Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

Listen Up!
The Experience of Music in Sport -
A Phenomenological Investigation.

Lacey Sorenson, Daniel R. Czech, Stephen Gonzalez, James Klein, and Tony Lachowetz
Georgia Southern University







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Research shows that music can effect arousal regulation (Lukas, n.d.; Nilsson, Unosson, & Rawal, 2005), motivation (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997), and mood levels (Gfeller, 1988). Research has also shown that music can help enhance athletic performance (Dorney & Goh, 1992; Karageorghis & Terry, 1997; Krumhansl, 2002). Although a great amount of research exists that examines music in sport, little research has been found that examines this phenomenon from an existential phenomenological perspective. The purpose of the current study is to investigate the Division I athlete's experience of music in sport from an existential phenomenological perspective. The participants were 7 (four males and three females) NCAA Division I collegiate athletes from a southeastern university. Utilizing a phenomenological approach to analyze the data, the current research examined the experience of music in sport. The results suggest athletes utilize music for arousal regulation, concentration, mood enhancement, and team cohesion.


      Music plays a central role in people's everyday lives (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003). Research shows that music can affect arousal regulation (Lukas, n.d.; Nilsson, Unosson, & Rawal, 2005), motivation (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997), and mood levels (Gfeller, 1988). Research has also shown that music can be a facilitator to athletic performance (Dorney & Goh, 1992; Karageorghis & Terry, 1997; Krumhansl, 2002). For instance, music affects mood states by eliciting a certain emotional response while listening to a song (Dorney & Goh, 1992). Moreover, research has shown that music allows athletes to disassociate from feelings of fatigue and perceived exertion rates (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997).

      While listening to music, a performer's attention is narrowed which can divert attention away from the sensations of fatigue during a physical activity. This process can be compared to the cognitive strategy of dissociation, which tends to encourage a positive mood state (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997). For instance, Wales (1986) supported the relationship between music and affect, finding that music that was upbeat in tempo and stimulating enhanced exercise performance by lowering anger, depression, and fatigue significantly.

      In addition, previous research has shown that the tempo of music can have an affect on movement. The type of music we listen to causes us to synchronize our movements at times (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997). Consequently, if athletes listen to a fast tempo song they may be more likely to increase movements to a faster pace, which could possibly enhance performance (i.e. conditioning time, running, cycling). Likewise, for an athlete who needs slower or more graceful movements (i.e. figure skating), slower tempo music could assist in reaching optimal performance. This research supports Smoll and Schultz's (1982) view that rhythm is an important component in motor skill and performance. Athletes apply the force of rhythm and tempo to many aspects of their athletic experiences.

      Moreover, music has also been shown to reduce perceived exertion rates during exercise (Boutcher & Trenske, 1990). Researchers have revealed that when exercising and listening to music, the perceived exertion rate is lowered because attention is diverted to the music. Johnson and Siegel (1987) found that fatigue was reduced significantly while participants listened to music. Boutcher and Trenske (1990) also found that participants who listened to music during a moderate workout had a reduced perceived exertion rate during exercise. This supports the hypothesis that music narrows the performer's attention and, as a consequence, diverts attention away from sensations of fatigue during exercise (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997).

      Therefore, if music can affect our mood states and our perceived exertion rates, music may also affect our arousal rate. For example, researchers have shown that music can reduce anxiety in pre and post surgery patients. Before a person goes into surgery listening to relaxing music can help reduce anxiety about the surgery. Research also shows that post surgery patients can reduce their anxiety about going to rehabilitation if they listen to music before and/or during their rehabilitation session (Lukas, Nilsson, Unosson, & Rawal, 2005).

      Generally, sport psychologists advise athletes to utilize music in order to prepare for competition. (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997, p.57). Gfeller (1988) suggests that music will influence arousal if it promotes thoughts that encourage physical activity or relaxation. In other words, the association between certain types of music and physical activity may act as a stimulus. If athletes need to increase their arousal level before a game they may listen to music that encourages them to go out and compete at an intense level. If athletes need to lower their arousal level before a game they may listen to a song that would allow them to relax and calm down.

      Although a great amount of research exists that examines music in sport, little research has been found that examines this phenomenon from an existential phenomenological perspective. The framework for phenomenology is provided by the humanistic model. The humanistic theoretical model is concerned with understanding the perspective of the lived experience of an individual within their environment and social contexts. This model requires the researcher to understand and examine the person from a holistic perspective (Hill, 2001). The human and the world in which it lives cannot be examined separately if we wish to obtain the entire experience. A phenomenological methodology can be used in order to achieve this holistic view and examination of a lived experience. The phenomenological approach is concerned with gathering a thick and rich description of information either through interviews, discussions, or observations, and representing it from the perspective of the participant (Patton, 2002).

