Training the Boxer’s Mind

It is totally possible for you to train like a boxer and end up looking like a boxer - complete with six pack abs, zero fat, and lean muscle - but looking like a boxer and having the fitness level of a boxer will not automatically make you a great fighter.

The really great boxers train their minds as much or more than they train their bodies.

Training the body is the easy part. The human body responds the same way in most people. It will increase in strength, speed, and endurance by training in a specific way. Over time, with consistency, your fitness level improves.

Your mind is not so easy to deal with but it is a crucial part of the total boxing equation.

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Becoming a fierce competitor takes more than a strong body - you need the mindset of a champion and few people are actually born with that mindset. You have to prepare your mind for combat - to help control emotions and do away with worry, fear, and despair.

Controlling your fear is critical. Unchecked, fear will do all sorts of negative things to your body. Your reactions are slower. You're unable to think, see opportunity, and take advantage of what is going on.

Being afraid in the ring is natural. Facing off alone against someone who is intent on hurting you invokes some level of fear in everyone.

Usually this fear is because you believe you are going to get hurt - not that you necessarily will get hurt.. That's an important distinction and one that won't become apparent until you experience it yourself.

Most hits really don't hurt or do much damage at all, but the thought of getting hit causes you to flinch, speeds up your heart rate, and induces panic. Once you realize that getting hit isn't that big a deal, you'll be able to wrestle some control over your fearful thoughts.

But how do you realize it...

It's not enough for me to preach to you that this is the way it works - you have to experience it.

Your coach should understand this and put you in situations where you will come to this realization and walk away from it more confident. They will create conditions where you feel superior and invincible. Over time - these situations will reinforce your confidence and give you more control over your mind in the ring (and in other situations).

A "will to win" is essential. On any given day two competitors of equal physical ability can face off and one will destroy the other simply because he or she wants to win more. It's the same powerful force that allows the underdog with no physical ability to cause an upset - winning over a more powerful opponent. That determination to win developed by training the mind is what really creates champions. All the physical conditioning and skill in the world will not matter against someone more determined to win than you are.

How Do You Develop This Kind of Determination?

Find a good coach.

Your coach should be creating a relationship with you that is personal and intimate (not in a sexual way...).

They need to get in your head to understand what makes you tick - what you fear and what you enjoy. To the best of their ability, your coach has to help you achieve your ambitions by pushing you when required and holding you back when the timing is not right. Your coach should earn your confidence and respect so he or she can put you in situations that will incrementally, over time, prove to you that you are capable of using your training to prevail over your opponents.

Build up self confidence.

It's a simple matter of success and failure. The more you succeed - the more you will succeed.

Enough small successes (even visualized successes) turns into much larger success later on. Successful people are confident in their ability to be successful again. It's a points game or like depositing money in a bank account. Your success balance is positive when you succeed more than you fail. When you fail, some of that balance is deducted.

In boxing - every hit you take likely registers as a fail, therefore it is important to develop the correct defenses. They should be learned concurrent to or prior to developing the offense to prevent those "fails" from occurring. In this manner - confidence is built up.

Your first boxing and sparring encounters are particularly important. If you are destroyed the first time you step into the ring - you could suffer psychological devastation ending any chance of a boxing career right there. That's why it is so important for a coach to pay particular attention to match making and ensuring you are not severely outmatched.

Note that this doesn't mean your coach should pit you against an easy target - that doesn't do anything for your confidence either - but it means putting you in situations where you have the ability to prevail if you want to. A one-sided loss (on either side) must be avoided at all costs.

Develop the right attitudes.

Among others, you need to truly believe that:

  1. You are invincible
  2. You don't get tired
  3. You'll never quit
  4. You are better skilled and conditioned than your opponent

Your mind is super powerful. It can shut your body down far sooner than it needs to but it can also push you past your own perceived physical limits. I personally know this from running ultra marathons. If you think you might be tired after one 42km marathon - try running three back to back. At some point you learn to ignore your body's constant nagging that it's tired and transcend the physical pain.

You learn this by training at maximum levels of exertion (safely). Once normal fatigue sets in, you continue training hard and can access energy reserves you didn't know were there.

To train at that level, you have to guard against your mind's natural inclination to stop. Consistently training or competing below your actual limits will result in a habit that prevents you from ever going all out when the time comes. Give all you have and you will get all you give.

An attitude of never quitting means realizing that no condition is too tough to overcome. When things suck that bad, I usually say to myself "this too will end" and it puts things back in proper perspective. If you want it bad enough, you will overcome everything that gets in your way to achieve it. No amount of punishment, effort, or pain is too much to take in order to win.

Feeling invincible comes from faith in your skills and conditioning and realizing that your ability to "take a punch" is as much about how you think you will take a punch as much as it is about how you actually do take a punch.
Thinking you will get knocked out or hurt will make you more likely to be knocked out or hurt than someone who does not fear these things (to a point).

In Summary

Remember the role and level of importance your mind has in the battle. Don't spend all of your time and effort training physically at the detriment of your psychological conditioning. Work with your coach to put a plan in place to create the mental resiliency necessary to enable you to climb into the ring and face your opponent totally in control of the situation both psychologically and physically no matter what the actual outcome of the battle may be. Boxon.

    Coach Aaron

    Coach Aaron founded Commando Boxing in 2003. When he's not boxing, he's running ultramarathons or using data science/blockchains to create mixed reality HoloLens applications.

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