Press Play: What makes a winning playlist for athletes?

Press Play is a column that seeks to spotlight people of Stanford and the collections of songs that power them through their days. Each installation will feature different Stanford students, faculty members or affiliates and highlight a playlist that is meaningful to them and their experiences on the Farm.

You’ve seen them on the pitch, in the pool and on the court, but do you know what they’ve been listening to? Stanford’s Division I athletes are among the best in the country. For many, music is a key source of motivation and joy during what can be grueling competitions and daily practices.

Field hockey defender Scout Butler ’26 made her team’s practice playlist, which mainly consists of disco and dance pop music. The task of creating each year’s playlist is passed on through generations of team members, according to Butler.

“Last year, the seniors on our team did all the music, and it was mostly 2000s and 2010s pop music,” Butler said. “This year, I decided to take charge.”

Curating a playlist that all team members enjoy is a job that involves collecting insights from everyone. Butler created playlists for different moods based on songs contributed by team members.

“The playlists are a good mix of pop and dance music. We usually play the ‘Stanfock’ playlist at practice, and we play ‘For When It’s Needed’ on Fridays or when everyone is just in the mood for some nostalgic classics,” Butler said. “On game days, we play a pre-made remix that one of our upperclassmen made last year.”

Just as different playlists exude different styles and emotions, music tastes vary across the various athletic teams across campus. Hunter Garvin ’26 is a member of the Stanford wrestling team, which favors EDM and country music during its practices. 

“When I’m wrestling, I listen to a lot of EDM and upbeat music,” Garvin said, showing me one of his favorite playlists. “It’s stuff I can listen to, to get ‘in the zone.’” 

When selecting songs for team playlists, athletes often look for tracks with the ability to amp up the team’s energy.

“I look for hype songs with motivational lyrics that my teammates will know, so that we can warm up and jam out together,” said squash athlete Madison Ho ’27. Ho curated the “Squash It Up” playlist accordingly.

A number of songs can also help athletes stay calm in preparation for meets and competitions.

“Sometimes one of the guys [on the wrestling team] will play some country too — Zach Bryan is a fan favorite,” Garvin said. “It can help take away a lot of the anxieties of wrestling when you find music you can flow to. I find that music helps me focus and distance myself from the different distractions of competition.”

As tradition, many athletic teams play certain songs during pep talks or other pre-game gatherings. These include “Hall of Fame” by The Script for the squash athletes, or “Big Rings” by Drake for artistic swimming team members. According to synchronized swimmer Atira O’Neil ’26, playing “Big Rings” became a tradition after the team won the national title for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) in June.

“Because our sport relies heavily on music, we are always exploring different genres for our competition routines and love hearing suggestions from others on what they’d like to see us swim our routines to,” O’Neil said. The team’s favorite playlist is “aquabaddies,” which includes everything from house music to folk pop to R&B.

Garvin, Butler and Ho all noted that their personal music preferences differ from what they listen to when they are training and competing.

When Garvin is not training with his wrestling teammates, he listens to a lot of Christian or worship music. For Butler, she turns to older and slower music when not surrounded by pop and dance music at field hockey practice. Ho describes her personal music taste as more “chill and relaxing,” opting for indie songs when studying or on her own.

Ultimately, finding music that will bring energy to training sessions is a team effort for Stanford athletes.

“We switch up who is on aux throughout the season and enjoy the variety that this brings to each practice as everyone is welcome to bring their own music taste,” O’Neil said.

Listen to the student athletes’ playlists below:

Garvin’s playlists: “Wrestling Summer” and “Top Songs 2018

Butler’s playlists: “Stanfock” and “For When It’s Needed

Ho’s playlist: “Squash It Up

O’Neil ‘s playlist: “aquabaddies