Ouch! See, You Should Have Watched The Ball

Posted by: michael  :  Category: DIY Brain Health

Tracking and catching or hitting objects are the key parts of many ball games as well as sports like martial arts and boxing. Such activities engage faculties like attention, focus, coordination, judgement, movement and visual acuity and so have potential to activate several parts of the brain.

So let’s dig a bit deeper…

What processes do you need to go through in order to catch a ball that is thrown to you?

            *Perceive the ball
Well, first you need to perceive the ball – its size, shape, colour and its other characteristics. Then you need to dig into your experience to see if you recognise it or something similar. If you can draw on the previous experience, that will give you a good head-start. If you don’t recognise it or something similar to it, the catching equation becomes more compex because you are forced to make more estimates and assumptions – that may or may not turn out to be valid.

            *Estimate the trajectory
Once you’ve perceived the ball and ‘weighed it up’ so to speak, the next task is to compute its trajectory from the speed of movement and how high it was tossed. Again, if you’ve had a lot of practice you’ll have a depth of experience to draw on – that suits your brain because it prefers to take the easy path to a solution. If you haven’t been practicing then you’ll make assumptions and estimates. If the ball happens to end up hitting you in the face or drops to the ground in front of you or something equally embarrassing, it’s safe to assume your assumptions weren’t as good as they might have been.

            *Make a decision
Okay, you’ve assessed the ball, worked out its likely trajectory now you need to decide what action you want to take. For example, you could dodge out of the way, let it hit you or catch it. Whatever you decide will most likely require movement (motor action). If you decide to catch it you need to hold out your hand in such a position that the ball will land in it and then you have to close your fingers around it so it doesn’t fall out.

Here are some of the main brain areas that are engaged…
The temporal lobe enables us to distinguish objects by sight. The visual association area in the parietal lobe helps us to see motion and track and capture objects in motion. The visual cortex in the occipital lobe processes the information. Experience is stored in the form of memories but memories can be stored in several locations depending on their nature. For ball catching it is reasonable to assume that the hippocampus and cerebellum would be involved.

 And let’s not forget initiation and control of movement. The motor cortex is involved in controlling the movement of body parts. It is aided by the pre-motor area which is concerned with posture and the supplementary motor area which plans and initiates movement.

Wow, this catching ball business really gets the brain working!

With all that activity going on I think it’s safe to assume that new neurons will be created and that the connections between neurons strengthened. The resulting increases in grey and white matter foster the efficient working of your brain and supports your functional intelligence.

Want to do some practice?
Below are some of the  exercises I use to maintain my hard-eye coordination, tracking skills and reaction times. 

One final point before the exercises – work on your eyesight. That is important because visual acuity plays a significant role in the performance of tracking and hard-eye coordination activities as well as in determining reaction times. With this in mind, it is important to pay attention to vision improvement. In the exercises below make sure you focus the eyes on the ball and track its journey from the moment it leaves the hand to it being caught.

Exercise 1
1. Hold a tennis ball in each hand.
2. Simultaneously toss both balls in the air so that they cross and catch the ball from the left hand in the right hand and the ball from the right hand in the left hand.
3. Vary the height of the toss and do 50 times.

Exercise 2
1. Hold a tennis ball in each hand.
2. Simultaneously toss both balls in the air so that they collide with each other (sometimes they may miss each other but that’s fine as it randomly varies the challenge).
3. The balls will fly off in various directions. Catch the balls in either hand.
4. Vary the height of toss and do 50 times.

Exercise 3
1. Hold a tennis ball in each hand.
2. Toss the ball in the left hand in the air so that it can be caught in the right hand. As it’s on its way down to the right hand, toss the ball in the right hand up so it passes just underneath the descending ball and can be caught in the left hand.
3. Repeat 25 times without intentionally varying the height of the toss.
4. Reverse the direction by starting the sequence by tossing up the ball in the right hand and do 25 repetitions.
5. This is more challenging than Exercises 1 and 2 because it incorporates a lag – rather than tossing the balls up at the same time, in this exercise there is a delay in the release of one ball and that has to be timed so that the balls don’t collide. It also involves more tracking skill.
6. It is easier to control if the balls are not tossed up too high and are kept fairly close to, rather out from, the face.
7. This exercise can be made more challenging by introducing a component of balance. Do this by keeping one foot raised off the floor for say 25 reps and then changing feet for another 25 reps.

Watch out… here it comes! Oh dear, that looks nasty, does it hurt much?

As always, your comments are very welcome… if you like my posts please tell your friends

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