It’s How You Play

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My father taught me about fair play and sportsmanship. He was a good athlete and a strong competitor. Like many young men of his time, he risked his life for a just cause. He said he fought “the war to end all wars”.

He felt strongly that it was better to win fairly than to cheat to win. He was still alive when a NFL team owner was famous for his quote, “Just Win Baby”. My Dad disagreed. “By any means” reminded him of the Nazis. Americans weren’t like that. We played by the rules, we were the good guys.

Sports have always been my preferred form of exercise. I’d rather play than watch, given the choice. As an amateur athlete and weekend warrior, I’ve always embraced competition. Like most, I enjoy winning but it’s no longer a priority. In my advanced age and retreating athleticism, I embrace playing well regardless of the outcome.

Two years ago, I discovered Pickle-ball. I call it “tennis for old people”. It’s played with a paddle and a wiffleball on a much smaller court than in tennis. For the most part, our Pickle-ball crowd is mostly retirees. Like me, they just want to stay active, but that’s changing.

As we improve and younger people are added, competition has become a somewhat divisive issue. There seem to be two camps, those who want to win and those who need to. In the “need” camp, rules are important, line calls are always debatable and the score, crucial. If you have to hit to the weaker player to win, so be it. If a line call is contested, it should go your way. If you lose, you might be angry, frustrated or even unhappy.

In the “want” camp, people definitely enjoy winning. They hoot, holler and celebrate but it’s different. They celebrate a good shot, a great serve or just a strong effort. It’s the skill and accomplishment that are celebrated, not so much the outcome. Compliments abound on both sides of the net. “Nice shot, good get, great lob” are heard often. I like to think age is a factor. Maybe we’ve learned over the years that we are very lucky to be able to move and play in our sixties and seventies.

To be fair, there are days when I feel like I “need” to win. The reasons are often convoluted and varied but almost always irrational. Most days, I’m happy to just play. If I play well, that’s even better. I’d rather play well and lose than play poorly and win. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? If I can help another improve their game, that’s good too.

I have no idea how long my body is going to cooperate with these kinds of activities. It complains often and on occasion, various parts shut down demanding rest and recovery. Till then, I will Pickleball on and be thankful for the opportunity. Wait! Is it your serve or mine? By the way, you wouldn’t happen to know the score would you?




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