Every day, the inboxes of reporters (like me) fill up with news releases about products, trends and events.
Publicists pitch ideas about topics like pumpkin probiotics for dogs, a revolutionary sliding door and contemporary dance workshops in Israel.
Typically, reporters ignore the requests. They switch into autopilot, filter and delete.
But every now and again, magic strikes. For reasons unrelated to the sender’s original intent, we keep reading. A pitch lands, a reporter derails, and next thing they know they’re upside down at a community park, gasping for air before a crowd.
At least that’s what happened to me.
When I received an email offering advice for coping with World Cup anxiety, I couldn’t resist.
Embedded in the message were strategies fans could use to calm nerves while watching the international soccer tournament (OK, drama).
But it was the end that hooked me.
“For players — but NOT fans — wanting to calm their nerves before the pressure of a penalty shoot-out,” the pitch read, “(our doctor) recommends performing a two-minute headstand straight after the end of extra time — to increase blood-flow to the brain.”
I’ve played and watched soccer for more than two decades, and never in my years following the sport have I seen athletes invert in pressurized moments.
But it’s a reporter’s job to explore all possibilities.
As a retired college athlete and Tampa Bay adult leaguer, I felt up to the task.
Earlier this week, I got a pitch from a publicist suggesting that players at the World Cup should try doing a 2 minute headstand before taking penalty kicks to calm nerves and increase blood flow to the brain.— Lauren Peace (@LaurenMPeace) December 2, 2022
I thought I’d help out @ussoccer and put the theory to test. pic.twitter.com/mlCUmwuFkx
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For the integrity of the experiment, I needed to create an environment that would simulate the experience of a player competing on the world stage.
First, I needed to raise my heart rate.
By the time professionals get to a penalty shoot-out, they’ve already played 120 minutes of soccer.
I am not a professional, so I reckoned jogging three laps would do.
Then, I needed to recruit a world-class opponent to stand in the net.
I reached out to a college goalkeeper I found on the internet who — shockingly — declined. A guy from my rec league agreed to sub in.
To heighten the stakes, I rallied a crowd: colleagues, friends, my dad on FaceTime.
When all were present, I grabbed my yoga mat and got to work.
I’ve never been particularly athletic. I move through the world with the grace of an awkward baby deer.
I’m not fast. I’m not very strong. But I “have a great attitude” and I can do a pretty good headstand.
Head down, toes north. I felt the blood rush into my skull.
The first time I asked for a time check was only 8 seconds in.
“Where are we at with time?” I snorted.
Everything moves more slowly when you’re upside down.
Around the one-minute mark, I started seeing stars.
Around two minutes, I began to believe that I was a member of team USA.
My colleagues counted me down and I returned from the underworld, a new athlete — a woozy athlete.
Gravity didn’t exist, and — just like the email promised — neither did anxiety.
It was time to take my shot.
I stepped up to the penalty spot.
World spinning, crowd roaring, I hit the ball.
I’m not saying the headstand made a difference, but ... it could have?
What if this is the secret sauce that could push team USA to the top?
You never know until you try.