Long-Term Practice Structure: A Year of Juggling Without Time for Juggling

eJuggle is proud to present a brand new feature, “The Voice of Youth.” The initial article is written by the highly respected and articulate juggler, Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse. This will be an ongoing feature, presented to give our younger jugglers a venue for their unique thoughts, ideas, and observations, no matter how conventional, unconventional, or radical as they may be.They must be heard. eJuggle would like to thank Cindy Marvell for initiating this project, and Raphael Harris for facilitating it. We, the editors, encourage all young jugglers to submit articles and queries for this ongoing feature.

It is certainly important to consider the form that your daily practice structure will take, but it is also beneficial to think about the way that you will structure your juggling practices over the course of a few months, or even years. The philosophy that I approach long-term practice structure with is centered around the idea that learning technique requires much more time and focus than re-learning technique.

This is something that I have been thinking about more and more recently. Starting college meant that I wouldn’t be able to keep up the optimal 2-4 hours a day that I had been training for over the summer before I began school. This forced me to think about how I would optimize the time I spent juggling, so that I could be as efficient as possible and still progress over the course of the school year. It was at this point that I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to efficiently practice all three props, so I decided to focus on my club juggling for the year, with 5 and 7 club improvement as the prime goal.

The nice part about this was that a lot of the technique I focused on benefited almost all aspects of my technical club juggling at the same time. For nearly the entire school year, I exclusively trained my club juggling, with a few breaks here and there to focus on ring patterns when my arms or shoulders needed a break—club juggling has a history of injuring my shoulders a bit. At times, it was nice to return to balls or rings a few times during the year, just to see that even though I wasn’t practicing them consistently that my skill was still easily retained with those props.

Even within my daily practice structure, I limited the amount of tricks I worked on to only include those that would develop my overall club control, which meant that I stopped practicing almost all of my 3 and 4 club tricks, and essentially any tricks that did not involve a normal throwing and catching position. That being said, I was not fully aware of making that decision in the moment. Looking back on how I trained, however, I noticed that I always had an eye towards improving my club control, which would have been very difficult to do if I had been working on developing new technique and throwing positions alongside it.

Over the course of the year, I worked on improving my spin control, throwing accuracy, and endurance. Given the time constraints that I was working with, this became the only juggling goal for the year. There were some weeks when I did not even get the chance to juggle, which meant I had to return to rudimentary three and five club exercises for large portions of some practices to regain lost skill before I could push forward with my technique again.

Although it was difficult to practice consistently throughout the year, there is no doubt in my mind that my club juggling made significant progress. I broke the barrier of 100 catches with 7 clubs and just recently qualified a 7 club 5 up 360. With 5 clubs, my spin control improved greatly and 5 up 720s are now easier for me than 3 up 720s were a year ago. Now that I am back home and am training 2-4 hours a day, I have also been able to regain all of the skill that I lost throughout the year with balls and rings, which is a relief.

Instead of inconsistently practicing all three props and maintaining my current skill-level throughout the year, I was able to progress with clubs and then regain my ball and ring skills within a week. This year, I’ve learned an important lesson: that creating long-term practice structures can be an effective way to mitigate the difficulties that arise when you have limited access to practice time. I highly recommend trying to incorporate some of this “long-term practice structure” ideology into your training, even if you are not dealing with a time constraint. It could be very rewarding to have more focused and detailed work on a single prop, or trick, area for several weeks without the distractions of other types of juggling training. It is important to remember, however, that you should always return for a significant period of time to practice the skills that you neglected while you prioritized a previously chosen skill as much as possible. In my case, I neglected ball and ring juggling to focus on clubwork, but this will obviously vary from juggler to juggler.

Everything that I have said so far could be generalized and applied in many different ways. It all comes back to the idea that it is easier to focus on one thing at a time and that re-learning technique is easier than learning it in the first place. Long-term practice structures can be created to adhere to the events going on in your life but are also helpful even if you have ample time to practice. It may not be right for everyone, but I have certainly seen it affect my juggling in a positive way and hope that it is not a unique case.

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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