The XX Factor

Putting On Your Game Face

Each week, in collaboration with The Washington Post Magazine, we debate a new question. This week: When do you get your most competitive?

Hanna Rosin : When I play soccer, I tap into a kind of competitive energy that has no outlet in my regular life. It’s a combination of blind rage and focused destructiveness. I would mow down anything to keep the opposing player away from my goal. Once, that “anything” was my then-6-year-old daughter and the goal was two trees in my in-laws’ back yard. So I suppose, given the stakes involved, that’s unhealthy.

Dahlia Lithwick : Seven years ago I went on a five-day silent yoga/mediation retreat with my husband. I was immensely pregnant and on the fourth day my husband spoke aloud for the first time to ask if I was warm enough. I promptly pulled out a pad and pen and wrote, “I won I won I won the silent retreat.” Now he won’t take me on silent yoga/meditation retreats any more.

Ellen Tarlin : I am extremely competitive about being completely noncompetitive, or so one of my high school English teachers told me. Sometimes I think I need to be the funniest person in the room. If my husband doesn’t laugh hard enough at one of my jokes, I’ll be sure to tell him: “Hey, that was funny. Wasn’t that funny? I’m hilarious, aren’t I?” Also, I suppose I am competitive about who does more around the house. I’ll say something like, “Why are you completely incapable of putting things in the dishwasher?” and he will say, “Because you are a better person than me.” Touché .

Emily Bazelon : In my sport, tennis, I am not competitive enough. Which is a nice way of saying that I choke. I blow it on the big points. I’ve been playing almost entirely with men for the last several years (not on purpose), and I notice that they tend to focus better on big points. But so do my sisters, so I think this is just my own demon. Good thing it only whispers in my ear on the tennis court. If I lived my life the way I compete in sports, I’d be a basket case.

KJ Dell’Antonia : I “coach” both nordic and alpine skiing at the lowest possible level in our pretty serious ski town (which is to say I supervise and occasionally offer advice to first- and second-graders), and I am much too cool to compete with my fellow coaches, especially since they’re prone to casually revealing that they competed in the Winter Olympics twice in the ‘90s. I’m not competing at all. Really. I’m only concentrating on my form and speed to set a good example for the kids.

Photograph by Photodisc/Getty Images.