Purpose of the Study

      What is lacking in the current sport psychology literature is an examination of elite athletes "lived" experiences of music in sport. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the NCAA Division I athlete's experience of music in sport from a phenomenological perspective. This goal was accomplished in two ways: (a) by allowing the athlete to speak in his/her language and (b) by making an attempt to understand the experience of music in sport free of judgment and preconceived notions.


      Triangulation integrates several methods of data to increase credibility and the quality of the study by countering the accusation that a study's findings are simply due to the fact of a single method, single source or a single investigator's blinders (Patton, 2002). Triangulation was achieved in the present study by incorporating a journal for continuous note taking, a pilot study, bias exploration, and the primary interviews.

Participants The participants in this study were seven NCAA Division I collegiate athletes aged 18-23 years old (M = 20.4). Table 1 provides a brief description of the participants. Five of the participants were of Caucasian descent, while two of the participants were of African American descent. The participants participated in the following sports: 1) soccer, 2) football, and 3) tennis. The soccer participants were on teams that made it to the final four (NCAA semifinals) within the past year.

Music Table 1

      A purposeful sample was used in this investigation as the participants were able to provide the researcher with a rich and thick description of the experience of music in sport (Patton, 2002). All of the participants experienced music in sport within their recent collegiate athletic career and listened to music at least once a day: before, during, or after a performance. They were asked to participate based on the fact that they stated that they listened to music before, during, or after a game during a purposeful interview. Each participant was asked to participate through their coach, e-mail, personal contact, or by telephone. No compensation or academic extra credit was given for their participation.


      The athletes' participation in the study remained confidential and was completely voluntary throughout the entire study. The use of a pseudonym was used within the transcripts. In addition, the interviews were held in a private setting to ensure confidentiality.

Interview Protocol

      This interview consisted of a single open-ended statement which allowed the participants to explore their experience of music related to sport. The following statement was offered to all of the participants: "Tell me about a time when you listened to music before, during, and after an athletic competition." Other probing interview questions were utilized for further elaborations and clarifications of their experience as it relates to music and sport (Patton, 2002). Examples of these questions consisted of but not limited to: "Can you describe another time when you utilized music before during or after sports participation?" "You mentioned _________, could you tell me more about that?"

Data Analysis

      Phenomenological analysis seeks to grasp and elucidate the meaning, structure, and essence of a lived experience for a person or group of people (Patton, 2002). In this present study, various phenomenological approaches were used for analyzing the data and are adapted from Czech, Wrisberg, & Fisher, (2004), Barrell (1988), Goodrich (1988), Hawthorne (1989), Henderson (1992), Paton (2002), and Ross (1987) as outlined below.

Approaching the Interviews

      Transcribing. All interviews were audio taped and then transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were typed by a professional transcriptionist. The participants were able to view and obtain a copy of the transcripts at the completion of the transcript. No one had access to the audio tapes but the professional transcriptionist, me, and the participant. Once transcription of the audio tape was complete it was erased. The consent form, audio tapes, transcriptions, and code sheet with the numbers that correspond to the names were kept in a locked box.

      Patton (2002) points out that it is very important to obtain a verbatim transcript; otherwise, the data may be distorted. Therefore, the transcripts were checked for errors by listening to the audio tape version of the interview and reading the transcript.

      Obtaining a Grasp of the Interview. Checking for errors also allowed me to obtain what Kruger (1979) calls a holistic grasp of the data. As cited in Czech et al. (2004), this allows the researcher to obtain a sense of wholeness of the data even though in later phases parts of the data will be eliminated. Checking for errors also allowed me to disentangle the structure of the participant's experience.

Focusing the Data

      Bracketing the data. Patton (2002) states that "the researcher "brackets out" the world and presuppositions to identify the data in pure form, uncontaminated by extraneous intrusions." In other words the researcher puts aside any preconceptions and the data was analyzed directly to the phenomenon in question. Once this was completed the data was then treated with equal value and spread out for examination with all elements and perspectives having equal weight (Patton, 2002).

Phenomenological reduction Eliminating irrelevant, repetitive, or overlapping data. During the interviews the conversation involved information that is not relevant to the experience of the phenomenon being studied (Patton, 2002). Consequently, in the current study irrelevant, repetitive, and overlapping data were eliminated from the transcripts. Punctuation and enhancing readability was also added or taken out if needed.

      Verifying the elimination of the data. The goal of this step is to have the participants verify that the edited version of the interview is correct and still has the thoughts and words that they wanted to express. Once the editing was completed the transcripts still remained a rich source of information and were easily read and placed into meaningful groups.

Releasing meanings

      Forming categories. The data was placed into meaningful clusters based on the similar themes that emerged (Patton, 2002). The NVivo computer software, along with the research team and I placed the phrases that were similar into clusters. We then compared the clusters and categories that were formed.

