I grew up with a father who played golf for “the fun of it.” He loved being outside, walking the course, enjoying the sunshine. His score wasn’t that important. Sure he wanted to do his best, maybe beat his personal records. But he loved the social and physical experience above all. Much more than besting his fellow players.

These days I bump into tennis opponents who “play for blood.” They are dominated by the need to win at all costs. They become enraged if they miss a shot. They yell at their doubles partner if he hits a ball into the net. And they will hit to the weakest player on the other team over and over and over, rather than mix up their placements to their opponent’s side of the court.

What is that all about, I keep wondering? Sure I do my best to win, run hard after each ball, focus on serves, well-placed shots, return unexpected gets. I strive throughout to hit where they ain’t. But if I lose a point, I frown—sometimes I curse—and get ready for the next shot. If my partner blows an easy one, I recall that I’ve missed a slew too. If we lose in a long rally, I shrug, smile and praise the victors. I am glad for all the excitement, good exercise and harmless tension.

For me it is all just a game. I can’t seem to get too upset on the court, when other less fortunate people are losing their jobs, watching storms destroy their houses or being maimed by suicide bombers. But for some locals I know, these sports entertainments are not just a game. It appears they are contests to assert dominance, build ego, establish superiority, enhance personal stature and to prove that they are better than I am. At least I think that might be the real aim of their victory.

I know that I am competitive when I run after the ball that no one else might have retrieved, practice in between matches for hours with a ball machine, against a wall or hitting serves. I took two-hour lessons almost every week for a year to improve my performance in the beginning. I believe I am clearly serious about becoming a stronger player. And though I have only been playing less than 2 1/2 years, and some of my competitors (aged 45 to 93) have been playing regularly since they were kids, I can often hold my own and earn their respect. At least they will play me weekly or call me to be a substitute. So I am good enough to give them a challenging game. Or beat them.

But I just don’t have that killer instinct they do. I am never out to draw blood. Read the rest of this entry »

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