Motivational Music in Sport

We all have that song that gives us a great feeling, motivates us to do well, energises us and fuels our performance. I have seen countless athletes switch from a situation of mental mutiny to complete control and focus in just a few seconds. This article will address the use of music as a motivational tool and clearly illustrate how to optimise the use of your iPod/MP3 player.

Just as motivation is the key to adhering to exercise, music is the key to maintaining motivation. Research at Brunel University (the leading university in motivational music) has shown that fast (trance) music will enable athletes to run for 15% longer than any other genre. Music has been found to increase brain function and verbal fluency through stimulation of the nervous system. Furthermore, fast music has been correlated to increased motor skill ability, increased respiration and heart rates, leading to a significant increase in exercise motivation. On the other hand, slow music is related to a decrease in stress and arousal levels, and is mostly associated with athlete relaxation.

Although I can tell you what tracks certain teams or individuals listen to, to gain focus – the England Rugby team listen to Lose Yourself by Eminem in their changing room and Barack Obama is reported to have listened to Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm before his many presidential speeches – everyone is different and the songs must be specific to you.

Before you choose your song, you must have a clear understanding of how you behave before your fights. Are you nervous, laid back, aggressive, indifferent, uptight? Perhaps you have a mixture of several different feelings. The majority of fencers I work with need psyching up and fast music is definitely the key to successful performances. I would suggest that only one fifth of fencers need slow music to focus them before fights, lower their heart rate and prevent any performance decrease. There are always fencers who thrive on nervous energy and may not need any music to help with performance. However, I feel (due to research and working with athletes in a variety of sports) that music will have a significant effect on success of all individuals.

I recently organised a focus group debate with international-standard fencers to list several songs on a playlist entitled “Winning”. Here are some of the answers they came up with:

Touch the Sky – Kanye West
Beautiful Day – U2
Lose Yourself – Eminem
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
Proud – Heather Small
Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
Fighter – Christina Aguilera
Fire – Kasabian
The Middle – Jimmy Eat World
Self Esteem – The Offspring

The song for you must have an anchor. By this I mean it should be linked to a memory – for example the first song you heard in the car after winning a tournament, as this will help you to remember how you were feeling and hopefully recreate a similar emotion. Furthermore, the lyrics should be meaningful. Heather Small’s song Proud asks “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” This can evoke the anchor effect and can refocus the athlete when required. Anchors will stir up emotions and change the way an individual behaves in just a few seconds. This is ideal for any situation where a fencer has lost control and needs to regain focus, or simply wishes to maintain the required level of arousal.

Music is an excellent motivational tool and can be used to enhance performance straight away. With the development of MP3 players, it is easily accessible for everyone and very effective if used appropriately. If you have any questions about using music to enhance performance, please email me and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

This article was first published in The Sword magazine.