      Identifying the themes. Once the categories were formed themes were created. These themes were analyzed over and over again until a consistent and concise representation of each category was present and there were distinct differences between each category.

      Describing the themes. Patton (2002) recommends that when presenting the results of qualitative data there must be a) focusing and balancing, and b) description and interpretation. Due to the large amount of information contained within the interview the data must be focused and balanced, meaning that some of it must be omitted in order to focus on the experience of music in sport. Patton (2002) also points out that when dealing with qualitative inquiry a thick, rich description of the experience is essential. Therefore, the data in the current study was presented in a clear and descriptive manner that captured the essence of the participants' mutual aspects of their experience of music in sport.


      If the results of a study are repeatable and consistent across time and people then they are assumed to be reliable (Patton, 2002). In qualitative research a main criterion for reliability is trustworthiness (Patton, 2002). Therefore, if the description of the experience can be shown to be true it is considered to be reliable.


      As cited in Czech et al. (2004) the conclusions should be accepted as valid if the reader is able to follow the process of the study that has led to the conclusions. It should also be noted that throughout the entire research process triangulation (capturing and respecting multiple perspectives) were used (Patton, 2002). Triangulation checks for validity because it offers the perspectives of others on the data and conclusions that are drawn from the data. Triangulation acts as a system of checks and balances between the researcher and research team. Triangulation was achieved through obtaining the data and performing member checks, which was allowing the participants to look over their transcribed interview and make sure everything was correct. In addition, computer analysis software (NVivo) and a research team was utilized to provide multiple perspectives on the analysis of the data. Moreover, it should also be noted that the subjectivity of the research was acknowledged, meaning the biases were discussed and taken into account before analyzing the data.


      Using the methodology described in the previous section, the interviews of Division I athletes were conducted, transcribed, and placed into themes, and the structure of the experience of music in sport for these seven athletes could be determined. In addition, this section contains quotes from the participants that are used to illustrate the use of music to enhance performance in sport as it surfaced from their descriptions.

      The intention of this study was to describe the thematic structure of the experience of music in sport among Division I collegiate athletes from a phenomenological perspective. The analysis of the participant's interview exposed four major themes: (1) arousal- music was used to control arousal levels before and after a competition, (2) focus- utilized music to prepare mentally before competition, (3) mood- utilized music to control mood before competition, and (4) team-utilized music to create a sense of camaraderie. These four themes create the structure of the experience of music in sport for these collegiate athletes.

      Moreover, each of these themes contained subthemes. For the theme of arousal, the subthemes included (a) upbeat or fast tempo music, and (b) slow tempo music. For the theme of focus, music was utilized to (a) block out distractions, (b) concentrate on what has to be accomplished during the game, and (c) mental imagery or picturing what they have to do while performing certain tasks during a competition. Incorporating music to enhance the overall mood of the team as well as to decrease tension and stress within an environment defined the subthemes for mood. The final theme of team consisted of (a) creating a sense of team unity, (b) listening to the same music to get pumped up together, and (c) creating and singing along to team music compilations' (CD's).

      These themes, subthemes, and their interrelationships are represented in the flow chart in Figure 1. The four part interrelated experience of music and performance associated with the themes of arousal, focus, mood, and team demonstrates the importance of music in sport. The athletes in this investigation found the aspects of the experience of music illustration to be imperative to performance on the same level as physical preparation. The illustration provides the themes in a more uniform and distinct manner than the interviews, where the conversation moved back and forth between the four themes. From utilizing music to achieve an optimal arousal level, to employing music to block out all distractions and concentrate on one's performance, to using music to enhancing one's mood prior to and after a competition, to unifying a team through the creation of CD's, all parts of the illustration affected the performances of the athlete in this investigation.

Music Figure 1

Theme 1: Arousal

      The first theme that emerged from the analysis of the transcripts describes attaining certain arousal levels to achieve optimal arousal before and after a competition. The participants expressed music as a way "to get pumped up," "move around." "to get the heart rate going," "adrenaline pumping," "their blood flowing," as well as "to relax and calm down." The participants often mentioned that music played a central role in mental preparation before and after each competition. The majority of the athletes described utilizing music to achieve optimal arousal thus making it a consistent theme throughout the interviews.

