What Maya Moore learned
This is an extended version of a story that appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 23 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!
On what she credits her success to:
I've been extremely blessed, and that goes back to my foundation of faith and having awesome people in my life to help me develop. There's a lot going through my head right now, rolling back in my mind all the places I've been and the people who've been part of the journey.
My mom has always tried to help me be the best person I can be. When I was in middle school, she asked me, 'What do you want to do?' Women's college hoops was getting more popular at that time, so I wanted to play in college. She knew that was a dream of mine, so she started to help me think about it and taught me that mindset of thinking ahead and preparing for my future. Each summer we created a resume for me, and the older I got, the more detailed it became with grades, interests and summer schedules. She helped me with contacting colleges and going on visits. By my senior year, I didn't need official visits because I already knew what I wanted to do. She helped me always think about the opportunities I have and trust that the Lord will provide those doors for me.
The other big part of my success is always thinking ahead and preparing before I get to the next level. I don't know how ready I'll be at each level, so there's a little extra nervousness of "I want to work really hard so I'll be ready." I soaked up everything Coach [Geno] Auriemma told me when I was in college so I'd be ready for the pros.
Coming into the WNBA, I was blessed to be put on a team that was a few injuries and a couple of players away from becoming what we became in 2011. In every new situation, it's humbling, trying to learn and observe. When I make mistakes, I try to make them in practice. There's a learning curve. Moving from college to the pros, I had to learn to slow down and find the rhythm of being a pro. But I also go in with confidence knowing that if I compete my hardest, I can't fail. I will make mistakes, but if I'm competing and paying attention, I have a very good chance of being successful.
The Lynx veterans made it easy for me to come in and be a follower at first and then lead by example. It was an environment to help me develop and shine at the same time. And the chemistry on the Lynx -- there's no drama. We all go in with a common purpose and get after it every day and have fun. The coaching staff are pros. They work hard, are super-competitive and prepare us so well. I've been blessed to have that coming in. It's been an awesome first three years for me in the pros.
On how her regimens have changed in the WNBA:
It's not about how hard I work, because I'm always going to work hard. Routine, habit and flow are huge for athletes. That's what you're striving for -- finding that flow when you're in a groove. After four years of college, I had the routine down, I knew what to expect from my coaches and teammates. My senior year was challenging because half our team was freshmen, but I at least knew where I was and how things were supposed to look. Coming to the WNBA, you have teammates 10 years older than you, and I'm the young one with a lot of attention. I'm used to the attention by now, but still, a new environment with a lot of attention can be sensitive, so I tried to come in with humility, giving credit where credit is due and being myself.
As a pro, you have a choice of what you eat, how much you sleep, who you train with, where you play overseas, how you handle yourself before and after practice. You have to figure out what that looks like. This year, I've started to nail down improving my nutrition. I trained with [former Olympic champion] Kara Lawson this past spring. She's a pro as far as taking care of her body. She told me about her diet and nutrition, and I just soaked it up. She challenged me to eliminate dairy and refined sugar from my diet for three weeks. So I focused on that, and I haven't stopped. I've been more disciplined this year, with the timing of my meals, making sure I refuel, drinking more H20, getting more sleep, eating more veggies, having snacks as opposed to heavy meals. These things became habit. Now I feel like I've found my ideal playing weight and how to treat my body. My knees have never felt better. But that doesn't mean I don't have a cheat day. If there's cake around, I'll probably eat it.
Each year as a pro, I learn a little more. Pregame routines, postgame routines, my lifting routine. I meet people and ask them questions and learn things and take things away. On the Olympic and World Championship teams, I'd hang out with Diana [Taurasi] and Tamika [Catchings] and ask them what they do, and then it's up to me to figure out how it works for me. No one will tell you how to do it, like in college. When I was a junior in college on the World Championship team, we finished practice one day, and I saw Tamika and Swin [Cash] and Diana leaving, and I was like, "Where are they going?" They were going to lift, so I followed them to see what they were doing. They had brought resistance bands and equipment and were doing their own thing to make sure they took care of themselves.
On how her game has changed since college:
The biggest change is my position. I was a 4 for four years in college. I played some 3, but 75 percent of the time I was the 4. Six feet is tall—until you get to the pros. In the WNBA, I'm a 3, a small forward. It's a different position. I've always been a swing between guard and the post, but I've mainly been post. Adjusting to that was probably the biggest challenge. Defensively, I now have to guard some of the most athletic guards in the league and chase them around screens. I'm not the post anymore trying to help the guard; I'm the guard getting attacked. This year, I've gotten better with muscle memory and the mentality of being a guard full time and having the ball in my hands more.
Still, there are little things I had to continue working on in practice. I've always tried to be a complete player and not have any reason not to be on the court. But at this level, I've had to improve my one-on-one skills. I've been put in good positions to score off the ball -- which is where I think I'm the best -- but I can still get better at making decisions when the ball is in my hands.
On how her life is different now that she's pro:
It's a different lifestyle. College is that precious time before you're an adult, but you still have independence. You just have to go to class and hoop. I have no regrets from my college experience. It's definitely harder being a pro because I move three times a year and the travel schedule is a lot harder than in college, and it can take a toll on you. But you have more freedom to do things you didn't have time to do as a student. For me, that means the things I've been involved in the community, organizations I've worked with and places I've been able to travel. It's cool to be able to be a role model and impact people, to be more creative in ways I interact with my community and opportunities I've had working with companies as a businesswoman. With athletics, we're just on the tip of the iceberg as far as where we'll see sports go and the involvement of women in that.
On looking back at her championships at every level:
It's overwhelming to think about the opportunities I've had to be on winning teams. At 13, going to the AAU national championship game and losing, and the next year going back and winning at 14. We experienced defeat and learned what it's like to compete. Losing in my freshman year in high school, but going on to win the state championship the next three years. It was more satisfying because we'd lost that first year. In college, losing in my freshman year to Stanford after being No. 1 almost all year, then going on our 90-game win streak but losing the last game of my college career. And now winning with the Lynx. I've experienced loss, just not as much as wins, and I've allowed myself to feel everything and embrace the process. That's what makes each year special; each journey counts.
After you win, things change. You have new challenges. It's a new reality. People see you differently; you see yourself differently. Other teams dial in on you. You can get complacent. People give you more attention, on and off the court. People might have the wrong motives for interacting with you. You have to be more careful and focused in approaching your season. That's why it's so important to not lose your identity and humility. Know that nothing is guaranteed. Sometimes you lose it, and you have to get it back, and if you don't have the talent or don't stay healthy, it can all be different. We tried to do that with the Lynx this season. We won our first title in 2011 but lost the Finals the next year, so we knew how it could be snatched away. You're never finished working. That's the danger and beauty of sports.