BOXERS are ambitious by nature. Many training in their local clubs hope to rise through the levels, reach the international squad and compete in major tournaments as an elite amateur boxer. There are valuable lessons, for anyone who’s getting serious about their training, in seeing how the Olympic hopefuls of the future make the grade. So Fighting Fit went to the English Institute of Sport (EIS) to find out what the new Emerging Talent squad have to do.
As boxers rise through the levels they train more frequently. GB boxers typically do three sessions a day in a four-day period. The first challenge for an international hopeful is to make sure they can withstand the rigours of that training intensity.
“Keep yourself fit and injury-free, that means you can train and if you can train, you can develop,” says Charlie Steggles, the EIS physio who works with GB Boxing. “There are things that you can do to become stronger or fitter or faster, and that’s part of your robustness. But the other side of robustness is just simple things to prevent injuries, and that’s where the hand-wrapping really comes in, warming up well comes in, cooling down well comes in, you’re doing those things and you’re not going to pick up the niggles that affect your robustness.”
Hands have to be wrapped properly, every session starts with a warm-up, incorporating therabands [resistance bands], and finishes with a warm-down, stretching, icing the hands, then icing injuries and only seeing the physio if necessary after that.
“It’s just starting those good habits early. Nothing fancy, it’s doing the simple things well,” Steggles concludes.
These injury prevention routines are paramount.
HITTING THE MARK
There are pillars around which GB assess boxers. “There’s five constructs that we feel are critical for long-term international success,” notes
Rob Gibson, the Performance Pathway Manager. “There’s the technical attributes, tactical attributes, physical, psychological and weight-making, weight-management policies that really should be looked at as well.
“I know boxing’s subjective and technique is very subjective, we’ve managed to come up with definitions of each of the technical elements that we feel are what it takes to win on the international stage. We have benchmarks – we’re trying to describe the technique of what’s required to win on the international stage – we’ve got physical benchmarks – the run times, the conditioning exercises, all that kind of stuff. We’ve got psychological attributes articulated in a way that, yes, you need to have great resilience and grit.”
With the Emerging Talent squad in the GB gym for a training weekend, coach Gary Hale reveals, “What we tend to focus on here is technique. Our job is not to get them super-strong or super-fit, it’s to work technically with them.” When it comes to assessing a boxers’ technical ability, the coaches will look at shape, punch quality, their ‘flow’, footwork, defence and self-expression.
Explains Mark Geraghty, one of the other coaches: “We’ll score them for things like ring craftsmanship, generalship, hand position before they punch, hand position after they punch, we really break it right down, shape and balance, that type of thing as well,”
Gibson adds, “We’re not trying to create a big homogenous group of boxers where they’re all like robots and do everything exactly the same. We need to encourage that individual flair and skill. However, those are the foundations to enable you to have that flair, to cope with boxing internationally and without those it would be difficult to progress.”
Those hoping to get on to the GB team would do well to pay attention to their 1k and 3k run times – those are some of the markers on which their athletic ability is assessed. But you can’t jump straight to the level of training required. On GB they have many different types of run, including interval training or those for speed endurance. These can take some getting used to. “It needs to be a gradual thing, gradually improving, gradually getting better. Your body is going to adjust to training, but it needs to be a long-term thing,” Geraghty says.
For instance, that morning he had them doing four three-minute-round interval runs. “It was fairly straightforward. They do one minute where they just jog nice and easy, they do one minute walking and then they do a one-minute stride out, working about 80 per cent of your capacity,
so it’s not flat out [then a one-minute rest],” Mark continues.
Mental strength also comes under consideration. “It’s very hard to make an assessment psychologically just over a weekend or a couple of weekends,” Gibson notes. “Those really start to play in the confirmation phase, so when they’re on the programme we can start to measure and monitor those aspects over a longer period of time.”
Boxers tend to be given two or three key points to work on in a session or a spar, these are posted on the wall or on a whiteboard for the session. The coaches watch to see if the boxers can put them into practice. “Can they take it into the spar? Can they do the things we’re asking them? Are they brave enough to try out these things? We look for those things as well. They think they have to win every single spar, we try and stress it’s not even important. It’s not about that,” Geraghty states. “Coachability is a big, big thing for us. Can they take information on board, can they box to instruction, can they react fairly quickly as well.”
Boxing is thought to be an individual sport. But a boxer’s development doesn’t solely come down to what they do between the ropes. How they conduct themselves, for GB, is important. A bad atmosphere could swiftly affect the rest of the boxers.
“Do they show the right attitude?” Hale asks. “We’re looking for a good attitude, coachability and also a team ethos, can they fit into a team and respect not only the other coaches, but the staff, the cleaners in the flats, we look for the all-round thing of ‘show respect to everyone.’
“A lot of these boxers, especially in the early part of their career, when they first break into international, they haven’t been abroad before, some of them without their parents. A team ethic really helps them.”