      Upbeat or fast tempo music. In regards to upbeat or fast tempo music, most of the athletes described that they utilize this type of music to significantly increase their arousal level before a competition. The following quotes offer a description of the positive effect that upbeat music has on an athlete's arousal level. An increase in movement and adrenaline was experienced by some participants during pre-game in the locker room as well as warm-up on the field:

It's just the beat. It's just something that makes you want to move faster. Maybe just like the adrenaline, it makes you move faster, especially if there's a song you like. You know, you start getting your players hyped up, guys we can do this. (Participant 1)
And it's usually hip-hop, anything that's upbeat and gets you going. For me it gets me wound up, I want to do something. It puts more energy into me. (Participant 4)
And then the ones that pump you up are upbeat and fast. But sometimes if you go to another field or if we have a good selection, that gets you pumped up while you're out there warming up because it's before all the crowds of people get there, and you just get time to just really get pumped up yourself. (Participant 6).
If it's my own use, I usually mix a little rap with alternative punk, stuff like that will get me pumped up or get the adrenaline going, get my heart rate up, get me moving, listen to the rhyme, the beat of the song. That's what gets me going. (Participant 7)

      In addition, under this theme other participants discussed how they utilized upbeat or fast tempo music to get motivated and gets their blood flowing:

So in the weight room listening to music will kind of get me motivated to do stuff, not country music but more rap and upbeat kind of stuff, some rock or hard rock, stuff like that. I guess it naturally gets my blood flowing. (Participant 3)
I'll start to get going, get warmed up. And it kind of facilitates that, just gets me going and I guess it gives me that little bit of extra motivation just to get warmed up, instead of just having nothing going on. It's something I have to do, but now with music it's like I'm already moving. Like it facilitates it a little bit more. (Participant 7)

      One participant had the experience of utilizing music during a game in an 8 v 8 soccer tournament and added that it made her want to run, play harder and be more aggressive:

It was just a radio station, but it was cool, because you know when you listen to fast music it makes you want to run and stuff. If it's fast music I'm just excited to move around and do something, like play or hurt people in a game. (Participant 2)

      In synopsis, the participants in this investigation used music to help them achieve an increase in their arousal level before a game or competition, get their body moving and the blood flowing, as well as to become energized and more aggressive in certain instances.

      Slow tempo music. This subtheme emerged from many athletes' descriptions on the importance of listening to music the morning of a game and after a game or competition. Some of the participants added that listening to slow music hours before game time helped them to think about what they had to do during the game:

There's a couple of country songs that take my mind off everything else, it's a lot easier to sit there and think about what you need to do. (Participant 3)
Hours before the game I'll listen to music to calm me down, like R&B, so I don't get too pumped early on, because we are usually sitting there watching other football games, and sometimes that will get you riled up. And so it's a good buildup to start off slow and then steadily pick it up as you go on. (Participant 6)

      One participant discussed the importance of utilizing slow music after a game to calm down:

I do listen to music after a game. It's usually to bring me back down, I guess, calm me down a little bit. So maybe I'll listen to something slower like some country or something. I don't listen to one particular genre, but, usually something to bring me down or just to calm me down after running for an hour and a half. (Participant 7)

      In addition, some of the athletes stated that they use music to relax them. The following quotes suggest that a sense of comfort and relaxation took place within the athlete's mind and body:

We usually use it to relax. I mean we're getting ready for the game, but to make sure that you're not just sitting there for an hour nervous about the game. (Participant 1)
If we are on the road it helps me block out distraction and actually having to focus in on trying to get relaxed and clam. (Participant 3)

      Therefore, some athletes used slow tempo music to calm and relax them both before and after a game or competition.

Theme 2: Focus

      This theme emerged from the athlete's descriptions of how they prepared for a competition. The participants described the use of music before a competition or performance. Moreover, the athletes favored the use of music in order to achieve mental focus. Both fast and slow tempo music were utilized by the athletes in order to achieve mental focus. Other subthemes that surfaced were as follows: utilizing music to block out distractions, dissociation, concentration, and for mental imagery.

      The utilization of music as for achieving focus before competition. The majority of the athletes used music in order to achieve a mental focus before a competition. Regardless of whether the game was at home or away, the athletes utilized music to accomplish a mental focus. The following quotes offer descriptions of how music enabled them to achieve an appropriate mental focus.

I usually listen to this one band sometimes, but it'll vary, but it's my favorite band so I listen to them and get an amazing focus. (Participant 2)
I find it a lot easier to focus in more and go through stuff in my head, like what I need to do, and for my whole routine and everything. (Participant 3)
Music keeps me focused and I feel like I can focus on how things are going during warm-ups before a match. I can focus on things when I listen to music. (Participant 4)

      One participant described his experience of music in the locker room before a game when the entire team listens to a certain song right before they leave the locker room to go to the field:

I don't know where it came from. I don't know why it gets me as pumped up as it does, I guess because it's calming at first. It gives you time to like think about the game. The lights are off so you can't focus on what's going on. You can't even see your hand in front of you. So it makes you start thinking. And then when it breaks down and everybody goes from zero to 60 like that. I think that's probably what makes that so special. (Participant 6)

      In summary, music allowed the athletes to accomplish a mental focus before going out and playing in a competition. Music enabled the participants to think about the game and what they have to do during it.

