What’s it take to make seemingly impossible one-handed grabs like “the catch” look easy? New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has spent this off-season showing fans some of the training that makes his circus snags possible.
If you aren’t one of the roughly 5 million people who have tuned in to OBJ’s posts on Instagram, we’ll bring you up to speed: Doing what he does requires unorthodox workouts, performed on a variety of surfaces against a worthy opponent.
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In Beckham’s case, that opponent is trainer Jamal Liggin, whose head-to-head battles with the Giants wideout in an exercise aptly named “the Tennis Ball Drill” have been streamed nearly 600,000 times. In it, Liggin and OBJ square off in an acrobatic game of pitch-and-catch in which the trainer tosses two tennis balls at the receiver, who has to quickly change direction to grab them and deliver them back.
“This drill not only works on hand-eye coordination, it also improves your reaction time, balance and vision,” Liggin says. “I might be moving to the left but throwing the ball to your right, and you have to read that, adjust, make the catch and then get it back to me without dropping the ball. And [you have to] do it all while setting yourself up to make a play on the next one.”
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Liggin and Beckham perform the drill on a variety of surfaces, including grass (shown in the video above), sand and waist-deep in water. No matter the venue, the trainer says the Tennis Ball Drill translates directly to better performance on the field, because it teaches athletes to pay attention to several things at once.
“You could compare it to what a defensive back or safety has to do,” Liggin says. “He has to see what the quarterback is doing, what the receiver is doing and what the tight end is doing, all while he’s trying to make a play on the person he’s guarding.”
Liggin says he came up with the drill as an undergraduate at Alabama State University, where he ran track. He says he started throwing tennis balls against the wall when training in order to improve his own reaction time. He has used the drill with athletes he coaches ever since.
“I call that drill ‘my daughter’ because I cherish it so much,” says Liggin, whose real-life daughter is 8 years old. He adds that making the drill challenging enough for an athlete as explosive as Beckham isn’t easy. “I’m working just as hard as [Beckham] to make this happen. When I get done with this drill I’m dripping sweat.”
Liggin says he’s not surprised that the drill has gained notoriety since videos of Beckham performing it started surfacing. The Giants receiver is one of the game’s superstars, drawing Beatlemania-level crowds at public appearances overseas and holding court with stars like Usain Bolt. But the trainer adds that public videos of the Tennis Ball Drill only scratch the surface of what’s involved.
“The tennis ball drill going viral is funny to me, because we’ve only shown the beginning of it,” Liggin says. “When you come train with me you get to see the full drill.”
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