Sparring – Be Constructive NOT Destructive!

by Fran on March 7, 2013

In preparing to write this article, I found a wonderful definition of ‘sparring’ in relation to boxing training. This definition is from the Oxford English Dictionary:

verb (spars, sparring, sparred)

“Make the motions of boxing without landing heavy blows, as a form of training.”

The thing that I really like about this definition is the bit that states “…without landing heavy blows“. You see, as a coach I am a big believer in constructive sparring rather than destructive sparring. For me, allowing spars to descend into brutal slugfests is counter-productive and dangerous. But more on that in a moment.

The boxers that I work with spar in some form pretty much every night they are in the gym. Sparring is the ultimate way of preparing for a contest, enabling the development of skills, speed, stamina and tactical awareness. It’s a fantastic way of taking the theory and applying it in the real world. Soldiers go on training missions boxers undertake sparring.

In this article I want to do two things. Firstly I want to describe the different types of sparring and I also want to describe some of the methods that I apply when managing sparring activities.
 

The 3 Types of Sparring

 
In my view, there are 3 types of sparring that we can undertake:

  • Technical sparring
  • Conditioned sparring
  • Open Sparring

These are in a specific order, and I hope that you’ll see why as you watch the video and then read on.

Technical Sparring

Technical sparring (or Tec Sparring) does not need to be carried out in a ring. It is effectively a non-contact activity and therefore does not require that the boxers wear a head guard or a low blow protector. The boxers must though wear 16oz sparring gloves and a mouthguard just to be on the safe side.

Tec sparring is quite a prescriptive activity. The boxers do not have free foot movement, in other words they are not free to dance all around the place. Every action is measured and specific. In fact, Tec Sparring is simply boxing drills with the assistance of a partner, acting only as a skills development and reaction conditioning activity. It’s not about building stamina.

In setting up Tec Sparring, I follow these steps:

  • The boxers are gloved-up, have their mouthguard and have found a partner to work with.  I tell them to form a semi-circle on one side of me so that all can see the same thing at the same time.
  • I introduce them to a particular technique or sequence of skills.  I describe what it is, why it’s useful and when it will be used.  It’s important that I convey why it is worth their while practising the sequence. Example techniques that I would want the boxers to work on might be fairly simple:
    • Boxer A throws a jab, boxer B blocks the jab
    • Boxer A throws a jab, boxer B pushes away and then back in.
  • Working with either a fellow coach or one of the boxers I demonstrate the technique at a realistic (competition) speed, 3 times each in the open position (from my right side) and closed position (from my left side).  I then break the skills down making any key points, for example pointing out common faults.
  • I demonstrate one final time at competition speed in the open and closed positions and then request that the boxers try it themselves.  The boxers take turns in performing the technique and responding (boxer A to boxer B). The boxers perform 5 sequences then change roles. Alternatively I can control the flow by shouting “change” periodically.
  • I make individual coaching points to pairs where needed and then if I feel it appropriate I repeat the demonstration and emphasise the aspects that may be causing difficulties.
  • I can change the pairs according to skill/experience level and develop the techniques by adding in more movement, punches or defences.
  • I keep the sessions short to ensure that interest is maintained rather than the boxers “switching off.”

I run Tec Sparring more than I run any other type of sparring for a simple reason, it works!

Conditioned Sparring

As the name suggests, Conditioned Sparring is sparring with conditions or restrictions. Conditioned Sparring requires the boxers to be in the ring. It also requires the boxers to be kitted-up with a head guard, mouthguard and 16oz gloves and is carried out under a ’rounds’ structure (unlike tec sparring which need not be constrained to rounds).

The conditions that I apply in this type of sparring are tailored to a specific scenario in order to enhance the development of specific skills and tactical awareness. Often conditions are quite subtle, so much so that to the uninitiated observer they simply see two boxers sparring.

So what type of conditions do I apply to a spar? Here’s a few simple examples:

Condition #1

Either one or both boxers may only use the jab. This forces the boxers to really, really appreciate the benefits of a good jab. It’s especially useful for boxers who have the constant urge to use hooks, letting them practice the skill of using their jab to open up the opponent and close the range to the target safely and successfully.

