The Art of Chirping

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By Jamie McKinven

There is one aspect in all sports that is as old as the game itself. Something so deeply rooted in the essence of competition that in a sense it becomes its own game—the game within the game. Chirping (aka “Beaking,” “Trash Talking,” “Talking Smack,” or “Yapping”) is a skill not unlike skating, passing, or shooting. And like any other skill, it takes years and years of practice to achieve perfection. Some of the greatest chirpers in the history of sports—Michael Jordan, Jeremy Roenick, and Muhammad Ali, to name a few—took the art of chirping to legendary levels. They are the kings of the cut-up. Respect be given.

How can you elevate your trash-talking game? Try taking these necessary steps:

1) Timing

When dishing out a devastating put-down, timing is everything. You can’t ask for a timeout, run back to the dressing room, write down the perfect comeback and then return to deliver it. You need to snap back fast: The quicker the rebuttal, the better. Any delay in firing back with a cutting chirp and you will look like a fool.

2) Audience

The best chirps are delivered in front of an audience. It’s all about humiliation, and nothing is more powerful than dropping an epic chirp in the middle of a scrum or in front of the benches.

 

3) Personal Touch

Anyone can chirp, but it’s the true artists that are able to take it to the next level. One of the best ways to add bite to the chirp is to get personal. Whether you reference their skating stride or bring their large, distorted nose into it, you’re upping your game. Sometimes, if you come up with a catchy nickname to poke fun at one of their less desirable attributes (big nose, big ears, bad teeth, age, etc.) or to represent an incident that they’d rather forget, it can catch on. We used to call one former opponent “Gonzo” because he had a huge, crooked nose, resembling the character from The Muppet Show. We called another guy “Snowman” because of a run-in he had with the cops over a cocaine-possession charge.

4) Tone

The tone used when delivering the chirp goes a long way toward its effectiveness. If you are emotional and angry, your chirps will lose their cleverness. The heated, “I hate your f—ing guts, loser!” chirp is pathetic and isn’t even really a chirp at all.  The best chirps in history are delivered in calm, confident tones. When you aim to cut deep, nothing is more effective than the fluid, silver-tongued delivery of the James Bond-esque chirp artists. It’s almost as if to say, “I’m going to dismantle your soul and probably steal your girlfriend in the process.”

5) Cleverness

Be original. “You suck and you’re ugly” isn’t original. Try and come up with something smart—because, let’s face it—most people think athletes are dumb. If an opponent is really old and should have retired years ago you might say, “Hey, Gramps. What kind of skates are those, Dr. Scholl’s?” If a player is going bald, you might say, “Nice hairline. Are you showing a double-feature on that forehead after the game?”

One time, while I was in college, one of my teammates (a legendary chirper) got into a battle with an opponent while lining up for a draw. The opponent said, “I got a call from the Philadelphia Flyers last night. Who called you?” My teammate, without even turning to look at the guy, replied with the first and last name of the guy’s girlfriend. It was classic!

6) References

References in chirps can drive home a punch to the guts like nothing else. Pop culture references work really well. For example, if you’re playing against a big, ugly opponent, skating by the bench and yelling, “Heyyyyy yooooouuu ggguuuyyyyyssss!” (a reference to the character “Sloth” of the 1980s classic comedy/adventure The Goonies), is a good way to rattle a cage.

Another time, in college, one of the players on a rival team strikingly resembled Frankenstein. While on the ice, during breaks in the action we used to skate straight-legged past him and groan loudly. Naturally, this always resulted in an outburst. And once, during a banquet dinner featuring four teams, including Frankenstein’s, we doodled a sketch of Frankenstein—complete with neck bolts—on a cocktail napkin and left it out on display at the buffet table. Even his teammates got a chuckle as they shuffled along the food line.

After reading this, some of you are going to condemn me to the fiery gates of hell. But the reality is, chirping is a relatively harmless, age-old ritual of organized sports—especially hockey. It’s a major part of the culture of competitive sports. It’s used strategically and, ironically, to foster camaraderie. The fact is, if opponents are trying to get under your skin, you should take it as a compliment. You’re not going to waste your energy on a player who isn’t making a difference. Also, it’s common practice to chirp your own teammates—relentlessly. It’s part of the bonding process.

The first time I went to my wife’s family for dinner, her brother (who also played hockey) and I spent the whole time chirping each other. Afterwards, my wife seemed sad and said, “I was really hoping you and my brother would get along. You have a lot in common.”

I laughed and asked, “Why do you think we don’t get along?”

She seemed surprised and said, “All you guys did was make fun of each other.”

I scoffed and replied, “Oh. That just means we like each other. It’s all for fun!”

And it is. It’s part of the culture and part of the persona. Since hockey players are supposed to be tough, they aren’t supposed to say, “Hey, man. You’re a cool dude.” Instead, we show our affection by saying, “Hey, man. You’re just about the ugliest jerk I’ve ever seen.”

Jamie McKinven scratched and clawed his way up to the minors, only to fall short of his ultimate dream of playing in the NHL. McKinven currently coaches his former Junior “A” team, the Kingston Voyageurs of the OJHL. He is the author of the book “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” which is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. For more information visit his website, www.glassandout.com.

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