Success in boxing isn’t always measured by the number of “W”s on your passbook. It’s something hard-won over time with plenty of blood, sweat, and the right attitude.
Take a look at the following 11 keys to success in boxing, and join in the discussion by leaving your ideas and additions in the comments below.
1. Don’t ask who will let you learn to fight. Ask who will stop you.
This was my very first lesson in learning to box, and not coincidentally, in learning to live the life I dreamed of but didn’t have. The voice inside your head that says you can’t do this is a liar. If you want power, fight for it. If you want love, fight for it. If you want your art, your career, your relationships, your health…there isn’t someone you need to ask permission from. But there may be people, roadblocks, and personal limitations you’ll have to push past.
2. Find a coach you can trust.
Great boxing coaches almost always have boxing experience of their own. But just because someone was a boxer does not mean they’ll make a good coach. You want someone who understands how to teach boxing by careful increments, not the “throw ’em in the ring, beat ’em up, and see if they are ballsy enough to come back” school. Avoid any trainers who teach by routinely belittling, cursing, bullying, or humiliating their fighters. Certifications are overrated; what you want is someone you feel can bring out your best game. You can’t always put a certification on that.
3. Accept that blood happens.
Black eyes, bloody noses, busted ribs, torn muscles, knockout punches, and even serious ass kickings do happen in boxing. No, boxing is not all about beating someone up or getting beat up, but if you try to get through this sport without your fair share of pain, you may be knitting but you aren’t boxing. As it happens, the same is true in life. Sometimes you get punched in the face, hard. It’s far better to have some experience with that so that you know how to respond to it.
4. Play to your strengths. Train up your weaknesses.
As you start to learn to box, you’ll discover that you have certain strengths and liabilities as a fighter. You may have great reach, but you don’t like the inside game. Maybe your punches pack power, but you can’t seem to get your feet to move lightly in the ring. You never manage to land an uppercut, but your jab stings like a bitch. Figure out what you’re good at, and put it to extra use in the ring. Accept that you have vulnerabilities, and seek training partners who excel in those areas and will help you train up your weaknesses so that they don’t present a fatal crack in your armor.
5. When you can’t do something everyone can do, train until you get it or find a workaround.
I learned a long time ago that as a boxer in her 40s I can’t always do the same things in training that the teenagers do. I’ve learned to come early to warm up more, find alternate exercises when one they’re doing won’t work for me, and modify some of the “routine” training patterns of my boxing team so that I can do the same work in a way that fits my body. For example, if the call is for 40 push-ups, I’ll do mine in sets rather than all in a row. One size does not fit all in boxing training; push yourself, but make it work for you and not against you.
6. Keep climbing back into the ring.
Learning to box takes years. It isn’t something you can try this week, and be “naturally” great at. Street fighters do not have an advantage. Muscle-bound tough guys do not have an advantage. Football players, rugby players, hockey players or other athletes do not have an advantage. (MMA fighters have an advantage.) Boxing is its own game, with unique challenges and rewards. The only way to become good is to train consistently over a long period of time. Set goals and work to achieve them, but remember the scale of this sport and allow yourself time to improve.
7. Fight until the bell rings.
Your first rounds in sparring are a real eye-opener as far as showing you exactly what’s required in this sport. Even once you have lots of experience, you’ll go in the ring some days thinking those three tiny minutes last about a hundred years each. But giving up mid-round sends the message that you just aren’t serious.
8. Cross train.
Going to your boxing gym three or four times a week may make your game good, but throwing in regular cross training will take you to the next level. And if you can make your cross training fit the rhythms of boxing (for example, fit exercises into 3 minute intervals with 30 second rests when possible), you’ll make your game the best it can be. Cross training strengthens the muscles that boxing doesn’t hit, alleviates boredom, and opens you to new experiences, coaches, and communities.
9. Seek out experienced fighters and listen to what they have to say.
Learn from the boxers who are already good. They know a lot, and can show you things you haven’t figured out yet. Watch them when they’re in the ring. Ask them questions. Train alongside them. One way to get good is to copy someone who is already there.
10. Seek out new fighters, and listen to what they have to say.
If you’re new, they will make you feel less alone. If you’re experienced, they will keep you on your toes and even teach you things you’ve missed or forgotten about. It’s always valuable to have the perspective of someone new to boxing. It’s also important to give back by listening to newbies and offering what counsel and encouragement you can.
11. Remember to breathe.
This sounds ridiculous until you’ve gone your first few rounds in the ring. Holding your breath while punching, forgetting to relax while in the ring, taking tiny, shallow fearful breaths… There’s so much strain and fear and work in boxing you can frequently find yourself fighting without breathing. A good coach and corner will constantly remind you to breathe, and you will have to work and focus hard to obey them. (You’ll be glad you learned it, though.)
I know there’s plenty missing from the list. What you would add? And I’m curious to know how well you think these keys translate to other sports as well. Leave a comment below and weigh in!
Photo of me training by Melissa Eggleston