Condition #2

One of the boxers cannot throw punches for a period of a round. This is especially useful in getting the non-punching boxer to develop the ability to combine defensive skills, using blocks and parries with slips and rolls and slick pivots and side-steps. It allows the punching boxer to practice their stalking skills; cutting off the ring. There is a nice discipline element here too. If the punching boxer has the urge to become a little “over-enthusiastic”, then they carry the knowledge that at any point they can become the non-punching boxer. They can literally be put in the other guy’s shoes!

Condition #3

Both boxers may only use body punches. This allows focus on effective punch placement (accuracy with body punching is vital) and use of defensive inside blocks. This is quite a tough activity and care needs to be taken to ensure that the boxers are not ignoring defence of their head.

The number and type of conditions that can be applied to sparring are limited only by the imagination of the coach. It’s a highly versatile type of sparring and can also add a little fun to proceedings. It basically becomes a little bit of a chess match and forces the boxers to concentrate under fire and maintain their discipline, both vital requirements of successful boxing.

Open Sparring

Open sparring is what many are used to seeing in the boxing gym. Both boxers are freed up to use all of the skills at their disposal. Protective measures are in place, head guards, sparring gloves etc, and I as the coach have the responsibility of controlling the spar.

Boxers are by their nature competitive. This competitive edge is absolutely vital to their success, and in sparring they do not want to come off second best. This means that open sparring can become quite intense and in simple terms that intensity is absolutely required.

But sparring for me must not turn into an actual contest. You see, in a contest, a boxer throws punches with ‘venom’. They throw ‘heavy blows’ in an attempt to overwhelm the opponent. Shock and Awe if you will. In the vast majority of instances, they do not dislike their opponent. They just want to win, and if that win comes by way of a knock out or stoppage then even better.

Why should I be particularly concerned about allowing a spar where one or both of the boxers punching with venom and intent? It’s simple really, it comes down to the cumulative effects of receiving head blows. In an average season, an amateur boxer may compete in a 3 or 4 round contest on average once a month, sometimes more and often less.

On the other hand, that same boxer may spar 5 or 6 rounds, 3 times a week (or more). That’s a potential of 18 rounds of sparring in a single week. If I as a coach allow sparring where the boxers are unleashing shots as they would in a contest, then I am allowing those boxers to be exposed to a much greater risk of head injury due to the effect of cumulative blows. That’s reality. To my mind, the greatest responsibility that I bear is in ensuring the well-being of the boxer, both on fight night and in the gym.

I also mentioned that as well as being dangerous, I see heavy sparring as counter-productive. If a boxer climbs the steps of the ring for a spar in which they know heavy shots will be thrown, they will be more reluctant to try to apply some of the skills they have developed in the technical and conditioned sparring (and the pads for that matter). Psychologically they will see it as a fight for survival, aiming to land the heaviest blow first. It’s just not a good place to be in the gym environment.

Open spars can be tough, competitive and arduous without the need for heavy blows. Maybe you see it differently, and that’s fine. But if something goes wrong in a spar due to my allowing heavy, venomous blows to be thrown with real intent, then I am at fault. No ifs, no buts. I want my spars to be constructive, not destructive.

I hope this article has helped, whether you are in the spar or controlling the spar. Any questions and comments are very gratefully received below.

Cheers

Fran

 

Related Articles:

The Boxing Jab

Boxing Footwork – Moving In and Out

Boxing Drills – Tips for Success

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Grant May 5, 2016 at 9:48 am

Hi Fran
Could you possibly point me to a good reference book on boxing. I have been leaning coaching for about a year and am a Level 1.
I need to increase my technical knowledge generally as it was about 35 years ago that I boxed myself!
My son is now a boxer and I am supporting his gym and coaches.
Use your website a lot for reference.
Many thanks
Grant

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Fran May 5, 2016 at 8:06 pm

Hey Grant. You could do worse than the AIBA Coaching Manual – http://www.welshboxing.org/_downloads/aiba_docs/aiba_coaches_manual_2011.pdf

Some good stuff in there. Hope it helps mate

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Fran January 18, 2016 at 9:08 pm

