

Seven club juggling is one of the hardest patterns to master. Sure, there are many people now that can run it for a decently long time, but there really are very few people in the history of juggling that have truly mastered the pattern. I am far from that point, but it is certainly one of my goals to reach a place of consistency with my 7 club pattern, such that I can connect difficult moves and effortlessly run the cascade for extended periods of time. Improvement with 7 clubs happens extremely slowly, which means that even if I train very diligently for the next few years that I will still be very, very far off from my goal. It would appear that the most direct route for me to achieve my goals with 7 clubs would be for me to just train the cascade over and over again for clean short runs, while I slowly build on my number of catches. Unfortunately, I’ve found that I don’t quite have the attention span to do just that. Although that is how I train most of the time, every now and then I need a break from the same pattern and choose to try 7 club tricks that exceed my current ability.

It turns out that it is not only more fun to try difficult 7 club moves for me, but that practicing in this way actually forces my patterns into better, more consistent shapes. If I were to run a 7 club cascade for 100 catches vs. try and fail a 7 up 360 ten times in a row, I guarantee you that my pattern would be cleaner and more consistent for every one of the 7 up 360 attempts. There is enough room for error in a standard 7 club cascade to allow for some laziness in club angles and throw heights, but that isn’t the case for the pattern before throwing a 7 up 360. The way I use this to my benefit in practices is as follows: I set up a camera and attempt a 7 up 360 one or two times. After that point, I need a quick break, otherwise I know the quality of my juggling will deteriorate. Then, I go take a look at the video and change what I need to in my form and pattern and repeat the same process. This continues until my body tells me that it is time to stop. Either, I feel too tired to run a consistent pattern, or I am concerned that if I push farther, injuries will soon follow. I don’t expect to land the 7 up 360 (at least not in the next few months), but I use it as a device for controlling my pattern and form, while still having fun. Doing this every once in a while is a nice break from basic 7 club juggling and keeps me motivated to push forward in my practices.

Essentially, any time that you decide to try one difficult trick for long periods of time, you may want to do the following: ensure that you are monitoring your form and energy while you practice, do your best to take breaks and watch videos of yourself juggling, and most importantly, do not ingrain bad habits into your juggling based on the trick that you are trying. For instance, if you don’t have much experience with pancake throws and you decide you are going to try to qualify 5 ring pancakes for half an hour, that would be a bad idea. You will most likely develop bad habits in the process of retrying pancakes with too many rings, since your body will compensate its form and energy to save bad throws, in turn reinforcing bad technique.

It is for this reason that I believe it is best to practice in this way only for tricks that consist of throws that you are comfortable with. In my case with the 7 up 360s, throwing quads with clubs is something I’m very familiar with, since I train a lot of 5 up 720s. For instance, someone that has very solid 5 ball backcrosses should feel more than comfortable trying to qualify 7 ball backcrosses for a while—in fact, that would probably help their 5 ball backcrosses a lot if they watched their form throughout their attempts.

At the end of the day, jugglers like to try one trick for a long time until they succeed for a few reasons. It’s a lot of fun, it’s an easy way to stay motivated, and it makes you look impressive. All of those are fine reasons for doing this, but also remember that you can take advantage of it as a practice method for improving your form and consistency.

Jonah has been juggling for ten years and is a junior at Amherst College. In 2013 and 2015 he won the WJF's Overall Championship and in 2016 he won the IJA's Juniors Championship. He annually attends the IJA festival.

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