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JOHNSON: So much depends upon a balding tennis ball - Odessa American: David A Johnson

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JOHNSON: So much depends upon a balding tennis ball

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Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2008 4:09 am

I've recently rediscovered bouncing. Tennis balls, rubber balls, golf balls, toy balls - whatever bounces and fits in my hand, I bounce it, oh how I do.

It's one of the joys we take for granted because it's commonly available to all, and since it's so simple, we're expected to outgrow it. Maybe there is a time to put away childish things, but not yet.

Admittedly, I started bouncing again for the practical benefit of relieving my copy editor carpel tunnel. But it's also fun, and that may be the most practical benefit of all.

I didn't do much bouncing as a kid, other than junior high wall ball, where frankly, I spent more time getting beamed than bouncing.

More often I played video games. This is a shame, but I'm not denouncing video games. They're awful fun, too. When played with friends, they allow for unrestrained competition, and while participating in them, they're time capsules collecting nostalgia's essence.

But so much of video games places a person in a passive role. Mental calculation has been necessary for everything from Tetris to Call of Duty, but the burden is off of you and on the machine you're playing. You're free to do only what the programmers have allowed you to do. If they haven't made a button to climb a fence, you can't do it and never will.

I also played semi-organized sports in elementary, then fully organized sports into high school. And it's true: you learn a lot from playing with people, relying on them, working toward some common goal. But organized sports are a kind of tyranny. There's no negotiation on how the game is played, how long it's to last or what a person is to do. Children make no decisions; they work within someone else's arbitrary rules, and someone who breaks those will not be well-liked. It's good preparation for real life, but whoever said childhood was meant to prepare children for real life?

In fact, for children there are rules for just about everything. Rules for what not to touch, for when not to speak. Rules for what not to say, when to play, what to eat and how to dress. Rules for when to go to bed and when to get up.

But a ball! What rules are there in that?

Bouncing is a rare opportunity for self-assertion because here they must answer to no one but Newton and their own self. Bouncing a ball is freedom because it has no intrinsic goals, no governing rules and to create some requires an active mind, not a passive one. The only limitations are in yourself and your ability to find them.

There is physical activity, literal hand-eye coordination, pleasure, liberty, pattern recognition, appreciation of rhythm, angles, force and velocity - all from a tennis ball, golf ball, a 50-cent rubber plaything.

Most of all, bouncing a ball is a simple joy, and that it's simple doesn't make it any less of a joy. We seem to have forgotten this as individuals and as a society. Not just for our children, but for ourselves. You can make a lot of days better by adding some rhythm. It's really just success achieved consistently, and everyone enjoys being successful.

What the world would be if only we stepped outside for bounce breaks as we do smoke breaks!

Balls are cheap, durable and portable. Everyone enjoys them, given the chance.

When you get a chance, go take a ball and bounce it at a wall outside. Don't bother to bring any friends; your friends, they will find you.

Odessa, TX

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