You sound like you are in a fantastic gym Henning. Your coach sounds very smart and your fellow boxers obviously take their responsibility to help with the development of less experienced boxers very seriously. Awesome, thanks for the comment. PS – get some roadwork done too! 🙂

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pug January 18, 2016 at 6:20 am

Hi Fran,
Good review of previous session. Regarding your military analogy re: hard (open) sparring. Coincidentally, I was just talking with a fellow coach about this under the ruberic of health & safety of boxers and being able to track the injuries that occur in club settings. That is, outside of competition we have no way, except the undertaking of a coach/boxer prior to competition, of their fitness for competition.
We just had a boxer drop out of competition and the provincial team due to being burned out in a club that does hard sparring on a regular basis. So there is real evidence of what you said Fran. Check!

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Fran January 18, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Thanks Ric

I take that responsibility very seriously. I’m pretty sure that over here we (coaches) come under the Health and Safety at Work Act as a ‘responsible person’ if a severe injury took place then we would very much be scrutinised by Health and Safety Inspectors. Creating a safe environment is key. Heaven knows how many concussions (of varying levels) go unchecked in gym time.

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Mick Clark January 17, 2016 at 6:58 am

A wonderful put together artical Fran, this is how Sparring should be taught to all coaches and not just Boxers. U fortunately we have all witnessed over zealous coaches, and novice boxers know no different and just listen to their coaches.
I’ve taken a little time out from 12 years of coaching due to a few injuries expected from a now 50 yr old.. But I still read and compliment your very good work and videos.. Keep up the great work Fran and wishing you a happy new year with more success with MBCF.
Take care
Mick

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Fran January 18, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Thanks very much Mick. Yep, those blood-curdling spars always make me very nervous. Hope your injuries clear themselves up mate, I’m sure they will.

I appreciate the contribution Mick, cheers.

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Ian January 17, 2016 at 4:26 am

HI Fran
Enjoy your videos we are both on the same page I train guys in boxing /kickboxing /all styles martial arts find your videos very useful in regards to all aspects of boxing.I have been involved around 40years in the fight game and really like the way you present and get your point across well done.
Ian

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Fran January 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm

Thanks very much Ian, that really does mean a lot. Very much appreciate you taking the time to comment pal.

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Frank January 16, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Hi, at almost 67 I’m kind of elderly, and the last thing I’d want is to get into a real boxing match. One or two sparring partners are middle-aged at least. But to me light sparing is magic, and basically a win-win situation, because I’m interested in self-defence. We have some young ladies at our club, and I reckon they benefit too. You see women jogging along the side of the road and you think: “Okay, if some guy jumps out at them they can run away. But how much better to bash him a couple of times and then run away.” Good luck to the young ladies, I say.

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Fran January 18, 2016 at 9:06 pm

Absolutely Frank. We have some girls in the gym that are incredibly capable fighters; skilled, fearsome and fearless. Long live proper sparring!!!

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Martin June 20, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Great article.!.. I’m White collar & love tech & conditional sparring, but more often than not, new guys pitch up and will just go to war in the first round just to prove a point. Think I’ll start distributing this email in the class.!!.. Either way it’s such a great sport.!

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Fran June 25, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Great. Thanks Martin!

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Matt August 2, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Hi Fran, I have a question regarding sparring technique against certain styles:

I spar with a lad who’s 9 years younger than me (I’m 26, he’s 17). We’ve been training roughly the same length of time but he’s more a thai boxer and my strength is boxing, so my boxing skills are a bit sharper than his.

However, when we spar just boxing (so he doesn’t use his strengths being kicks and knees), his hands and reflexes are so quick that he has the edge on me in boxing! Even though he makes boxing errors, such as having holes in his defence, being too square and chin up, I find that I can’t catch him and yet he’s landing shots on me (albeit not clean ones). How dishearterning to be outboxed by a thai boxer 🙁

Now I know that they say superior timing beats speed, but my timing, defence and counter-punching are all solid, and his timing is pretty good too, so how do I get around that? I normally box on the back foot and try and draw him onto my straight left hand (I’m a southpaw) or come over the top of his jab with my right hook, but he’s so fast he’s able to avoid my counter, connect with his own then get out of range!

Any recommendations?

