There's nothing so comfy as mediocrity. Indeed, our culture teaches us both explicitly and implicitly that "okay" is good enough. But when it comes to fun, the middle-of-the-road game players cheat themselves out of something precious. Lackluster players miss out on the special spark that characterizes outstanding game play. We're not talking about the thrill of victory versus the agony of defeat. An outstanding player will have more fun losing a game than an average player will have winning a game. The fact is that mediocre players cannot, by definition, get caught up in the lighthearted spirit of the game.
Following are ten techniques for transforming yourself into an outstanding player of your favorite game.
1. Seek your game's hidden source of entertainment, its heart of fascination. In Classical times, Greek and Roman games consisted mainly of running, wrestling, jumping, riding, and racing. On the surface, these games were nothing out of the ordinary, yet their players made them the world's most extraordinary entertainments, exciting the enthusiasm and awakening the spirits of the spectators.
To find your game's heart of fascination, observe those moments when players become carried away, when they exclaim joyously, when they leap into the air or rise off their seats as if suddenly weightless. Notice those moments when teams cheer one another, when the thrill of the play dissolves rivalry. When you identify the dynamic at play—the true spirit of the game—you can foster it, prolong it, and take it to Olympic heights.
2. Improve your flexibility and agility (whether muscular or mental). To stretch your gray matter, a Web search for "lateral thinking exercise
" will offer puzzles unsolvable by traditional step-by-step logic. To increase your physical flexibility, the "sun salutation" of Yoga is a 12-step series of poses that exercise every muscle and joint of the body. Do a Web search for "sun salutation
" to find free pictorial guidance.
3. Use drills to work on weaknesses (whether muscular or mental). If another player is one step ahead of you mentally or one second faster than you physically, that's a winning edge. A single increment of improvement may be all you need for success. Set simple goals and work one step at a time.
4. Better your memory. A good memory is a boon to virtually any game. A Web search for "memory game
" will yield hundreds of free online resources for exercising your powers of recollection.
5. Dispel falsehoods that hinder you. Are you convinced that golf isn't a woman's game, or that softball is a young person's game, or that pinball is about making lights blink with a rolling ball? Educate yourself about your game. Read books, explore websites, talk to other players. There's always more to learn.
6. Sharpen your concentration. This is the age of the eleven-second attention span. Being easily distracted is ruinous to game play. Sharpening your concentration takes conscious, prolonged, repeated effort. Keep a journal about your game. Thinking and writing about your game will help to increase your power of concentration.
7. Manage your stress. Stress management techniques will help you improve virtually any game. A Web search for "stress management
" will yield hundreds of free online tips and techniques. One marvelous stress reducer is laughter. A Web search for "laughter therapy
" will inform you about how laughter reduces stress hormones, boosts immunity, promotes a positive attitude, and engenders a feeling of power.
8. Practice solo. If your game involves two or more people, don't let that fact discourage you from practicing any aspects you can work on by yourself.
9. Embrace change. "Change is necessary to improve your game. You must not be afraid to risk giving up the known for the unknown if you wish to play better."
10. The final tip is too specific to apply to just any game. You already know what it implies, or will soon discover it through your ongoing self-education. Perhaps this tip will require the help of a coach or the advice of a teaching pro. Perhaps it will involve visualization techniques, or the use of a video camera, or familiarization with quantum physics. This final tip may be the ultimate key to your fullest enjoyment of your game.
 Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois
, 1904, p. 303.
 Philip B. Capelle, Play Your Best Pool
, 1995, p. 383.
Craig Conley is an independent scholar and author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary
(HarperCollins) and Magic Words: A Dictionary
(Red Wheel). His website is One Letter Words
. His Zen version of Rock-Paper-Scissors is called "Moon, Fish, Ocean
Labels: games, research, sports, theory