Each day, millions of people perform. Whether in the boardroom, classroom, courtroom,
laboratory, operating theater, on the field or on stage, performances are almost invariably
dynamic and, in some cases, extremely rewarding. Nonetheless, each performance also
brings challenges, real and perceived, that may lead to patterns of negative thinking,
avoidance behavior, and debilitating injury that can have serious consequences for
success and for health.
In this article, we draw insight and inspiration from sports to focus on how elite
performers from other fields—and in particular, music—can come to integrate healthy
approaches to performing alongside their drive to succeed.
Linking Performance and Wellbeing: Directions in Sports
The popularity of sports psychology has grown substantially in the past two decades,
and the importance of being mentally prepared prior to an athletic competition is
now well-documented (von Treuer and Reynolds, 2017). Historically, sports psychology
came about through the specific intention to enhance performance, but over time, the
need to focus on athlete wellbeing as an integral part of performance has come sharply
into focus (Sebbens et al., 2016). Indeed, very early in the field's development,
negative consequences of performing at the highest levels–injuries, eating disorders,
performance anxiety, occupational stress, and so on— surfaced in ways that were shown
to influence directly how athletes lived and performed (MacIntyre et al., 2017). In
other words, athletes face multiple and varied challenges that are inherent to their
training and their work. When studying these phenomena, the self-regulation efforts
that individuals use to alter their interaction with the environment to better meet
their goals also need to be considered (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984). To be well prepared
for a performance, emotions too should be self-regulated during the preparation and
learning process. Foundational research into coping skills for managing competitive
situations has emerged (Gould et al., 1993), with coping defined as the process of
using “cognitive and behavioral effort to manage specific external and/or internal
demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person” (Lazarus
and Folkman, 1984, p. 141). Research has demonstrated that failure to cope with acute
stressors can have a detrimental impact on psychological processes and psychological
balance (Smith, 1986). Positive coping strategies, conversely, offer wide-ranging
benefits that facilitate performance success, which can be developed and reinforced
through mental (or psychological) skills training.
While there is a tendency to think of certain psychological strengths as necessary
only in moments of crisis, mental skills are, in fact, cited as one of the essential
components of athletic performance across the board (Durand-Bush and Salmela, 2002).
While it is true that mental skills can help manage disruptive factors that impede
or impair optimal performance, training to develop mental skills is central to personal
development and to the enhancement of both performance and wellbeing throughout an
athlete's career (Ducasse and Chamalidis, 2006).
Lessons Learned From Sports: Perspectives on Advancing Performers' Health and Wellbeing
Wellbeing is a multidimensional phenomenon and refers to emotional and cognitive dimensions
of subjective experiences resulting from the individual evaluation of several facets
of life (Disabato et al., 2016). Considering the link between performance and wellbeing
established in sports, some researchers have focused on implications for other performance
domains. A particular emphasis has been placed on the arts, and music specifically,
for the parallels between sport and music performance across a wide array of psychosocial
demands that performers in both fields must manage (Williamon, 2004; Antonini Philippe
and Güsewell, 2016).
The studies highlight musicians' use, largely, of insufficient adaptation strategies
to achieve positive health (Antonini Philippe, 2013; Antonini Philippe and Güsewell,
2016). A growing body of research shows that specific stressors and demands that musicians
face in their training can manifest in performance-related pain and discomfort, performance
anxiety, and occupational stress, all of which can be detrimental to wellbeing and
pose significant barriers to performing effectively (Williamon and Thompson, 2006;
Cruder et al., 2018).
Recently, studies have focused on a more positive psychological approach to performance
in order to encourage and reinforce health-promoting behaviors in conservatoires and
schools of music (see Ascenso et al., 2017, 2018; Perkins et al., 2017). One study
(Antonini Philippe et al., 2019) revealed that, for those students who commit to music
professionally, more action is needed to support their health directly and to bolster
the value placed on health, both by the musicians themselves as well as their teachers,
administrators, and support staff. The results also highlight exciting new possibilities
for intervention programs aimed at assisting musicians in drawing closer ties between
improving health and enhancing performance, many of which have already been piloted
and applied in sporting contexts (see Williamon et al., 2017).
Further studies are now underway, for instance examining pre-performance routines
and effective methods for recovering from acute stress, with the principal aim of
developing musician-tailored mental skills training programs. By this, we mean “the
systematic and consistent practice of mental or psychological skills for the purpose
of enhancing performance, increasing enjoyment, or achieving greater… self-satisfaction”
in performance (Weinberg and Gould, 2007, p. 250). We believe that progress in this
area is as essential for musicians now as it has been for athletes over the past two
decades. In doing so, we must be open to the prospects of knowledge transfer from
the arts back to sports too, and onwards to other performance specialisms.
We recognize that there is a complex interaction between health and performance, and
we suggest that future research must interrogate attitudes, behaviors, and indicators
of well- and ill-being, with the aim of fostering positive approaches to training
and performance both within single disciplines and, where appropriate, across them.
In music, much is now happening to facilitate dialogue and apply research outcomes
in training contexts (see Ginsborg et al., 2009; Wasley et al., 2012; Clark et al.,
2013; Perkins et al., 2017). For instance, the Musical Impact project (funded by the
United Kingdom's Arts and Humanities Research Council) revealed a strong desire—from
musicians themselves, as well as those who train and employ them—for close collaboration
in supporting and enhancing the health of performing artists (Araújo et al., 2017,
2020). The research team consequently worked with partners across the arts to constitute
Healthy Conservatoires, an international network bringing together key stakeholders
to share information, research, and good practice for advocating and advising on health
in educational and professional settings
Beyond the arts, performance scientists must seek to shape wider public health agendas,
particularly as their research relates to the challenges and demands that people face
each day when they perform. In this way, we will be well placed to identify ways in
which performers in all sectors of society can thrive in their chosen activities,
over sustained careers.
All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to
the work, and approved it for publication.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial
or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.