By Dom Cioffi
For as far back as I can remember, I have had a persistent need to win. It didn’t matter if it was baseball, darts or a game of Go Fish, my mindset has always been focused on the top of the podium.
And this competitiveness didn’t stop with sports. I had to have a better driver’s license test score than my friends, I had to find more Easter eggs than my brothers, and I had to finger paint better than my classmates.
Not surprisingly, this need to succeed resulted in many bouts of disappointment and heartache if things didn’t go my way. But the years have softened this reaction, so while I still approach every activity with the intent to succeed, I’m now completely fine if things don’t work out exactly as I hoped.
My wife was equally competitive as a youngster and still harbors the same desire to win, but she too has softened with age.
For years we have had to experience our competitive outlets through our child and his sporting events, but that changed after a brief conversation with our neighbors recently.
About three weeks ago, friends in our neighborhood asked us if we wanted to play doubles at their tennis club. The offer caught us off guard, but it sounded like fun so we set up a time to play on the following weekend.
Both my wife and I like the idea of being physically active, but neither one of us was feeling very confident about our tennis game. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, but tennis was never something I focused on. Basically, I’m coordinated enough to get the ball over the net, but I’m far from skilled in the nuances of the game.
Likewise, my wife played in a few women’s leagues over the years but hasn’t picked up her racquet in over a decade.
When the day of our match arrived we rummaged through the garage to locate her old tennis racquets. We also dug through the closet looking for something that could pass for a tennis outfit. Eventually we managed to cobble together enough gear to look somewhat respectable (albeit a bit dated).
Needless to say, our friends beat us quite handily. It wasn’t embarrassing, but we didn’t come close to being as competitive as we hoped.
That night my wife and I spent quite a bit of time analyzing our performance and decided that if we were to accept a rematch, we would have to practice ahead of time. So the following week we headed out to the local playground courts to hit balls.
We were about half an hour into our practice session when a kindly gentleman approached my wife at her end of the court and offered her the use of his racquet, which he claimed was much better suited to her swing. Within minutes she was hitting the ball remarkably better.
A few minutes later he walked up to me and after a two-minute conversation convinced me to try one of his other racquets. And like my wife, the difference in my ball striking improved dramatically.
As it turned out, this gentleman was an ex-tennis pro who was at the courts to give a private lesson. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us) his lesson cancelled so he was left with time to kill.
He then proceeded to give us a free hour and a half lesson filled with several tips and a brief overview of some of the more important fundamental aspects of the tennis swing.
By the end, both my wife and I were not only far better tennis players, but also anxious to have our rematch with our neighbors.
In the ensuing two weeks before our rematch, my wife and I had two more lessons. We also found time to buy two new racquets and more appropriate tennis attire. To say that we were confident and excited when our rematch was finally scheduled this past weekend would be an understatement.
Unfortunately, after we arrived at the club and warmed up, we promptly lost the first set, which completely upended our aspirations. However, after a quick review of several tips that our coach had given us, we soon regrouped and proceeded to annihilate our neighbors in the final two sets.
Of course, this performance assured us another rematch, since our neighbors seemed confident that they had simply not played up to their ability. However, given the youthful exhilaration that my wife and I both felt (and the fact that we have more lessons scheduled with our new coach), I don’t think there’s any chance we’re losing again.
This week’s feature, “While We’re Young,” starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, is about a middle-aged couple who also get a renewed taste for youth. However, in their case it’s because of a different set of activities.
This film has a limited audience given that the themes revolve around middle-aged couples. And while there is plenty of comedy to chew on, it does not contain the typical comedic flare we’ve come to expect from a Stiller outing.
Check this one out if you enjoy well written, character-driven films that work toward a poignant conclusion, just don’t expect to be bowled over with laughs in the process.
A backhanded “B-” for “While We’re Young.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at email@example.com.