Mental Game Tips to Handle Trash Talk

Trash talk happens in every sport and it often leads to a loss of focus and a drop in performance. Learn three mental game tips you can use to handle trash talk as an athlete.

Trash talk happens in every sport. And while some players enjoy getting into it and jawing back and forth, for a lot of athletes, trash talk leads to a loss of focus and a drop in performance.

It’s easy for others to get under your skin and for you to turn all of your attention onto getting them back or shutting them up. But what can happen is that you waste your energy on something that’s not actually going to help you play better.

Knowing that trash talk does happen, what can you do as an athlete to keep it from bothering you too much, and worst of all, lowering your level of performance?

In this article you are going to learn three mental game tips you can apply to handle trash talk in sports.

But first, let’s take a look at what happens when you let other people get to you.

What Happens to Your Game When You Allow Other People to Get to You?

There are some athletes who love trash talk. They’re the ones who tend to instigate it and they’re also the ones who thrive when others trash talk them.

But what if you’re not one of these players? And even if you are one of these players, sometimes an opponent can still get under your skin.

I’ve seen some of the best trash talkers I’ve ever played with lose their focus and play terribly because someone found a way to get under their skin.

So no matter who you are, there’s the possibility that someone might say that one thing that sets you off. Then what?

Well then what tends to happen is you fixate on them. You start to think about how much you want to destroy them and how you’re going to shut them up.

Or you might get sucked into the trash talk and start going back and forth with them. This only distracts you more.

And when you’re distracted by an opponent, you’re not as focused on what you’re doing. This is where we see performance levels drop.

But what can also happen is you start to make stupid mistakes because you are playing too aggressively or not thinking straight because you’re angry.

And I get it, when someone trash talks you the best feeling in the world is beating them and making them eat their words. But you have to ask yourself, how does that actually happen?

Well, it happens by you playing your best. And you typically don’t play your best when you are focused too much on your opponent. Instead, you want to focus on yourself.

That’s what these mental game tips will help you do.

Mental Game Tips to Handle Trash Talk During Games

The tips I’ve outlined below will help you reduce the negative impact of trash talk if it gets to you. But what you need to know is that none of these tips will help unless you apply them.

You have to actively use them in situations where you’re experiencing trash talk. If you do, that’s where you will see them benefit your game.

And the idea behind these tips is to help you perform your best. After all, that’s what you’re really after if you want to make the trash talker eat their words. You want to be unfazed and completely focused on playing your game.

That’s how you really show them who’s tough. And that’s how you show them who’s the better player…by out playing them. Not by out talking them.

Tip #1: Deflect & Disarm

The goal of trash talk is to get into your head. Think about when you do it, what’s the aim? It’s to psyche out your opponent. You’re taunting them because you want to distract them and cause them to make mistakes.

That’s what you want to protect yourself from. One of the best ways to do so is by deflecting what the other person says if you can.

Here’s a simple example to see what this looks like:

  • Trash talker says, “I wish they’d give us some good competition to play.”
  • You can say, “Yeah, it should be an easy one for you today.”

I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing for you to respond with, but what it does is disarms the other person. They’re expecting you to get into it with them. That’s where the back and forth happens and they can really get under your skin.

By deflecting what they say in a joking or almost self-deprecating way, you show them that they can’t bother you.

If you keep this up, they’re going to cut down on the trash talk because they realize it’s not worth it. You’re unfazed by what they say and won’t take the bait.

One thing you do have to be careful of, however, is that you don’t actually believe what you say. You must remember that you’re saying what you’re saying as a way to stop the trash talk. Don’t start believing that it’s going to be an easy win for them.

That’s where positive self-talk comes into play.

After you deflect and disarm them, you want to repeat some positive self-talk statements in your mind. Think things like…

  • I’ve got this.
  • Today’s going to be a great day.
  • I know I’m a great player.
  • I trust in my skills.

Say all sorts of things to increase your confidence to make sure you don’t start to believe what you say to the trash talker.

But by deflecting what they say, that’s a very effective way of disarming them and showing them that you’re not one to be bothered by their comments.

Tip #2: Focus on Your Breathing

Now, if you do find yourself getting upset and angry at what they said, you want to work on calming yourself down and keeping your head clear.

When you get too angry, that’s where stupid mistakes tend to happen. You try to force things just to get back at the other person. But by doing so, you’re only hurting yourself.

Remember, your goal is to beat the other person, but to do that you need a clear head and to keep yourself focused.

What you can do to calm yourself down and keep your head clear is focus on your breathing. The act of taking deep breaths will calm you down. But also, focusing your attention on your breathing keeps you from becoming too distracted.

The best way to actually focus on your breathing is by using count breathing. This is where you breathe in for a certain number and out for a certain number.

When you turn your attention onto the numbers you are giving yourself something to focus on. In addition, the deep breaths will calm you down and help you move forward in the game with a controlled mind.

Tip #3: Play Your Game

When an opponent gets under your skin, it’s easy to lose track of your game. And by your game, I mean the way you normally play that leads to you performing well.

When they start to bother you, you may try to play angry, or too aggressively, or force things. All that is just a distraction that keeps you from playing your game.

But this goes back to what your goal is…to beat them. And what’s the best way for that to happen? By playing your game!

Now how do you focus on playing your game when someone is trash talking you and it’s really getting to you?

Well, that’s where performance objectives help. Performance objectives are targets you can focus on that are part of the process that help you perform well.

These should be simple, like focusing on your follow through, focusing on repeating self-talk, focusing on your routine, or focusing on any other small aspect of your game.

The point of performance objectives is to keep your mind centered on yourself. More specifically, the things you can control that give you the best chance of performing well.

And this is going to need to be a very active process whenever someone is getting under your skin. Just keep reminding yourself of your objectives and work to play your game.

By playing your game, that gives you the best chance of performing well, which is really how you shut any trash talker up.

Final Thoughts

Trash talking can quickly get to you as an athlete. In sports, trash talking is common because the opponent is trying to distract you. They want you to lose your cool and make mistakes.

But you can’t let that happen. Because when you get distracted by trash talk, you try to force things, you play overly aggressive, and you end up making more mistakes.

So your aim should be to stay in control of your mind and keep it calm and clear.

To help, there are three tips you can follow: deflect and disarm, focus on your breathing, and play your game.

These tips will give you the best chance of performing as well as you can and beating that trash talking opponent.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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