Music for Sport Psychology

Athletes have been using music for sports psychology purposes for decades. But what type of music is best? Gareth answers this and more …

Music for Sports Psychology
Music for Sport Psychology

Music is very emotional. So is the world of competitive sport so it makes complete sense that they might be able to work together – and they do. So music for sports psychology purposes will be the focus of this edition of the Mental Toughness Digest.

Athletes have been using music to get a psychological edge ever since songs were available via a portable playing device. For readers who were born during or before the 1970s, this might have been wit a The Walkman. Walkmans were then replaced by Discmans and Discmans in turn by MP3 players (such as the Apple iPod). Finally, all of these have been made obsolete by smartphones of course. At the time of writing an iPod is still available but it’s essentially a smartphone without the internet/phone connection.

Fast forward to 2020 and the combination of a smartphone and platforms such as Spotify now allow us to listen to virtually anything at any time.

Technology is Changing Sport Psychology Forever

At Condor Performance we are big believers of taking full advantage of the wonders of modern technology. We were delivering sport psychology consultations via Skype three years before the term ‘Telehealth’ was coined. Our very first Skype session took place in 2010.

See this definition of telehealth on the Australian Department of Health’s website added in 2015.

I personally am not a big fan of the term telehealth for two reasons. First, we very rarely use telephones to bridge the gap between us and our sporting clients. Maybe it’s just me but when I hear ‘tele’ I think telephone. The odd phone session still takes place but most sessions are via webcam. The platforms we use most often are:

  • Skype
  • FaceTime video
  • Zoom
  • WhatsApp Video
  • Google Hangouts

The second reason I am not loving the label ‘telehealth’ is due to the ‘health’ part. From a psychological point of view when you combine mental with health and get ‘mental health’. This evokes images of fixing problems whereas we’re more about building on existing strengths.

A better name in my opionion would be ‘webcam consulting’.

And it’s not just sessions themselves where technology is changing how performance psychology services are delivered. We not only allow our sporting clients to contact us between sessions via features such as WhatsApp (text, not voice snippet) we actively encourage it.

A Glimpse Into the Future

I like to think that the way we deliver our sport psychology services is a glimpse into the future of how all psychologists may choose to operate in years to come.

The context in which music is most frequently discussed during the mental training consultations we have with athletes, coaches and sporting officials is when we are looking into their pre competitions preparations or routines. I have always dedicated time to helping my clients optimise their competition mindset by looking at how they spend the time beforehand.

Quite simply what do they, or you, do one hour before kick-off? What is the best way to spend the rain delay during a cricket match? Have you ever thought about the ideal way to use the morning and afternoon when your semi-final only starts after 7 pm?

Before we talk about types of music it is important to accept one important fact. Unless you’re including playing songs in your own head listening to music is not something that you can control nor guarantee. In other words as useful as it is, and it is, it ought to have a backup. I recall once getting a call from a rugby union player I was working with just 20 minutes before kick-off. He told me he’d just dropped his iPod (common in 2013) into the toilet and was not working. In a semi-panic, he asked me what he should he do as he couldn’t listen to his pre-match tunes.

Rather than let you know what I told him I invite you to add your best guess to the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Now that we have clarified this we can get to the exciting part of actually deciding on what type of music might assist us. And this is where it gets tricky because like so much in sports psychology it depends on the individual and their preferences.

What Type of Music is Best for Sport Psychology?

Probably the most common mistake made in this area is the assumption that fast-paced energetic type music (such as rock and Punk) is naturally the best type of music to listen to before the big game. What if you are already very energised, for example by the organic importance of the competition that is about to begin? Do you really need to listen to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best when you’re struggling to keep down your breakfast?

One of the cornerstones all our therapeutic model – Metuf – is that it is basically impossible to be too relaxed before a sporting contest. In other words the more relaxed the better. For years I resisted the temptation to actually recommend particular songs to help with this because I know first hand what one person finds relaxing another person can find very energising. However, over the years enough clients have suggested enough songs to me to be able to identify a select few which tend to be fairly calming for most people.

Calming Music for Performers

Recently I added these to a Spotlight playlist and have included the link below if you would like to save it:

Calming Music for Sports Psychology

So what about that heavy metal and the music from Rocky? How does that fit in? Again, with complete respect to individual differences, I feel like this kind of energising music is better placed before or during practice and training. Think about a workout at the gym which you feel you get more from when some upbeat tunes are thundering in the background. This playlist is easier to put together because generally speaking what most people will find energising very, very few people will find relaxing.

Energising Music for Performers

With this mind, I’ve included the second playlist below designed to help “psych you up”:

Energising Music for Sports Psychology

Maybe the only exception of using the second playlist before competition would be when you’ve lost all motivation to compete. For example, an athlete who is about to retire but still has to play a dozen games before then end of the reason.

If you’re reading this and you use music as a psychological tool in any context (not necessarily just sport) please add details below. Use the comments section to add names of song you have used. We will then add the most popular ones to the above playlists over time.

Author: Gareth J. Mole

Gareth J. Mole is an endorsed Sport and Exercise Psychologist. He is the founder of Condor Performance and co-creator of Metuf™. He lives between Canberra and Sydney (Australia) with his wife, their two children and their fourteen chickens.

One thought on “Music for Sport Psychology”

  1. “Fuel by Metallica was always on my fire up playlist. Would love to see what you end up with when you’re done.”

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