03/27/2013 04:36 pm ET Updated May 27, 2013

A Basketball Approach to the Aging Process

I can't blame the coffee pot for minor spills that happen much too often. Everything seems fine while I'm pouring the steaming liquid into my cup. But a minute or so later, as I'm enjoying the first sip, I notice a few drops missed their intended target and landed on the kitchen counter. It's another annoying reminder that moving into the upper age brackets has a negative effect on our physical abilities.

If breakfast preparation was a basketball game, my little mishaps would have the coach yelling at me for "sloppy ball handling" and I'm pretty sure it's only going to get worse in the years to come as my depth perception and eye/hand coordination drop farther and farther below the 100-percent reliability mark.

At some point advancing age forces even the best athletes to retire from active competition. But the game of life keeps going even as our skills decline, and while it's easy to complain about this inevitability I think a more useful response is to accept the limitations, adjust my style of play, and avoid silly mistakes that drive coaches crazy.

I like using basketball terminology because the word "dribble" has a wide range of applications. I never learned to dribble a ball very well during gym class or pickup games and the idea of trying out for the varsity squad was absurd. Now, many decades later, I find myself effortlessly dribbling numerous non-basketball items.

A sticky dribble of jam frequently oozes down the side of the jar when I'm trying to add some raspberry flavor to a peanut butter sandwich. Granules of sugar dribble off my spoon as it traverses the extremely short distance between the sugar bowl and coffee cup.

Most mortifying of all is the dribbling onto my shirt that occurs when a drinking glass or other beverage container moves away from my lips before the transfer of liquid into my mouth has been fully completed.

I blame these incidents on lack of mental discipline. They usually happen when I'm alone and my thoughts begin to wander. Staring out the kitchen window at cute squirrels splashing in the birdbath can wreak havoc on a simple task like spreading jam onto a piece of toast. When friends or family members are around I keep my attention narrowly focused, act with deliberation, and avoid reckless movements of arms and other appendages.

Pouring my wake-up drink into a cup is not the household version of a turnaround jumper or reverse layup. It's a two-handed set shot, unguarded, from underneath the basket. It should be almost impossible to screw it up, which is why I'm chagrined when I see drops of errant coffee shining in the morning sunlight on the counter, mocking me.

Fortunately there's another aspect of basketball that's useful for coping with my dribbling issues: a supply of clean towels. On TV broadcasts of college and NBA contests you can see towels draped on the players, hanging on chairs, or piled on the floor. The venerable coach Jerry Tarkanian was famous for chewing on a towel during tense moments. In my case, keeping a dish towel within easy reach is like having a small teammate who provides quick assistance whenever my playmaking turns messy.

There's a definite feeling of déjà vu every time I have to grab a cleanup cloth. When my daughter was a toddler we always kept a stash of bar towels handy for wiping up spills and the often-sticky aftermath of meal times. Now I'm doing the same thing for myself instead of an infant. And there's no need for anyone to tell me "everything that goes around comes around" because I already know it's true.

Going on the road is a good way to push my skill set toward peak performance. "No mistakes" is my mantra whenever I sit down to dinner at someone else's house. I don't want to become known as He Who Soils The Eating Area. All it takes is one glass of red wine dumped on a white tablecloth to demolish a spotless reputation.

I'm also aware of the ongoing need to guard against becoming too complacent inside my own domestic bubble. As each year goes by I gain more understanding of why some people disdain the outside world and become housebound hermits.

My mood is always more relaxed in familiar surroundings. And I won't deny that an easygoing attitude is probably one reason I often flub easy plays like preparing a cup of coffee. But in my own living space I can usually correct careless errors before anyone knows they've happened. Cloth and paper towels are never out of my sight. Bread crust falling from a sandwich and hitting the floor is quickly kicked toward the eager lips of our yellow Labrador and instantly disappears. No harm, no foul.

With so many factors tilted in my favor it's possible to feel like a winner even when I haven't played a particularly good game. Sports fans know all about this feeling. It's called home court advantage.