developing youth through juggling

When you first learn to juggle, you start with just one ball. It might not make a lot of sense because juggling, as we all understand it, involves multiples. But, in order to master multiples, one must first master the toss. So a beginning juggler works with one ball, learning how its weight feels leaving the hand and how it feels landing in the other, tossing it back and forth to achieve the right kind of arc, and also learning how long it takes for the ball to leave one hand and then land in the other.

Then another is added. Often, with a beginning juggler, the two balls will collide midair and carom off in separate directions. And yet, this piece of the puzzle is usually learned with relative ease. 

It is with the addition of the third ball that the skills of a real juggler begin to develop. This step, learning how to handle three balls with only two hands, can take some time.

Hanna Stoehr, now a graduate juggler, attended her first JUGHEADS summer camp between her fourth and fifth grade year. For about five weeks, she practiced with three balls. Her instructor, Paul Arneberg, owner and founder of the JUGHEADS Youth Juggling Company, located in east Edina, placed her with her back to the “audience” — facing a wall. The wall taught her to keep her throws compact — no wild forward throws she would have to chase — and also kept the balls within reaching distance when dropped. (Which, as you can imagine, was a frequent occurrence in the beginning.) “I just remember that my back got really tired from picking up all of my drops,” she says.

By the end weeks of the club, she was able to take a step back from the wall, and then another, turn around to face the audience and from then on, throughout the rest of her middle school and high school years, Hanna was a Jughead. 

a little bit about the club

JUGHEADS began as part of a larger group, an after school club-within-a-club so to speak, part of an Edina youth care program back in the mid-’90s. Initially, there were 10 kids interested in learning to juggle. As interest grew, Arneberg, with the encouragement and help of his wife, Wendy, separated the club from the aftercare program and JUGHEADS became its own entity in 1999. Today, with over 140 kids enrolled, it has become a unique program that develops creativity, fosters friendships, encourages goal setting, and boosts confidence in youth from a variety of ages and backgrounds. “And while all this is happening, kids become phenomenal jugglers,” espouses Arneberg. While he says he sometimes feels burdened with the feeling that he’s personally responsible for each child’s individual experience at the club (or clubs) of their choice, he knows that, generally speaking, what a child puts into JUGHEADS is what he or she gets out of it. 

“The coaches and I are constantly encouraging the kids to make the most of their time here,” says Arneberg, “whether that be a few months or 10 years. Pursuing and mastering skills such as juggling can be very useful in blessing others in unexpected ways. A balanced life involves pursuit of both loving people and of personal excellence.”

Hanna recalls that drive for personal excellence beginning at a young age, “There was a three ball endurance contest when I was in fifth grade. I juggled for 15 minutes straight without dropping. There were three of us left in the competition and the prize was a giant tub of bubblegum. Finally, I dropped, then Sarah dropped, and then Riley won. Oh, the bubblegum. It was almost MINE!” 

A typical week during the school year consists of after school clubs every day of the week, and one evening as well. Summer is the best time to dip your kid’s toe into the water, when JUGHEADS offers a variety of morning and afternoon options through mid-July, when it then packs up for the season and sends its best jugglers (with chaperones) to the International Juggling Association’s (IJA) annual festival. Two summers ago, in 2009, the Ultimate Club (the one club that many kids aspire to), took home an International Gold Medal in teams juggling. The complex seven-plus minute routine began so simply — with a regular 

warm up of three clubs — the savvy international audience chuckled. Laughter turned to wild standing ovation-style applause, as complex patterns and techniques with crazy names like “get the shoe,” “dropback giveaways” and “behind the back catches” unfolded, and ended with two jugglers walking confidently through a tunnel of flying clubs. This summer, the IJA festival will be held in Rochester, MN, the closest it has ever been to the JUGHEADS’ home base, and the Ultimate Club is once again training and hoping to compete in Teams Championships.



grey matter

Juggling may seem to be just a great, entertaining party trick, but there are actually more benefits than you might imagine. In the mid-2000s, a study in the journal, Nature, compared brain-imaging scans taken of a subject before learning to juggle, with another taken three months after they had mastered the skill. The scans revealed an increase in grey matter — that is, the brain actually expanded. Other studies have shown that there is a correlation between juggling and a greater understanding of math, which makes sense considering the patterning, counting, and tossing of multiple clubs and balls into the air needed to master a routine. 

