“In a locker room at a Grand Slam, there are 128 players at the beginning,” says Andy Murray. “It’s very, very loud with coaches and physical trainers. I would say 90 per cent of the players listen to music before they go out on court.”
Murray, who counts Ed Sheeran among his favourite musicians to listen to before a match, uses music to maintain his focus. But drowning out noise isn’t the only reason to plug in the headphones.
“Music can affect brain structures and has been found to enhance visual perception, attention, motor control and elicit emotional responses,” says Shameema Yousuf, a sports psychology consultant and founder of Empower2Perform.
Researchers at Brunel University in London studied tennis players’ use of music as a pre-performance strategy and found that players who listened to fast, loud music had faster reaction times, more positive emotional states and higher arousal levels.
“If it’s bad music, it’s going to be a bad match,” says Victoria Azarenka, who listens to tunes as she walks on court. “I choose it very carefully. Music helps me focus, pump you up, get your feet moving, kind of get excited. I get in the zone. It makes me feel good inside. When I feel good inside, I love to go out there and do the best job I can.”
But while some players use music as a stimulus to psych themselves up for a match, others use it to keep calm and not get overwhelmed by the situation. Former British Davis Cup player Barry Cowan famously listened to Liverpool FC anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone on his Walkman during changes of ends when he took Pete Sampras to five sets at Wimbledon in 2001. However, tournament rules have changed and many do not allow the use of mp3 and musical players on court during play
“Music can act as a sedative or a stimulant,” Dr Costas Karageorghis, head of the Music in Sport Research group at Brunel University, told the BBC’s Raise Your Game. “Music with a fast tempo can be used to pump you up prior to competition, or slower music can be used to calm your nerves and help you focus. It is considered by some athletes to be a legal drug with no unwanted side effects.”
“A player must develop emotional awareness,” Yousuf said: “It is important for an athlete to recognise when they are over-excited and need calming, or are feeling flat and need to psych up. “If your heartbeat is racing before stepping on court, it may be unwise to play a high-tempo tune.” “Classical music may work better.”
Psyching up or down?
→ Work out what you need from the music as a performance enhancer. Do you need help getting pumped up, or a tune to help you stay calm?
→ Don’t be afraid to try new songs, but make a note of how it makes you feel and develop an understanding of what improves your performance
Pick and mix
→ Some days you’ll need psyching up, others you’ll need help steadying the nerves. Create multiple playlists depending on your mood
Sport is all about being as good as you can be throughout each and every moment and having the concentration and confidence to use your skills to their full extent in spite of the pressure. This philosophy requires bravery, the bravery to control your fear and to play freely without the tension that fear imposes – to PlayBrave.”