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How to Deal with Trash Talk

October 1, 2008 | Featured in the October 2008 Issue

When Muhammad Ali used words to gain a psychological advantage over George Forman, trash talk became an art form. Athletes of all sports–at one time or another–have had to hone their opponent-dissin’ skills. Drew Brannon of the University of Georgia’s Athletics Counseling and Sport Psychology Department explains how you can take your opponent’s trash and make it your treasure.

Whether it’s from an opponent across the line of scrimmage, a fan in the stands or a player riding the bench, “trash talking is an attempt to take your focus somewhere else,” Brannon says. Their success, though, is up to you.

“I’ve certainly known athletes who feel strongly that they thrive off that type of competition; and it’s hard to tell someone who feels that they do thrive that they don’t,” he says. “If you’ve got someone who, once their opponent starts talking with them, clearly picks up their game, then we have to leave that alone.

“But on the other hand,” he continues, “if [an opponent’s trash talking] kind of distracts [you] and changes [your] play in a negative fashion, then we’d want to try and do something [to change that].”

Brannon suggests having a mental plan in place for when trash is thrown your way during a game. “If my opponent says this to me,” Brannon explains, “then I’ve already pre-planned and have a routine where I’m thinking [that]. It helps [you] stay positive and focused on what [you’re] doing and not get distracted.”

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