05/25/2012 08:46 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2012

Rhythmic Diaries: It's Regionals Time!

So you've finished AP exams, handed in a 10-page English profile and discovered how to incorporate graphics and audio into a Java applet. But even though junior year is winding down, life seems busier than ever.

It's three days before Regionals. With one training left and a handful of papers and tests to tackle before then, I nearly live and breathe one word: panic.

For me, panic goes beyond feeling frantic. It feels like desperation personified, like I'm sinking in a pit of quicksand that has no bottom. When I was younger, panic thrived and consumed my energy until it paralyzed not only my thought process but also my ability to act. It caused dreadful memories I thought I'd buried to resurface. Every night I relived a new horror. I imagined each error in an almost tangible clarity, from the distinctive thud of my hoop to the hollow boing! of my ball as they landed inches away from my outstretched hand. Everything I did well faded into an unremarkable blur that was easily overshadowed by my glaring mass of mistakes. By the time competition came, I had lost all ability to do rhythmic. My hands were rubber -- my apparatus bounced off and out of them -- my body was as stiff as wood and my mind was utter chaos.

My routines did not go well. Each time I walked on the carpet, my entire body shook in apprehension. I still have videos: In one, I tremble so much in a cossack balance that I resemble a leaf quivering in the wind; in another, I nearly lose my ball because my hands are shaking so much. My thoughts centered only on how my routine could go wrong. That took physical form when my body started to enact what my mind envisioned, and the resulting errors only reinforced my conviction that I was bound to disappoint in competitions.

This vicious cycle continued for a number of years. During that time I tried a variety of methods to quiet the storm of negative thoughts that threatened to rain down and pierce my fragile confidence. I wrote reflective essays (appropriately titled "Fear"), imagined perfect routines, noted the elements I knew I could do and even copied "I can do it" in a notebook 100 times.

"What are you so scared of?" My coach demanded one day.
"Competitions," I mumbled. "Dropping in competitions."
"I don't want to mess up."
"Well, can you do everything in your routine?"
"Are you the one who throws the apparatus?"
"So aren't you in control of your routine?"

Yes. I had been so terrified of failing that I invested nearly all my time brooding over what could go wrong. Those mistakes, imagined or enacted, plagued my mind, and since they were the only viable outcome I could imagine, they became my reality.

Slowly I changed my state of mind. I asked myself to focus on executing skills I was confident in and to be happy with my performances, regardless of resulting scores and placement. After competitions I reflected on what I did well and tucked those moments away, gradually building confidence in my rhythmic ability.

For Regionals this year, though I was nervous and my hands became clammy with uncertainty, I no longer emanated fear or apprehension. I gave my best in all four routines, and the change in perspective, though seemingly insignificant, has made all the difference.