Juggling With New Skills

A Grade 9 physical education class at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) picked up and tossed around some brand-new skills this year.

Geography and health and physical education teacher, Brian Lachcik recently challenged his students to a 20-day juggling challenge where their goal was to build their skills and successfully complete a continuous ‘three-ball cascade,’ a basic juggling pattern.

“Given that the block was just over one month long, 20 days would allow the students enough time to learn each step of the process, practice, learn the three-ball cascade, record their routine, add music, and be able to share their videos with their classmates,” says Lachcik. “I thought this idea would be a great way to keep the students active at home during the online learning lockdown. It not only provided the class with a fun and engaging warm-up before completing our ‘Fitness in a Bag’ workouts, but also allowed the students to learn a new skill.”

The challenge began at the beginning of February, the start of Block Two in the hybrid learning system SMCS is currently using, at a time when students were learning from home full-time due to the public health lockdown orders and school closures in Toronto. When the school opened back up to in-person learning, the class continued with the challenge.

“Once all the juggling recordings were submitted, the class took the time to view the video routines of the students who were comfortable sharing, and voted for the top routine in each of the following categories: Funniest Video, Best Athletic Skill Video, Best Edited Video (music, captions, and transitions), and Best Juggling Performance,” says Lachcik.

Grade 9 SMCS student juggling for his Phys. Ed. class' juggling challenge

Brian Lachcik's entire class participated in the 20-day juggling challenge including Grade 9 student, Keaton.

“The most challenging part was definitely getting the rhythm down for the three-ball cascade,” says Grade 9 student, Cole Christie. “When first learning it, it was very confusing, and I dropped the balls over and over. It does seem and look much harder than it really is and once I got it down, it was just muscle memory. From there it was easier to learn other three-ball tricks.”

“The challenge was a great way to stay coordinated and get in some exercise while having fun,” says Jonathan Morello, Grade 9 student. “What I enjoyed a lot was that it was the whole class together doing the challenge.”

“The sport of juggling has been proven to provide physical benefits, mental benefits, emotional benefits, as well as the development of transferable athletic skills,” says Lachcik. The benefits include, improving balance and working the core, increasing heart rate, improving focus and concentration, reducing stress, and developing coordination, spatial awareness, and so much more.

 “Juggling can also be done at home within small spaces and requires a minimal amount of cost-effective equipment — three juggling items,” he says.

In addition to students recording their juggling skills, Lachcik encouraged them to submit videos of themselves practicing other skills as well.

“I allowed the students to include their own sport-specific tricks into their routine,” he says. “Hockey and lacrosse skills, soccer and basketball dribbling, only made their video routine even more impressive.”

“I find that these types of challenges are extremely effective with my students as it activates the healthy competition between them and their peers, encouraging each other to excel,” says Lachcik. “Also, since juggling is not a common skill, there weren't any students who had an advantage over another. All the students basically started off at the same beginner level of the activity, not favoring any one or group of athletes.”

Morello was one student who had picked up the sport earlier on in the pandemic in March 2020.

“All I learned was the three-ball cascade,” he says. “Then I stopped doing it for a while. Now, in only four weeks since the start of this block, I have learned over 15 new three-ball tricks and have become really good at each of them. Well, almost.”

For Christie, it was a completely new skill.

“I did not know how to juggle at all before this, but I have always wanted to try it,” says Christie. “At the start of our 20-day challenge I was struggling with some of the two ball tricks, and I couldn’t even come close to juggling with three balls. In the end, I was very comfortable with juggling three balls and could do it without dropping them. I even learned some more advanced tricks. I improved a significant amount just within the 20 days.”

Both Morello and Christie agree the key to learning how to juggle is to start simple and work through any frustration with practice.

“Overall, juggling was a great experience this block and was a great way to build some eye-hand coordination, build some confidence, and have a good time,” says Morello.