How to Be a Good Trainer

September 21, 2012 September 21, 2012 by Johnny N Boxing Training, Mental Training 51 Comments

how to be a good trainer

I walked into the gym the other day and put on the focus mitts first. I warmed up the fighters, one after another, and then followed them around yelling out adjustments while they trained and sparred. I didn’t notice it then but this was my first time in the gym without wrapping up.

In fact, the mitts stayed on my hands the whole time. It wasn’t until the session ended when I realized…“Oh shit, I’m a boxing trainer now.”

A part of me died inside that day. “I’m still too young! I can still fight!” I cried to myself.

I always thought of myself as a fighter. I never fantasized about being a trainer, not even with the growth of ExpertBoxing. It was just something that happened. Somewhere along the line, I was thrust into a position of authority. Not because I was the most knowledgeable but because people believed in me.

Here’s how I did it…



Make sure you know your shit! You’re responsible for somebody else’s health. Fighting is a serious business so you have to be really sure and damn confident about what you know or what you think you know. This is where it helps to have some ring experience of your own. If you don’t, then you need to learn from somebody who has! There’s no requirement saying you need X number of fights to be a trainer but you must understand what your fighter is going through.

Experience is not guaranteed through fights, repetition, or even time,
it is achieved by striving for constant improvement.

Keep learning and developing your own skills. Ask for help when you need it. And don’t let your ego get in the way of gaining knowledge and improving the quality of your instruction. GET A SECOND OPINION. It is YOUR JOB to know the answer to everything. And if you don’t, then you better be able to get a hold of someone who can.

  • How do you THROW a right hand?
  • How do you BLOCK a right hand?
  • How do you beat a faster opponent?
  • How do you stop a nose-bleed?
  • How much Vaseline do you put on a fighter’s face?
  • What do you say to a nervous fighter?

While the questions are endless, your knowledge is not. A true teacher never stops learning!



Come into the gym excited to train. You’re in this to help others. You’ve been in the game longer than the kids. You know the sport better. This is YOUR SPORT, so you have to share the love. Bring the energy, enthusiasm and motivation. You’ve got to be more energetic than the fighters. It’s going to be YOUR ENERGY that motivates the fighters. Don’t expect anybody to come into your gym and give you a gift–nobody owes you anything. They give you their time, and you show them the love (experience, energy, knowledge).

The worst coaches are the ones with a chip on their shoulder. Alcoholic problems, money problems, can’t hold a stable relationship. The guys that get no respect outside the gym…don’t have a life other than yelling at kids to make themselves feel powerful. You’re not a god, you’re a fight coach. The kids don’t work for you, YOU WORK FOR THEM. Get that in to your head. You’re partly responsible for their future. So you need to make the most positive contribution to their lives with the time that you have with them.

The fighter is the star,
not the trainer.

It’s not about you anymore! Maybe you used to be a champion but right now you’re not the star anymore, your fighter is. Those kids owe you nothing, and neither does anybody else. Selfish coaches are among the biggest parasites in our sport. A bunch of insecure people that turn down fighters because they don’t have the skills to improve the individual!


Be PERSONAL—accommodate the individual

It’s more than just coaching every fighter differently. It’s about accepting the fighter and accepting his or her results. Some fighters are faster. Some fighters have more power. Some fighters have more stamina. Some fighters will win more than others. Success means different things to different people. For some, success is a gold medal. For others, it’s surviving one whole fight. For many, it’s losing weight and looking sexy. Whatever the individual’s goal is, you have to respect that. It is THEIR GOAL, not yours.

Success means different things to different people.

You have to accept the fact that no matter how hard you or your fighter tries, all you can ask for is his or her best. As long as you have that, you AND your fighter are a sucess, nothing else matters. The best coach & fighter relationship is one where both have made great achievements together. You have to be proud of your fighter. All of his or her wins and losses. The great times you spent together in and out of the ring. The chats on facebook. The friendship and the relationship as a whole. That means more than any cheap piece of metal on a ribbon. I remember a time when I was fighting to make my trainer proud. I would fight any opponent to show him how much I learned from him. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for him, and nothing he wouldn’t do for me.



To clarify: I mean be a motivator, not an energy-drainer.

