I was helping out a local grass roots boxing club by cornering (coaching the boxer in the ring) with one of their new coaches, Sherri, who had turned her hand to coaching to help out at the club that taught her to box.
I looked across the ring to size up our boxers opponent while he was having his wraps checked and his gum shield popped in. I did the usual, noted his dominant hand, his height and the look in his eyes but then my attention was drawn to his coaches.
The two young women helped him with his gloves and gave him that last sip of water before he stepped up to the ring. This was probably the first time I had seen two all-female corners for a male bout.
Some clubs often wheel out a female coach (or if they are flush, two) to corner their female boxers but this was organic. Boxing is a relatively new sport for women, we have only been sanctioned to box as Amateurs in the UK from 1997, and it was only introduced into the Olympic Games in 2012.
The resulting popularity boom and relatively short career span for the majority of female boxers has meant that a number of former boxers are developing as coaches and it is now no longer a novelty.
It got me thinking about how female coaches are encouraged, recruited and developed. I never set out to be a coach, I was given my first course whilst still competing and told it would help me as a boxer.
Then on retirement I took a lot of persuading to help out my then coach at his new club. I have been really lucky, been given lots of opportunities and learned my craft (I continue to do so) from some excellent, experienced coaches, but I wondered what is happening here in the UK for coaches at all levels. So, I spoke to a couple of female coaches to find out:
Maya Robertson from White Rose Boxing club in Wakefield spoke to me about a programme run by Yorkshire Sport Foundation that recently funded an initiative to boost female participation between the ages of 14-19.
Believing that teenage girls were more likely to attend sessions run by female coaches they selected 17 women and paid for their entry level coaching course, the first all-female course run by the National Governing Body, and a ‘starter pack’ of equipment on the condition that they volunteered a specified number of hours coaching female sessions at their local clubs.
One of their newly qualified coaches ‘I really enjoyed the course and coaching at the club. We had a great support network with a What’s App group set up with some of the female England coaches so we could ask them questions and talk to each other about how are sessions were going’. The female only courses are now set to be rolled out across all Regions.
England Boxing, the National Governing Body, also ran their ‘Aspire’ programme for the first time this year. The initiative saw 90 female boxers of all levels invited to attend the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield for three contact days throughout 2019.
The boxers and accompanying coaches were chosen by their respective Regions with some using the opportunity to develop their female coaches. The sessions were led by England Talent Pathway coaches and supported by the Regional coaches who were able to delivery or shadow, network and share ideas.
Kate Walters, a coach from Miguel’s ABC in London was inspired seeing so many women and girls from all over the country training in what is generally seen as a male dominated sport. She stated ‘As a newly qualified coach being part of these sessions was such an experience. I mixed with male and female coaches of levels. It was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate, learn, listen and observe’. She added, ‘I came away feeling like I belonged and that my ambitions as a coach can be achieved.’
The investment in development of female coaches doesn’t stop there. I was lucky enough to be among a handful of women from the Talent Pathway selected to coach on GB Boxing camps this year. Coaching alongside stalwarts who have churned out gold medallists from three Olympic Cycles and travelled the globe leading teams in world class competitions was truly inspiring.
And the most motivating thing? There are women among them. Women who were the first wave of top level female coaches and have earned their positions, are confident in their abilities and are encouraging and welcoming to new comers. Just how it should be.
Author: Rachel Bower is a former national champion who now runs Rathbone Amateur Boxing Club in central London. She also coaches for England and holds a position on the England Boxing Coaching Sub Committee.
Follow Rachel on Twitter:@RachelBower6