In late April, I had the honor of throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a Miami Marlins game. Leading up that moment, I was ecstatic. I may have screamed, and jumped up and down (more than once) at home in celebration. And, simultaneously, my nervousness set in. I was feeling anything but calm, cool or collected.
“Nerves are essentially your parasympathetic nervous system falsely sensing ‘danger’,” says Michael Baraga, MD, FAOA, senior medical director for the Miami Marlins Major League Baseball team. And prepping for any kind of big day can be nerve wracking—especially if your upcoming milestone or life event entails something you’ve never done before, such as performing for an audience, completing a challenging job presentation, getting married in front of loved ones, or running a marathon.
Although I can run many miles and take studio fitness classes like a pro, never have I ever (now, or while growing up in South Florida) played in a baseball or softball league—I was more of a soccer, runner, and tennis girl, but I digress. In short: My ball-throwing experience is limited.
In the weeks leading up to my game-day pitch debut, I reached out to experts for their advice on how to calm your nerves before a big event—along the way, I learned some things first hand too. Here are the tips that can help anyone calm down in the days (and hours) leading up to a major milestone.
How to calm your nerves before a big event
1. Visualize success and do your research
One powerful piece of advice that I’ve heard time and time again is to visualize your future self having success. Christina Ionno, a meditation teacher at Sage + Sound in New York City, explains that this conceptualization is the version of you that has moved past all obstacles and has achieved all of their goals and dreams. (Sounds lovely, right?)
Visualization—like reviewing a race course route, watching footage of other people complete the same task, or looking at video of the venue you’ll be performing in (if, say, you’re giving a big speech)—can be helpful here in order to get a grasp on what’s to come including the setting, the audience, and the space. My first stop was YouTube, which afforded me the ability to watch videos of great first pitch successes (and compilations of those who did not fare so well).
2. Practice, practice, practice
If I wasn’t already nervous, watching the first pitch that 50 Cent gave at CitiField had me reeling with anxiety. So my best advice is to practice until you feel comfortable with the new task at hand—and enroll a friend who is familiar with the task at hand or may be able to refer you to an expert to help you prepare. I, for one, recruited someone close to me who happened to be a former college baseball player. We practiced at a local park once a week.
3. Get a good night’s sleep
It may sound simple, but it’s necessary. Dr. Baraga, who is also an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, recommends at least seven hours of sleep every night, but especially before major events. When you’re prepping for a big test, work opportunity, or anything that takes effort, the brain needs rest and recovery, too.
A few hours northwest of Miami, in Bradenton, Fla., strength and conditioning coach Brandon Shepherd, CSCS, of Gatorade Sports Science Institute echos that sentiment. “While it is important to be prepared through training or practice leading up to an event, taking adequate time to rest throughout training and before an event is recommended to perform optimally,” he says. “Sleep is one way we can help improve recovery and help us perform at our best.”
With earplugs and an eye mask in tow, the evening before my big day (aka my Major League Baseball debut), I checked into The National Hotel in South Beach, a 20-minute commute from The National Hotel to LoanDepot Park where the Marlins play, to get a restful night of sleep. Although there’s a time and place for pool parties and loud music until 1 a.m., and it’s usually South Beach in Miami, I opted for a hotel that would provide a quiet room without mid-slumber beat drops.
It sounds simple enough, but sometimes we (I mean me) forget, either by holding breaths for too long or taking in a superficial amount of air. Miami Marlins pitcher Jesus Luzardo says he practices deep breathing to take his heart rate down, in an effort to keep calm. “I pick something in the stadium—whether it’s the flag or the screen in center field — and I’ll just stare at it, and breathe a couple times.”
Vibay Chandran Weisbecker, a corporate meditation teacher for Mindbody and ClassPass, suggests alternate nostril breathing to help focus and calm the mind. This is an exercise anyone can put into practice at any time and any place.
How to: To begin, take a full breath in, then holds your left nostril closed with your right index finger to exhale and inhale through the right nostril. Then release the left nostril and close the right with your right thumb to exhale and inhale from the left nostril.
Weisbecker suggests alternating nostrils 10 times. “You can return to normal breathing after this,” he says.
5. Jump around
Truthfully, I didn’t expect moving in place would help calm my nerves, but Dr. Baraga says movement can help boost endorphins, one of the happy hormones in your body. “Get moving—go for a brief walk, run, or do jumping jacks in place,” he says. If nothing else, it was a helpful distraction before taking the mound. Before my first pitch, I started bouncing from one foot to the other while positioned just outside the foul line that connects third base and home plate.
Remember: No one expects perfection
As I approached the mound with a jog, I had an epiphany. While I’m not trying to be a professional athlete in this lifetime, the stress I was putting on myself, at times, felt like I was trying out for the team. (And perhaps you’re thinking the same thing: That having all eyes on you means this is your one shot to perform like a seasoned professional at their best.) Well, no.
“Take the pressure off yourself,” says Shepard. “You aren’t a baseball player and your ability to throw a pitch well doesn’t determine your value. And let’s be honest, even if things don’t go as planned, you won’t be the first person to ever throw a bad pitch and you won’t be the last!”
And he was right. Fortunately, my first pitch went smoothly—right into the glove of the team’s mascot Billy the Marlin. I was relieved (both mentally and from my pitching duties) and immediately disqualified myself from first-pitch-fail video montages on YouTube.
Now, as I hang up my figurative jersey, without the looming worry of game day, I can use these tried and true tips for my next big-deal milestone…whatever that may be.