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Fran August 5, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Hey Matt, I feel compelled to try and help, the honour of boxing is at stake 🙂

Bit tough to judge without seeing with my own eyes. However, sounds to me like you need to command the action a bit more; go on the front foot. This is not about just attacking though. Show lots of feints and move in forward and right behind your jab(s) looking to let your backhand go. The feints are important and the movement forward and right takes you out of his strike zone and allows you to attack from the side. Drawing him in doesn’t seem to be working on it’s own, so mix it in with some direct stuff. Hope this helps.

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Justin June 6, 2013 at 5:41 am

Great work fran as a boxer and level two coach I’m finding your stuff really helpful, thanks…

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Fran June 7, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Cheers Justin. Appreciate that mate, especially from a fellow coach. We keep learning as much as coaches as we do as boxers.

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alexander March 23, 2013 at 9:45 am

Hi Fran, your ‘hula hoop’ and guidelines on sparring, was immensly helpful. And to define the sparring issues involved into these three categories is very enlightening to say the least. Thank you.

As regards the Hula Hoop technically, and as a long reach Boxer myself. I am beginning to appreciate the significant difference between long and short reach fighters more and more. Between jabbers and hookers; stingers and sluggers; flat, ‘twenty past twelve’, close and wide stances; and those who lead with the chin. So I can see how the Hula Hoop can help both. Although if not properly monitored, it could encourage unecessarily wide unbalanced stances, and overly bendy, bendy, boxers., I suppose. But otherwise welcome in any Gym, I say.

However, on a related subject. I am seeing the use of official looking ‘ankle tethers’, as I will call them, in general use, on bag work, and sparring. And the persons involved, shuffle around like bears, or like the ‘chain gangs’ you see in the old movies. Ok, they may be good for ‘close and in’ fighting, and for correcting weaknesses, but they don’t look too good for stepping in and out as I see it.

Any views on their use Coach. Cheers, AlexL

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Fran March 25, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Hi Alexander

Thanks for the comment and I’m glad that the article has prompted such a wide range of thoughts for you. That potential issue of a boxer using weird and risky tactics to cope with the theme of the exercise is something that has to be kept in check. That’s a great observation and something that certainly adds to the article.

As for the ankle tethers, that’s an interesting one. I’ve not yet used resistance bands on the ankles, but it is something I’m looking to do. Not sure that I would use it in sparring and bag work. My idea on using resistance bands would be with a novice, purely to assist with ensuring that the distance between the feet remains constant. The more time that the boxer can feel tension on the band, the more time their feet are staying in the proper stance.

As for using it with experienced boxers, I’m not sure. Need to think on that one.

Cheers Alexander. As always thanks for taking the time to comment.

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matt March 13, 2013 at 10:12 am

Could not agree more, mate. Absolutely spot on. I think there should be far more awareness in boxing gyms of the cumulative effect of sub concussive blows in amateur boxing, which has recently been the subject of much neurological study. Bearing in mind that it has been proven through tests that the majority of amateur boxers register physiological and neurological signs of markers of brain injury after a contest and heavy sparring coaches should follow your lead mate and take utmost responsibility and follow the latest research in this field which has produced some alarming results. After all, a fighter has to be able to have a good quality of life after hanging up the gloves.

Good on you mate

Matt

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Fran March 15, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Thanks Matt. I wasn’t aware of that research but I’ll look into it. This approach just makes sense to me and in my experience the great majority of coaches in the amateur boxing game.

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Dave Waterman March 12, 2013 at 8:22 am

Thanks Rich and Fran,

I think both replies confirm my belief that for young, impressionable boxers coaches sparring with their charges can change the relationship between the two. The club I coach at is an inner London establishment attended by many young people, some of whom are from the local estates and have the temptation of gang involvement every day. It’s important to build a relationship of mutual respect with these kids. Like any young boxers, some of them arrive and as their skills develop it’s apparent that they will never proceed beyond ABAE skills awards. Some of the others have that natural ability and it seems the skills are already there, they just need bringing out. For these boys the sky is potentially the limit (it’s important of course that both, and those in between, enjoy their involvement in boxing and receive the benefits from it outside competitive achievements).

