Basketball Star Maya Moore on Her First Olympics

Maya MooreMaya Moore is playing in her first Olympics as the youngest member of the U.S. women’s basketball team. But Moore, 23, is already a professional player, a forward for the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA. If she’s nervous about being on the Olympic stage, Moore doesn’t show it, displaying the poise and confidence of a veteran who’s done her share of media appearances.

Moore spoke briefly today at a barbecue at the P&G Family Home, a space here in London for Olympic athletes and their families. The topic was American patriotism, and Moore had the day’s winning quote: “When I think about the heart of this country, I think of my mom.” Later, I sat down for a short interview with Moore, as her mom sat nearby.

How long have you been preparing to be in the Olympics?

My whole life. As a kid, you don’t necessarily know if you’re going to get the opportunity, but as I got a little bit older and I was able to see the Olympics as a potential opportunity, I just worked for it. I’ve been soaking up every moment and making sure that I’m doing whatever I need to be doing to help this team win.

At what point did you realize that basketball was more than a hobby, that it could be a career?

Right around middle school. You start thinking about what you want to be, what your skills are. At least I did. And I saw that going to college, playing basketball, that’s a possibility, so let’s go for it. Every level that I go up, I look up to the next level. After high school, I looked to college, and going to college, the pros was always something I wanted to do, knowing we had a professional league to go to.

What kind of sacrifices did you make while growing up in order to focus on training?

There were huge sacrifices. Socially, you don’t spend as much time hanging out with family and friends because you are training. Afternoons, when I could just be relaxing, doing nothing, I was driving to a workout. It was worth it, though. I enjoyed it. But it cost money to train, to play on these teams. And my mom spent hours and hours. I wish we had calculated how many hours she spent taking me to tournaments and practices.

Tell me more about your mom and the sacrifices she made.

My mom has been there for me my whole life. Before I was known as Maya Moore the basketball player, she loved me and made sure that I was becoming a good person and having the opportunity to live my dream. When she saw some talent in me, she did what she needed to do to make sure I could develop those talents.

A big part of that was moving our family. When I was in middle school, we moved from our support system in Missouri to metro Atlanta for better opportunities for her job and having some good opportunities for me with basketball, too. And it worked out beautifully.

Were there moments when you thought of stepping away from the game to be more of a regular kid?

No. I loved the game. I love basketball, I love competing, I love training, I love everything about it. I feel God has given me a gift. He set a path for me to be where I am today.

Once you find what you’re supposed to be doing, you see the fruits of your labor, especially the impact on people’s lives, the platform sports has given me to be able to share good, positive messages with other people.

There’s no way I would take any minute of it back. There are days when you’re tired, you don’t feel like doing anything, your body hurts, and those aren’t necessarily the fun times. But you know it will be worth it if you just stick through it. Not everyone can do that, and that’s what separates the elite athletes from the average. It’s that love of the game, love of what you’re doing. And I am really happy to say I am sitting here talking to you still in love with the game and what I am doing.

What advice would you have for little kids out there starting to get interested in sports, maybe starting to dream of the Olympics or a pro career?

I would say to continue to make sure you love what you’re doing. For me as a kid, when I started to realize I love basketball, it was a joy. But also, make sure you’re dedicated to what you’re doing. Surround yourself with like-minded people who want to be successful. And learn as much as you can. Make sure you get the right foundation as far as the fundamentals of your sport. Because if you don’t have those fundamentals, it’s hard to play catch up. You match that with some talent, and you can do some great things.

And what advice would you give to the moms and dads of those kids?

Help your child figure out what they’ve been gifted in. I think sometimes parents want to see their kid succeed so badly they push and push and push. Everybody’s been gifted in something. So help them figure out what that is. And be there for them. It means a lot to us athletes to be reminded of our strengths when we’re down, and that encouragement and support really helps us bounce back from some tough times.

And how do you deal with those tough times?

It’s okay to feel those pains, the failure, the defeat. It’s not fun, but make sure you learn from it. It’s a huge blessing to have coaches to help you learn from it.

Note: My trip to the London Olympics was funded by Procter & Gamble.

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