Form a circle, with one person (facilitator) standing in the centre.
Equip the middle person with a ball.
Instruct the middle person to pass/throw the ball to any person in the group while calling one of two instructions “PUSH” or “CATCH.”
Challenge the person receiving the ball to do the opposite of the instruction, eg catch the ball if the middle person calls “PUSH.”
If the action of the person receiving the ball matches the command, they are eliminated and will remove themselves from the circle.
If the person receiving the ball successfully performs the opposite action, they may remain in the game and pass the ball back to the middle person.
This process of passing the ball, calling instructions and responding continues multiple times.
The game continues until there one last person is declared the winner.
How To Play Narrative
On the surface, Push Catch is a simple, energising and very engaging circle game. But, if you dig a little deeper, you may find it to be so much more.
Start by asking your group to form a circle. Stand in the centre of the circle, holding a ball.
Already, your group will be expecting that you will ask them to do something with the ball. That is true, but not as they might expect.
Explain to your group that you will soon start to pass the ball, randomly, to one person at a time at the same time as randomly calling one of two commands “PUSH” or “CATCH.”
Announce that the receiving person is expected to respond not to your command, but to the opposite of your command. That is, if you say “PUSH” as you pass the ball, you expect the receiving person to catch the ball, and vice versa.
Tricky, eh? You bet.
This exercise requires one to completely rewire their brains. Naturally, when our brain hears “CATCH” every fibre of our being is programmed to catch the ball. However, in this exercise, the receiving person is required to perform the very opposite reaction. Therein lies the beauty of this game.
You may wish to start passing the ball relatively slowly. This helps introduce your group to the parameters of the game as much as build a little confidence in what is required.
As you may have guessed, if the receiver responds accurately, they are entitled to remain the game. However, if the receiving person catches the ball when they should have pushed, or vice versa, they are eliminated and invited to enjoy the continuing action from outside of the circle.
The action of passing/calling and responding continues one person at a time, randomly, until one person remains. The winner!
Practical Leadership Tips
The pace of the pass clearly needs to be moderated. Too fast and few people will truly have time to respond appropriately. However, pass too slow and almost everyone will succeed. Judge accordingly.
Resist the temptation to pass the ball to each person in turn around the circle. This is too predictable. The stakes are higher if you pass the ball randomly.
Given the propensity for the receiving person to misjudge a situation, it is best to use a soft ball, preferably one that is inflatable, lest it causes them some harm. A beachball or a nerf ball are ideal. Keep in mind – it’s the reaction we are measuring, not the quality of the ball.
You may find it useful to invite your group to reflect on the range of their emotions during the first round before moving onto the second round. For example, you may be interested in exploring the intersection between stress and performance.
Keep in mind, a lot of success is encountered by chance. It’s a 50/50 ball-game, which means, no matter what the middle person calls, if you commit to push or catch with each attempt you’ll be right 50% of the time (on average.) Some people may discover success, partly or wholly through chance.
I have observed Phil Brown, from High 5 Adventure Learning Center, present this exercise several times (it’s one of his personal favourites.) He tells me that repeating the activity (and then only spending a few minutes playing it) has helped people improve their performance, not to mention their willingness to play.
Per the philosophical framework of Challenge by Choice, invite people who are feeling too much stress or anxiety to sit out for one or more rounds until they feel comfortable to challenge themselves.
Groups of more than 15 or 20 people are too big for this exercise. Even allowing for randomness, there is just too much idleness at the beginning of the exercise to make the exercise engaging.
You could integrate Push Catch as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand and manage their emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviours in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of sharpening reflex skills, not to mention, enjoying a fun group game.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully respond to the various commands may speak to the benefits of being mindful insofar as this mindset would help one be more present to the commands and block out all other distractions.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Push Catch could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Barometer: Play several short rounds during the course of your program to invite people to improve their responses/success rate with practice and over time.
Competition: Intend to play multiple rounds during your program, and award the winner of each round one point. Then, at the conclusion of your program, invite a small number of those with the most number of points to play-off in a final Championship round.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Think you’ve got quick reflexes? Let’s see how you fare in this next exercise…
There are many situations in life in which we need to respond quickly. Sometimes while driving a motor vehicle, playing sport, walking down a crowded street, etc. This next challenge is even more difficult because you are also required to re-wire your brain before you start play…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this exciting, energising game:
How did you respond to the challenge of this game?
What emotions did you experience as you played?
How did you respond to these emotions? Did your reactions improve or impede your performance?
What strategies did you employ to improve your ability to respond accurately?
What did you observe in the experiences or reactions of others? What did you interpret these to mean?