When I was a senior in college, I was looking for an easy class to take that would also be fun. So, I signed up for “Sports Psychology” because hell, I loved sports, was a psych minor, and it seemed like a really interesting pairing. And it was really easy. But I did come away with a lot of cool information and even got to sit next to D.C. United‘s Ben Olsen (he missed a few classes when he was off winning the MLS Cup that year). A few things that I took away were the power of pre-game and pre-sport rituals.
One of the most important things you can do is visualize. It prepares your mind and body for the upcoming activity. The more vivid and realistic the imagery, the better it will help you prepare. For example, before a soccer game I’ll visualize scoring goals, making good passes, and making solid defensive tackles. I’ll also remember moments from past games as vividly as possible. If I’m going running, I’ll visualize myself charging up hills or getting into a really good stride. Again, I’ll look back on moments from the past to serve as the visual cues. These really help get me motivated and get into the mindset of having a good performance.
Another thing that comes up a lot is the idea of listening to motivating music. Obviously, you can’t do this while playing soccer, but I listen to a lot of music before games and it really helps get me excited and it tells my mind/body that I’m about to do something intense that I need to get my adrenaline pumping for. Running, is a different story. When I run indoors on the treadmill, I need music. I listen to a lot of loud rock, with fast time signatures, that seem to be in cadence with my running stride. But when I run outside, and when I run races, I have no music at all. Part of it is that I don’t use an Ipod shuffle, so I’m sort of uncomfortable with the large/bulky armbands that can hold your regular Ipod. Another reason is that I like the sensory stimulation of running outside, and I find that when I’m racing, the adrenaline of the race, the sights and sounds around me, and my internal goals of catching up to and passing people are enough to make me run well I’m not advocating either way really, but that’s what works for me.
What inspired this post was an article that I read on Runner’s World about the power of motivational music post-workout. The Runner’s World article basically sums it up by saying, “Listening to music during recovery was associated with greater decreases in blood lactate and a reduction in perceived exertion.”
While this is true, if you click on the link to the abstract that they provide, you can easily come to a simpler conclusion that doesn’t have much to do with music. The researchers measured outcome variables like heart race, perceived exertion, lactic acid build up, and the number of steps they took while recovering. And yes, those who listened to music had significantly less lactic acid build up and less perceived exertion than those who did not. Easy conclusion to jump to: listening to music somehow decreases lactic acid buildup and speeds recovery. But the key to all of this is the fact that those who listened to music had an increased number of steps during the recovery process than those who didn’t. Basically, if you listened to motivational music, you walked around more, which helped you recover by easing the lactic acid in your blood. So, conclusion, listen to motivational music or don’t during recovery, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you increase your amount of voluntary activity by walking around A LOT (those who listened to music took around 499 steps on average).