Are you hoping to get in the ring? There’s actually a way to know if the gym where you train will ever have a boxing team that you can learn and grow your game with…
I train and also volunteer as a coach at a downtown boxing gym that serves primarily inner-city youth. Because the gym is also a gang-related outreach program, the kids have to fulfill certain requirements — maintaining certain grades, staying out of trouble, working hard, showing up regularly, etc. — in order to stay in the program.
As a result I frequently see kids come in then drop out or be evicted from the program before I even learn their names. So we might go months without ever having anything resembling an actual boxing team come together.
Just this week we had an amazing sparring night, and I was once again aware that we’d made it to the point of having a good boxing team come together. It feels awesome, and it’s really satisfying to be a part of something like this.
Here’s how I know when it’s happening at my gym, and it’s pretty much how you can know if it will happen at yours, too.
1. You’re at a gym with coaches who believe in and support regular sparring work both in their home gym and in neighboring gyms.
This may seem obvious, but I’ve met so many coaches who are incredibly stingy with the ring work that I wonder how they ever manage to get a team going. They’re all about you “earning” the right to be in the ring, and while there’s something to that, there’s also something to letting people give light, carefully monitored sparring a try.
What if you trained for basketball without ever being allowed to shoot baskets on an actual court or get involved in scrimmages; all you were allowed to do was just cardio, footwork, and strength/speed training, while your coach talked a lot about tactics.
Sound ridiculous? And yet that’s how some boxing gyms and coaches operate.
Many boxing coaches also keep their people on such a short leash that they won’t let them seek out sparring partners at other gyms, either. They’ll say “I can’t let you spar outside our gym because you might get hurt,” and while getting hurt is always a distinct possibility any time you box (like any time you play soccer, drive to work, fall in love, make a peanut butter sandwich, etc. Okay maybe not that last one… Shit. Where was I? Oh –), what they are ALSO often afraid of is that you’ll meet a better coach or find a gym you like more, and they’ll lose a paying customer.
Second Round (my gym — I love you, gym!) cultivates an ethos of sparring. While you DO have to earn your way into the ring by being promoted to sparring level, the steps are easily achievable, and we frequently call new people into the ring on an offense-only level just to let them have a try at real ring work. Very often they get a taste of it and are eager to earn more.
2. At least TWO boxers are willing to go against the flow and stay focused.
The irresistible tidal-strength pull at most boxing gyms is to come in and… sort of work out. After all, boxing training is hard-ass work, and it’s easier and way more fun to bullshit with your friends and work half-heartedly. One person trying to focus is never enough. It takes two before there’s the first bit of momentum.
Why two? Because once you have two boxers willing to focus, you can begin to do drill work together, and start some light sparring. And until you begin to spar on a regular basis, all that training is just hot air and empty promises. You can’t really learn what it’s like in the ring until you actually GET in the ring.
3. Incoming boxers start to hang around the edge of the ring and watch the sparring.
If actual sparring — and I’m not talking about brawling, but the real, hard work of boxing — doesn’t draw the attention of at least a few people at the gym, then you don’t have half a shot at developing a team. No one cares enough to even watch.
Find another gym, because this one might be about fitness, but it ain’t about boxing.
4. Lower-level boxers ask permission to get in the ring.
Nobody is going to mail you an engraved invitation to join them in the ring. No coach is going to plead with you pleasepleaseplease darling, won’t you give sparring a try.
Don’t stand around and wait for someone to move your boxing forward! Ask for it, and don’t rest until you start making headway.
I know it scares the shit out of you. But what’s the point of this sport, after all? As one of my coaches always quips, “This ain’t knitting.” Not that there’s anything wrong with knitting. Me, I’m scared of needles. I’d rather gear up and box, or go home. Where there’s no knitting happening.
When you have newer boxers eager enough to get in the ring, you know you have a potential team coming along. The real trick is if they’ll come back after their first few sparring sessions. If you have good coaches and a team already starting to gel, you’ll see the more experienced boxers helping the newer ones along, because they know it means more sparring work for them, and they’re hungry for all the sparring they can get.
5. Nobody’s trying to kill nobody.
Look, if you hurt your sparring partner you got nobody to spar with. If your ego is so big you gotta beat on people to prove how badass you are, you got no business being on a team. Go pro, train in your own private gym, and get out of everyone else’s space; you’re a royal princess and we’re all fed up with that dumbassery.
When you see better boxers adjusting to the level of their sparring partners and bringing out the other person’s BEST WORK, you have a team in the making. When your fighters can openly tell each other to pull the heat — and they are always listened to — you are so fucking golden. Fort Boxing Knox, baby. (Get it? Golden? Never mind. Sorry.)
Of course boxing hurts! You are gonna hit and get hit. But real boxers save the knockout power for the official matches. Otherwise, you work with your people, and try not to injure anyone.
6. Everyone coaches when they can, encourages when they can’t.
In addition to seeing my Second Round team put forth some of their all-time best work in the ring this week, it was this particular item that made me grin like an idiot all night long.
The coach is the top dog in the gym; when she or he is talking, everyone else listens. But when she’s not talking and you hear the other team members coaching whoever’s in the ring — and telling them the RIGHT STUFF — you know your team is really coming together.
And when two people are boxing their hearts out in the ring and you hear others cheering for and calling encouragement to both of them… Well. You’ve found not just a boxing team, but a family. And this is one of the greatest joys in any sport. Snif. I love y’all.
I get lots of this in my boxing work; I hope you’re getting some in yours too.
Top photo: Creative Commons by Pieter Baert