By Mark G. McLaughlin

Coaching kids’ sports has its rewards but also its challenges, and dealing with trash talk is one of the most difficult of the latter. Players and their parents and friends sometimes get carried away in the heat of the moment. If the opposing team scores a goal or, worse, fouls or appears to foul one of their team’s players, that can often spark some very crass, rude or at-best unfriendly comments. These can be directed at the opposing coach, the opposing players or even at the referee. Any or all of these situations cannot only ruin a game—especially for the kids—but can also escalate into a very bad situation. Here is some good advice for coaches on how to deal with trash talk before things get out of control.

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Trash Talk From Your Sideline

Dealing with parents can be one of the most difficult and infuriating challenges for any coach, especially when those parents become very vocal during a game. That is their kid out there on the field, and of course they want to be supportive – and protective – of their child. If any opposing player interferes with or blocks their child’s play – or worse, if they foul or hurt them – some parents will go ballistic.  Their verbal outbreaks can turn to insults, spark a reaction from the other side of the field or even result in some inappropriate physical behavior.  Putting a stop to that, or at least putting a lid on it, is not easy. It requires the patience of Job, the diplomatic skills of Henry Kissinger and the calming if forceful presence of a cop on the beat. A coach needs to respond quickly, but as they have no real authority over those parents on the sidelines, they can’t order them to act properly. They have to do so tactfully, and above all remind these sideline trash talkers that it is only a game, and the players on the other side are, like those on their own team, just kids.

Trash Talk From The Opposing Sideline

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Keeping people on their own side of the field in line is hard enough, but when the insults and improper behavior comes from the other side of the field, it is especially difficult to stop the trash talk. Reacting by shouting across the field is one of the worst things a coach can do – it will only encourage similar reactions by their own supporters, infuriate the other side and escalate a bad situation.  A coach does, however, have two allies to help bring things back under control: the referee and the opposing coach. If a coach has an assistant, he can leave that person in charge of the team and go around to the other side to talk to the opposing coach and get them to deal with their own people. Another approach is to call a time out and get the other coach and the referee to help cool things down.

Trash Talk From Your Bench

Dealing with trash talk from your own bench is not so much of a challenge as it is a matter of imposing discipline. Coaches have a tremendous amount of authority over their own teams. Few players want to be disciplined or scolded by their own coach. Even fewer want to be forced to sit the bench in punishment for acting inappropriately. A coach who has to resort to either, however, has not done his job properly. Any thoughts of trash talk by the players should be squashed long before they hit the field. A simple talk about good sportsmanship – and how they would feel if the opposing team chided them – usually does the trick.  If not, there is always Plan B above.

Trash Talk From The Opposing Bench

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Just as a coach has little authority over the parents and fans on the other side of the field, so do they have little ability to impose order on the players of the opposing bench. Here, too, just as when dealing with trash talk from the opposing sideline, they should be able to find allies in the opposing coach, or at the very least the referees. Point out the problem and let them handle it. Coaches have a lot of authority over their players, and if they don’t use it, the referee can and usually will. A coach who refuses a request from their opposite number to help ratchet things down a notch is a bad coach and a worse sport. One who refuses a referee’s request is worse, and risks being thrown off the field. That, of course, is something that every coach should remember, in the event they are the one who is asked to put an end to trash talk or similar unsportsmanlike conduct.