Juggling While in Motion

Last month I successfully juggled while flying down a zip line. I had tried the feat three or four times previously and I always dropped about halfway down the line. This most recent time, though, I made it the whole way (about 100 yards). Here is the video evidence, followed by some thoughts on the science behind it….

Between doing this zip line juggle and juggling while running (“joggling”), people often make comments to me that imply their confusion over the science of how it works. Many people think I need to throw the balls ahead of me in order to juggle while in forward motion.

The answer is, no, I do not. The balls are already in forward motion with me as I’m running or flying on a zip line. They are traveling the same speed as me, so when I toss them upward, they fly both up and forward without any extra forward effort on my part. If you were to stand in the back of a moving pick-up truck (do not attempt) and toss a basketball straight up, it would not fly behind you but rather in front of you as if you were standing still (as long as you are not going so incredibly fast that there is crazy wind resistance).

The problem with the zip line, though, is not the forward motion, but rather the spinning motion. That is what has always messed me up in the past. When I spin while juggling, I do need to overcompensate my throws in a particular direction to make up for the spin. When I successfully juggled down the zip line, I just happened to get the throws right based on my spins. It was tough, but certainly possible.

The Easiest Way to Learn Juggling

Perhaps you took a how-to-juggle seminar in third grade gym class, like me. Or maybe you warmed the bench (like me) on the baseball team and taught yourself how to juggle baseballs with all that time on your hands.

But maybe you haven’t learned yet. Or the things you’ve tried have all failed. Over the years, I have come across many juggling props. I can say that the simplest props to use when first learning how to juggle (for most people) are scarves.

The scarves float, so they turn the juggling pattern into a slow motion cascade. They make it easy for your brain to learn the pattern so you can eventually graduate to juggling balls. Scarves usually run anywhere from $1 to $10 for a set of three. You can get them from amazon.com or any juggling supplier.

Then one day, my friend David Cain tipped me off to something about scarves. If you want to save your money, simply use plastic grocery bags! You can even snip off the handles and presto!, you have free juggling scarves. I’ve used plastic grocery bags ever since when I teach large groups how to juggle. They work great and you’re saving the earth at the same time. Here are some pics from an instructional I gave my fellow PhD students at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

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The idea of the lesson was to give an example of adult learning. We can indeed learn new things like juggling as adults! This is know as the neuroplasticity of our brains (Draganski, et al. Neuroplasticity: Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature 427, 311-312 [22 January 2004]). We learn best through experiential learning, and juggling is very hands-on and experiential.

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Watch my video on how to juggle three balls. If you’re starting with scarves, you can use those too. The pattern is the same. Just know that they will float slower (of course) and you’re going to toss and catch them with your palms forward instead of palms facing up (as with balls). Let me know if you have any questions!

Juggling Ice

I ordered some silicone molds that make perfect ice spheres about the size of a baseball. I put them in the freezer and out came the ice balls for juggling. I went outside and tried them out.

I was able to do it – and of course my hands got very cold! The balls began to melt and in turn got slippery. But I could still maintain the juggle for about a minute or so. Maybe my next trick should involve some sort of mix of juggling these with fire torches. The fire and ice show. What do you think?IMG_6177.JPG

I can see some good teaching opportunities here too, such as the nature of water and how it can take on different properties. And how the hands are very warm and have the potential to melt ice fairly quickly.

Large Group Game: Hot Potato Extreme

Here’s a great group game that actively involves everyone and no one gets “out.” It also involves an element of juggling that anyone can do without practice. It is like large group hot potato juggling. Here’s how it works:

Have the group sit in a circle. You can do multiple circles if you want to and have each circle compete for speed in the game.

Start with one ball in the circle. I suggest a ball sized anywhere from a tennis ball to a volleyball. Hand it to a person that will be identified as the “starter.”


Give a “ready, set, go!” Then the starter person passes it to the person on their left (clockwise around the circle) and the ball must be passed around the circle in the style of hot potato. Everyone must physically handle the ball and physically pass it. If the ball skips a person, the facilitator must take the ball and re-start it at the point where it was last touched by a player. You can time the players to see how fast they can get it back to the starter player (kids LOVE this). You can also have multiple circles race against one another if you like.

