Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Cross-training for basketball (and a faster brain)

Basketball being Joaquin’s most ardent passion, his game provides great insight into his developmental growth and gaps. Over the last year he has improved a great deal in quickness and physical contact, which we all we’re targeting to improve his defensive game. So last weekend Joaquin requested new feedback from “Coach Papa”.

Among Joaquin’s assets: He’s a good shooter and uniquely crafty at persisting and succeeding when his shots first fail. He may not be the fastest, strongest, or most aggressive, but he never loses hope in the face of a bad game. While his teammates get depressed and spiral down by a beating, Joaquin continues playing enthusiastically—I love that, kid! It will serve you well in life.

His next areas of growth: Court vision, and quickness in getting to the ball. Both of them rely in fast processing—and we’ve been told in the past that his brain processes slower than typical. So wee! Here we have good intrinsic motivation to work on processing speed. He may not give a tadpole to speed up his processing of read paragraphs, but he sure cares about becoming a better basketball athlete.

Court vision is tough, papa says. You can’t teach it; either you have it or you don’t. But I know it’s more like: either you develop it, or you don’t. I’m no basketball expert, but I think of court vision as the ability to notice subtle differences in your peripheral vision. So Joaquin needs to develop peripheral visual perception. And he needs this perception to be processed fast in order to make good passes before getting cornered and turning the ball over.

Quickness in getting to the ball, or reaching for the pass (the way I notice it) is pretty clear. As the ball moves around, Joaquin tends to stay still waiting for passes to him to land in his hands. Often times an opponent launches and steals the pass before it can get to Joaquin. We always notice as great players those kids who come “flying” out of nowhere and steal the ball in the air. We want that! And in order to have it we need Joaquin’s brain to become very good at tracking and anticipating the movement of the ball and moving quickly to this anticipated trajectory.

Enter Raquetitas!
Joaquin and I have not played this game since he started school last year. We’ve got to play it again!

boy in a tennis court holding an ogosport raquet, watching a ball come at himboy gets in position to hit the ballboy hits the ball holding raquet at a funky angle

Raquetitas are all about tracking a moving ball, anticipating its trajectory and speed, and moving to the ideal position to meet it. They’re great at developing these skills because

  • Joaquin’s motivation is strong
  • the experience is subtle (the ball moves slower than tennis and basketball), so perception of differences is magnified, and there’s a good possibility to experience (and learn from) success.
  • there’s also the fun factor of unpredictability (on ocassion, even if you do everything right—and you know you did—the ball may bounce in an unexpected way).

We went out today and my brain had so much fun perceiving insights into my own ability to track the ball, anticipate its movement, and meet it. I noticed that I track and anticipate speed and direction very well. And most interesting: When my brain accurately estimated that the ball was headed fast to a place very far away from me, my body lingered lazily. The calculations reported You’re gonna have to run hard to meet that one, and of course I didn’t want to. I noticed my learned resistance! I saw that I stayed still hoping the ball would go out of bounce. HA HA!

So during today’s hour I noticed all this and played intentionally attempting to change it. I had to make a very strong point: We will run hard to meet those challenging balls. I noticed every time I lingered for a fraction of a second and how I always failed. I noticed every time I launched and succeeded. I was conscious of the small effort and great presence it took to fight my resistance…

I told Joaquin all about my perceptions hoping this will motivate him to notice himself. Movement with attention is the most powerful thing! We’ve seen it do its miracles more than once before.

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