Adrenaline Boost: Music is more than a soundtrack for sports

Adrenaline Boost: Music is more than a soundtrack for sports
Dan Zettwoch

Adrenaline Boost: Music is more than a soundtrack for sports

"Wait, you've got to hear this," he says, fingers excitedly working the keys, eyes intent on the monitor.

You do as instructed, because when the CEO and cofounder of the sports social-media platform LockerDome talks, you listen. It's not that Gabe Lozano is an entitled tyrant; it's just that you know whatever he's hunting for will be unquestionably rewarding. Simply watching Lozano's nose flare and feeling his knee bouncing gently against the conference table as he roots through his music files fills you with anticipation, like you're racing toward the end of a great adventure. Finally, his mouth twitches into a smile.

"I've got it."

Lozano hits a button, hesitates as "Bagpipes From Baghdad" begins playing from his laptop's speakers and then grins. He bobs his head softly at first, gradually accepting the beat before losing himself in the song completely. You generally have little use for Eminem in your own daily life, but you can feel the power this song has over Lozano, how it energizes and refreshes him. How it prepares him to step into the world's batter's box. How it's turning him into a badass. How it's now doing that for you.

But why would the man behind the globe's fastest-growing sports website need to turn to a song for inspiration? Why would anyone?

One word: adrenaline. It's what leaders eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner — a main course that fuels an obsession with performance and excellence.

Adrenaline and music have shared space in the sports world even before stadiums had speakers, back when players were singing anthems on buses between games. In a sports setting, songs are less about the stories within the lyrics and more about what the beats inspire someone to feel and accomplish.

"Adrenaline is a chemical that is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress or excitement," says Dr. Cynthia M. Dupureur, a chemistry professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "When released into the bloodstream, it binds to the surfaces of cells, [triggering] a series of events inside the cells that leads to the breakdown of sugars stored in the body. This last process results in the quick release of energy for physical activity."

"We teach this as the 'fight or flight' response," she continues. "If being chased by a lion, one needs energy to get away fast. Excitement can also lead to that burst of energy by stimulating the same process."

With the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 home opener this week, capitalizing on the music/adrenaline connection certainly is on Tony Simokaitis' mind. The Cards' director of scoreboard operations isn't quite as concerned about Matt Holliday or David Freese requiring specific music, though — those guys have their own rituals, their own tunes to get their blood pumping. No, when Simokaitis and his team of DJs think about music that will be used at Busch Stadium, they're focused on one thing: How will the fans react?

"Our job is to create and continue momentum," Simokaitis says. "When a guy hits a double, there's maybe 30 seconds at the most to squeeze a track in there. We have to use songs that are easily recognizable to the crowd."

For a sports team, the audience can serve as an extra player, a secret weapon that even Jose Oquendo would appreciate. Holliday might be capable of slamming a screamer over the centerfield wall, but hearing 43,000 fans roar while amped up on "Gangnam Style" could be what provides him that final bit of encouragement to do it.

"We find songs that people can instantly get up and dance to, that have a beat to them — something that doesn't have to build," Simokaitis says. "Our best songs are from Googling 'top rally songs of all time.' Let's play something to keep the party going and stay excited!"

But can the fans feel the buzz, and do they know their role in it?

Bob Kaestner says yes. Kaestner is a forward for the St. Louis Tigers, part of the Hockey North America recreational league. He's also a St. Louis Blues fan who revels in the role that music plays in an arena.

"I really like the Blues' opening music that mixes in highlights, tradition, nostalgia and current players," Kaestner says. "Music helps set the atmosphere and gets the crowd loud and interested in important parts of the game."

Volleyball player Katie Werges agrees that music can affect both the fans and the athletes in a game setting. Currently wrapping up her indoor season at Kirkwood Community Center, Werges has played competitively for about fifteen years and has employed a number of musical routines throughout her career.

"At home games our college team would always run out onto the court and be introduced with a song that everyone clapped to rhythmically," says Werges, who attended Missouri State University (previously Southwest Missouri State University). "It really got everyone involved and excited. The spirit carried over and helped us start the game with high energy."

Richard Peralta knows all about games with high energy. He plays for the St. Louis Crusaders, part of the Missouri Rugby Football Union and the International Gay Rugby Association & Board. In rugby, the action doesn't stop, and players need all the adrenaline and stamina they can muster. Peralta says that before games, he listens to playlists that "evoke passion, focus, energy and emotion to get into the zone."

"I crank the music on the way to the pitch, warm up with the team and then meditate alone before we hit the grass," Peralta says.

This is all fine and dandy for group sports — surely the energy that builds among teammates contributes to an inspired performance. But what happens when you're playing a solo sport or simply working out? Can music still spark that adrenaline boost?

It seems to work for runner Lisa Kelly. Known nationally for her unwavering fan support for the University of Notre Dame and as the 2012 winner of Volvo's "Biggest Fan of the Big East" contest, Kelly runs for personal pleasure and fitness, occasionally training for marathons and other events.

"With my hectic life, there are many days that I don't feel like running," Kelly says. "But once I turn on my playlist and start warming up, it's hard to turn back."

Kelly says that she maintains several music playlists that help her control her running speed and pace, with No Doubt, Selena Gomez and Fort Minor all making appearances.

"My playlists consist of a lot of upbeat music," Kelly says.

All of this adrenaline stuff rings true for LockerDome CEO Lozano, who walks the line between the real world and the sports world every day. As a former baseball player, Lozano blasted "Eye of the Tiger" before high school games. As a runner, he creates playlists with songs that are perfectly synced with each leg of a 5K race. As a fan, he gets pumped about the Cardinals' at-bat music and hums as he promotes athletes on

And as a business leader? Well, sometimes you reach for a little something extra when you and your team of crack Web developers are pulling your fourteenth consecutive sixteen-hour day of coding. Sometimes you're at the end of a ridiculous 21-inning game, but the bases are loaded, and you know that with the right motivation, your team can eke out that perfect squeeze play, cross home plate and momentarily revel in a job well done before moving on to the next day's work.

Lozano narrows his eyes, his fingers scrolling urgently through his Grooveshark collection, searching for the perfect tune to rally his team and himself.

"I've got it."

And so begins the Eminem pep rally.

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