Sparring is NOT boxing for fitness. When you get in that ring, everything changes. It’s not like drills, it’s not like working the heavy bag, it’s not like padwork.
Sparring is radically different. Someone is trying to punch you in the face, and when you’re new to it, this can be not only terrifyingly alien, it can be downright demoralizing.
Here’s an email I received recently about exactly that:
I love The Glowing Edge, and it has been an invaluable resource to me as I begin to take the sport more seriously. I wanted to write to get your take on beginning to spar.
I have been going to a boxing gym for two years. The structure of the gym is mostly boxing-for-fitness classes. There’s only one other woman at the gym who spars and I finally had my first experience sparring with her.
I only went three rounds and I was rattled. It’s much more intimidating than I thought. I don’t know this fighter well. I didn’t feel comfortable asking her to ease up, I was worried that it would embarrass my coach and even though I’ve been going at it so hard in classes and training, all of a sudden I felt like there had been a gap in my education.
- What can I do to move forward from a first night of sparring that felt sort of demoralizing?
- Am I just being a whiny dumbass?
I don’t want to be one of those types who only shows up to sparring once or twice and then fades out. But I don’t know how to approach my coach about this. I also don’t want to go back to just doing classes for fun.
Hey, sparring sister. I know EXACTLY the stage you are in and NO you are not a whiny dumbass. This is 100% normal, and many of us have this same experience. More in a sec. First let me say this…
Sparring takes some getting used to
It really does. It’s a whole different game than pad work, drills, everything. That you went 3 rounds as a newbie is damned impressive. It’s some scary shit, right?
You had your first sparring experience with someone you didn’t really know, and I get that you wanted to not disappoint your coach. Sounds like she kinda overwhelmed you.
Here’s what the BEST sparring partners do for you
The best sparring partners hold themselves TO or JUST ABOVE your level so that you can get some good work without getting hurt or demoralized.
Sure, you may be bruised and headachy, but not so much that you’re like, “I don’t know if I want to do this again.”
The best coaches make sure this happens. But not everybody gets this kind of attention. Just a fact of gym life.
This is why you might not get much help when you’re new to sparring…
Boxing gyms do not survive because pro fighters train there. They don’t make money because someone wants to learn to compete in the amateurs, either. The trainers and coaches are not always even boxers themselves.
Boxing gyms survive financially because people want to get fit, not hit.
That’s just how it is. That’s where the money is, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, that means you have to take some initiative if you want to get your higher-level training and sparring work. SO. Here are a few tips for that.
The process of finding and getting to know sparring partners takes time and balls (ovaries?). If your gym doesn’t always give newbies excellent sparring partners who know how to do this, you gotta start building your own sparring program…
How to build YOUR OWN sparring program at ANY gym
1. Get to know some sparring partners.
Good sparring partners are SOLID GOLD to have. So make sparring friends. Travel to multiple gyms if you have to. Trade phone numbers. Friend them on Facebook.
The more you actually know other boxers as friends, the more comfortable you will be talking to them in the ring, letting them know what you need, helping them adjust to you.
Guys are fine for this. Just because you’re female doesn’t mean you have to only spar women. (That is such a bullshit attitude and I see it now and then from coaches.)
In fact, befriend some big guys. Charm them. Ask them for their opinion, for tips on certain moves. They are men, they love this shit. I’m telling you, this works every time. Hello men? Am I wrong? No I am not. 🙂
Let them feel like they are “mentoring” you — because guess what? They actually are.
Then when they’re getting in the ring, ask for their “warm up” rounds. In other words, you’re making it clear that their “warm up” is your “training.” They stop feeling pansy-ass working with a “girl” and start feeling all helpful to a woman.
I know, cheesy manipulation tactics.
But it really does work. Women have to be sneaky-asses sometimes in pursuit of bigger goals.
There will come a day when your rounds are nobody else’s warm ups, and when you’ll shine in the ring. You will be the one all the new people ask for help.
2. Don’t wait until “sparring night.”
Hijack the process and make your own timeline.
I told you this would take balls. Stop being so damn polite!
The more you can pass off your sparring as “just working on some tactics with so-and-so” the more pressure you take off everyone involved, including any coach who might be nearby.
FAKE it till you make it. Pretend it’s all very casual — force it to be. Believe me, that helps SO much.
3. Be consistent.
Keep at it. The longer you go without sparring, the scarier it gets.
I’m still boxing while I stare 50 in the face, and loving every day of it. I love when sparring is magic, and I even love the days when I get my ass kicked (the good kind of ass kicking, not the demoralizing kind).
There’s so much joy and empowerment in this sport; I really hope you’ll stick with it!
Let yourself be a newbie for a few years
You are brand-freaking-new at this. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but boxing takes FOR EVER to get good at.
And you’re going to get to know more and more people in the boxing world the longer you stick with this. This may be the biggest, most life-encompassing challenge you’ve ever faced on a daily basis.
It’s totally worth it.