In addition to cognitive development, says Arneberg, it is “the simple joys of a contented beginner discovering a new skill/social niche, to the profound experience of a young adult whose life was forever changed here.” Arneberg stresses that character development always trumps medals, awards, and other temporal forms 

of prestige.

from juggler to student leader

After taking about four years of learning to juggle and juggle well, some kids begin to focus beyond self-improvement, to involvement in the improvement of others and in the company. 

“I was at a point where I could sit down and watch someone else’s pattern and show them how to fix it, and I was able to start putting together big group routines for the beginning Rec level clubs,” says Hanna. “During this time I developed a leadership role and became more than just one of the teenagers in Ultimate Club. I was helping make decisions for the company with the group of student leaders called officers; I spent time talking to parents about their child’s improvement.” Hanna isn’t the only student juggler who made the leap from participant to leader. If you look at the coach roster online at, you will see that three of the current coaches are JUGHEADS graduates, and now attending college in preparation for careers in neuroscience, philosophy, and physical therapy. 

JUGHEADS parent Katherine Carney said of her son, “I know Sean loves assisting on Wednesdays. He said he gets as big a kick out of helping the younger kids obtain a standard as he does when he obtains a new standard himself. This is a side of him we don’t see at home and I love watching it develop.” 

Says Hanna, “The best part about being a student leader for four and a half years was watching those young kids I taught beginning juggling to, become excellent jugglers. I entered JUGHEADS as a 10-year old just wishing I could learn a basic three-ball pattern, and I left with more skills for life than I could have ever imagined.” 

juggle jam

The culmination of the JUGHEADS experience is the spring Juggle Jam, now in its 13th year. Similar to a variety show, only with juggling as the thread running through each routine, it has exhibited some kooky and wildly entertaining routines (such an epic Lord of the Rings tribute — imagine small children on stage in homemade medieval battlewear, juggling clubs at each other) to tributes to boy bands incorporating dance with juggling to eye-popping solo routines exhibiting amazing athletic prowess. 

First-time Juggle Jam attendee, Jason Jones, said the show he attended in 2010 was, “Hands down the most amazing juggling show on Earth, and quite possibly the best show I have ever seen, period. It is a ‘Macy’s Parade’-type quality production. The show belongs on Broadway. I never thought any of this was possible with juggling. I think the show integrates enough theater for it to be considered stand-alone theater, but this was like theater on steroids! The on-stage visuals were mind blowing at times, but especially so during the opening and finale. All 140 performers share the stage in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of costumes, props, and juggling.“

Arneberg stresses that JUGHEADS is more than a juggling club. “It’s a haven for kids to feel accepted, challenged, and socially engage in a positive atmosphere where virtues and good character are taught alongside (and of at least equal importance to) juggling skills.” Hanna concurs, saying, “The motto of JUGHEADS goes like this: ‘Developing youth through Juggling since 1994.’ And I’m getting emotional saying this, because JUGHEADS did just that, and more. 

I performed in my last official Juggle Jam in 2009, and you bet I cried as I tossed my final clubs. But I’m more proud of the lessons, morals, and skills my time in JUGHEADS gave me. How many people can say that?”

Kathleen Stoehr is editor of Minnesota Parent and the proud parent of a gold medal-winning international juggling champion.

watch, and learn

Juggle Jam 13 will be held on Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 14 at 4:30 p.m. at Hopkins High School Auditorium. 

Look for more ticket information and details on the JUGHEADS website, in mid-March.

Summer Sessions: Entering its 18th summer of juggling camps, the club offers instruction and mentorship to beginners through experts entering grades 3 to 12. The summer will kick off with on Monday, June 13, and is followed by five weeks of day camps. The morning sessions (9 a.m. to noon) are focused on beginning/intermediate jugglers, while the afternoons (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) are focused on advanced/expert jugglers (e.g., self-directed and working on club standards, routines, numbers juggling, club passing, etc.). Use of equipment and snacks/beverages are included in the tuition. For more information, visit and click on “clubs” and then scroll down to “summer juggling camps.”