I just think that in that environment it’s important that the boxer/coach relationship remains one where the lesser skilled boys aren’t possibly made to feel inadequate by their coach and where the wunderkinds don’t think the man coaching them is a mug.

Having said all that, when I train with my colleagues who are active on the white collar boxing circuit I spar all the time. That’s because the carefully developed relationship between boxer and coach is absent in that environment.

Thanks guys.

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Fran March 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Superb end to that thread mate. Great insight from someone who knows how to properly contribute to the development and well being of young people. Hats off to you mate.

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Rich March 10, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Hello Dave,

I spar with our boxers all the time.

We only have 1 senior boxer in our gym at present. He’s about the same weight as me. We have probably done a thousand rounds over the years. If I didn’t spar him he would have no one to spar with in our gym (we do get him sparring at other gyms quite regular and occasionally, boxers from other gyms come to our gym to spar with him).However, I am his main sparring partner.

We spar well together. We have never had any problems. However, BOTH of us are their to learn – not knock each other out. It’s never once got out of hand.

I never spar with him in front of the rest of the lads though – I always open the gym at a different time so there is just me and him at the gym. The only reason for this is simply because I don’t want the other lads to see my mistakes and me have to take the approach of “do as I say not as I do” haha and also, this lad is a few years younger than me and generally gets the better of me – it wouldn’t look good to the rest of the boxers.

One thing’s for sure – It’s very strange working with him on landing certain shots on the pads knowing he will be practicing them on me !!! haha

I spar with the juniors nearly every time I am at the gym. This is great because I can control the sparring depending on what I want them to work on. We work on certain techniques on the pads and them I give them the opportunity to execute this in sparring (they don’t know that I am deliberately giving them chance to do it though).

Also, whilst sparring, I have the best view in the house. I can see exactly what their opponent will see and I can stop at anytime I choose and give them INSTANT feedback.

Also, I ensure they don’t get hurt and they know they can relax and try things out without getting nailed.

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Dave Waterman March 9, 2013 at 9:59 am

Fran,

I have a question regarding coaching and sparring. Do you personally spar with your boxers?

I ask because there are differing opinions at the club I work at. Personally I think it’s ill advised to spar with your charges. I remember seeing an open sparring session become almost an all out ring war involving a coach and a pretty tasty boxer (a heavy handed adult who had little concept of control). I think sparring with your students can (I use ‘can’ carefully) change the relationship between coach and boxer.

Others think differently and a friend and fellow coach who was in the Fitzroy Lodge squad of the mid to late 90s, a man whose skills, knowledge and experience I admire greatly, is an example of that alternative belief.

I don’t necessarily believe that my opinion is correct, and I understand that everyone’s different and have different ideas and ways of doing things. But I wondered what your own take on it is.

Cheers, La 😉

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Fran March 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Alright La!

As well as reading your comment I’ve also gone through Rich’s.

My own preference is not to spar with the boxers. I have in the past, but really that was a ‘needs must’ situation where one of the lads is struggling for competitive sparring (tying in with Rich’s comment). It’s certainly not something I’d do as a regular part of the session. We spar lots with other gyms, a benefit of having such a high concentration of boxing clubs in Merseyside. So if a boxer has no decent competitive sparring in our own gym there’s also a boxer in another gym.

As to whether it might undermine my authority as a coach with the other boxers, who knows. Maybe to some it will, especially if I’m outclassed. There’s no logical reason why it should but that’s human nature. I hope that most would understand that there’s no reason why I should be as good as them in the execution of the skills, they just need to get at least as good as me and ideally a hell of a lot better.

Boxers I’m sure are able to separate your skills as a boxer from your skills as a coach. The 2 things are unrelated to my mind. I very, very rarely say “This is how I did it when I boxed”. I often emphasise the enjoyment I got from boxing to motivate them, but in terms of skills I prefer to just describe the what, the how and the why.

Top comments from Old Hands David and Rich, great conversation gents.

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Ivan March 9, 2013 at 7:36 am

Hi Fran,
That’s a relevant breakdown of sparring with some useful tips. The comparison with military exercises is accurate, although the army uses blanks and we don’t, we use reduced load or at least pretend to try.

