Pregame Music: The Key to a Sound Performance


Music has been a part of the pre-game/event rituals of athletes for decades now. The tradition began with teams pumping music through the locker room before the first whistle and has evolved into a more personal experience with athletes in most major sports entering stadiums and arenas with headphones pined tightly to their ears.

Music is a great part of any pre-event athletic routine. It has been proven to stimulate sport relevant images and promote sub-conscious mental rehearsal (visualization).  Music taps into a part of our brain that stimulates memory and so songs connected to a positive experience can bring the athlete back into a previously positive mindset.

Recent studies on the impact of music and mindset for athletes reveal that there are advantages to be gained from pumping beats before competing.


A 2001 study tested the impact of pre-game/event music on NCAA Athletes across a variety of sports. They found that listening to 3 minutes of (their chosen) music immediately before competition, had a substantial positive impact on the athlete’s mindset. Athletes who listened to music in this study reported a significantly higher state of self-confidence, compared to non-listeners. The researchers also found that the timing of the music was extremely important; self-confidence scores rose the closer the music was played to the start of competition.

The volume of the selected tracks also appears to play a role in how positively music can impact athletic performance. A 2009 study of tennis players tested how the tempo (song speed) and intensity (volume) of music would impact play. The researchers found that fast and loud music was most effective for producing more pleasant emotional states. Music volume was particularly important, as loud music produced faster “choice reaction times” for athletes (how quickly an athlete “decided” in competition) compared to the same songs played at a moderate volume.


The results of these studies prove that music actually does work as “performance primer” and can be an effective tool in optimizing the mindset of athletes for competition.

When we combine the findings of these two studies, we learn that athletes get the most benefit when they time music stimulation appropriately. Peaking the music experience too soon can cause athletes to become too hyped up, anxious, and actually detract from performance. The goal should be to peak the intensity and volume of the music to coincide with the  start of competition.

Overall, like most elements of competitive preparation, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Music preference is highly personal and tastes are ever evolving (for example a song with a great positive connection from the past can change with a negative experience in the present or future). As with all elements of a routine, the best way to learn what works for you is to test, learn, and adjust according to what works best for you.

Here are a couple of other considerations related to music as a mindset tool:

Music preference can be a highly personal choice and thanks to smartphone and earphone technologies (like noise cancelling headphones), athletes who prepare for competition in a team environment can choose to listen to their own stuff. The best way for individuals in the team environment to prepare, is to start with their own music and transition to the team music right before competition, this way you can prime yourself with what you like, but don’t miss out on the bonding experience that is the team’s music.

In team environments, choosing the tracks can be as much of a pressure experience as competition itself. In the NHL at least, it seems like it a job for team veterans. Most teams have a teammate who is assigned as the team DJ. The reasons why rookies are typically excluded from this role is due to the constant criticisms shared by so many teammates with differing musical tastes. Here are a couple of mainstay DJ’s on NHL clubs:

  1. Vancouver Canucks: Michael Del Zotto (who moonlights as an amateur DJ)
  2. Ottawa Senators: Captain Erik Karlsson
  3. Toronto Maple Leafs: joint effort between Nazim Kadri and Jake Gardiner

English Premier Soccer Club AFC Bournemouth has even taken the responsibility for music right out of their players hands and placed it with their Sports Science team. The Sports Science specialists for the club curate as they call it, a “scientific playlist” designed to to build-up and peak the arousal state of their players just before the first whistle.

Whether you’re building a playlist for yourself or your team, you can find some great inspiration from across the web. Here are a few helpful links to great pre-game playlists:

If you’re not interested in building your own, there are always solid sports mixes on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Happy Listening.



Lanziillo, J.J., Burke, K.L., Joyner, A.B., & Hardy C.J. (2001). The effects of music on the intensity and direction of pre-competitive cognitive and somatic state anxiety and state self-confidence in collegiate athletes. International Sports Journal, 5, 101-110.

Bishop, D.T., Karageorghis, C.I., Kinrade, N.P. (2009) Effects of Musically-Induced Emotions on Choice Reaction Time Performance. The Sport Psychologist 23,1

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