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Becoming a World Boxing Champion
So you want to be the next boxing champion of the world?
Well - you're not the only one. I get about three or four emails a week from people all over the world (usually in Africa) asking me to train them or asking whether I think they have what it takes to make it as a boxing champion.
Photo by U.S. Army
To be honest - I have no idea if you will become a championship boxer.
What I do know is that it will probably take at least 10000 hours of training and a focus on long term athlete development. That is the theoretical minimum amount of time it takes for someone who is relatively talented to achieve elite status in their chosen sport or activity.
Now that I've destroyed your dreams - the good news is that while it takes 10000 hours to achieve elite status - you can get pretty damn good in as little as 20 hours of focused practice. I'll show you how in a few minutes, but first let's talk about how a champion is formed.
Elite vs Good Enough
Very few of us have the resources, dedication, and natural talent necessary to become elite level athletes. Sorry - that's just reality. The sacrifices for both the athletes and their coaches and trainers are huge and they start from a very young age.
To put it in perspective - a coach or trainer has to train an athlete about three hours every day for 10 years to get to an elite level of skill and experience. The boxer will not only train those three hours, but every other aspect of their day from nutrition to rest to study focuses on boxing. There is little time or room for anything else and throwing all your eggs in one basket puts a lot of stress on an athlete.
This poses a significant challenge for anyone wanting to either be a championship boxer or train one. Dream all you like but if being the best is your ultimate goal then you better be putting in the time and training necessary to get there and you better have already started.
While age is not always a good indicator of peak athletic development, in broad terms, humans will peak somewhere between 25-35. That is a rough guideline - there are certainly older athletes who are still at the top of their game.
A study called The Path of Excellence took a look at U.S. Olympians between 1984 and 1998. Key findings that support the 10 year/10000 hour rule include:
- U.S. Olympians began their sport at age of 12 (male) and 11.5 (female)
- It took them 12-13 years of skill development from the time they were introduced to their sport until they made the Olympic team
Rather than focus on being the best - how about a dose of reality and a focus on being as good as you can possibly be and enjoying the journey that it takes to get there?
If your best turns out to be the best, then awesome, but if not - at least you won't be looking in the mirror and considering yourself a failure someday.
How Do Trainers Create Championship Boxers?
If all of this is true and there is little reason to question it, then it establishes some firm constraints for coaches, trainers, and athletes hoping to reach the pinnacle of boxing:
- Early Start - The sheer volume of training required means getting kids interested in boxing at a young age so there is simply enough time to meet the 10000 hour training requirement. Starting them out with fundamental movement skills as early as eight or nine is not a bad idea.
Ability vs Age - Coaches and trainers should be developing long term programs based on developmental stages and skills and not categorizing kids in age groups.
Kids develop at different rates. One thirteen year old may show the maturity of an eight year old while another one could pass for 16.
I've seen many clubs offering classes to age groups - 12-15 for instance. I don't think we can create champions grouping kids like that - they all need to be assessed and developed on an individual basis. That, of course, causes extra work to develop personalized training plans and introduces logistical problems with training multiple kids at different levels at the same time.
Maintaining Motivation - I've got two kids and keeping them focused on one thing for any length of time is nearly impossible. It raises the question of how to keep kids motivated and wanting to continually develop their skills over a period of 10 years? Especially when their interests change as their level of maturity, both physically and mentally, increases.
The training we provide as coaches has to be challenging and stimulating. It has to provide clear objectives and the kids need acknowledgement when they achieve them - publicly or privately - but in a manner that really means something to the boxer.
Learn How to Box in 20 Hours
Don't you just love Ted Talks? This one brings us all hope when trying to learn a new skill and boxing is no different.
In the beginning, your level of boxing knowledge is very low or even zero. Very quickly you'll build up a foundation of boxing skills that will give you everything you need to know to keep progressing in the sport. You become a capable boxer relatively quickly and its the same for everyone (20 hours) - give or take an hour.
Eventually, after about 20 hours, it starts taking more and more training to achieve relatively smaller incremental gains.
The key is that that first 20 hours has to be focused practice and incorporate the following four principles:
- Deconstruct the Skill This is where you take the skill and figure out what is absolutely essential I've done this for you with the various levels of the How to Box System. The complete Level 1 gives you the essential boxing fundamentals.
- Learn Enough to Self-Correct As you learn, you have to know enough so that you know when you do something wrong so you can correct it instantly. That's not always easy with boxing, but there are key indicators like pain when you throw a punch incorrectly. Mirrors are great training tools as you can see if what you are doing complies with what you should be doing.
- Remove Practice Barriers It has to be easy to train. You need an aqua heavy bag hanging in your garage or super easy access to training equipment in your gym. You can't be faced with a three hour drive through shitty weather to get to a gym or club. You have to setup your training so that it can happen without thinking or finding a reason not to.
- Practice at Least 20 Hours - And then it simply comes down to taking action and spending the 20 hours in focused training .
That is totally achievable for any of us.
How Does All This Impact Your Boxing Career?
The sad truth is that some of you are already way past the age that you're going to end up in the Olympics or compete for a championship title. I know I am. But, does that mean that you should stop boxing?
Not at all.
We can all improve our skills in this sport and aim to be as good as we can possibly be - but we need to be realistic about our goals for doing so.
Unless you are one of those kids who has been boxing since age six or eight and your life has evolved around boxing - at some point you are going to realize your dreams of competing at an elite level aren't going to come true - and that's ok. As you get older - wanting to be the best eventually becomes secondary to simply wanting to be the best you can be.
Some will be able to push the envelope a little further than others - look at George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, or Bernard Hopkins. In each of those cases, they achieved the ranks of the elite long ago and then tried or are still trying to hold onto that status for as long as possible. They will always be exceptional boxers, but they will not always be competitive boxers.
The good news here is that 10000 hours and 10 years is a superb goal for all of us to aim for. If we truly devote ourselves to that much training over that much time and actually follow a progressive, well laid out training plan that builds skill and keeps us injury free - we may not end up as world champions - but we'll continue to progress and be some fine boxing specimens. Boxon.