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Juggling: How to Learn the Basic Three Ball Pattern

By Edited Apr 11, 2016 1 1
Ancient Egyptian Jugglers
Credit: Public domain photo.

This is wall art from an ancient Egyptian tomb. The Egyptians invented juggling nearly 4,000 years ago.[1]

Steps for learning to juggle three balls

As a professional-level juggler who has performed in front of groups of hundreds of people, including in regular shows four days per week at an amusement park one summer (Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California), and as someone who has taught hundreds of people how to juggle, I present this article to hopefully help many more people realize that they can juggle if they put forth the necessary effort.

Juggling is lots of fun and allows endless possibilities for creativity. It's also good exercise and enhances the brain, especially physical coordination. Want to be good at sports? Juggling can help. Juggling can improve timing, peripheral vision, and more.[2]

Truly good jugglers make their tricks look easy. Sometimes they are, and oftentimes they're not. The apparent ease is a result of many hours of practice.  Like any skill (playing a musical instrument, speaking a foreign language, hitting a baseball, etc), juggling requires a lot of practice to truly get good at it. And of course, some people learn much more quickly than others.

From my observation, anyone who doesn't have a physical problem can learn the basic three ball pattern if they choose to keep trying. I've seen a few who could do it almost instantly, although others may take days or weeks of practice to do the basic three ball pattern. Have faith in yourself - you can do it!

I first learned to juggle three balls when I was eight years old. It took me two hours to successfully juggle three balls (with six throws and six catches). My personal record is juggling seven balls, with nineteen catches, although these days I stick to five, which is comfortable and easy for me due to years of practice.

Although I explain in detail my personal advice for how to learn three balls, I also highly encourage anyone reading this to also see the video shared below.

Fire Jugglers
Credit: Photo by TanoCalvenoa on InfoBarrel.

Me (on the left) and my dad (on the right) passing flaming torches in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. A fitting name for a place to juggle fire.

The definition of juggling

Multiply number of objects times number of hands. That’s how many throws and catches you need for it to qualify as juggling.[3] It can be pretty awkward at first, but it counts.

A person with three balls needs to make six throws and six successful catches to have definitely juggled three balls.

A person with five balls needs to make ten throws and ten catches to have officially juggled five balls.

Two persons passing six clubs back and forth need to make a combined total of twenty-four throws and catches. Four hands times six clubs equals twenty-four throws and catches for it to count as juggling.

The dictionary definition, according to dictionary.com is: “To keep several objects (such as balls, plates, tenpins, or knives) in continuous motion in the air simultaneously by tossing and catching."

The product below contains an affiliate link that generates the author a small commission on purchases made through that link.

My recommendation for juggling

Set of 6 Hacky Sacks - Multicolor Design
Amazon Price: $0.78 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 11, 2016)
Hacky sacks are my favorite after certain types of juggle balls that are expensive and made specifically for jugglers. Hacky sacks vary in size, and for a long time I used some that were nearly baseball sized.
Juggling Throws
Credit: Created by TanoCalvenoa on InfoBarrel.

The first steps in learning to juggle are learning to correct throw one and then two balls, as explained below.

Steps for learning the basic three ball pattern

First consider what makes a good object for juggling. Something light in weight such as a ping pong ball or a tennis ball doesn’t work well. Something too small doesn’t work well. Something too bouncy that’ll easily get away from you doesn’t work well. Also, the items ought to have an acceptably good grip.

If you’re having difficulty, consider whether you need to get something better to juggle with.

Recommendations: Hacky sacks, fruit (maybe juggle over your bed – oranges work pretty well), baseballs, lacrosse balls, bean bags, and similar. Look for objects no larger than baseballs, and no smaller than golf balls (although don’t use golf balls, they’re way too bouncy).

Step one: Pick up one object

Toss the object from hand to hand. You want it to go across your body (in the direction of shoulder to shoulder), and you want to throw and catch below the level of your shoulders. You want the object to go a bit higher than the top of your head. When you can toss it back and forth each direction pretty easily without dropping, you can move to the next step.

Step two: pick up two objects, one in each hand

I’ve seen people pick up three objects and juggle fairly well right away, but this is quite rare. Most people need to start with one, ensure they can do it, and then practice two before attempting three.

The objects are going to trade places. Each throw will be similar to the first I described above.

Choose whichever hand you are dominant with, and make the first throw. When the object reaches its peak height, the second object will be thrown, passing underneath the first.

Ensure the balls are traveling perpendicular to the direction you’re facing. Your arms, when throwing, should make a scooping motion inward. Your right hand should end its throw rising in the direction of your left shoulder, and your left hand should end its throw rising in the direction of your right shoulder (see the picture above, and the video below).

When you can do this over and over successfully (don’t be alarmed if it takes some time to be able to do it!) you can try switching which hand you start with. When you’re comfortable starting with either hand, you can move on to trying three balls.

A common error

A lot of people (over 90%), when first trying two balls, make the mistake of throwing the first ball up, and passing the other ball from one hand to the other without throwing the second ball upward. There is a type of juggling where the balls travel in a circle, called a full shower, although doing it with two balls doesn’t count.[3] Ensure you’re throwing both upward around the same height.

More suggestions for juggling three balls

First aim to do a flash, which is three balls and three catches.[3]

Hold two balls in your dominant hand, and one ball in the other. You will throw one of the two in your dominant hand first.

What you end up doing when you’re juggling three balls is what you did with two balls, but it’s continuous and doesn’t stop. You can think, “one-two, one-two, one-two” to get beyond a flash. Remember that six throws and catches means you succeeded at juggling three balls.

If you start with you right hand, you will flash by making three throws – right, then left, then right. Each time one reaches its peak you throw the next one. The balls will end up trading which hand they’re in. The two in the right hand will end up in the left, the one in the left will end up in the right.

It may sound complicated, but really isn’t. One of the biggest obstacles in learning the basics of juggling is being afraid that you’ll fail, and especially worrying about what others will think. Be confident and keep trying.

One other common problem for those learning to juggle is throwing the ball outward away from you. If you’re having trouble with this, stand at the side of a bed so you can’t step forward.

Excellent video for learning to juggle three balls

Similar to my instructions but with a few more simple steps

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Comments

Mar 16, 2015 8:08pm
HLesley
The video makes it look so easy!
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Bibliography

  1. "History of juggling." Wikipedia. 17/02/2015 <Web >
  2. "Benefits of Juggling." JuggleFit. 17/02/2015 <Web >
  3. "Glossary of Juggling Terms." Juggling.org. 17/02/2015 <Web >

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