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Does music deliver psychological and physical improvements in sports performance?

Before the start of any race, we often see athletes walking up to the starting blocks, and even whole teams of rugby players jamming out to their pre-race playlist. But what are they listening to, and does this actually improve performance?

For many athletes, listening to music before their event is a ritual. This is mainly due to its ability to get the athlete into the right mindset for the athlete to be able to stay focused on the goals in their head for the oncoming competition. Research has shown that music can distract an athlete’s negative thoughts, easing their anxiety and stress levels before a race. This is especially beneficial for athletes who suffer to perform under pressure. Many athletes feel more relaxed after listening to music to distract themselves from the pressure of the event.


However, what are the negatives of listening to music? Some studies have shown that listening to music, although it increases the athlete's mood and wellbeing- it is shown to not increase motivation, so other tools are needed before a competition. Also, athletes may find music distracting as they cannot focus on the competition and to what their body is telling them- for example being able to keep pace during a marathon event. Yet, most athletes believe the positives of listening to music before an event to outweigh the negatives.


So, if you want to make a pre-competition playlist what should you include in it? Research has shown that the tracks need to have a strong and energising rhythm that is well matched to movement patterns of the athlete’s activity. It is worth considering the tempo of the music, studies have shown that by quickening the tempo of the music it leads to increase heart rate, improving performance. It is also important to choose music with varying tempo to coincide with the intensity of the activity. The music also needs to have positive lyrics with associations with sport as well as uplifting melodies and harmonies.


Michael Phelps, the most successful swimmer of all time having won a total of 28, is known for listening to songs from Eminem and Lil Wayne to get him in the right mindset before a competition.

To make your own pre-competition playlist simply search on ‘spotify’ some pre-made workout playlists for your intensity of excercise so you can see how music can impact your own performance before an event.


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