Lessons from the World Master

So last week, I watched in awe as my 70-year old dad made his squash comeback at the World Masters Squash Tournament. He hadn’t played in over ten years, but he dusted off the old rackets, pulled out the old kit, and got back out there.

(It may have been old kit. But it was also Green and Gold. Which I’m guessing was part of the master plan to destabilise the competition.)

To put you in the picture, my dad was a pretty impressive squash player in his day. My mom too. Actually, I have damn good squash genes. But I think watching my parents slip discs and pull muscles and do their nightly core exercises in front of the TV ended up squashing all the squash out of my sister and me.

And after years on the courts, I guess it squashed all of the squash out of my mom and dad too.

Or at least we thought it had.

Like the cycling husband faced with the prospect of watching the New York Marathon, my dad caught the FOMO bug when he decided to volunteer to help the organisers of the tournament, and signed himself up.

Watching him on the court this past week was both agonising and awe-inspiring. Agonising for those moments when I could see his body was just too exhausted to run that extra step, and awe-inspiring when he managed to nail a shot that I had already given up on.

As my youngest rightly pointed out: “These old men are tricky!”

Grandad on the squash court, by Amy (age 7). Note the determined look on granddad’s face!

It was nail-biting stuff too, and although he lost his final match (14 – 16 in the fifth, Oh my shattered nerves!) it was incredible to watch him progress from the first match where he looked a little dazed and confused, to the final, where he had clearly rediscovered his mojo.

But possibly the most fun was watching his grand-daughters watch him play. Seeing them do the “victory dance” (which some of our friends might recognise as the trademarked ‘Stir the Pot’), and provide streams of useful advice: “Crush him! Kill him!” (accompanied by the obligatory slamming of fist into hand) and, for the final: “It would be better if you won 3-0. You should aim for that”.

Which brings me to another point.

As you can tell, we’re a wee bit competitive in our house.

It’s not something I’ve tried to foster. In fact, quite the opposite. With perfect 20/20 hindsight, I recognise that one of the reasons I opted out of so many school activities is because I simply would not participate unless I knew that I would win.

I have (mostly) grown out of that. But I’m determined that my girls won’t walk the same path.

Which is why, with more 20/20 hindsight, I am rather pleased the old man didn’t walk all over the competition. (Sorry, Dod, it’s for the greater good, right?)

Is he disappointed? Absolutely. But did he enjoy getting back on the court, nonetheless? Watching him play, especially in that agonising last match, the answer was obvious.

Because perhaps the only thing that trumped watching that final game where I saw the mojo making a comeback, was seeing my dad’s good grace on the court. Despite his obvious desire to win, he conceded lets when he needn’t have, corrected refs on the score even when it was to his disadvantage, and laughed at himself when the ball died in the corner. As it does when you least want it to.

I wish that my girls had been able to see that match. Because I think if I had watched my parents play more often when I was growing up, seen them not only win but also lose, I might have been a little less hard on myself.

It’s a lesson for both the Cycling Husband and me. To let our children see both the triumph and the loss. And to hide the severe annoyance about the loss so that we appear to be graceful losers. So from now on, when either of us ‘loses’ anything, know that it’s part of the master plan, ok?

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