How to Juggle 3 Balls

So, you want to learn how to juggle 3 balls? Good. You’ve come to the right place. Give it a try. No matter what, it will be an interesting journey.

juggling animation 3 balls

A juggling animation showing the basic juggling pattern: the 3-ball cascade (Wikimedia Commons)

I learned the basic juggling pattern by watching a video (in a VCR!) when I was in grade school. The video suggested silk handkerchiefs or light plastic grocery bags are good to get the motions down. Even rolled up socks can work, but lighter objects can get some more hang time. I learned the basic idea with plastic bags when I was pretty young and then left it alone for a few years.

Then I saw a documentary with some good juggling and decided to learn how to juggle 3 balls “for real” with tennis balls. It took an afternoon or two and lots of dropping to start to figure it out, and then lots more practice/dropping to develop the muscle memory.

The sooner you start working with tennis balls, the better, in my opinion because eventually your hands need to get used to working with those. They’re cheap and readily available. Might as well get used to them early on.

Advice

  • Practice while facing a bed. When you drop, they’re easier to pick up. Plus, you’ll learn to make more controlled tosses. A common beginner problem is the tosses will go forward, kind of leading you away from where you’re standing. The bed pretty much forces you stand in one spot. (But spend time practicing outside/ away from the bed, too. It’s good to get used to juggling in different environments, plus you could end up using the bed as a sort of crutch without realizing it.)
  • Ultimately, it’s not about catching. It’s about making good, consistent tosses in a rhythm. You’ll probably have a lot more room to experiment with the height and rhythm of your tosses than you’ll think at first.
  • Take a break. Sometimes it’s good to step away for a while. It gives your brain and muscles a chance to process what you’ve been working on. On a similar note, have a clear mind. Carlo (Carl Lewis) says in The Juggling Book “Free your whole body from tension, especially your head, neck and shoulders. Tension blocks the free flow of energy, which is vital to juggling. … I have learned that it is impossible for me to do certain complex variations when I am tense about something, not really ‘there,’ or not in an open, positive frame of mind.”

Once you learn how to juggle the basic pattern (called the 3-ball cascade), then there are tricks to learn, different objects to juggle and shows to perform. The journey is just beginning.

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