“Don’t miss! Don’t miss! Briiiiick,” screams a defender.
As the superstar receives the ball, the clock continues to tick. Five, four, three… He steps up. His entire career comes down to this. He’s played basketball for 10 years to take this shot. The sweat rolls down his cheek as he pulls the ball up.
“Seriously bro! Don’t miss!”
He pulls up, fires his shot. The same three-pointer he’s taken in his backyard for 10 years. The ball falls into the rim then bounces out. Game over.
That defender smiles; he’s going home victorious.
It goes by many names. Trash talk. Smack talk. S*** talk.
Some might call it verbal abuse or bullying. Others might describe the same language as light-hearted jest.
For a select few, it’s called art.
Before you can understand how to effectively belittle an opponent, you must first understand why this form of communication works so well.
Joseph Amos Booker goes simply by J. He’s a licensed social worker with a practice in downtown Saint Petersburg where he’s been helping counsel and work with young people in one capacity or another for 28 years. In other words, he’s experienced in trash talk.
“I think we’ve all seen instances of someone running their mouths and it affects the performance of another player,” said Booker. “When you’re exposed to something like that, it’s important to get out of your own head and figure out where that person is coming from.”
Around the age of 11, kids’ brains start to change in ways that researchers are still working to understand. From 11 until about 19 is prime time for a lack of focus, concentration, and emotional sensitivity. “It’s a transitional age in terms of brain development,” Booker said.
From 19 until about 25, the young person’s brain might be structurally finished developing, but that doesn’t mean everything up there is peachy. Adolescent behaviors can still be found quite often in these people due to a lack of adequate knowledge and practice in problem solving techniques.
“By the time someone’s 20, they basically have, structurally, the brain they’re going to have for the rest of their lives,” Booker added. “But it’s not necessarily experienced. So that 19 to 25-year-old group basically has a much more powerful, more sophisticated car than they’ve ever had before and they’re trying to learn how to use it.”
Trash talk and negative verbal communication ties directly into this. Not only is the 11-year-old to 25-year-old time-frame the time when you’re the most often engaged in games (sports, video games, etc.), it’s also the time when your brain is least prepared to deal with the stress of someone telling you that you suck.
“Isolated instances of that don’t significantly impact an adolescent’s self image at all, other than to maybe impact their performance in the moment,” Booker said. “But constant exposure to that in an abusive way might impact someone’s self image and confidence.”
People trash talk for two different reasons. The first is that they’re competent at whatever they’re doing and they feel like they can gain an advantage by putting down they’re opponent. This is a sort of manipulation.
The second is the more easily deflected of the two.
“The other reason that people talk trash sometimes is because they’re feeling profoundly unconfident themselves and the trash talk is a way of bolstering their own confidence,” Booker said. “So depending on which of those two things you’re talking about, the impact on another person can vary significantly.”
“The truth of the matter is I can say anything I want to you,” he concludes. “Whether it affects you or not is your choice.”
Basketball is synonymous with trash talk. The University of Tampa’s squad is no different.
“It’s part of the game,” said senior guard Osby Kelly. “Our coaches don’t really like it but I feel like it just happens. When things get heated, you talk trash.”
Now onto the how-to. Strategies differ but it comes down to boasting a level of confidence. If you let the other team know you’re better, they’ll begin to believe it too.
“If I hit a shot on somebody, I’m gonna tell them about it,” Kelly added with a laugh. “I’m gonna be like ‘yo, I just hit a shot on you.’”
While a constant barrage can be occasionally distracting, it’s more effective to use the talk in small doses, in high leverage situations. That’s the time when opposing players are the most vulnerable because it’s the time when they’re the least secure and sure of themselves.
This doesn’t mean the only time you should talk should be at the end of the match. You should be getting a feel for the mood and flow of your opposition from the very get-go. The “crucial” moments are often the less obvious ones.
In terms of Monopoly, if someone has just lost $600 from landing on a property but they still have another $1200 hanging around, talk some smack.
Tell them they suck and they’re going to lose – this can affect their pride and make them feel it necessary to buy ill-advised expensive “show” properties to prove you wrong.
Read the rest of this article, along with many tips about how to talk trash, where it was originally published in The Minaret.