• Sara Gilman

Sports Psychology: Using Music to Enhance Sports Performance – Does it really work?

Using music to enhance learning and performance has become increasingly popular over the years. We know that listening to music can shift our mood, cause us to remember things from the past, or help us forget about things for a while. Decades ago, I would let my young sons pick out music to do chores by, we called this, “clean up music.” If they stopped doing the designated chore, I would turn off the music. I was using music as a performance enhancement and motivator. (A mother will try anything to get those chores done!) Athletes can use music in similar ways. There are some general assumptions about which type of music is best used for creating a certain response, however, each athlete must discover what works best for them, as it is their interpretation of the music that determines their response (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011).

Find the tunes that ‘move’ you! Mind over Music!

In training and practice music can elicit a desired response. For example, loud up-beat music has s stimulant affect, increasing arousal. This can be used for weight lifting to increase perceived strength and power. Soft, slow music has a calming affect, which decreases arousal, which can be used in an environment where focused concentration is needed. A gymnast I worked with used soft music when practicing a familiar routine on the parallel bars.

Music with an even tempo has been found to be useful in sports activities that have repetitive patterns such as, swimming, running, and cycling. While music is not allowed during most competitions, it can be used in training to improve learning motor skills, disconnect from pain or fatigue, distract from negative thoughts, and synchronize movements. Recently, I read Diana Nyad’s book, “Find A Way,” about her years of training in preparation for her momentous swim from the shores of Cuba to Florida, at 64 years old. She said she had a 1,000-song playlist she rhythmically swam to for hours at a time. During the official ultra-endurance swim she was not allowed to have a music device, so she said she sang certain songs in her head over and over to maintain her stroke pace. Football teams have been known to crank up the ‘tribal’ music in the locker room before a game, to raise arousal and enhance team bonding. During the game, bands, with mostly drums, play music that will “pump-up” the fans with excitement.

Researchers have attempted to quantify the effect music has on how the athlete perceives their level of exertion. It has been shown that music reduces perceived exertion by about 10 percent during moderate workouts, however not during high-intensity workouts. While music may not reduce perceived exertion during intense workouts, it does make them more fun, and influences the athletes’ interpretation of their effort and fatigue (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011).

Using music isn’t always a good idea…

Using music during times of learning new skills can actually be too much of a distraction and impair the learning process. The brain needs its full capacity to process new, technically difficult skills. Learning new skills requires a high level of concentration that music could disrupt. Athletes can respond differently to the use of music. An individual athlete may discover that for them, any type of music, causes them to feel overloaded, and they cannot concentrate or perform well. Athletes will benefit from learning what type of attention style they have, to best determine the optimal training environment. The “Attentional Style Test,” developed by Costas Karageorghis and Peter Terry, is a good way to identify whether the athlete more commonly associates or disassociates in training and competition. ‘Dissociators’ have a greater need for distractions, and may use music to assist them. ‘Associators’ tend to focus more on bodily responses of breathing, muscles, and form, to enhance their performance.

Tips to try in your own training. Do your own research. You know yourself BEST!

In recent years, the use of various types of tones, music tempos, and music styles to shift brain waves have come to the forefront. Try this technique: for yourself.

Visualization - When visualizing your successful performance, or the perfect skill execution (pitch, hit, vault, skating routine), put on headphones, and listen to binaural beats designed for energized focus, while you repeatedly visualize. Then, test it out for yourself, go do your routine or skill, and just notice what your inner experience is, and how your performance was executed. If you have an improved performance, then you have discovered something that works for you. If it doesn’t help, switch to a style of music, such as classical Mozart, and test that out. If neither helps, then visualize your skill execution while breathing evenly through your heart area, visualize it in slow motion, smiling and breathing through each step, then increase the speed, while breathing into your heart, until you visualize it at competition speed, with perfection and ease. Now go execute your skill and notice what happens.

It will be well worth your time to discover unique mental skills interventions that help you increase your level of peak performance. Your brain and body are stronger, and more efficient, when synced up!

You can find a good variety of binaural recordings on YouTube -

Brainwave Hub ● HQ Binaural Beats & Isochronic Tones for Self Growth & Mind Expansion

Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (2011).

Inside sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, Inc.

Roberts, G. C., & Treasure, D. C. (Eds.). (2012). Advances in motivation in sport and exercise (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, Inc.

Sara Gilman, PsyD, LMFT.

CEO, President

Coherence Associates Inc.


#music #athletes #sportspsychology #seekinghelp

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