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How can I improve my catching skills?

With the development of motor skills repetition is vital to strengthen the neural pathway and ultimately learn the skill which can eventually be adapted to various task specific scenarios. Catching is a difficult skill to master because there are so many variables to consider:

* Trajectory of the object
* Velocity of the object
* Size, shape, texture and weight of the object
* Is the object breakable, slippery, soft or hard
* External factors such as cross winds or even rain

All of these factors are taken into account in the small period in which the object is approaching you. The brain processes all of this information and makes a decision on how the task will be performed.
When practising catching, it is vital to use a variety of objects and external variables. These variations allow your brain the opportunity to practice processing how to complete the task successfully. The more exposure your brain has experienced, the more accurately it can process the information and make the right decision when tested.

When introducing a new skill or improving skills previously acquired it is important to make the desired result achievable. As a society, we are more likely to persevere with a task that we achieve some success with. In saying this, it is also important to choose the right entry level as if it is too easy no progression will be made.

Firstly before you attempt to teach a child how to catch it is imperative they have the ability to track an object in the air. To test this skill you can start by throwing a balloon in the direction of the child and getting them to intercept it. If this is easy, you can progress to a ball and see the effect momentum plays.

An option to teaching a child the motor skill of catching is as follows:

  • Interception – throw a balloon and ask the child to knock it away. As this becomes easy do the same with a larger ball where the child will need to negotiate additional momentum
  • Use a nerf ball or soft toy – have the child in the ready position to catch the ball on their chest with arms out. Ensure the throw is accurate, so the child only has to focus on bringing the ball to their chest. If the child waits for the ball to make contact with their arms before moving, they may require verbal or hands-on cues to initiate this movement.
  • Balloon – this will slow down the flight of the ball and give the child time to process the external factors. It also provides the child with the opportunity to practice catching the ball in their hands rather than on their chest.
  • Dropping medium sized ball onto a hard surface and catching it is another good exercise to practice catching the ball in a child’s hands
  • Using a soccer sized ball and having it thrown towards the child (catching in the hands) – again have the child’s hands ready and preferably use a lighter and softer ball than a regulation soccer ball as this will reduce the risk of the ball bursting through their fingers. Nerf balls are a good option and if you don’t have something similar at home use a stuffed toy. Progress this further using various other objects:
  • Soccer ball – full sized
  • Basketball
  • Bean bags (are a great starting point when progressing to smaller objects as they absorb the hand and don’t roll out of it
  • Kids soccer ball or softball
  • Tennis ball

Once consistent success is achieved with gentle looping throws you can progress the skills difficulty by:

  •    Varying Velocity
  •    Varying distance thrown over
  •    Catching away from their body / outside their line of sight

Above all practice makes perfect, achieving some form of success with the task is vital and above all try makes the task fun!!

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