Alarming really, it is alarming to witness how many young people struggle to accurately catch and throw a tennis ball these days. You might think that this quality in an adolescent is merely a demonstration of hand and eye coordination. But I’d say if you pay attention – if you are actually present with the young person the exercise can be much more revealing.
Over the years I’ve noticed that the inability to catch and throw a ball is often a measure of just how much attention this young person has received from others. It can also reveal the quality of the engagement this venerable human being has received.
Watch a young person drop a ball and throw it awkwardly repeatedly. Then listen to the young person. Do you hear him apologise again and again for missing the ball; listen to her self-criticise “I’m just rubbish at these things” or listen to his/her reflected anger “will you throw it properly to me”? I’d say that listening and hearing these things is revealing.
A lack of engagement, being told to be quiet or criticised for most of your life can destroy self-esteem, self-awareness and self-compassion. It creates socially and emotionally withdrawn young people who are no longer interested in themselves or the world because their experience has taught them that they are not interesting or worthy of attention. Very often these young people will withdraw into the virtual reality world of computer games and disembodied friendships with strangers. There they can find and share an interest in Facebook or Grand Theft Auto where drops of dopamine and adrenalin creates a sense of achievement, worth and a substitute for social status.
We all need to be held and heard. If this cannot be found in positive interactions human beings will seek it where we can find it, but it can leave these young people so depressed, disengaged, and de-energised never able to realise the potential they hold in the real world.
Alternatively, just spend a wee bit time gentle throwing n catching the ball. Bring words of encouragement to the efforts. Even chat about what they like, saw or heard whilst ignoring the dropping and fumbling. Listen to the stories, show an interest. Laugh aloud when you drop the ball or throw awkwardly. Show an interest, so that the young person feels worthy and watch what happens. It can rekindle awareness of awareness. Then mixed with mindfulness training, mobility focused physical exercise and being active in nature you can witness a flourishing of life in soul that was lost.
We’ve been working with a group of young people with diverse forms of emotional distress and trauma. You would be amazed at what we have been doing with tennis balls. You would be amazed at what you could do by spending time with your kids throwing a ball and chatting.