When I played sports in high school, I was one of those people who would leave their headphones on until the last possible minute because I needed the music to focus. During warm-ups, if there was a song playing, I’d make sure to move to the beat or sing the lyrics to get in the right mentality. Music has always been something that I have connected to sports. This past Sunday, we had the wonderful opportunity to go see the US women’s soccer team play here in Paris for the FIFA World Cup. They won 3-0! Without a doubt, it was truly one of the highlights of the entire program! At the beginning, when the players first came onto the pitch, an upbeat song with a lot of bass reverberated in the stadium. The crowd went wild, and they were screaming their hearts out. Almost as if contagious, the soccer players also gained adrenaline listening to this song and they jumped to the beat as they were doing their last minute warm-ups. Whether it’s before or during the game, I decided to look into the impact of music on physical performance.
Songs like “We are the Champions,” “All I do is win,” “Crazy Train,” and “We Will Rock You,” are commonly heard at sporting events. These songs raise the spirits of the crowd, but do they also help players perform better? Elvers and Steffens’ study set out to determine just that (2017). They had 150 participants complete a basketball task where they had to throw the ball into a funnel. They measured a lot of variables to be able to reach multiple conclusions. One of the hypotheses was that performance would be improved if the person listened to music beforehand. The results show that performance is only improved if the person was already good at the task and if the player had the option to choose the type of music. Since the soccer game was between professional athletes, we can assume that there’s a high chance that their performance could be improved with music. They also measured risk-taking behavior by letting the participants decide at what distance to shoot the ball from. Here, listening to any type of music made the participants more prone to choosing to shoot from further away. In professional soccer games, we never see the same plays over and over again, they are often taking risks in order to get the result they want. Could it be that the soccer players are listening to music and find that it gives them the motivation to take risks during the game?
When we look at the different brain regions that are activated while this process is occurring, we see that there is a connection between music and the premotor cortex. In a 2009 study, they had participants listen to music that they considered pleasurable and music that they considered non-pleasurable (Kornysheva et. al.). They scanned participants using fMRI and found that there was greater activation in both the ventral premotor cortex, an area of the brain involved with motor control, and cerebellar areas, often involved in balance and coordination, when they listened to music that they considered pleasurable versus listening to the non-pleasurable music. The brain actually adjusts to a certain tempo of music, and it can increase motor function, hence better performance. So, music not only impacts performance in the present, it also changes the brain responses for the future. If only we could have scanned the brains of the US team while they were playing to see if we would find that their premotor cortex had a greater activation after listening to that song heard all over the stadium.
Although there have been a considerable number of studies whose aim is to find the correlation between sports’ performance and music, there is still more research to be done. For example, how is it that these same songs played worldwide can elicit the same response from athletes who are all different. Is it their beat that makes them classics? Do they all cause people’s heart to start racing and adrenaline to rush through their veins? It would also be beneficial to look for possible detrimental effects of listening to music causing a decrease in performance.
In the meantime, let’s keep hoping that the music on full blast in the stadiums brings out the best from the US soccer team so that they can bring home a championship! I believe that we will win!
Elvers P., Steffens J. (2017). The sound of success: investigating cognitive and behavioral effects of motivational music in sports. Front. Psychol. 8:2026.
Kornysheva, K., von Cramon, D. Y., Jacobsen, T., and Schubotz, R. I. (2010). Tuning-in to the beat: aesthetic appreciation of musical rhythms correlates with a premotor activity boost. Hum. Brain Mapp. 31, 48–64.
Image 1: taken by Sarah Taha
Image 2: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Illusory-Hand-ownership-modified-after-Blanke-2012-The-main-brain-regions-that-are_fig20_283465205
Image 3: taken by me