The crowd in the Fitzgerald Field House was dynamic and lively the entire wrestling meet – fans feeding off of athletes, athletes feeding off of fans. While a deafening roar encouraged one wrestler, another, Nick Bonaccorsi, waited his turn behind the bench.
The audible buzz of a full crowd and a tight match unfolding before him could distract him from his own crucial performance at the end of the lineup – but, as usual, Bonaccorsi has a pair of headphones to drown out the excess sounds and stay focused.
Bonaccorsi is just one of many Pitt athletes that turn to music as a pre- or mid-competition ritual. For many Pitt athletes, music is a vital aspect of athletic performance, as well as a therapeutic tool before they walk onto the mat, dive into the pool or hop onto the beam
A redshirt junior, Bonaccorsi listens to Jay-Z, Meek Mill, 50 Cent and the like before competing. Putting his headphones on drowns out the volume of boisterous fans, which surges in the preceding match’s high-pressure moments, when he’s clearing his head before his own.
“I just like the beat, mainly,” he said. “I’m not even listening to the words, just listening to the beat, because it gets me fired up.”
Science defends Panthers’ sentiments, as a 2012 study by the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine found listening to music while warming up for an activity significantly increases the athlete’s power output. Music is especially beneficial for activities making use of lower limb muscles, according to the study.
Physical preparation is one key to high performance, but mental focus, Bonaccorsi said, is equally critical, especially because he usually competes at the end of the meet.
“Sometimes, you’re sitting on that bench, and you start to feel nervous. When you’re nervous, you start to feel tired. So you need something,” he said.
Avoiding that blend of anxiety and exhaustion can be essential during a wrestling meet. Mikey Racciato, a sophomore member of the 7-4 Pitt wrestling team, says certain genres of music — take, country — don’t subdue that sensation as well.
“You don’t want to be listening to country music before you go out and do something physical. I think that’s for most sports,” Racciato said. “I’ve been listening to rap, even before [high school] football games and stuff, basically my whole life, so I just carried it over to college.”
Rap or hip-hop music delivers a cadence that also amps up the energy of swimmer Kourosh Ahani before suiting up for a meet.
“I listen to hip-hop, like Drake or Lil Wayne, before a meet to pump myself up because the beat is pretty good, and it gets my adrenaline going,” he said.
Beyond the physical benefits, the athletes also look to music as a way to shape their mental state before a contest.
“I like music that gets me mad,” Ahani said. “I want to be mad before a race. A competitor is not my friend.”
Music also acts as an escape before competition, allowing isolation and time to get in the zone.
“Before races, I don’t like talking to people. I put my earphones on half an hour before a race,” said Cam Dixon, a senior on the swim and dive team, who relies on EDM artists, such as The Disco Fries, before a meet.
Like song choice, the volume of Dixon’s music matters.
“I can’t listen to it quiet. It needs to be blasting in my headphones,” she said.
Although EDM, rap and hip-hop are logical choices with their fast-paced beat and powerful sound, some athletes choose a different approach to get their minds in the right place. For gymnast Maebelle Pacheco, the optimal pre-stunt mood is zen.
“I listen to calming music, not the hyped-up kind,” Pacheco, a junior, said. “I like relaxing music because I’m always so tense and stressed out. I need it to calm me down – like a getaway thing.”
Another junior competing for Pitt gymnastics, Lisa Soto, said peaceful sounds help — but only for certain events.
“For beam, I choose more calming music because it’s more of an event that you have to be concentrated on. The beam is only four inches wide and it takes a lot of focus. But for something like floor, you want something really energetic,” she said.
Pacheco lists Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers as her favorite tranquil artist for their upbeat, melodic sound, whereas Soto says rapper Kid Ink is always a go-to for her.
“Music is some source of energy,” Soto said. “My energy is more hyped up.”