BECOMING BETTER

Jean Croker Petke


Ball Practice

Ball Practice

To spend time with The Boy (4 1/2 year old grandson) is to play ball. Lots of ball.

At his home we often play in the master bedroom. I’m not sure why that’s the preferred location. Perhaps we can do the least damage there. And we can shut the door to limit the distance of wayward balls. And we don’t have to have our shoes on.  We sometimes use the laundry basket for our basketball game. It works well enough.

One day three of us were playing: me, The Boy, and his mother. We had at least two balls in the air most of the time. On one wayward shot, his mother announced, “My aim was off.” The Boy replied, “Then turn it back on.”

You might want to ponder that concept a bit. It has multiple applications. If our aim is off, we ought be able to correct it — to make our next attempt a little closer to our target.

On his last visit to my house we continued a game we invented last summer. “Gramma,” he says in his most convincing voice and charming look and with ball in hand, “Let’s play hiking!” This summer is the first time our game actually had a name.

Here’s how we play it. The adult sits on the rock ledge in the backyard — the space he calls his field. In reality, it’s a long narrow sort-of-green space. The adult holds the football, extended a bit from the body, and parallel to the ground. The Boy waits at the edge of the field and tells the adult what number to start with. It doesn’t matter if the count is frontwards or backwards or in random order or if numbers are skipped. The important part is at the end of the count, the adult yells, “Hike!”

At that word, The Boy begins his run down field, grabs the ball from the adult’s hands, tucks it close to his body, runs to the far end of the field, turns around and returns the ball to the adult. And the game starts over again. He runs miles in his field playing what he calls hiking.

We have a few random variations. Occasionally the adult throws the ball into the air instead of handing it off. Sometimes The Boy on his return run just keeps the ball for himself and continues running another lap or two.

When the game began last summer, he always dropped the ball after he snatched it. With much practice, he learned to tuck it close to his body with his hand over the ball’s pointed end. He never drops the ball now. A simple technique that made all the difference.

Something else to ponder with many applications. Perhaps a simple adjustment will make the difference between sloppy, drop-the-ball technique to running for the touchdown. Look at the rough spots and make a correction there.

I’m learning lots of life-lessons playing ball with The Boy. My advice? Play with a child, regularly. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn.

Until next Tuesday . . .