In last week's spin orientated article, I mentioned a comment that Glenn McGrath made about singing a song inside his head as he was running up to bowl. It was inspiring and reassuring to hear a great of the game talk about this as we use music a lot when working with players at Millfield School.
So, is there any science or research to suggest that training and match performance can be enhanced through using music?
Music has the capacity to narrow a performer's attention and as a consequence, divert attention away from sensations such as fatigue, pressure from scoreboard or playing and missing.
This is exactly what Glenn was talking about. The music in his head allows him to move into auto-pilot rather than being very consciously aware of his action or the match situation. He had done it a thousand times before yet wanted to distract his mind to allow his body to do what it does best.
Music also alters arousal levels and can be used as a form of stimulant prior to competition, or as a sedative to calm over-anxious athletes.
Many athletes have tracks on their iPhone that motivate them, mean something to them or connect them to an experience that they then draw motivation or focus from. Sir Ian Botham once spoke to me about how he played music internally ahead of matches and innings to help him to prepare for competition. He said the songs varied hugely but all meant something to him. Sometimes he used a song that calmed him down; other times he used songs that motivated him.
Music boosts skills
One of our International players at school uses music to help him to learn new skills either behind the stumps or with the bat. He finds that music prevents him from judging himself too harshly when trying out a new shot or take. He "goes with the flow" more and lets his experience and kinaesthetic awareness influence his learning rather than over thinking.
Tom has a set of bluetooth headphones linked to his iPhone that is placed outside the net. He often puts the bowling machine on automatic feed as he grooves and masters the new movement pattern. When Tom is power hitting, he has an upbeat playlist, yet when he keeps he has more a chilled out track list. He matched the music to the session intention.
But it's not just personal. Music create a better learning environment for everyone. This is something that we use every 3rd session in our specific net practices.
Players take it in turns to build a playlist for the 60 minute session. Each player is given the theme for the session and then comes up with a playlist to match the occasion. We have noticed that the players talk less and are less distracted in-between deliveries. The bowlers in particular have a real focus when they are walking back to their mark. They split that focus between the music (singing, moving in rhythm) and their plan for the next delivery.
Batters appear to use their pre-ball routines more productively as they actually do take time out in between each ball (savouring the music around them). We note as a group of coaches that the decision making capacity of batters is much improved as a consequence.
The players report back that they feel relaxed yet focused. Another piece of feedback is that they don’t create their own negative distractions which often impede performance. A couple of our "overthinkers" have now built musical strategies into their pre-delivery routines during match play.
The learning environment is definitely enhanced.
At the end of each session, the other players would rate the playlisT: always good for a bit of banter!
Can these musical ideas fast track your training performance?
Is Music the key to coping with in-match pressure?
Give them a go.