By Julian Kämper

How again? In sports, it also depends on what the ears hear. (picture alliance / dpa / Eibner press photo / Erik Hillmer)

How does the opponent sound? What is the rhythm of a martial arts attack? Knowing this is not only of interest to musicologists, it can also optimize athletic performance. If the athletes would listen more carefully.

Long jump, table tennis, swimming, basketball, motorsports: to identify these types of sports, all it takes is a short auditory impression. We recognize characteristic sounds such as bouncing balls of different sizes and different materials, we can hear footsteps and body movements, as well as the voices of the protagonists and the loud noises of sports equipment. And we can also acoustically operate the respective room in which the sport is played. Inside and out.

Benefits of hearing

In sports, the analysis of the auditory scene is also important, as perceptual psychologists call it, when all the sound waves reaching our ears at the same time are filtered and selected. The hierarchy of our sensory modalities has been debated for thousands of years. Most philosophers have come to the conclusion that humans are “eye animals” and that the sense of sight is the most dominant of the senses.

Hearing has advantages over sight that can be important for athletes: Sometimes we have to close our eyelids and we only see what is happening in our field of vision and in the light. On the other hand, we cannot close our ears in a natural way, we also hear in the dark and can also perceive and locate the sound events taking place behind us.

Training cognitive skills for tactically intelligent decision making is part of the training program in most sports. However, the sense of hearing is obviously of little importance. Players, coaches and fans have the signature sound of their own sport in their ears. What is most lacking, however, is the conscious examination of these acoustic characteristics.

Analyze your own sport by listening to it

This would require methods such as those used by musicologists or sound researchers: It means first subjecting the respective situation to aural analysis in order to name and meticulously describe what can be heard around you.

In the next step, the collected material is then categorized and systematized in order to be able to attribute different functions and qualities to the respective sound events and finally to be able to recognize the relationships and patterns.

Such systematics or typologies of the acoustic aspects of sport are futile in the sciences of sport. It is true that there is a wide range of work with “sonification”, that is, with the translation of body movements into synthetic sounds, which then function as an auditory feedback system and reveal irregularities in the body. the technical execution of certain movements. But these are artificially generated signals that must be distinguished from the natural sound of sport – the original sound that is naturally embedded in every sport.

To get started on the right track, it is best to ask those who are professionally concerned with the music, sounds and noises of everyday life and who reflect on auditory cultures and listening practices.

Sound sport as an experience of perception

“Our whole perception of sport is mainly visual. That is why it is worth closing our eyes and listening”, explains Marina Sahnwaldt. “Sound sport”, this is what the director and cultural scientist calls her long-term project, in which she combines sport, art and science: Playing sport and being guided above all by what you hear:

“When I asked the question: How does your sport sound anyway? Then suddenly someone is sitting in front of me who is an absolute expert in sound sports, without having known him beforehand. So all of those who do of sport perceive it unconsciously, but do not integrate it into all his sport. “

Sound sport is also a training in perception, a field research in cultural studies, a practice of musical communication or a training methodology, depending on who launches into the experience of perception with what interest and what after- plan. Sahnwaldt invites athletes from different disciplines to a kind of studio situation in order to record their body movements in image and sound and thus create acoustic signatures.

Know what obstacle sprinting looks like

A sound sports archive has grown over time, which today includes around 28 disciplines with more than 60 body techniques. Sahnwaldt prefers to record top athletes because the professionals master the respective body techniques and can thus generate a reliable acoustic model. This also applies when objects are involved, such as the discus in the discus throw, the ball in the shot put or a jump rope:

“It would just be an auditory feedback for the training procedures. It would be very exciting in principle. Especially for people who have very good hearing or a good sense of rhythm, it could give a positive impetus to optimize the training. “

The trained and experienced ear of the trainer is important for error analysis and form correction, explains Christopher Hallmann, national multi-talented coach of the German Athletics Association. Athletes mainly process this feedback in combination with video footage.

“But nothing really exists in a curriculum, published in books,” says Hallmann. “Someone should take care of it and get a bigger job out of it. I know what a hurdle sprint should look like. I know what a discus throw should look like. But I don’t just write it down. ‘one way or another. But I know it stops. “

Perhaps those who specialize in analyzing sounds and putting them into words should be involved at this stage in order to systematically develop the knowledge and experience of coaches like Hallmann and standardize them as “theory of sound”. sports acoustics “.

Sonic Turn in sports

The so-called sonic turn has recently been proclaimed in cultural studies, that is, a paradigmatic turn, whereby we no longer perceive and understand the world only visually. Because sounds of all kinds dominate our daily life and are carefully designed to stimulate – consciously or unconsciously – our emotions.

Perhaps this heightened interest and awareness of all that sounds will soon find an even stronger place in sport: training the ear to improve the acoustic dimensions of sport. We’ll see if that makes a difference in performance.