group juggling

by Bernard De Koven on September 25, 2012

When you get lots of people playing catch together, or volleying together, things tend to get more game-like, more organized, with rules, even. So a simple game of catch becomes something like a feat of group juggling. Which reminds me of a game I learned too long ago to remember who taught it to me. A near- perfect example of a cooperative, game-like experience, of the apparently endless variety. A game, coincidentally called “Group Juggling.” Which explains why I was reminded of it.

You’re going to need a lot of things to throw around. Like jugglers do. Preferably things that are as easy to catch as they are to throw. Nerf balls. Balls made out of rolled-up socks or plastic shopping bags. I really like the sock solution best because it makes my collecting singleton socks such an admirably practical activity. You need a few fewer balls than players.

We’ve evolved I guess what you might call a ritual to start the game – especially with people who haven’t played it before.

Somebody acts in the role of “Ball Captain.” No, you don’t have to call yourself Ball Captain. Nor does anybody else have to. It’s just that you happen to have all the balls. And happen to be the person who winds-up explaining the game. And sure, it’d be best if everyone were the captain of their own ball. But, if, like I said, nobody else knows how to play, it’s best, like I also said, if one person has all the balls.

So, there’s everybody, standing in a circle. And the Ball Captain asks everyone to raise a hand, and explains thus: “I’m going to throw the ball to somebody. Somebody not too close to me, and not too far, either. When you catch the ball (which I sorely hope you do), you, of course, put your hand down, and throw the ball to someone else who has their hand up – someone not too close or too far from you, who then throws lowers her hand to catch the ball, throws the ball to someone else who’s not too close or too far but still has a hand up, and on and on, always throwing the ball to a person with a hand up, until no-one has a hand up. At that time, throw the ball back to me.”

So now the ball has made a complete, if somewhat difficult-to-trace circuit, everyone having thrown the ball to one person and received it from someone else. As a final, and mildly amusing memory aid, the Ball Captain asks everyone to point, simultaneously, to the person to whom they threw the ball, and then, with the other hand, equally simultaneously, the person from whom they received the ball, further vivifying the path that the ball achieved.

Post-finally, the Ball Captain starts the game by throwing the first ball to the person to whom she had originally thrown the ball to, um, first.

During the first and subsequent rounds, the inevitable ball-dropping event usually evits itself. This is a good opportunity for adjusting player position – closer to the center, or perhaps to some other part of the circle. Later, as more balls are added, ball-dropping is no longer the game-stopper it once was. Often, it provides a welcome opportunity for reducing the number of balls in circulation. In any event, I always recommend that the focus is on how to adjust positions, if need be, rather than on ball-handling skills, or lack thereof.

After the ball has made a complete circuit or two, depending on how long it takes everyone to catch and throw without confusion or ball-dropping, the ball captain, deeply sensitive to the flow of the game and the confluence of the group, introduces another ball, bringing into stark and oft-hilarious focus the “juggling” nature of the game. And on and on and so forth, introducing yet another ball and yet another, letting missed balls fall where they may, until the group reaches such a state of mutual astonishment that they fairly curdle in collective awe.

And then, and then in full knowledge that the possibilities for further juggling marvels still abound, totally cognizant of how possible it would in deed be for people to, for example, start walking in a circle whilst juggling, or perhaps even to change places, perhaps even with the very person to whom the ball is being thrown or from whom received, in total recognition of the endless hilarity still to come, the Ball Captain, recognizing that the only thing standing in the way of the game becoming one of historical, or perhaps hysterical significance, stops the game, distributes the balls so that there’s more or less one for each and every player who wishes to ascend to semi-captaincy. And then lets the game begin again. Each player introducing another ball at the most precisely opportune moment so that both juggle-worthy surprise and conceptual delight are maintained.

Of course, there are still more variations, should more be sought. There’s the possibility of creating yet another ball route, the equal possibility of using both routes simultaneously, of changing directions for one of the routes, of singing, of doing the juggling whilst collectively pursuing both the Hokey and the Pokey… Left to their own resources (which is always a good idea), people will always be able to come up with more ideas to make the game more, shall we say, challenging. The recommendation here is to try these ideas one at a time, on a first mentioned, first endeavored basis.


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