02/07/2014 03:30 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2014

Do It for Yourself

"Your new coach just flew in," my mom announced, giving me a pointed look.
"Really?" I exclaimed, my eyebrows shooting up in disbelief. A jolt of relief bolted through me and I practically jumped for joy.

After an emergency, our coach couldn't return to Boston for an undefined amount of time, and the recent weeks had been chaotic, to say the least. But now things would settle down.
A gush of air rushed into my lungs, and I instantly felt calmer and assured because of the auspicious substitute. As happiness blossomed in my chest, a bud of nervousness also peeked out from its fresh roots, and I couldn't help but anticipate training the next day.

I peeled open the heavy, old Armory door and anxiously entered the gym. As I headed towards the changing area, I tentatively cast a sidelong glance at the carpet where Teo, our new temporary coach, sat. She seemed older than our coach and emanated a welcoming sense of amiability. I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding back and eagerly prepared for training.

"Girls, go get apparatus now. Teo wants to see some of your routines before she leaves today," the owner of the gym instructed. We quietly filed back to the changing area to retrieve our apparatus. I stared at my gym bag, my mind in a quandary. Which routine should I do? I needed to work on ribbon, no question about it. But I had done that recently, and I didn't want to leave a negative first impression. Play it safe, I told myself. Yes, clubs is the way to go. I contentedly slipped my clubs out and ran my fingers along the glossy tape, feeling confident and excited to show my routine.

The owner randomly named off the gymnasts one by one to determine the order, and I was dead last. Great, just great. I loved doing clubs, but did I have to be the last one? The last one would be fresh in her memory and would replay with the sharpest details in her mind. What if I do a disastrous routine? I immediately scold myself for thinking negatively and begin practicing.

Once I began practicing my routine, the gym seemed to dissolve around me, and my eyes only focused on my clubs. I was acutely aware of each flip, toss, and handling, my mind trailing the clubs' movements as if they were an extension of my body.

"Who's next?" Teo questioned assertively, her voice ringing through the gym and yanking me back into the gym. One of the girls raised her hand timorously before settling into her beginning pose. There were still a considerate number of girls before me, but I couldn't tear my gaze away from the girl, curious to see how she'd do. Her routine began well, but after her first risk one mistake followed another. Unable to continue watching, I refocused on my own routine, but with a new nervous fluttering in my chest.

The next girl went. My interest piqued, I observed the first half of her routine, but for some reason, even though she usually performed solid routines, she also stumbled on easy tricks. Everyone is so sloppy today, I thought. I have to show a good routine.

Finally, it was my turn. By then, I was shaken up after seeing the best girls struggle with their routines. Doubt had crawled into my heart and propelled itself to the edges of my body with each beat. I got into my beginning pose and took a deep breath. My first few elements went smoothly, but I felt distracted, unable to obtain the acuity I previously had. I dropped one club in my risk right out of my hand, and disbelief colored my mind. I tried to focus on the next element, but I was anxious to nail my routine, and failed to execute that one too.

As the music flowed on, oblivious to my struggles, and my routine neared the end, I became desperate and didn't control my movements. I just put as much energy into what I was doing aimlessly. And then, the music terminated, and a crushing disappointment slammed onto me. What did I just do? Thinking about all the unwarranted mistakes repulsed me, and anger knotted up in my throat. Teo, unfazed, called me over and began correcting my mistakes. I almost wanted to ask for a second chance, because I usually didn't make such errors. But I held my tongue, and showed her each skill that I'd messed up as she instructed. And as I showed her my last risk, I reached out to catch the falling club, but it landed a few inches to the right of my hand. Baffled, I tried again, and the same thing happened. I picked myself up and repeated it over and over, dropping it four out of five times and gradually losing myself to frustration. This was embarrassing; I consistently caught this toss before. I continued my futile attempts, wanting to redeem myself and figure out the problem. Finally Teo, perhaps impatient to move on, snapped me out of my insular world.

"Do it for yourself," she said bluntly, gazing at me with eyes widened in disapproval of my behavior. For some reason, I couldn't help but pause in shock. Her words, so profound and yet spoken so flatly, confused me momentarily. But as my brain registered the meaning, the frustration that blindly drove me to do bad repetitions melted away. I lowered my club and reflected; what caused my routine to flop was distraction. I tried impressing our new coach, and my focus had been consumed on her reaction.

But whom was I doing this sport for? Why did I come to training?

I loved the sport, and I wanted to improve. Thinking of others' impressions only hampered that goal, I realized. All I needed to focus on was myself, and the other things -- the things out of my control -- would naturally play out.