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SIRC Highlights from the Study

Study background:

For athletes at high levels, the ability to control one’s mind in the moments leading up to performance is a key element of pre-performance preparation. Music has been used by many athletes as a way of addressing pre-performance states in a variety of ways. Some use it as a way to calm their nerves, some use it to psych themselves up, some use it to focus attention and concentration, and some use it as a distraction. This recent study looked at the use of music on swimmers’ pre-performance psychobiosocial states and how it may affect performance.

According to Hanin’s model of individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF) “a psychobiosocial state is manifested in eight interrelated form modalities: cognitive, emotional, motivational, and volitional (psychological component); bodily-somatic and motor-behavioral (biological component); operational and communicative (social component)”. Based upon past research it is assumed that there is a higher probability of successful performance when the intensity of functional states is high and dysfunctional states are low. To enhance performance, athletes need to be aware of what constitutes their individual optimal and dysfunctional zones of intensity for each of the eight components of their psychobiosocial state and to know how to move into or out of those zones before and during performance.

The use of music in a pre-performance routine is a method of control athletes can use to help establish their pyschobiosocial state in the right zone. However, it has been acknowledged that there must be a component of intentionality when selecting the music used. An athlete usually has an association between the music selected and a previous experience therefore using it for a specific purpose, using it as a regulation strategy and to elicit a specific performance, believing that the music will lead to improved performance. “For the selection process to be effective, the athlete must have knowledge of desired outcomes for the music use and utilize this information to guide their choice of musical pieces”.

The study examined 17 swimmers from a Canadian university that had provincial, national, and/or international competitive experience. Sprint swimmers were studied because the “effect of music tends to last for a short time after the listening period … and it has a greater effect on short-term maximal effort performances”. Questionnaires were used to measure and evaluate psycobiosocial states, subjective ratings of performance and subjective ratings of effectiveness of pre-performance routines were developed and scored each on a 10-point Likert scale, an interview was performed to assess swimmers’ beliefs on the different types of music selected for their pre-performance routine, and finally a semistructured post-intervention interview was performed to assess participation in the study. Control and experimental groups were compared.


This exploratory study investigated “the effectiveness of selfselected music on swimmers’ regulation of psychobiosocial states before performance. In addition, the study examined the relationship between psychobiosocial states and subsequent performance, as well as the impact of music on swimmers perceived effectiveness of pre-performance routines.”

Highlights from the findings:

  • Consistent with previous research, this study found that pre-performance psychobiosocial states did influence performance.
  • Significant differences in feeling states across best and worst performances for the control group versus no significant differences for the experimental group showed that purposeful selection of music in pre-performance routines could improve athletes’ abilities to regulate their psychobiosocial states.
  • Interview reports also suggested that by asking them to evaluate their psychobiosocial state increased athletes’ awareness of these factors and their impact on performance. Using this in relation to music selection showed the athletes the intentional and beneficial connection between state and music selection. “Results from the postintervention interview indicated that the majority of swimmers in the experimental group based their music selection on the assessment of their psychobiosocial states and believed that music would help them ‘get in the zone’”.
  • Qualitative findings partially supported the hypothesis that use of music within a pre-performance routine did influence the participants’ belief in the effectiveness of the pre-performance routine itself, supporting previous research in this area. Post-intervention interviews also supported this with many athletes reporting that they saw the benefits of the playlists and would continue to use the strategy of purposeful music selection in the future.
  • This study also supported previous research indicating that song selection is largely influenced by extrinsic factors, however there was a difference in the nature of the extrinsic factors with ‘pumpup’ songs being selected for their non-swimming associations and motivational songs being chosen for their swimming-related experiences. Reasoning behind song selection for these two factors also differed with ‘pumpup’ songs being selected for their musicality and motivational songs being selected for their lyrics. “Current and previous research findings have revealed that motivational and pump-up purposes are two of the most popular reasons for using music”.
  • Authors recommendations based on the findings:
    • Develop athletes’ awareness of their pre-performance psychobiosocial states and their impact on their performance
    • Music can be used as a tool to regulate pyschobiosocial states
    • A purposeful approach to music selection should be incorporated when used to help regulate pre-performance psychobiosocial states.


Regulating Pre-performance Psychobiosocial States with Music.
Middleton, T. F., Ruiz, M. C., & Robazza, C. (2017). Sport Psychologist, 31(3), 227-236.

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