Try to energize your fighter instead of burning him out. People need their energy for work/school/life outside of boxing. You can’t take that. But what you CAN do is motivate your fighter the best you can. A motivated person will have ENDLESS energy, in AND out of the gym. Motivation is what makes someone show up at the gym 15 minutes early and leave the gym with a smile for the rest of the day.

Don’t force your fighters to train. Saying “JUST 10 MORE!” isn’t going to motivate anyone. You gotta say, “Champions can do 10, how many do you got?” And when your fighter proudly squeezes out 20, you gotta yell, “OH 20?! Now you’re POUND-4-POUND!” A motivating coach makes the fighter challenge himself. The energy-draining coach makes the fighter tired, and give excuses, and not show up for a week because he’s scared to get beat up. Do you understand the difference?

Next time you post a hard workout on the wall, label it the “Little Girl’s Boxing Workout”. 😉


Give the Joy of Boxing

Motivation is what makes something fun. BOXING’S GOT TO BE FUN! I know it’s a tough sport and all that but it’s got to be fun first, and then education *COUGH* PAIN! *COUGH* second. Throwing punches on the mitts is fun! Learning new things is fun! Being forced to exercise through cramps is NOT fun. taking a beating by a larger or more skilled opponent is NOT fun. make sure you know the difference between challenging fun and unnecessary pain.

Someone with passion for boxing will have endless energy. I love boxing so much, it’s impossible to workout until I’m tired. When my arms get tired, I work my legs. when my legs get tired, I work my back. when my back is tired, I watch the other guys spar. When the gym closes, I go home and watch Youtube videos. NOBODY CAN STOP ME because that’s how much I love boxing!


Develop the Fighter’s Motivation


A great motivator is that old man that comes up to you and says, “You know what, Johnny? With a right hand like that, you could be champion one day.” He said it calmly and then walked away and went back to his business.

…but it was powerful.

I never forgot that old man and what he said. I started wondering, “What if?” I started daydreaming in the middle of class and having fantasies of fighting giant dragons in the ring. And winning the world heavyweight championship at 135lbs. I thought I was a boxing god! When I was alone in the showers, I announced myself the “NEW HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD!” a thousand times. I walked into the gym everyday as a champion making his ring entrance.

…and do you know how I trained? like a F**KEN monster. And all because some old man planted a silly idea in my head.

Great trainers don’t make you exercise,
they make you dream.

Motivation starts in the mind. Give your fighter’s mind a rocket and let him fly to the stars. You keep him dreaming, give him a little guidance, and watch him do the rest.


Protection the Fighter’s Motivation

Long-term motivation leads to long-term success.

Once you have someone’s motivation, you have to protect it! This also includes protecting the fighter. This is the absolute key to long-term success.

So many kids these days go to the gym and train themselves to death that it’s not even fun anymore. They put in 4-5 hours just so they can feel productive and good about themselves. They work just enough to feel like they put in the work and deserve a win. Some fighters will not stop sparring until they get beaten up. It’s your job to prevent the most motivated athletes from working themselves to death.

The moment, “fun” becomes work,
it’s only a matter of time before you quit.

Deep inside everyone is a quitter. It’s what makes us human and it’s what makes boxing beautiful. Having the ability to quit anytime we like is why we respect the fighters that push themselves the farthest. Sometimes it’s physical and sometimes it’s mental. As a trainer, it’s your job to protect the fighter from himself. The fighter’s worst enemy is not his over-sized aggresive sparring partner, it’s his own ego.

When a fighter is feeling tired, tell him, “You worked hard that’s why you’re so tired. Good work, you deserve some rest!” When a fighter just lost a fight, say “You’re not ready for that level yet but now we know what to work on. Keep training!” Everytime a fighter doubts himself, you need to step in and say something!


Sustaining the Excitement

Have you ever seen a kid in the disneyland? He’s waited all month long to go to disneyland, and when he finally gets there, he knows he’s living on borrowed time. He’ll run from ride to ride, knowing his day won’t last. He never sits down, and he never waits for someone to tell him what to do next. He’s EXCITED TO BE THERE.

Your gym has to be like Disneyland. And the key is to LIMIT the fighter’s time!