      Music used to block out distractions. Most of the athletes expressed using music to block out other distractions in order to accomplish a level of concentration and focus on what they must achieve during a game or competition. The following quote offers a description of this:

Music keeps me focused. I block out everything else that goes on, and I feel that I can focus on how things are going during warm-ups. (Participant 4)

      Mental imagery. Some of the participants described utilizing music to aid with their mental imagery routine. The following quotes illustrate how the music aids the athletes during mental imagery:

I do my imagery. But while I might be doing my imagery I might be listening to music to calm and relax me to another level, beyond just, sitting in my room by myself or with a roommate. If we're on the road, music helps me block out distractions, too, beyond just actually having to focus in on trying to get relaxed and calm. Music blocks it out, and then also there's an agent to it. (Participant 3)
Really just internalizing, kind of seeing what I have to do on the field position-wise, and what certain situations present themselves and what I have to perform, and where to go, where to put the ball, where to run. I think of different situations, trying to get myself ready for the game, so it's not a moment decision. I'm prepared for it. (Participant 5)

      In summary, athletes used music in numerous ways in order to achieve a certain level of focus and concentration before the game. The music enables them to put aside all other outside distractions and concentrate and envision what they want to accomplish during the game. The music allows them to clear their minds and strictly focus in on their visualization routine and the goals they want to accomplish during a game or competition.

Theme 3: Mood Enhancing Music

      The third theme that emerged from the examination of the transcripts was that music was used by most participants and in some instances by coaches, to lighten up the mood and loosen up the atmosphere both in the locker room as well as in the training room.

      Mood enhancing music. Many of the athletes discussed the use of music to enhance the overall mood of the team. Some participants described utilizing music as a means to get into a good mood before going to practice or a competition:

Pretty much, I mean everyday going to practice, listening to something to get you going after a long day at school or something like that. But for me it's usually rap or hip-hop, upbeat, it's got stuff going on. Then game day pretty much starts when you wake up. Get yourself in the mood to know what you're doing that day. And it's usually hip-hop, anything that's upbeat and gets you going. For the team I think I'd say the same thing, you want everybody to be in a good mood going into the game. You'd don't want everybody to be walking around and whatever. (Participant 3)
When we were at tournaments in the fall, I'd usually put them (headphones) on if I'm mad to get into a better mood. (Participant 4)

      One participant illustrated the use of music in the weight room as an aid to enjoying working out:

We were not even more than two minutes into our workout and everyone said "Ah, sweet, we're listening to music today." So I think it puts a different kind of atmosphere in the weight room and that everybody's going to work hard, but I actually enjoy working out. (Participant 3)

      Athletes in this study explained that they used music not only to enhance their personal mood but also to enhance the mood of the entire team. Even more interesting was the fact that the participants used music in all three of these instances: before practice, before a game, and during training, to ensure that they and their teammates were in a good mood. This suggests the possibility of an enhanced performance due to an enhanced mood.

      Implement of music to lighten up the mood. Another subtheme that emerged from the analysis of the transcriptions was the use of music to loosen or lighten up the mood of the athletes. Some of the participants described the use of music by their coaches, trainers, and fellow teammates to ease the mood of the situation:

But if we're goofing off and messing around together, while the music's on and everything, and even sometimes when it's time for coach to come in and talk, they've done a couple things with us to loosen up the mood. And it makes me feel more prepared when I step out of the locker room, Ôcause I don't like that uneasy feeling. (Participant 1)
Also it makes it an atmosphere that's not strictly hardcore lift weights. You can cut up a little bit. Some kids will dance a little. It puts more fun into it. It relaxes the atmosphere more, because people work out and they'll dance from whatever they had to do, to the water fountain. It's the little stuff that is beyond the hardcore lifting that reminds you that it is fun, and that people do enjoy it, and it's not hardcore military lift weights. Get huge; don't have any fun and all that crap. It's beyond that. (Participant 3)

      The athletes found the utilization of music to be of importance, whether the environment was right or wrong in situations like after a long day of class and practice or before a game in the locker room.

Theme 4: Team

      The last theme within this study was team. The athletes described team as a group of people with whom they played the same sport. Most of the athletes (Participants 2, 5, 7, & 6) in this investigation stated that the team made a music compilation for their warm-up which contained songs that each team member picked. Moreover, some of the participants expressed that they liked the fact that the majority of the team was listening to the same music, as it created a sense of team unity. The following quotes illustrate some athletes' use of this notion.

      These athletes discussed the experience of creating and using a music compilation developed by the team for pre-game:

Each person okays the music because each person gets to come up with their own song. It's cool because you get to hear your favorite song along with everyone else's. So you're getting pumped up at the same time everyone else is getting pumped up, and we're all listening to the same thing. So we're all on the same page and we all know what we need to do. So I like listening to the same music because it makes sure we're all ready to go. (Participant 2)
We have a sound system in our locker room, so we'll use that and somebody on the team will bring in CDs or we'll have a team CD. Then you get the warm-up music that we all agree on before. Everybody gets into pretty much. (Participant 5)

      This athlete described his experience of using a team music compilation that a teammate made; it was not a collaborative team effort:

In the locker room we have a stereo up with usually rap or something along those lines. Since one person made the CD, we all agree on some songs more than others. The last CD was pretty good, no one really had any objections to it. (Participant 7)

      In summary, the athletes in this investigation found the use of a team music compilation to be very important for their pre-game warm-up.

