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  • Luca Mazzon

PERFORMANCE: BETWEEN MUSIC & SPORT



Musicians have often been referred to as small-muscle athletes as they focus mainly on the execution of small, accurate and perfectly synchronised movements to create their solo or ensemble music performances. If we just give a look or we listen a performance of the most virtuosic concerts to observe their complexity both musically and physically. If, on the other hand, we imagine the production of an opera or ballet, we will also observe, in addition to the dimensions already explained, the logistical and temporal complexity defined by the staging. If we consider operas such as Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, we will also have parts defined as "Ballabili" within the performance, in which, in addition to the chorus, soloists, musicians, prop makers, costume designers will also be involved, along with mimes and stage masters.


As supported by the studies of Randall W. Dick and colleagues, performing artists are to all intents and purposes athletes because:

- they train and study on a daily basis

- they perform even in the presence of pain, sometimes chronic;

- they frequently perform in front of an audience;

- they often compete during their careers, even between colleagues;

- have periods of 'off-season';

- participate in numerous competitions such as contests and auditions;

- present a high risk of substance use;

- have a real risk of developing career-ending illnesses.


It has already been largely demonstrated: various theories and techniques of sports psychology can be successfully applied to the field of performing arts to improve performance through different mental training/coaching or counseling interventions.Furthermore, these techniques have also proven useful in preventing performance-enhancing substance abuse and eating disorders, while reducing the risk of injury or burnout.

Indeed, according to recent literature, the different theories and techniques of sports psychology applied to the field of artistic performance can be used to:

  • Improve performance through the use of targeted interventions such as for the sporting sphere by improving goal setting, motivation, concentration, attention, self talk and imagery;

  • Managing performance anxiety;

  • Preventing substance use, eating disorders, risk of injury or burnout;

  • Improving creative skills and psychophysical screening;

  • Support the artist during the rehabilitation phase following trauma or injury.


Furthermore, just like in sport, the relationship between musicians and their teachers is crucial to ensure their well-being and professional results.

During my career, my teachers have almost always been points of reference even beyond the purely technical/musical aspect, precisely because an important and, often, mutually esteeming relationship is formed over time during academic musical training.

Indeed, even the coach-athlete relationship can be similar to the type of relationship that occurs between instrument teacher and pupil, which is then sometimes continued even after the academic training period, for the preparation of auditions, competitions or concerts.


However, it should also be noticed that certain differences between athletes and musicians are present too. First, the definition of excellent performance is different, as the criteria for assessing the quality of performance are much more subjective in the field of music than in the field of sport. Musicians would tend to avoid seeking professional help, preferring the advice of their peers and teachers, possibly due to limited access to psychological support and training in their professional music careers.

Finally, it is important to emphasise that the type of prevention and support, both psychological and medical, often diverges between the two fields: as specific prevention and rehabilitation in the musical world is often lacking, with considerable differences between one country and another. However, as emerges from the recent scientific literature, the culture of prevention in musicians world is still inadequate and the proper assistance is rarely offered in music academies and professional environments.


In my professional experience, I have also personally observed the enormous effectiveness of various intervention protocols derived from sports and performance psychology, which is already used in numerous fields such as work- and organisations psychology, also to enhance mental resources related to reaching our maximum potential. Among these, I have cooperated specifically with Prof. Vercelli G. and the Team of the Centre for Sport and Human Performance Psychology "U. Marcaccioli" of Turin, developing on the basis of the S.F.E.R.A. model for the analysis and optimisation of performance, the application of it in the context of music and performing arts. Our research and applications were also presented at the 40th Symposium of the Performing Arts Medicine Association in Chicago in 2022.



BIBLIOGRAFIA LEDERMAN RJ. Alice G. Brandfonbrener, MD-A personal remembrance. Med Probl Perform Art. 2014, 123-4. MOYLE, G. Performance in the spotlight: Exploring psychology in the performing arts. InPsych, 2012, 34(6), pp. 11-13. DICK R. W., BERNING, J. R., DAWSON W., GINSBURG R. D., MILLER C., SHYBUT G.T. Athletes and the Arts – The Role of Sports Medicine in the Performing Arts. Current sports Medicine Reports. 397-403. American College of Sports Medicine, 2013.


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