Trash Talkin’: Distraction to Whom?

It’s already clear that I’m not terribly impressed with chest thumping and mouth running athletes (see Macho Mumbo-Jumbo).  This being said, Rex Ryan and his crew are great entertainment.  Furthermore, Bill Bellichick and his gang are equally entertaining (i.e. providing Nuke Laloosh soundbites and responses).  It is great drama.  On par with the WWE… Vince McMahon must be a Jets fan.

This all being said, is this simply boys being boys or the creation of some sort of competitive advantage or, as some have suggested, a competitive disadvantage (i.e. don’t irritate Tom Brady, he and his Sampson-like locks are very tough).  The answer lies in the mental discipline of talker and talkee.  The best know better than to pay attention to the press and senseless babble, but they are only human.  We are social beings and what is said by others matters too us all too often.  On the flip side, it can be fun to be the talker.  So much fun, it is easy to forget about being the player.  Few have the sociopathic ability put forth a truly blistering monologue regularly and quickly regain focus on the play at hand (John McEnroe might be the spectacular exception).  When the trash is being talked athletes need to consider a couple of things:

– If you are hearing it, can you laugh it off (see Brady) and focus on the task at hand?  Maybe let it fire you up a bit, but certainly don’t let it allow focus to drift.

– If you are doing the talking do you make the choice to focus on the task at hand regardless of what you have said or may say in the future?  When the balls in play, are you focused on executing the plan or on your last or next pithy remark?

These things make sense, but easier said than done on both sides of the quotes.  Talking trash and playing well is a highly refined art form.  Only the strong and wise survive.

The question that must be considered by any athlete is, “Do you want to be an entertainer or a champion?”  Rabid pursuit of the former is not a terribly efficient way to reach the latter.  Entertainment and victory are not mutually exclusive… but they certainly can be if you are not careful.

Put on a good show for me… chose if you want to win for you.

3 Responses to “Trash Talkin’: Distraction to Whom?”

  1. 1 David Heintz January 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I was unaware that quick wit was closely associated with sociopathy, mental note for me, either way I like the message.

    I think it may be possible that, for some, trash talk prevents tunnel vision. Going somewhere else in your mind often allows the body to do what it already knows how to, so the talk might actually alleviate performance anxiety or the indulgence in obsessing over the game itself. . . at least when examining the behavior of professionals who are well versed in muscle memory and technique.

    I say this hesitantly though, because if it elevates to something beyond pithy banter and becomes confrontational, then it has the potential to be detrimental to performance and the sport itself. Johnny Mac is either a wonderful exception or an example of an individual who is able to play well by distracting his intense emotionality away from the game by giving it verbal assaults to partake in.

    • 2 AHNaylor January 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm


      I like it… interesting thinking. I see a dissertation in it for you on facilitative trash talk versus debilitative trash talk 🙂

      • 3 David Heintz January 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm

        I thought about this the other day when I watched the 30 For 30 on Reggie Miller. He might actually be the best example in basketball to date of Facilitative trash talk. Shoot me an email when you have some time to chat Doc, I appreciate it.

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