      Team unity. The final subtheme within the team theme was utilizing music or a team song to create a sense of team unity. One particular athlete described the use of a team song as well as the team singing their own song on the way to the field:

Well I guess the biggest thing here before the games, we listen to a Phil Collins song, I Can Feel It In The Air Tonight, and we turn off all the lights and even though it's a slow song, it has that one part where it breaks down, and at that time everybody starts screaming and banging on the lockers and then we go get on the buses and go to the game. And then we have a chain of events that go on and then when we're riding the bus to the field there's a team song that we sing as a team. It's almost kind of a chain gang type deal, because you have one leader that's singing, and then after they would say that everybody else follows, and so you have that one person leading and then a whole bus in unison afterwards. (Participant 6)


      The participants in this investigation were interested in discussing their experience of music in sport before and after a competition. Some participants spoke of specific instances of when they or their team listened to music, while others explained how music helps them prepare for a game. All of the participants stated that they listen to music before a game and provided details about their experience. Participant 4 actually relived his experience of utilizing music in the locker room and on the way to the game with the researcher by taking the researcher through the step-by-step process that occurs a few hours prior to a home game.

      In addition, the majority of the participants spoke of many other instances, outside of their sport, in which they used music. Most of the participants stated numerous situations in which they use music in their everyday life such as "I listen to music walking between classes" or "I listen to music while doing my homework." Many of the participants spoke of listening to many genres of music depending on their mood; however, most of them spoke of listening to rap or rock if they had to get pumped up. Moreover, the majority of the participants expressed a delighted attitude for participating in the study and most of them were more than willing to ask their fellow teammates and athletes (from other teams) to also participate in the study.


      The purpose of this study is to explain the role of music playing by examining previous research in the field of music in sport as well as in everyday life from an existential phenomenological perspective. Each section begins with a description of the current theme and then continues to an examination of associated research. The end of these sections contains conclusions and suggestions for further research.


      The theme of obtaining an optimal arousal level was an important part of the performance experience. Moreover, all of the participants involved in this study expressed experiences in which they utilized music in order to achieve an optimal arousal level, both before and after a competition.

      Upbeat or fast tempo music. Gfeller (1988) stated that music and the rhythm or beat of the music automatically gets the human body moving. Therefore, it is not surprising that many athletes would listen to music in order to achieve a higher or lower level of arousal and get their bodies moving. Elliot, Carr, and Savage (2004) suggested that athletes who listen to upbeat or fast tempo music perform better during exercise. Consistent with this suggestion, athletes in the current research expressed the notion that music was helpful as an arousal mechanism for their particular sport. The participants described how music "pumped them up," "got them excited," and "moving around" before they were about to perform. To further support this notion, Karageorghis and Terry (1997) suggest that sport psychologists often recommend for athletes to use music as part of psyching-up strategy in preparation for competition, or to calm down. Moreover, Gfeller (1988) suggests that music influences arousal if it promotes thoughts that encourage physical activity or relaxation.

      Consequently, the association between certain types of music and physical activity may act as a stimulus. If an athlete needs to increase their arousal level before a game, they may listen to the music that encourages them to go out and compete at an intense level. All of the participants in this study stated "they listened to music that was upbeat because it got their blood flowing by moving to the beat." The athletes mentioned that even during weightlifting workouts they would dance from station to station because the music was on and it made them want to move with the beat. Furthermore, the athletes expressed that they would not know what would happen to their performance if they did not have music before a competition. Many of them discussed not liking the rules that are in place for regulating which songs they can and cannot play during their pre-game warm-up on the field. Not being able to have the music they prefer or any music at all may be a deterrent to optimal performance. Future research may want to examine performance and mood when less than desirable music is available to see if the opposite results occur, possibly strengthening our results.

      Similarly, Karageorghis, Terry, & Lane (1999) suggest that music aids in the process of rhythm and synchronization with movement, which in turn, can lead to increased levels of exercise output. In addition, Elliott, Carr, and Savage (2004) suggest that those who listen to motivational music perform significantly better than those who did not listen to music. Consistent with this notion, Participant 1 explained, "if the music was being played during a weightlifting workout they were able to work more diligently because they were more motivated to do so with the music on." The music was a stimulus for the athletes, thus making their workout seem easier. Clearly, music plays an important role in the motivational and arousal levels of the athletes in this study before a game and during training.