Sparring is a meat grinder and sometimes inflicts more injuries than competition. Tech and conditioned sparring are the necessary steps, but once you go into open sparring, you soon find out that “pulling” your shots leads to a lot of misses and actually misleads you and creates bad habits. The slightest distraction or hesitation can evaporate the impact of your shots. If you are going to compete, “full throttle” sparring is the best choice. It’s up to the coach to choose the right sparring plan for a fighter so that injury can be minimized without losing the benefits of all out battle. The lack of proper sparring partners is very often a big problem. On the other hand too often and too much of real sparring can be demoralizing, but as the old guy used to say “Hate me now (in training) and you’ll love me in competition”. As a coach you can’t allow yourself to be too nice, what you spare in training will be made up for in competition.

If a boxer has no plans to compete and uses boxing as a fitness/recreational tool, open sparring is a dangerous, unnecessary thrill. You might try it out of curiosity but bear in mind that fodder is absolutely welcome by real boxers and most coaches. They won’t tell you half of the stuff you learn on this site, they’ll encourage you and complement you, “hype you up”, so they can have free target practice for as long as you can take it.

The truth is that good boxers and champions are created by harsh conditions and hard training. Quality open sparring is a luxury, it’s the ultimate tool and from time to time it should be harder than the real thing in order to be effective.

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Fran March 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Hi Ivan

Sorry for the delay in responding.

Some really great observations. I agree the sport can be brutal no doubt. The only challenge that I would make to that is that I would not necessarily seek to subject a boxer to that level of engagement so regularly.

Of course experienced boxers will have full on spars and indeed with the very experienced guys my threshold for what I consider acceptable in terms of power is raised, most definitely. But, for me there has to be that threshold.

As boxers we’ve all been beyond that threshold, and indeed the only time I ever got floored by a head shot was in sparring. I took a pretty frightful beating from a more mature, heavier and high quality boxer after I had ‘taken liberties’. Lesson well and truly learned.

But heading back to the military analogy. If I oversee regular heavy spars, allowing big head shots to be the norm, then the assumption is that this prepares the boxers for fight night. That for me is the same principle as soldiers going on exercise and a set number being maimed and killed to truly mirror combat. No sensible military planner would allow such a rate of attrition during training.

However, as you rightly say a coach is entirely at liberty to do as he or she pleases. And the horrible fact is that what you say about some taking advantage of ‘fodder’ is true. Rare, but true.

Great input Ivan, thanks for taking the time, it’s always a pleasure to read.

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james March 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Tyson said that boxing is a thinking mans game. I agree. If people just want to be brawlers they should get drunk and visit the town after the pubs close. To me, it takes discipline, restraint, the understanding of not wanting to harm someone and instead using an intention to disable, out-manouver or make the opponent lose. Our ultimate opponent is our self. To be controlled by our own anger say just weakens us (ok so a little philisophical!). I guess people should ask themselves why they box, what motivates them to do so.

As usual though Fran, great article. Very helpful for me.

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Fran March 9, 2013 at 9:43 am

I can add no more to that James, fantastic comment. Thank you.

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Brent March 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm

100% agree – we should ask ourselves why we are doing it and remind ourselves constantly too. I like the part about not intending or wanting to harm anyone, I’m like that too – although the will to survive and not get hurt can easily bring out the beast in us!

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Alexander March 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

Hi Fran, yeh, you’ve got it spot on. I think, no one should get in a ring untill they understand this and can demonstrate it.

In my opinion, I would like to see the National Bodies restrictive ‘red tape’ grading systems, replaced with a MyBoxing School scheme. Or at least give recognition to them, as a nationally recognised and credible qualification – subject of course to an assessment.

You don’t always tell us something a lot of us don’t already know, but you put it together better, in a helpful and constructive manner, and brilliantly for beginners. This would free up the log jam of young talent, just bursting to get involved in safe and ‘painless punching’. And give something for the street kids to focus on. And to make critics of Social Boxing think again. That would need a big sponsor of course. Any takers?

On the door of a gym I have seen, there is a poster saying, ‘real men talk with their fists’. Bah to that I say, that’s pugilism. Mr T might grunt, and say fools tools! For me, Real Boxers walk and talk confidently and with respect, from behind safe and confident hands’. That’s science.

