Think of a Premier League game, any premier league game from last season. When the players are walking into the stadium, there’s one accessory ― in the case of many, it will resonate with almost any of us; it’s their headphones. This isn’t isolated to footballers only. Rather, it’s a ritual that is embedded in the sporting ecosystem. Music is a form of self-expression and so often, lost in the vicious cycle of winning and losing and that we tend to forget that these athletes, beyond embodying athletic excellence, are expressing themselves in front of an audience that ranges from a few hundred to many thousands.
This shouldn’t surprise any of us. Before a big game, seasoned professionals are also at the mercy of doubt, nervousness and afflicted by a bout of what ifs, and their response ― like most of us ― is to seek calmness and tranquillity.
Just like us, they also seek refuge in a playlist. In the world of music notes and decibels.
But does music help in enhancing athletic performance? Can we say an athlete did better because he or she heard something from the stands or listened to a favourite groove before going out onto the field?
Earlier this year, research done with over 150 participants stated that listening to motivational music didn’t necessarily improve athletic performance, but it did increase the risk-taking threshold. What would pique the interests of anyone who believes in the power of a playlist?
Researchers found that there was a positive impact of performance when the subjects were allowed to ‘choose’ their motivational music. However, outside of risk-taking, the results were focused on the psychological aspects rather than a reflection of improved self-esteem and how it helped them have a better mind-set.
So, the next time you see the All Blacks perform the Haka, the reason could be less about intimidation ― although rugby players have stated that it is indeed unnerving and more to do with getting into the right mind-set before a game.
On the other side of the aisle, Costas Karageorghis, who for over two decades has worked extensively on the effects of music on the brain, believes that music can have a direct correlation to athletic performance. Karageorghis found that listening to music helped stimulate certain parts of the brain that are responsible for our motor functions and our rhythm and coordination. Moreover, he also stated that music helps in the reducing the levels of cortisol – a hormone related to stress.
Perhaps, the most interesting take from Karageorghis’ research is that synching the tempo of a track to your heart rate can lead to positive outcomes like an increase in stamina but the caveat here is that if the tempo reaches over 140 BPM (beats per minute), the impact wears off.
Sticking to endurance, in another study done by Brunel University, researchers found that listening to music resulted in a 12% reduction of the subjects’ perceived effort whilst at the same time improved endurance by 15%.
For athletes who listen to music pre-event, the consensus didn’t huddle around performance. Instead, they stated that music helped them get pumped up. A classic example of this is Haile Gebrselassie – arguably the greatest long-distance runner of all time. The Ethiopian made it a point to request organizers to play the techno track Scatman ― which has a BPM of 135 ― during his races as he felt it helped him run better. But what if the emotion before an event is that of anxiety and nerves? To keep herself calm and not overly excited before a big race, Kelly Holmes ― a two-time
Olympic Gold- Medallist ― would listen to Alicia Keys’ No One in order to ascend to a state of Zen-like calm and more importantly, not succumb to anxiety.
The impact of music on athletic performance is incredibly varied and you can’t lock down one track of one playlist that will drastically spur an athlete into performing at elevated levels. But researchers across the board have definitely found that while music’s impact on athletic performance is still debatable, there seems to be a correlation between music and the psychological state of an athlete.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team