      Slow tempo music. Some of the participants in this study discussed utilizing music to calm down either before or after a game. Research suggests that music can be used to reduce anxiety in individuals (Seaward, 2002; Stoudenmire, 1975). By listening to calming music an individual can reduce their anxiety level. Karageorghis, Terry, and Lane (1999) also suggest that slow tempo music in most cases calms a person down; however, it should be noted that it is a personal preference as to which music intrinsically motivates an individual. The research has shown music can be utilized to pump an individual up; however, the opposite effect can be utilized. This was the case with one athlete involved in this study in which he mentioned that he "listens to R&B while watching game tapes of the opposing team" (Participant 6). He explained that he had to listen to slow tempo music in order to stay calm and not become so "fired up" to the point where he would have expended all of his energy before the game had even started (Participant 6).

      Moreover, many of the athletes discussed that they listened to music after a game to bring them back down to a calm and relaxed level. Most of the music that they listened to after a game was music that had a slower tempo. In addition to using slow tempo music after a game, the participants also mentioned they would use this type of music to achieve an optimal pre-game focus. They would then shift from a slow tempo to an upbeat tempo right before the game to remain focused.


      The utilization of music for achieving focus before competition. The athletes utilized music in a way that would suggest music enables them to achieve an enhanced focus and concentration before competition. Karageorghis and Terry (1997) suggest that by listening to music during aerobic activity, an individual's focus is narrowed and is on the music instead of the actual output. Similarly, the participants in Lukas' (n.d.) study felt music helped bring about a peacefulness which took their minds off of the pain. The patients commented that the music allowed them to focus on the music and not on their surroundings as well as enabling a feeling of peacefulness and taking their minds off of the pain. Moreover, Karageorghis, Terry, & Lane (1999) suggest that music can narrow an individual's attention in repetitive exercise and divert attention away from feelings of fatigue.

      Consistent with the research, one athlete discussed how he "enjoyed listening to music during weightlifting and conditioning because it made the workout go by quicker" (Participant 3). Another athlete explained that she "enjoyed listening to music while playing because it increased her work ethic" (Participant 2). These two athletes seemed to really enjoy working out and playing while having music on in the background. The enjoyment of listening to music while exercising could be due to factors such as music helping with the dissociation of fatigue as well as being a synchronization agent for movement.

      On the contrary, the remaining five (5) participants in the study did not mention the use of music during competition or practice. Instead the interviews revealed that the athletes used music to help them focus before a competition and get into the mind set of performing. The athletes described that by listening to music they were able to internally focus on what they had to accomplish during their performance or competition. As mentioned early, the athletes spoke of using slow tempo music hours before and upbeat music an hour before they had to perform. Consequently, the themes arousal and focus are interrelated.

      Music used to block out distractions and in return concentrate. As research has shown, music can be used by athletes as well as ordinary individuals to block out sensations of fatigue or other distractions because the music narrows the individual's attention (Karageorghis, Terry, & Lane, 1999; Karageorghis & Terry, 1997; Lukas, n.d.). Therefore, by listening to music an individual is able to concentrate on the music rather than how far he/she has ran, walked, etc. Interestingly, the athletes in this study seemed to utilize music in order to block out other distractions, such as their teammates, in order to concentrate on what they want to accomplish during a game. All of the athletes spoke of listening to music before a game to block out the outside distractions that they were experiencing within their environment. This may enable the athlete to remain calm and focused on their upcoming performance. Hence, it seems that the majority of the athletes utilized music before a game or competition to narrow their attention away from outside distractions and concentrate on the game itself and have the music as a background focus noise.

      Mental Imagery. Dorney and Goh (1992) suggest that music does not enhance the effectiveness of imagery. Conversely, the interviews of this study revealed the opposite. In fact, music in essence became part of their imagery routine as they would first put on their headphones before engaging in imagery. The athletes described that the music enabled them to help focus on their imagery routine as well as blocking out any other distractions that were occurring around them. These are important factors because in order to perform an imagery routine correctly a person must experience somatic and cognitive calm in order to clearly focus on the specific routine. This supports Karageorghis, Terry, and Lane's (1999) suggestion that music can narrow an individual's attention. In essence, the music enabled the athletes to clear their minds of everything else and strictly narrow their focus and concentrate on their visualization routine. Moreover, research has shown that audio imagery, recreating the sounds of a song(s) in your mind, can be utilized as a relaxation tool (Seaward, 2002). Therefore, it may be possible for an over anxious athlete to recall a desired song that promotes relaxation, which in turn would reduce his anxiety and allow him to return to an optimal anxiety level. Further research needs to be conducted to investigate the possible effects audio imagery may have on athletes.