Thanks Fran, from AlexL – and sounding like gentleman Jim, if only.

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Fran March 9, 2013 at 9:41 am

Really nice comment Alex, very flattering.

One thing I do know is that people who I respect and admire greatly within the sport of amateur boxing, from international standard referees to regional and national coaches boxers are always happy to recommend the MyBoxingCoach videos and articles. In fact, a friend who runs a Pro-Am gym insists that his pro fighters read the fight analysis articles that I write (he currently has a British and Commonwealth Champion in his gym). So, I know that the stuff resonates with experienced fight people and that is really rewarding for me.

We’ll see how things go hey Alex, I’ll keep working hard at this and who knows, maybe your suggestion will come to fruition.

Thanks Alex.

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Rich March 8, 2013 at 7:13 am

Great article Fran.

This pretty much sums up my view point.

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Fran March 9, 2013 at 9:36 am

Thanks Rich, glad you like it.

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Brent March 8, 2013 at 5:18 am

this is great – Ive been boxing for a few months now but the majority of it has been conditioning and technique stuff . Im just beginning to spar and wow, its difficult! I approach boxing from a purely sport perspective ie. I want to learn the skills, be fit and strong enough to execute them well, and ultimately win fights . But – I find sometimes that the aggressive (or even violent) tendencies come out in boxers quite quickly (even the trainers at times) and the sparring can become too hard – worse than my ribs aching or arms getting bruised is the knock to my confidence! Anyway, I enjoyed reading this section of your site, thank you!

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Fran March 9, 2013 at 9:31 am

You’re welcome Brent. That’s a really nice insight from the viewpoint of a relative newcomer to sparring, really great. Thanks!

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Stu March 8, 2013 at 4:01 am

A good article Fran, it takes time and practice to develop boxing technique. Out of interest how do u condition spar the slip? This for me is one of the most difficult activities to get a boxer to do correctly. My session normally follows something similar to yours, demo from open and closed positions, then practice at slow speed slipping the jab outside. Building up to full speed This works well when tec sparring but turns into something from the matrix or akin to Nasseem Hamid as soon as we get to a conditioned round lol. Wondered if you have any tips

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Fran March 9, 2013 at 9:30 am

Interesting question, Thanks Stu.

I like to promote the slip as a proactive defence i.e. it is not reactive in the same way as a block or a parry. By this I mean that a slip in direct response to a jab will never work because you have to perform too much body movement to achieve it; the jab will always beat you. This is not true of the blocks and parries.

The way I work it during Tec Sparring is to get the boxer performing the slip to say the word ‘now’. This means that they control when the shot comes and can get that extra few milliseconds to perform the required movement. I know what you’re thinking, “How can the boxer use the word ‘now’ in the ring?” Well, they don’t. The word “now” is exchanged for a feint. The result is the same, the shot is triggered and the slip is usually successful.

Hope this helps Stu

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Karl March 8, 2013 at 3:50 am

Yeah, good stuff there Fran. It’s nice to read in-depth articles from the coaching side. I’m not a coach myself (I just help out in a very minor role from time to time) but I find it interesting to learn about these things. There is precious little out there in terms of “how to” books and DVDs. Coaching seems to be a very personal process and everyone has to find their own way of going about it.

The head coach at my club (Harry) did an interesting drill the other week. He was talking about learning to control your punch while sparring. The idea isn’t to back off on the speed and intensity, which – as you mention Fran – is critical. But you mustn’t throw to hurt or damage in any serious way, while sparring (different story in a fight of course). So to illustrate this point he had us shadow boxing a couple rounds up against the hard surfaces of the gym. He told us to use the ring posts, or the corners of the walls, or the various pipes and metal frames that are all over our gym. The idea was to punch at them with full intensity but to be in total control of your range so that your glove is just barely compressing onto the target.

At first we all left a good few inches of clear room, but as the seconds ticked past we tightened it up further and further so that we could eventually rattle off 2-3 hard punch combos with a nice *tap tap tap* sound ringing off the targets.