The moment your fighter comes in the door, you have to gauge how much enthusiasm he has for the day. And then cut him short! If he’s got 3 hours of energy, you cut him off at two and a half. If he wants to spar 12 rounds, you give him 8 and then kick him out. Let him save that excitement for the next day. Make him wait for the opportunity to train. Make him daydream all day in class about going to the gym. It doesn’t matter if he works out for 3 hours or 30 minutes as long as he’s excited.


The best trainers are motivators.

The trainer’s job is to put you on the right path, and give you the tools you need to finish it. Because the truth is nobody can do anything for you. All the best coaches in the world cannot get in the ring with you. Fighting is something you have to do yourself. And the best trainers are the ones that make you realize you can do it!

The biggest failure of any trainer would be to let a fighter train without believing in himself. Without that self-belief the fighter is practically guaranteed for failure. And it has [nothing] to do with the techniques or the difficulty of the sport. It has to do with self-esteem. And all it takes is for you to say the right thing at the right time! Can you imagine how different your boxing career might have turned out if your first trainer said, “WOW! Your power is almost like Mike Tyson!” on the very first day of training? It really changes the individual’s future outlook.

Now I’m not saying you should lie to fighters or fluff up their ego. I’m saying for you to believe in yourself and in your fighters. The magic is in YOUR ABILITY and YOUR CONFIDENCE in knowing that you have what it takes to guide fighters to championships. Because if you’re really that amazing of a trainer, well then you know you can bring out the best in everyone.

Fighting is not about being tough,
it’s about giving the best that you can.

Being a motivator is not about making your fighters tough, it’s about making them give their best. Your fighters have to know that if they try their best, that it won’t be a waste. That all the blood, sweat, and tears wasn’t for nothing. Every fighter wants to know that at the end of the day, he achieved something great. And it’s your job to let him know that he’s worth it, and that he made did it. You don’t want a fighter that’s afraid of losing or getting hurt; you want one that’s excited to compete. Make your fighter feel like he’s the best, and you’ll be the best trainer that ever was.

To all my trainers: thank you for being the best trainers I could have ever had. See you in the gym!

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Barnaby R September 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Hi Johnny I really enjoy your site and find your articles interesting and informative.
I am 13 yrs old and I want to get into boxing, however I have a problem: I live in Wellington , New Zealand and there are no proper gyms even close to where I live.
I heard what you had to say on the boxing for fitness gyms but they are the only ones close and I was wondering what your thoughts are on my problem.
Would it be more beneficial for me to just hang a bag up in my garage with some other gear or should I just settle for a fitness gym?
Thanks again , Johnny.


Keitharino September 22, 2012 at 7:16 am

I know I’m not Johnny, but here is my advice: Hit up the local fitness gym. That way you will have access to their facilities, but more importantly you will have access to people. Chances are, there is somebody in that gym who is in the same situation as you. You can make new friends, and maybe get together outside of class to spar and work on drills you learn on this site. And a lot of times the trainers in those gyms have some sort of boxing experience. Maybe they would be willing to give you personal training, or they might know someone with boxing experience who would train you. That’s my 2 cents! Best of luck to you Barnaby!


Barnaby R September 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Thanks for the advice Keitharino will keep it in mind.
Thanks again , and good luck.


Johnny N September 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I agree with this completely!


Johnny N September 23, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Well, any gym is better than no gym. Especially when you’re first trying to get started. I would check out my “How to Box in 10 Days” to help you learn the proper fundamentals quickly. Any equipment is better than no equipment but just remember that boxing is a social sport. You need others to train with if you really want to be good.


Barnaby R September 29, 2012 at 2:27 am

Thanks Johnny , thank you for replying with your help.


j September 22, 2012 at 11:43 am

I this will definitely assist my future Johny, you said you accidently became a trainer? I remember Freddie Roach saying he came a trainer on accident, i think expert boxing for us helps us enhance our goals as people and athletes, i noticed from my perspective that this is a way of expression Johnny Nguyen good stuff man, do you think a trainer should make a fighter tgtge way he wants or the way the fighter should be? I apologize for the misspending android I’m on. Much love and appreciation as well as respects toward you sir


Johnny N September 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm

I can’t say accident because it seemed like I was headed that way especially since I’m always helping others in the gym. Trainers should do their best to make fighters better. It’s natural for fighters to absorb their trainer’s skills and knowledge but the fighter should always be true to himself and his own style.


jason September 23, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Nice to see someone so passionate about this sport share his knowledge to everyone. Very inspiring read. Keep up the great work.


