Kids love to emulate their favorite professional athletes, from learning their signature moves to wearing their jerseys. Unfortunately, that can also mean picking up on the behavior of “trash talking.” Verbal taunting is common among athletes in some elite sports, as is heckling from the sidelines. That doesn’t mean either should happen in youth sports. As parents and coaches, here are some things you can do to curb trash talk.
Your youth athlete may first encounter trash talking, verbal taunting, or showboating from friends, watching professional sports, or during league/scholastic sports. No matter the circumstances, use that first instance as an opportunity for discussion. Peers often have more influence than parents or coaches on a young athlete’s behavior, but that doesn’t mean you should be silent. Be clear your athlete understands your view on trash talk and showboating, right from the beginning.
Set the Tone
Parents, and especially coaches, can set the tone for individual players and an entire team. Athletes in youth sports will encounter verbal taunting from other players and teams, but they need to know how you expect them to respond. In the absence of guidance, kids are more likely to get flustered and upset by trash talking, or respond to verbal taunting by trash talking right back. This will be even more likely if your kids watch or listen to you initiate or participate in trash talking or verbal taunting – in any environment.
Provide Coping Tools
Telling players to simply turn the other cheek just puts that player in a position to continue receiving abuse. In the long run, this can be a step towards normalizing abusive behavior and encouraging young people to look the other way instead of advocating for someone being victimized. Encourage your young athletes to speak to a parent, coach, or referee if an opponent is being verbally abusive. If the behavior continues, rather than ignore it, encourage your player to think about things he or she can control. Athletes can’t control what opponents say, but they can control their own level of play and their own responses to the taunting. Coaches can help players by consulting referees and the opposing coach, and by rotating his/her own players to prevent any one person from becoming emotionally overwhelmed.
Advocate for Players
Much like anti-bullying interventions, it is important for adults to step in and advocate for young players who are being victimized. Verbal taunting is a form of bullying, and it is unreasonable to expect the person being tormented to solve the problem entirely on his or her own. Referees and umpires should not tolerate taunting and intimidation. When parents or adults in the stands notice instances of trash talking, they should be brought to the coach’s attention so the coach can alert the officials. Warning, penalizing, and even expelling a player for trash talking sends an immediate message: a player or team can either concentrate on winning or talking — and it’s hard to win from the bench.
Enforce your own rules
Parents and coaches always like to be ahead of the curve and prevent poor sportsmanship, trash talking, and bullying before they start. At some point, however, you may find the trash talker, poor sport, or bully is your own kid! This is where being clear about your values from the beginning pays off, because this becomes an opportunity to reinforce your values rather than stating them for the first time. It is also important to back up your words with known and consistent actions. Participation in youth sports is a privilege, and being respectful to players, coaches, officials, and parents is part of what is required in order to continue participating. Clearly communicate the consequences for continuing with unacceptable behavior, but also make sure to provide corrective actions your young athlete can take, including apologizing. And when your athlete exhibits positive behavior, acknowledge and praise that behavior.
Positive actions encourage positive change, so it is as important for parents and coaches to praise good sportsmanship as it is to advocate against trash talking, bullying, and poor sportsmanship. We may not be able to stop trash talking in professional sports, but by working together we can ensure a more positive environment in youth sports.