It was actually kind of fun and a great drill. You had to concentrate on each shot or your hand would crash into a very unforgiving target. After a couple rounds of this he had us partner up with one guy just standing in his stance without moving while the other did the same drill punching at his body, shoulders, chest, etc etc. (but not the head). The idea was to just flutter the shirt with a hard and intensely thrown punch. This too was an exercise on control and range, but it also got you thinking about targets. Ie: you weren’t just punching the “body”, you were targeting the solar plexus, the liver, the ribs and so on. We had a lot of fun with this, trying to make the other guy flinch.

After a round of that you can bring people into the ring and they’ll have some sense of the control they’ll need for effective sparring. Ie: throw complete punches with all the proper power and intensity but with full control over range. You’re basically throwing the same way you would up against the brick wall you’ve just been practicing on, but one or two inches further in range.

Anyway, Harry hasn’t done that often but I think it’s a pretty good drill and I occasionally do it on my own. It’s also good for balance. Lots of people actually rely on the bag for balance. They throw punches in such a way that the bag is holding them up.

Not to drone on and on, but another good approach (from a fighters perspective) is to try and beat someone at their own game in the safe environment of sparring. Every gym has the super fast fighter and the cagey counter puncher, and the inside fighter, etc.. Well if you’re the fast fighter why not try to beat the inside fighter at inside fighting? And likewise, why doesn’t he try to keep up with you and surpass your speed for a round or two? We can’t always stay in our comfort zone, we have to develop our skills across the board.

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Fran March 9, 2013 at 9:18 am

Thanks Karl.

Both excellent observations and tips that all should consider integrating with their training regime.

It’s interesting timing on the first point for me as I was talking through this with a couple of boxers last night during a Tec Sparring session. The way I illustrated it (and I’ll use Harry’s approach next week) was to describe a fly resting on the bag. A boxer should be so in control of the dynamics and impact of their punching that if he wanted to the boxer should be able to throw the shot with such control and subtlety that hitting the fly would leave it unharmed. The shot could go at full speed, but land with a ‘gentle caress’ rather than slamming home.

Of course this is a far-fetched scenario, but it is intended paint that picture of dynamic control. After all, a top golfer should be able to strike a ball with the power to send it powering beyond 350 yards whilst maintaining direction and control. Subsequently that golfer must be able to gently tap the ball to send it into a small cup from 10 yards away. A boxer must be able to do the equivalent with punching.

Thanks Karl, really insightful comment that people should read and work on.

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Karl March 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

That’s a good analogy Fran. Yeah, I’ve seen a good golfer (which I’m NOT) hit a perfect chip shot when the ball was sitting on the cart path. The iron when under the ball but over the concrete path. Great control!

Some other points I try to keep in mind while sparring…

Don’t feel affronted or let your emotions get the better of you when you get hit. You WILL get hit, but remember it’s a sport. Think of it as a goal scored against you in football. Get right back into the game and get that goal back!

Olympic boxing is a points game so go for clear points that the judges can see and defend the points you’ve acquired. I’m not sure about scoring in the UK, but where I’m from when two fighters get into a furious exchange the judges simply wait for it to end and then award ONE point to the person who got the better of it. It’s a hard way to gain one point.

Finally Fran, for your amusement, click my name for 2 minutes of me sparring (I’m blue). Remember, I’m an old slow dude. You can tell by my 70’s shorts.

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Fran March 15, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Hey Karl

Sorry for the delay in responding, mad week. Great tips on sparring there. And you are spot on with the scoring element, that’s the name of the game. Tuning the boxers into that is especially important, it’s the straightforward path to success.

By the way, went to watch the spar…Video Gone! I was hoping to do a little comparison with your white collar performance from a while back. If it goes back up, let me know mate.

Thanks

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Paul Smith March 8, 2013 at 3:19 am

Very insightful article Fran.

I think I willl print it out and have it posted in the gym I attend.

Thanks

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Fran March 8, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Thanks Paul. Nice touch 🙂

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Viswanathan M March 8, 2013 at 2:09 am

Very useful lesson, Thanks.

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Fran March 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm

You’re very welcome. Thank you.

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AlexS March 7, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Great article Fran, all beginners should read and understand this. Keep up the great work.

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Fran March 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Thank you Alex.

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