Ah the age-old debate…coach wants focus and the team wants to blare music and sing along. Should you or should you not have music at practice? While it is certainly a matter of taste, there are some logical reasons for and against it, and there is some interesting research related to the debate. First let’s look at the positives and the negatives;
Positives; Music makes people happy and we all want to have a good experience. Music can add energy to an environment. It can lead to some interesting discussions and connecting points for not only team members but between coaches and players as they compare musical tastes and debate the playlist.
Negatives; Music can be a major distraction especially when trying to teach and learn new or difficult concepts. Arguing over the playlist can become more of a pain than it’s worth and has even caused real drama on some teams. Constantly having to adjust the volume based on what you are doing at practice can be annoying. Music can mask a lack of energy being provided by the players while practicing.
So what does the research say?
There’s actually some pretty good stuff out there on the topic both anecdotal and study based. For example, a few pro teams including the Golden State Warriors have their own team DJ who’s job it is to adjust the style, tempo, and volume of music during practice. Some might argue that that is due to personal preference of the team rather than research on best practices. True, but are you going to argue with their results? An interesting study done on surgeons showed that music relaxed them and aided their performance on lab tasks that they had done many times before. But, another study showed that music playing while trying to take in NEW information was very counter-productive. Thus, both sides of the music at practice debate have some ammunition…
What we’ve decided on in our gym is a sort of compromise based on another branch of neuroscientific research about the TYPE of music played and its effect on focus and energy. The company “focus at will” out of California has done some interesting work with professors at UCLA developing types of music that aid in energy and focus without being a distraction. Based on their research and our years of personal experience, we have concluded that recognizable music, especially with lyrics is a bad fit for our gym. We might use it during warm up or if we’re just have a light serve/pass or queens session. But for all the other times when it’s time to get focused work done – popular stuff is out. However, we also hate a silent gym and believe that a beat in the background ads to a fast paced and connected environment. Therefore, we almost always have a steady stream of house or techno playing at a moderate volume. Over the years we have built a playlist of over 160 songs without lyrics that are high energy and constant in beat without being distracting.
Sure, the players try to talk us into pop stuff pretty regularly but like most things, once you explain the reasoning to them and offer them this style of music or nothing, they become pretty content with the non-distracting stuff!
If you’re curious about the portable sound system we use, this one will fill a gym and is very easy to move around, set up, and put away; Sony Portable Bluetooth Speaker
If you’d like our playlist, you’ll have to connect with me on Spotify 😊