In a web of competitors, I practice my hoop routine in preparation for competition, weaving in and out of spaces on the carpet with my mind completely in sync with my body. The clatter of hoops and the taps of rhinestones on leotards set a steady cadence, absorbing my conscience into another world where only my hoop and I exist. With each second that ticks by, I feel the confidence inside me blossom, so when my turn comes, I'm ready.
I power through my routine, disregarding possible vicissitudes and approaching every skill with sharp focus. My eyes follow the hoop's movements as I prepare for my most difficult toss, when a spark of unease flickers in my thoughts. I quickly snuff it out, suffocating the doubt before it disseminates across my mind and concentrating my energy on the toss. I flip onto my hands, feeling the weight of the hoop rest on my foot for a second before it flies up into the air. I chase it down with two forward rolls, gauging the speed of its descent.
I have to move faster. I strain each sinew of my body to accelerate. When I shoot my arms up and reach as far as I can... I catch it.
Yes! Brimming with an amalgam of satisfaction and relief, I finish my routine strongly. As I salute and exit the carpet, I let a smile peak onto my face and see it reflected subtly on that of my coach.
I change leotards and pick up my ball, the adrenaline rush from my hoop routine still lingering. Anxious to start practicing, I immediately get on the carpet and begin, but I'm stopped short as my first toss rolls out from under my knees. Unfazed, I try again, catching it and moving on. However, the residual thrill drives me to practice almost recklessly, littering my routine with unnecessary mistakes. My mind is wandering contentedly elsewhere, lingering in the blissful memory of my hoop routine. After a few runs, the adrenaline ebbs away, and I finally pause to regain control.
Calm down, I think, removing myself from the carpet and sitting in oversplits. Clean slate, clean slate. I try in vain to push the memory of my hoop routine out of my mind, acutely aware of the distraction it's caused. My thoughts stubbornly ingrain themselves in the past. By the time I walk on the carpet again, I feel nothing like the person I was before. I don't even recall much about practicing my ball routine; only a hazy lapse in time seems to have occurred.
And it shows in my performance. After my routine finishes, my thoughts no longer revel with happiness.
What have I done? Why didn't I execute my skills?
Why wasn't this routine as good as my hoop?
I dwell on these questions as I pack up my belongings, and, although I have yet to master it, I realize the difficulty that still awaits me: as Gregg Popovich said, one must learn to recover from success. When I heard that paradoxical statement the first time, I smirked at it, thinking that although this guy's the best coach in the NBA, sometimes he's a little arrogant. How could success require the same recuperation as a loss does?
Now I understand what he meant. He both welcomed success and viewed it as a challenge that, if not taken seriously, would beget complacency. It can boost your confidence and enable you to perform even better in the future, or, like all things in the past, it can serve as a distraction that will interfere with the next performance. So with each competition, you have to let everything -- success and failure alike -- go, hit the reset button and live in the present.