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Olympic athlete soothes performance anxiety with music

This is an excerpt from Applying Music in Exercise and Sport.

How Music Is Used

Music is used in three main ways within sport and exercise: synchronous, asynchronous, and pre-task. The synchronous application of music is typified by the use of the rhythmic, or temporal, aspects of music as a type of metronome that regulates movement patterns. For example, in synchronized swimming, the athletes strive to keep their aquatic dance routines in perfect time with the accompanying music. As discussed in chapter 6, this approach can yield a particularly strong ergogenic effect when used to regulate endurance-type activities such as walking and cycling, thereby increasing their efficiency. As the term implies, the asynchronous use of music entails the absence of conscious synchronization. Music can also be used pre-task to arouse, relax, or regulate the mood of an individual or a team or exercise group prior to a competition or activity. Generally, fast, loud music has a stimulative effect, so it can be used as part of a psych-up routine; soft, slow music has a sedative effect, which means that it can be used as a sedative or relaxant. Most coaches believe that the role of music is always to arouse the athlete; however, given how extremely activated athletes can feel before competition, the ability of a well-selected piece to calm and deactivate the athlete is often discounted.

A good example of an athlete using music to psych down involves my former student, Audley Harrison, MBE. In 1998 he brazenly told fellow students that he was going to become the Olympic super-heavyweight boxing champion at the upcoming Sydney Games. However, when he got to the qualifying rounds and began to progress, nervousness set in. Years later he told me:

Nothing had prepared me for the pressure cooker that was the Olympic Games - not even winning the Commonwealth title two years earlier in Kuala Lumpur. I really felt the weight of public expectation back home as well as the expectation of my family and support team. I needed something to calm me down and put me in the right frame of mind to give the performance of my life.

To soothe his anxiety, he listened to Japanese classical music.

Read more in Applying Music in Exercise and Sport.