George September 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm

My coach do’t trein me I use to trein on my own but am better becouse I always read the struction like how to move, jab,cover etc. And him is jst good in teling me to go and fight is good in that. So am not like it plz eny help?


Johnny N September 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Find another coach if you don’t like your current one.


jason September 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Who are the best trainers out there 2day and why? Love roach, atlas don’t care 4 Stewart he just appears to be so negative and just says the obvious.


Johnny N September 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm

There are many great trainers. Some have great fighters and some don’t but there are many great trainers out there. I love Roach, especially since I met him in person. Atlas, I’ve never seen him work. Emanuel Stewart trained many great fighters so I respect him for that. You would think Wladimir Klitschko wouldn’t keep him around for so many fights if he wasn’t any good.


jason September 24, 2012 at 3:42 am

Teddy atlas. Espn analysist. Michael Moore’s ex trainer. Stewart really does not respect many fighters when I watch him on hbo. Klitchkos and Lewis make him look genious. Lennox Lewis that is. Yearns just machine not much defense. He could have done better with cermin cintron.


jason September 24, 2012 at 3:44 am

Thomas hearns I meant.


barrsy September 28, 2012 at 4:06 am

Yeah, I’ve heard that Roach is happy to meet people who wander in to his gym. You worked with him on a professional level?


Johnny N October 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I never worked with him on a professional level.


George September 24, 2012 at 8:38 am

Ok Mr Johnny, I wil try to do so


mre September 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Hi Johnny. I started boxing maybe 5 months ago. I’m trying as hard as i can but i thin i reached a point where i want to quit. Did that ever happened to you, and how did you got past it?


Johnny N October 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Never happened to me. I always reached points when I thought I couldn’t get any better but never reached the point of wanting to quit.


Carlton ONeal September 26, 2012 at 7:59 am

Great Info for those thick headed so-called trainers” My Story”, I started with a guy 5 yrs ago that called himself a boxing trainer I was to be the strength and conditioning coach he always stated to the fighters that he was teaching what he knew theories and tactics he was taught in the 70s saying that newer information was not valid needless to say as I continued to learn more contemporary techniques , theories and tactics I surpass him in knowledge and coaching abilities. He has since closed his gym and I now run two programs out of two gyms


Johnny N October 15, 2012 at 1:20 am

THANK YOU FOR BEING A COACH. Our sport needs more guys like you.


Ryan September 26, 2012 at 11:37 am

I have recently been referred to as a veteran by the head coach at my club (even though I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of boxing knowledge), and he asked if I would be willing to help train some of the newer members. My first though was “seems like that will get in the way of my training”, but I agreed anyway, and I’m taking a surprising amount of joy in it. Nothing beats the feeling of taking a 14 year old kid who keeps getting knocked around during sparring, working with him, teaching him a few tricks, and then watching him start winning rounds against his ‘nemesis’ at the gym. The look of surprise/happiness when he wanders back to his corner makes a guy feel pretty good…


Johnny N October 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Awesome job, Ryan. It’s so fulfilling to be a part of someone’s success.


curtis c September 27, 2012 at 12:49 pm

whens the next body punching guide coing out and what do you recomend i study in the mean time?


Kevin G September 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I have a question Johnny, how do you stop a nose bleed, I gave a friend one during sparring and did not know how to help him out.


barrsy September 28, 2012 at 4:43 am

Final comment, I’m very surprised that you have said that you just started being a boxing trainer. I guess that the title’Expert’ can be used at any level these days


Johnny N October 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I’ve been coaching for a while but only recently realized my full transition from fighter to trainer.

I took the domain at the time because it was the only one available that I really liked. While I might not be the absolute foremost expert authority on the sport of boxing, that’s what I strive to be. I do my best to deliver the absolute best technical information and organize so everyone can benefit. It’s a goal that everyone here is trying to achieve, not just me. WE ARE HERE TO BE THE BEST!


