Music plays an important role in people’s everyday lives (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003). Music plays a role in the sport and exercise domain. In fact a common image of sports now a day is that of athletes entering the competition arena adorning headphones. Music elicits certain feelings and emotions depending on the situation. So how does this apply specifically to sport?
Scientific inquiry has revealed five key ways in which music can influence preparation and competitive performances: dissociation, arousal regulation, synchronization, acquisition of motor skills and attainment of flow.
Dissociation– Listening to music can deflect a performer’s attention away from the negative and towards the positive thus lowering the perception of effort. Effective dissociation promotes positive aspects of mood (e.g. vigour and happiness), while negative aspects (e.g. tension, anger) are lessened (Bishop, et al., 2007).
Arousal Regulation- Arousal refers to the degree of anxiety and is manifested in both physical and psychological factors. Music alters emotional and physiological arousal and can be used prior to competition or training to calm anxious feelings (Bishop, et al., 2007), thus providing arousal regulation. An example of is Dame Kelly Holmes reported using soulful ballads of Alicia Keys in her pre-event routine at 2004 Olympic games. On the other hand, athletes can use more upbeat songs to feel more energised and psyched up.
Synchronization- The tempo of the music can also have an effect on movement. The type of music listened to may cause an person to synchronize their movements (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997). Therefore, if an athlete listens to a fast temp song they may be likely to increase their movements to a faster pace possibly enhancing performance (i.e. cycling, running). Likewise, if an athlete requires slower more graceful movements (i.e. figure skating), then slower temp music could assist optimal performance. This supports the research of Smoll and Schultz (1982) that rhythm is an important component in motor skill and performance.
Acquisition of Motor Skills– music can help to replicate aspects of human movement. It can transport the body through effective movement patterns. Music can also promote intrinsic motivation. The use of music in a learning environment can make the environment more fun for the players and promote learning.
Attainment of Flow- Flow is sometimes referred to as being “in the zone”. This is a state where during physical activity the mind and body function on ‘auto-pilot’ with minimal conscious effort. Research has shown that interventions that include self-selected music and imagery performance could enhance athletic performance by triggering emotions and cognitions associated with flow (Pates, et al., 2003).
Therefore sport psychologists have advised athletes to employ music as tool in preparation for competition. This is due to the fact that music will influence arousal if it promotes thoughts that encourage physical activity or relaxation. That is, the association between certain types of music and physical activity may act as a stimulus. If an athlete needs to increase arousal level before a game then they may listen to upbeat music that encourages them to go and compete at an intense level. If an athlete needs to lower their arousal level they may listen to music that will help them to calm down and relax. As Paula Radcliffe, the world record–holding marathoner, has said, “I put together a playlist and listen to it during the run-in. It helps psych me up and reminds me of times in the build-up when I’ve worked really hard, or felt good. With the right music, I do a much harder workout.”