Players and spectators “talk trash” all the time in sports at every level. It is just another aspect of the game in many sports. Mentally tough athletes remain focused, composed and relaxed in the face of trash talk. They have the ability to fully immerse into their performance – unfazed by what others have to say.
Problems with trash talk occur when athletes let it affect their composure and emotional control. During the heat of the battle trash talk can lead to frustration and aggression, which is what we want to avoid.
So how can you help player’s avoid frustration and aggression in competition?
1. First off, it is important to address this issue with your athletes.
Talk about unacceptable behavior on the field such as inappropriate language, and fighting. Make sure the players understand the team rules, and the penalties for violations. Let them know that how they respond to trash talk can affect their performance. When they become frustrated it acts as a distraction that limits their ability to reach peak performance. If you have prepared your players when an incident occurs, ideally a player will think, “My coach warned me about this and how it affects me.”
2. Discuss the triggers and situations that are likely to cause athletes to lose control.
Athletes are more likely to become frustrated when they are losing and feel they have no control of the situation. At this point, players do not seem to care as much about winning or losing. They care more about satisfying an immediate need of retaliation. Thus a player thinks, if my team cannot win, I can at least take out my frustration on an individual and get back at so and so.
Today in sports, one of the most common forms of frustration an athlete feels is a lack of respect. To get athletes pumped up for games coaches often say “The opponent doesn’t respect you. You are going to have to go out on the field and earn their respect.” The phrase “lack of respect” is drilled into athlete’s heads as a motivator, which makes it a very emotional trigger. Make your athletes aware of this so that when they feel disrespected they don’t let the opponent take their head out of the game. Remind your athletes the “talk is cheap” and respect is earned through their performance, not their words.
3. Have multiple captains and train them to diffuse the situation.
Have multiple team captains and try to have one on the field/court at all times. Discuss with the captains their responsibilities and your expectations for handling a team crisis. Train your captains how to defuse the situation and keep it from escalating. Captains should be an extension of the coach and a leader for the players. Make it their responsibility to help control these situations.
Preparing your team to avoid the ugliness of a fight or excessive penalties can make or break a coaching career. It is important that athletes avoid getting mixed up in the mental game of trash talk and focus on their performance. Remind them that worrying about what others say and do is not going to help them succeed. The strongest retaliation to trash talk is not allowing it to take your head out of the game.