I’ve been learning to play tennis since late last year but I’m such a dunce at it.
I tell H, who is a qualified tennis coach and is teaching me how to play, that tennis is a really tedious game with all that ball-picking.
It’s also tough on my wrist and I have poor ball sense. My shots hardly ever so where I intend them to
Mostly, though, I can’t get into the game because I’m the uncompetitive sort.
I just don’t like being pitted against another person in an upfront way, which is what competitive sports like tennis are all about. (Not that I’m at the stage where I can remotely be considered as playing against him, of course.)
I’m lacking in the “must-win” gene – if there is such a thing.
I’ve never felt any desire to be top in class or No. 1 in anything, and am happy if I’m somewhere in the upper half of any ranking.
This lack of fighting spirit is also why I avoid games of any sort.
I don’t play sporty games, or board games, or even video games.
Competition both bores me and makes me queasy.
I get nervous and pressured and like is too short to subject myself to such feelings. I don’t hanker for the adrenalin rush of being in a contest and I don’t bask in being the centre of attention.
Besides, I think it’s embarrassing to so openly what to beat another person at something. It’s sort of pathetic, really.
It’s not even that I’m afraid of losing. I wish it were that though, because if I were afraid of losing, it means I want to win, and if I hung up about winning, I’d be a more assertive sort of person, which I think I should be. Shouldn’t one be always striving to hit new heights?
Maybe my ego is tiny and I feel I can’t match up to others and so I don’t try. Or maybe my ego is big and I don’t deign to pit myself against them.
Or it could be that I’m lazy. As someone once said (actually comedian Drew Carey), some people don’t like competition because it makes them work harder, better.
Besides, if I do “win”, I’ll probably feel bad for my opponent and worry that he won’t like me anymore, or worry that I’d be hit by hubris.
My lack of competitive spirit is clearest when it comes to sports.
The only activities I enjoy are individualistic ones, running, yoga and swimming.
When I go for morning runs at the stadium, it’s funny to see how some people are naturally more competitive than others. They have a fixed, hard look about them. When they sense someone catching up, they quicken their pace. Me? I move out of their way.
Even in yoga class, you get aggressive types who always have an eye for anyone who can bend further and breathe deeper than them. Which defeats the point of yoga, in my view.
H is opposite of me. Although he’s generally very laidback, he’s competitive when it coems to certain things.
He’s taken part in all sorts of tournaments all his life – chess, tennis, boxing, sailing and, more lately, poker.
He reads up to learn more about winning methods and is charged up during a game. He loves a good fight and when he loses, it gets to him.
I’ve never lost sleep over anything like that – because I’ve never exposed myself to it.
He was incredulous when he found out that I’ve never once in my entire life taken part in any form of sporting competition or taken home a trophy or medal.
Well, there was one time I entered the fray, sort of.
When I was at university, I submitted an entry for a short story contest. The competition here was invisible as I didn’t know who I was fighting against. I won second prize. The tragedy was, the judges didn’t even award a first prize. But even that slight didn’t bother me.
The only time I can remember being determined to come up tops was ages ago, when I was in the National Cadet Corps in school and wanted desperately to be promoted.
I spit-polished my shoes, starched and ironed my uniform, practised my parade commands and made it to the not-unimpressive rank of Staff Sergeant. Even then, I wasn’t the top cadet in my year. There was a Warrant Officer II. So much for trying.
In my working life, I’ve been fairly ambitious and motivated, but not competitive, I don’t think.
I don’t try to excel at something because I want to outdo and outshine another person. It matters too much to me to keep the workplace atmosphere around me pleasant and light.
Besides, I’m lucky to be in an equal-opportunity industry. Anyone can take a stab at breaking a story and making a name for himself as a journalist – just go out and get that good story. And the chances of “making it” are there every day because the newspaper is printed every day.
But maybe I protest too much and am more competitive than I care to admit.
The stereotype is that men tend to be more competitive than women, but in an American study, girls were found to be just as competitive, although they use subtler methods.
As reported in the New Scientist magazine in 2008, researchers in the United States tested the reactions of 87 four-year-olds to see how they competed against one another.
The kids were split into all-male or all-female groups of three and each group was given puppets to play with.
When there were many toys to go around, both the boys and girls behaved in roughly the same way.
But when only one puppet was given to each group, the boys were more likely to ask for the puppet, grab it or chase the boy who had it. There was direct aggression.
Girls, however, punished the girl who held the puppet, whispered and talked behind her back and even hid from her. in other words, they exhibited subtler forms of competitiveness.
There could be some truth in that study.
Still, when it comes to playing tennis or any form of sports, I truly lack the killer instinct, whether I’m facing Tom, Dick or Mary, across the net.
H will be disappointed to hear this as all the hours of tennis lessons will have gone to waste, but I’m a tennis dunce – and proud of it.
(With thanks to the author Ms Sumiko Tan, whom granted consent for posting on this blog. Original post was printed on The Sunday Times, Lifestyle section, page 13, June 12, 2011.)
Any typing error is entirely the blogger’s own.