Is There A Place For Trash-Talking In Youth Sports?


So I was listening the other day to a CBC Radio sports podcast called “Off Guard,” and the latest episode focused on what the Canadians call “chirping,” which in America is more often described as “trash-talking” — running your mouth to your opponent in an attempt to boost your confidence, and get inside his or her head to decrease theirs.

Reporter Jamie Strashin, moving from reporting on the late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to the more controversial and intense beat of covering youth sports, examined chirping/trash-talking at the child level, and found that there’s not a lot of it going on anymore, except perhaps from the parents. (I should note that I point out Strashin’s report not merely because I appear in it, though for calling this blog “great” and “popular” I declare Strashin as my new best friend.)

As Strashin points out, the long and necessary efforts to reduce bullying in school and youth sports has cut down on the smack-talking among players. So, perhaps, has the effort to become “politically correct,” which to some means people are too sensitive to jokes with sexual and racial slurs, and to other means people are becoming more polite and thoughtful of others.

Like comedy, trash-talking walks a tightrope between funny and stupid, and another one between clever and mean. (See why comedy and trash-talking are so hard? You have to walk two tightropes at the same time.) However, as a childhood trash-talker myself, I feel a little sad that kids may not be learning the art of chirping that helped accentuate the legendary love/hate status of athletes such as Muhammad Ali and Reggie Miller (hey, I’m from Indiana, so Reggie Miller makes the list.)

Not pictured: Reggie Miller making the choke sign to Spike Lee. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Besides the reasons I stated above, here is why I think we may not be developing great trash-talkers at the youth level:

Trash-talking requires practice

Comedians have open-mic nights to try and flesh out new material in a relatively forgiving environment. The equivalent of open-mic nights for athletes are pick-up games, as has often been noted, in an environment where 7-year-olds are already playing a ton of games in travel leagues, there aren’t a lot of pick-up games in which to work on your art. And why do you need pick-up games? Because…