Mood Enhancing Music

      Mood enhancing music. Music elicits an emotional response in each person who listens to any kind of music. As Krumhansl (2002) explains, we have expectations when we hear music and those expectations determine our emotions toward that music. Krumhansl found that when people heard slow tempo music their basic emotion was sadness; when people heard rapid and large variations in tempo their basic emotion was fear; and when people heard rapid tempos with a dance-like rhythm their basic emotion was happiness (Krumhansl, 2002). In addition, Blood, Zatorre, Bermudez, and Evans (1999) point out that our emotions linked to music are elicited through memory and association. "Thus the expressiveness of music has to do with its power to evoke certain imaginative emotional experiences" (Robinson, 1994, p.14). Moreover, Koelsh et al.'s (2000) findings suggests music can have a significant effect on brain wave functioning.

      Similarly, the participants in this investigation revealed that they listened to music that was going to get them "pumped up" and in a "good mood." One athlete stated "the music I listen to before a competition or practice is rapid in tempo because I want to be in a good mood before both practice and competition" (Participant #4). One of the athletes also expressed that the music he listened to put him in a good mood, which increased his enjoyment of lifting weights. These statements possibly suggest that when they choose music they are expecting to be in a better mood after they hear it. The participants in this study may expect a particular genre of music to have an effect on their emotional state before and even after a game. These statements suggest that athletes select music based on the expectation that it will improve their moods.

      Music utilized to decrease tension and stress in an environment. Research has shown that fast tempo music can elicit happiness (Seaward, 2002). Thus, the athletes may have used music in the locker room, during pre-game warm-ups and training to loosen up the atmosphere within those environments. One of the athletes mentioned that "their coaches used the music to ease everyone's mind, to lighten the nervous atmosphere up in the locker room before a game" (Participant 1). Another athlete mentioned his "strength and conditioning coach utilizing music to loosen up the environment and make it more relaxed" (Participant 3). The quotes suggest music may allow them to ease any tensions or stress they might be feeling toward their performance. Music may provide athletes with a mentality of assurance and comfort of the situation: that it is a game and games are meant to be fun. In essence, the music could allow the athletes to prepare for a competition in a relaxed environment, which in turn may allow athletes to focus on the game, but also remain at ease with their fellow teammates.


      Team Music. Many of the athletes in this investigation discussed creating two musical compilations, one of which was for the locker room and the other for the pre-game warm-up on the field. Rentfrow and Gosling (2003) pointed out that athletes tend to prefer music that is intense and rebellious. Most of the athletes described the compilations containing music that was fast in tempo, such as rap, hip-hop, or rock music. Once they listen to the intense music it is as if a switch is flipped and they begin to get "pumped up." The intense music is what seemed to put that "fire" and positive energy into the athlete's mind. In addition, Elliot, Carr, and Savage (2004) also suggest that listening to music can have a positive affect on in-exercise affective mood states. By allowing an athlete to choose his/her own music they are more likely to complete an exercise program and remain motivated to do so (Dwyer, 1995).

      The creation of a team compilation could foster team cohesion because each member of the team must communicate and express which song or songs they want on the compilation. Additionally, when the team listened to the compilation together, it could possibly foster team unity because they are getting "fired up" together. Therefore, choosing the right music should be completely up to the athlete and dependent on what they want to achieve from listening to the music. Most of the participants expressed "they enjoyed listening to the team CD because each person on the team helped to create the CD."

      Team unity. The more cohesive a team is, the more likely they are to achieve peak performance. The athletes enjoyed listening to the team compilation because it may have provided them with a sense of team unity. When everyone is involved with the creation of the compilation, it may help develop a team identity. The identity may strengthen as each member's song is being played. Moreover, the music may allow the athletes to prepare for the game as a unit, thus preparing them to compete as a team. In essence, the compilation may create an avenue that enables the team to form a positive identity. Developing a positive team identity is one of the many characteristics of team cohesion (Sugarman, 2007).

      However, while the athletes did discuss the use of team compilations, they did not provide a detailed description of the experience. This lack of description maybe due in part to the emotions teammates can bring out of each other, and without teammates around the experience lacks importance for the athlete. Therefore, further research needs to be conducted in order to fully grasp the concept of team music and how it may foster team cohesion. Additionally, the current study contained the athletes from the same university with a lack of variety of different sports and racial backgrounds represented in the study. Also, the number of participants numbered only seven, so it is important not to generalize all of the results haphazardly. Although the current study provides a rich description of the experience of music in sport among collegiate athletes, it is only the beginning of truly understanding the experience of music in sport. Future research needs to be conducted that examines each theme separately, as this would provide more depth of the experience. Increasing the number of sports (both team and individual), participants, and backgrounds can greatly increase the application of this study. Semi-structured, mixed methodological and phenomenological approaches could all be beneficial methods for further research regarding the experience of music in sport.


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Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Dr. Daniel R. Czech, CC-AAASP, Department of Health and Kinesiology, Box 8076, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia 30460-8076, Telephone = (912) 681-5267, E-mail:

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