“Fear (noun) an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm” – Oxford English Dictionary
Fear is part and parcel of life, whether we like it or not. In fact, we can go a step further and say that life depends upon fear. Without fear, our ancestors would have never survived long enough to procreate. Rather than fear your average sabre-toothed tiger and therefore treat it with the kind of caution that prudence would dictate, our ancestors would have wandered up to such a beast and been promptly eaten.
The same is true now. Without the emotion of fear we would all put ourselves in many more dangerous situations than we could justifiably expect to escape unscathed. We would walk down that dark alley on a short cut home. We would decide to go for a dip in the sea during a category 5 storm. We would pass negative comment on the shoes of our beloved in the minutes before leaving for a big night out.
When bad things do happen, fear allows us to perform some pretty major feats of strength, power and endurance. Fear causes adrenalin to hammer through the veins giving fuel to the ability of ‘fight or flight’. Fear sharpens the senses allowing almost an other-world capability of predicting impending doom. And, if it’s ‘fight’, then fear allows you to fight like a wildcat if necessary. This is all very relevant to a boxer.
When it comes to many types of sport, fear then takes on a new title. It morphs into the words ‘pressure’, or ‘tension’, or sometimes even ‘stress’. In boxing though, and other full-contact combat sports, it stays as plain old fear. The big question in the first instance is what is the source of this fear? Is it fear of being physically hurt? Is it a fear of hurting others? Is it a fear of performance? Is it a fear of loss?
In many ways, it matters not what we fear or why we fear it. What actually matters is how we deal with and respond to fear. It matters that we maintain a level of fear that in conventional terms is absolutely sensible. After all, it’s not every day that you take on an opponent who has trained very hard in order to knock you out absolutely cold. A fight is actually quite a serious event. Likewise, a boxer doesn’t take up the sport in order to consistently experience the feeling of losing. It is perfectly normal to fear losing just as it is perfectly normal to fear having the crap beaten out of you.
The trick is to maintain a level of fear that provides the benefits of the emotion without allowing that same fear to become all-consuming. As Mike Tyson said (following the philosophy of Cus D’Amato), “Fear is your friend”. Let fear get out of control though and it quickly becomes a deadly enemy.
This is the first of a series of articles that focus on fear, or to put it in really professional terms, “boxing psychology”. I’ll talk about my own experiences and hopefully provide some practical advice on coping with fear and responding to it in the right way. Either now or at any point in the series of articles, I’d love to have your contribution to the discussions, so do leave your comments.
Go to the next article now, it’s called Facing Fear in Boxing – From the Mists of Time and it’s rundown of fight fears from a fighter’s perspective, that fighter being me.