A month ago I was approached by England Boxing and asked if I would take over the training of one of the celebrities for a Sport Relief boxing match. They were taking a risk by getting six celebrities fight ready in only three months to box on television where they would be open to scrutiny from the expected 5 million viewers. The reasoning behind this was to not only promote the sport but to highlight the safety measures that differentiate Amateur Boxing from ‘White Collar’ boxing which is not regulated. The timescale may have been similar to some White Collar training programmes but all boxers underwent medical exams and intensive training with England Boxing coaches. In addition the Officials and Referee on the night meant the bouts were controlled by highly experienced and qualified personnel putting the safety of the competitors first. However, all eyes would be on the boxers and there was a lot of pressure to get this right.
I first spoke to Hannah (Spearritt, formerly of the pop group S Club 7, currently in Eastenders, a soap opera) over the phone to get to know each other and set out my expectations. Mindful of the short time we had left I asked her to commit to four days a week boxing training with me and set her sprint drills and conditioning sessions for days we didn’t see each other. She obviously stuck to her end of the bargain as I quickly began to see her fitness improving.
With only a month to go I focused on skill work and the most basic of shots and defences. I wanted the foundations to be strong and didn’t want to overload her. Every session saw shadow boxing, bag work and pad work drilling straight punches, blocks and head movement on repeat. Her technique of these simple movements developed significantly when practicing them in front of the mirror, on a bag or with me on pads but the real test came when she was faced with an opponent. I introduced contact with partner drills and technique sparring, putting conditions on what was allowed. I also called in favours from a few friends who sparred with Hannah at different levels of intensity and assuming different boxing styles. I tried to achieve a balance between a realistic experience and a learning environment where her confidence could grow. The girls were experienced boxers so were able to adapt to my instructions and pull the power in their shots so there was not a single nose bleed or black eye.
Taking on this role certainly challenged me, not least the fact I had to factor the time into my already packed schedule. However it was all for a good cause and it helped me grow as a coach. I had not trained someone one on one in such a short space of time before. I’ve never thought coaching was ‘one size fits all’ but working with Hannah really reinforced this. She responded best to a democratic style and I found that involving her significant others in the fitness aspect of training helped. I also tried to tap into what makes her tick and her strengths. As Hannah is now an actress I used this to tap into her psyche. As boxing scoring is subjective I spoke to Hannah about body language, what the judges would be looking for and how certain things may affect their unconscious bias. I asked her to channel her acting skills to appear confident and feign calm after receiving heavy shots that may shock her. Also to use her experience performing in front of thousands of fans to deal with any nerves.
To this day I do not know if she had to use my advice or if she was genuinely was calm and confident. She brought the fight to her opponent applying pressure during the bout and dealing with shots like someone with double her experience. She lost the bout on the judges’ scorecards but in my eyes she was a winner. As in fact were all involved – with a huge £38 million in total raised across all the Sport Relief events and a TV audience of 3.5 million watching women’s boxing (and coaching!).
Bio: Rachel Bower, is a boxing coach at Earlsfield ABC. A former National Champion and England representative she now coaches Novice to Elite Amateur boxers at club level, the London Female Squad and the Metropolitan Police boxing team. She also holds a position on the England Boxing Coach Education Sub Committee.
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