So far, this is pretty much “hot potato” without the element of randomly halting it.


Now for the extreme version: Add more balls to the circle. The starter passes the first ball. Then count to five (or whatever number you like) and start the second ball. See how fast the group can successfully make a full revolution with both balls making it back to the starter (and every player has passed it).

Try this with three or more balls at the same time. The players have to stay focused on the next ball coming! Again, time the group or have multiple groups race against one another.

For a very challenging variation, try passing one ball clockwise and another ball counter-clockwise around the circle. Or do that with multiple balls in both directions. Add these challenges accordingly based on the average age and skill of the people playing the game.

I’ll warn you that it is very easy for the players to pass a ball and then “check out” no matter how many times you remind the players to look for the next ball coming. It is an interesting exercise in “juggling” multiple tasks at the same time. If you play the game, you’ll find that you will get distracted by watching other balls and then you’ll miss one of them coming your way.

I like to use this game as a way to introduce the idea of juggling to groups in a way that everyone can quickly learn. It is fun and there will be a lot of frustration and a lot of laughter. Enjoy!


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How to Balance a Hat on Your Face

Enjoy this new video I just posted on balancing a hat on your face. Always remember two main things:

  1. Keep your eyes fixed on the highest point possible on the object you’re balancing.
  2. Tilt your head back farther than you think you should.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Teaching Kids About Street Performing

I performed for a small group of three to five year-olds at my daughter’s school today. They were studying about Europe, so I figured I would teach them about Europe’s rich tradition of busking (another term for street performing). I showed them a picture of a busker at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland as an example of Europe’s street performing scene.

But I wanted to take the lesson a bit further. I concocted a social experiment that I have never before tried (or heard of anyone doing). I counted out fifteen pennies per child and set the money on each child’s carpet square before they entered the room. When they came in, I told them to count their money (an opportunity to practice math) and that the money is now theirs.

Each child started with fifteen pennies. It was my job to perform and try to earn some of those pennies in my hat. They could keep and take home what they didn’t spend.


I then instructed them that I was going to perform for them and lay a hat out in front of me. I explained the tradition of paying street performers if you like their tricks and think they’re funny. I emphasized that they can certainly keep their money if they choose. If they didn’t like my show or thought I wasn’t funny, then there is no need to give me any money. In fact, even if they like my show, they still don’t have to give me money. But I as the street performer will respectfully ask that they put something in the hat if they like the show. It’s all voluntary.

Some of the equipment I used to try to earn some pennies today.

So I turned on the music, picked up my juggling things, and went to work. I was actually performing for seven little children and two adult teachers just hoping that I would earn some pennies for my hard work. I was surprised at how seriously I took it.

After a few tricks, low and behold, they started coming. The children and the teachers began to trickle up towards my hat and drop pennies in at various times when I would do tricks. It certainly warmed my heart to know that they liked what I was doing.

Some kids held most or all of their money back. And that was totally fine. Enough children were voluntarily showing me their appreciation through pennies that it didn’t bother me. In fact, as a street performer, I should still do my work with excellence whether people throw money or not. As street performers, we are always putting ourselves out there and making ourselves vulnerable to the fate of the audience’s appreciation or lack thereof. It is a risk we are willing to take. And if it means no pay, then that’s life and we will go out and try harder the next day.

Thankfully, these kids were generous with their penny throwing and at the end of the day, I counted up exactly one hundred pennies. It was a buck hard earned.

Here is some of my pay. More pennies came in after I took this shot.

The header image at the top of this post features Kezzie learning to put money in the busker’s basket when she was only one. This gentleman was happily playing his accordion for us in Malaga, Spain while we were on a family vacation.

The “How to Juggle” Trilogy

Today, I posted a short video on how to juggle five balls. That completes the “trilogy” of instructional videos on three, four, and five ball juggling. Here are all three (in order of three, four, and five). Let me know what you think!