In tune: How music helps in sports preparation
Vijender Singh was being driven to the National Sports Club of India in Mumbai. It was 5 August and there was more than just one title on the line—there were two. Against China’s No.1 boxer, Zulpikar Maimaitiali, Singh had the unique opportunity to win or relinquish two titles in a single bout.
Prior to the fight, Singh says, he was in a patriotic mood, and one particular track was in heavy rotation in his music system. “I was listening to Piyush Mishra’s Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna (from the 2009 movie Gulaal). The way he has used his voice in that track is amazing,” he says, before singing a few lines. Singh went on to win that bout and will next fight Ghana’s Ernest Amuzu on 23 December in Jaipur.
Across the sporting world, music is regarded as an effective way to bolster an athlete’s mental state. Players want to get into their comfort zone before a contest and listening to their favourite melodies shields them from unwanted distractions.
Sports psychologist Vaibhav Agashe reckons that the instruments and drum patterns on a track can determine one’s frame of mind. But irrespective of the genre, he says, music eases sportspersons into an aggressive state.
“Aggression does not mean physical aggression; we’re not referring to violence. Aggression is a state of mind, the equivalent of confidence,” says Delhi-based Agashe, who works with the National Rifle Association of India as well as the not-for-profit foundation Olympic Gold Quest, and is a member of the American Board of Sport Psychology.
According to Agashe, athletes use music before a game primarily to charge themselves up. In psychology terms, this is called the psyching up routine.
Some sportspersons have their headphones on—whether or not they are listening to something—because they don’t want to be disturbed. “When someone has their headphones on, it doesn’t mean they are listening to music. It can simply mean they don’t want to talk to you,” says Agashe.
Television images of cricketers in the team bus always show them with their headphones. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, was partial to Dire Straits. Rahul Dravid veered towards 1960s folk rock. He cites Bob Dylan, U2 and Sting as some of the artists you would find on his iPod.
Shikhar Dhawan swears by Sufi and qawwali. Footballer Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s musical choices include American gospel folk songs, particularly Lonesome Valley by David Miller.
Pro Kabaddi League player and Bengaluru Bulls captain Rohit Kumar puts on his headphones every time he leaves the hotel for the stadium. “You remember the movie Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi? I like songs from that movie. Then there’s Chura Ke Dil Mera from Main Khiladi Tu Anari and also the songs from Chandni Chowk To China. I even listen to Justin Beiber and Eminem.” he says.
Women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj listens to specific tunes two days before a match rather than just before one. “Mental preparation starts much before you get on to the field,” she says. Her favourite tracks include Love You Zindagi from the 2016 film Dear Zindagi and Swedish DJ Avicii’s The Nights. The one track she can always fall back on? Yeh Honsla from the Hindi movie Dor. “It motivates me not to give up.”
The need for music
Singh can’t remember a time when he didn’t listen to music before a bout. Though he usually comes out to the ring to the 2008 hit Singh Is Kinng, he prefers listening to calmer music to put him in the right frame of mind. “I love Gurdas Maan, Kuldeep Manak, Nusrat and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan… it’s a long list. If you see me in the ring, I am not that aggressive, I am more defensive. You should control your energy, it’s important.”
Kumar listens to music because he doesn’t like hearing instructions on the bus when the team is on its way to the game. There have been times when he was forced to remove his headphones because the coach was giving a speech in the bus and, he remembers vividly, his side ended up losing those games. “He (the coach) was talking about how I am supposed to carry the team forward. People were only discussing the game, and we ended up losing.”
Ahead of Bengaluru’s opening match against Telugu Titans in the Pro Kabaddi League on 30 July, Kumar only listened to songs featuring actor Akshay Kumar. The player, who has Akki printed on the back of his jersey, ended up scoring 12 raid points in a winning effort. “I get this energy when I listen to music, I feel like practising harder. I met Akshay Kumar before the match and was listening to his songs on my headphones. I felt good and the result was great too,” says Kumar.
Raj says that when she is on the way to training, she listens to peppy tracks that bring her “back to life” if she is feeling low or lazy.
“There are times when I listen to numbers that inspire me to prepare myself for important games. I only listen to music for a purpose, to motivate myself, to remind myself of a priority,” says the 2017 World Cup’s second highest run scorer.
“If there is something that is bothering me, I listen to one or two tracks,” she adds. “It gets you back to reality.”
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