Thursday, March 18, 2010

A lesson from Patti Labelle

I am hyper-competitive. I grew up with a big brother who was only 18 months older. He's a competitive bastard, too, so much so that he became a politician. I had two cousins in the neighborhood of a similar age, and there were a bunch of kids around with whom we would play every sport imaginable. In this context, I learned to compete, and being among the youngest and smallest kids of the group, I learned quickly that to overcome size, you needed skill. So, no matter what it was, whether kicking field goals, hitting a baseball, or driving to the hoop, I would contently spend the time by myself that was needed to improve. For example, I spent countless hours teeing a football up in my shoe and kicking it through the uprights barefoot or practicing a between-the-legs dribble in my mom's driveway.

Later this drive was extended to other endeavors, like bicycle racing, rowing, education, my job, golf, and yes, now bowling. Being competitive is a bit of a mixed blessing. It usually means that you have the patience to work at something much more intensely than others do or care to, but it also means you can be perceived as kind of a dick who can't just relax and have fun. There is probably truth to both of these edges of the sword. It also means you HATE losing.

When we started bowling in Bernaski a few years ago, we did so because we thought it would be fun. We recognized that we were easily the worst bowlers in the league. We had no idea that there was a payout at the end of the season. In fact, I think it took us a month to figure out that the league was handicapped, and whether we had won a game or not. When you have zero expectations of winning, losing does not hurt at all. It is just fun to bowl.

My competitive drive didn't really kick in the next year because of injury, but I'm fairly certain that the year after, it did. For one, John and Joe started to throw a hook, and their averages were climbing nicely. I felt like I was being left behind. By the end of last season, I started tracking my stats, trying to shore up parts of my game that were not good, and bowling more outside of league. This year, I have taken that to an extreme. Nobody really knows how much I practice. I try not to talk about it much, and I'll leave it that way.

You see, that's another part of this story. I rarely ever talk about my own personal accomplishments on this blog, although the perception is probably otherwise. When I talk about myself in a positive light, I almost always temper it with a bad thing... like I got my highest score ever but I sucked at picking up spares. I really should write a post about how I have become a decent bowler over three or four years. Maybe I'll save that for another day, but I don't want to come off as some kind of cocky prick in the process. It should be abundantly clear that I understand where I fall in the larger world of bowling- somewhere between awful and one standard deviation below average.

Competitiveness is ingrained in me. I can't really shake it, and I don't want to do so. I have approached many things in life the same way once I decide that I want to become more than proficient in them, and frankly, I am unapologetic for it. I know it can be a little annoying to my friends, and for that, I am regretful. Still, I refuse to accept or be happy with personal "mediocrity," a word which everyone must define for themselves. I will not be happy until I can average 200 pins for 30 games of bowling, or until I shoot par on an 18 hole course. I feel that way as much about trying to hit the pocket as I do about trying to have the best bowling blog in the world.

This competitive drive can, however, bring unnecessary worry. It can cause friction with friends and malcontent with sub par performance. In the immortal words of the prophet Patti Labelle, "I need a new attitude." I am going to continue my personal quest for improvement, at least as long I find the sport interesting, but I am going to try to worry less about winning and losing. It's just bowling, right? I think it would make for a more peaceful existence. In that light, I am going to try to continue improving my game and accept that we will come in last place in the league. Ok. That feels better. Now, I can just go out there and have fun.


  1. I agree! (We should start a bowling church, you and I.) I feel the EXACT same way, man. Behold the bitten apple...too much knowledge can be a bad thing, eh?

  2. Good. Glad to hear it, EB. I'd happily join your church, as long as we don't worship Pinnius but instead deride him.

  3. This sounds like the first step of a twelve step process.

    I am finding that this game is 95% psychological. Last Tuesday, I heard one of the real good bowlers in our league giving advice to some teenager sitting next to me. It boiled down to you can't do anything about the last dozen bricks you threw. If you go to the line thinking that you need to throw a turkey, you probably won't.

    You should only focus on throwing the next ball well and what does it take to do that. And if you can keep that focus for the 15 to 20 balls you throw each game, high scores will come.

    I think that might be "controlled competitiveness".

  4. Thanks Doc. I like that "one ball at a time" approach. i think I will try to focus on that next week. I often get caught up in the "is 200 still available?" game. My check is in the mail.

  5. 1) I'm a fan of this blog because I relate so closely with what you are going through. Don't apologize for who you are.

    2) Your self depreciating humor is not only funny, it's refreshing. If you can't laugh at yourself, you're taking yourself too seriously and who wants to read about that?

    3) We're all on this journey together, I'm just glad you're documenting it. It's comforting to know that there are others out there going through the same things I am.

    4) I'm gonna try Doc's tip tomorrow night, it sounds like a winner.

  6. Thanks MD, I've really enjoyed having you in the back seat for the last couple of months. By the way, I am going to assume that my brother does not represent you. You are in Vienna, right? He represents the mount vernon area.

  7. Speaking of competitiveness, MD, that 244 you rolled is bullshit. I've got 6 weeks to top 250 and put you in your place. Did you really go 244? That's a big game. Good on ya brother. I'll catch up in a couple o' years.

  8. That game doesn't count since it wasn't rolled in league, it was just practice and you know how well we roll during practice only to wonder where it all went on league night. My PB in a league is 213 and the planets seemed to align for me that night too so I'm not holding my breath for a repeat performance.

    Maybe your bro can score us a game with Mr. O?

  9. "I really should write a post about how I have become a decent bowler over three or four years."

    I agree. Why not? I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd be interested in reading about your personal journey from beginner to "somewhere between awful and one standard deviation below average".

    Going by your average alone, I'd say I'm about a year behind you and I for one would like to see what I have to look forward to.

  10. Ok. I'll put it in the cue. I appreciate your encouragement.


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