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Episode 110: How to Catch a Ball

Video Highlights

- The neurology behind hitting and catching.
- Why "keep your eye on the ball" isn't helpful advice.
- A fun and novel "warm-up" activity.

Hi everybody, Dr. Cobb of Z-Health back with you.  Today we’re going to talk about how one simple dot or one simple letter can turn you into a better athlete.

Hi everybody, Dr. Cobb here. What I’m going to talk about with you today, is a really simple drill that’s incredibly powerful for improving athleticism. In our 9S Skill & Style Course, which is really the course in Z-Health which I consider the pinnacle of everything that we do, because this is the course where we look at how to play sports that actually participate in activities outside the gym.

We talk a lot about what we call motor primitives. A motor primitive is something that shows up across multiple domains of sport, and one of the most common things we talk about is how to actually catch or hit a ball.

Now, as weird as this may sound, I’ve been teaching athletes and people who consider themselves non-athletes for probably twenty-five years, and people have broken down crying from learning how to catch a ball. I’ve gotten forty year olds, fifty year olds, sixty year olds, who’ve come up to me after class and gone, “You know what? My entire life it’s driven me crazy, I didn’t know how to catch. I didn’t know how to hit a ball, and I was never able to participate in all these activities.”

One of the things we love about our program, is that we call ourselves options facilitators. I don’t care how old you are, if you’ve ever always wanted to play baseball or tennis, or something that involved a ball, and you never were able to figure out how to do it, we have drills and skills that will help you accomplish it.

What we’re going to do today is talk about reverse engineering, the neurology behind hitting and catching, all right?

So, really simply, we keep talking about this in a lot of the different things we’ve put out there, about how the brain works, and we say that we get input from the environment and from our body. Our brain has to interpret what that input means, and then we have to create an output.

If you were five or six years old, and the very first time somebody said, “Hey, let’s play catch,” and you started throwing the ball and you were having a hard time catching it, they probably said something like, “It’s easy, keep your eye on the ball.”

Unfortunately, that well-meaning advice does not tell you how really high level athletes actually look at a ball.

Over many years of looking at the visual system, and visual practices of elite athletes, it’s become very clear that the very best of the best, actually don’t often look at the entire implement, the entire ball, whatever it is. A football, a baseball, whatever, but instead they pick spots on the ball to focus on.

If I’m a tennis player, when the ball’s coming, I can either look at the whole, big green globe, or if I know that I want to hit a shot that doesn’t go straight, it goes that way, I want to actually focus on one specific part of the ball to help direct it in the direction I want it to go.

We actually have a little drill that we call Letter Ball. It’s super, super simple, but you take a tennis ball, you take a very expensive piece of equipment called a Sharpie, draw letters or dots or shapes on it, and then once you have that, you start to play catch with a friend.

The way that the catch is played, is really important, so I’m going to play catch with my off-camera ghost here and what you’re going to see, is we’re going to throw the ball back and forth. Watch me, as the ball comes in, I’m going to try and follow the ball all the way in to my hand, and I want to call the letter that I see as it hits my hand.

Most people, as the ball comes, they do this, and at the very last micro-second, they look away, so most people catch like that.

This is called predicting. It’s not the ideal way to learn to catch a ball, particularly when it’s going quickly. Instead, “T”. I want to follow the ball all the way in to my hand, and the challenge is to call the letter as it strikes my hand, that ensures that I’m staying focused on the target, all right? “H”.

One more. Gamma. Gamma is the brand of the tennis ball. Over time, what happens is we have people catch with both hands. Catch with right hand, catch with left hand, and you start to build into your brain, what’s really required in order to catch well, which is to focus on a certain part of the ball.

Now, the other thing that comes into play, when I said why a dot can make you a better athlete, is if I was playing golf, for instance. One of the most common things we talk about, most golfers will find that if instead of looking at the golf ball itself when they’re getting ready to hit it, but instead they focus on a dot, either on top of the ball or back toward the striking surface, magical things happen in their game.

What I’m going to ask you to do with this information is, number one, teach it to your kids. Number two, start to play around a little bit. You can take a ball, put some letters on it. You can walk around and practice on your own. You can throw the ball against the wall. Practice on your own, then you can grab a friend. You guys can play catch and we call it Letter Ball Catch.

This, for a lot of our professional trainers, is the way that they warm up their clients prior to a workout.

Three to five minutes of playing Letter Ball Catch will engage all your senses, it will get your brain turned on, it will heat up your body, and it will teach you essential skills that apply literally everywhere in life.

Give this a shot, if you have any questions about it, or some really fun feedback, please let us know.

Otherwise, hope you have a great week.

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