Johnny N October 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm

This is a complicated question where a professional cutman who would know best. There are different methods involved for different scenarios.


Craig September 29, 2012 at 12:47 am

Hi, I am in the same situation as you and looking to move more into coaching. I want to buy a pair of top notch hook and jab pads. Which do you consider the best?


Johnny N October 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

There are so many good brands out there! Right now I’m using Rival but there are so many great ones.


James October 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Hey Johnny I keep sparring this guy who can’t land clean hooks to the head on me, so he likes to hit the side of my neck. Is that legal? Because trainers don’t seem to notice or care. He has heavy hands and i’m concerned that if he hits me hard enough that I might really get hurt. Thanks.


Johnny N October 7, 2012 at 2:51 am

I don’t think it’s illegal but getting hit straight on at the throat could be scary. I usually never get hit there so it’s never been much worry for me. Keep your hands up and chin down.


Brandon October 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm

So how do we get arms like that guy? should I just say it? Love your site and all your videos Johnny keep em coming man!


Johnny N October 7, 2012 at 2:52 am

Train hard….REALLY HARD. Train harder than everyone else in your gym. That’s a good start.


J November 6, 2012 at 3:06 am

i have a concern, i understand its the self-less thing to do to stay home from the gym sick, but is it still ok to workout sick? obviously you cant go as hard as normal and shouldnt over do it, but in my opinion its good to sweat out sickness, just because an athlete is sick would you still recommend even a light workout still at home?


J November 6, 2012 at 3:19 am

i would like to add not a fully blown flu, but rather a minor cold or getting over a sickness, then is it ok to get a workout in?


Johnny N November 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

If you need the rest, get some rest. If you can train and are still able to benefit from it even while being sick, then go ahead.


J November 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm

in your opinion what would a world class boxer or elite athlete do?


Johnny N November 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Take the rest.


Alex December 3, 2012 at 7:14 am

Hello Johnny ! I just want to tell you that you really did something remarkable with this post. You said things in this post that my trainer never said, and you motivated me now more than he ever did. Actually, at first he motivated me a lot, in the first days, he was congratulating me on everything and it was awesome, i got to love this sport even though i was a beginner. Now (also kind of beginner) after 3 months it’s not so fun as at the’s not fun at all. He thinks that if he yells he will motivate me.. well, actually he brings my moral down, very down, and i get to say “oh, i have to go to the gym, i would better take a nap right now”
So..thank you very much for this post, you really motivated me and give me a great boost for the training today, in about 1 hour. Thank you very much, you are a real trainer


Aaron December 29, 2012 at 3:58 am

thanks for this johnny .. im a boxing teacher and im always reading on your website

a trainer never stop learning


osumanu February 11, 2013 at 2:03 pm
Jason June 8, 2015 at 7:39 am

Hi,my short name Is Pistons.I have all the Insight you we’re talking about.Been In the art 21 years.Exellent stuff.I would like to become a trainer.Wondering If you could assist me In becoming a trainer.”Qualified trainer”.I am willing to do whatever It takes.Kind regards Pistons.I think anyone that reads your site,a life giving booster for the sport of boxing.


Johnny N July 11, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Get the certificate from your local USA Boxing representative. It’s like a one-day course.


Jason June 8, 2015 at 7:52 am

How do I become qualified boxing trainer.Regards Pistons


Samantha July 11, 2016 at 2:13 pm

Hey Johnny,

I was wondering if you could help me with a boxing hardship I have.
Do you have any advice for boxers who have a difficult or strained relationship with their coach? How can you overcome it?

I’m four weeks into my first ever contenders club and I’ve got some ill feelings toward my coach. He’s a nice guy and he’s got the experience, but I feel like his coaching is really inconsistent and it upsets me heaps!

He seems to be spending more time training the guys in the class compared to the girls, and when he does does pick the girls to spar he chooses the ones that have done contenders before or who he’s trained for fights before.
I just don’t understand it. I thought there would be a bit more equality in the club, or at least more time spent with those who are first time contenders (like me!)
Tonight I was sparring with a girl who he’s trained for a fight before, and after the session he went straight up to her and started going over all the things she needed to improve on, I tried to be listen and be part of the conversation but he stepped forward and turned his back on me- I got the message loud and clear: this conversation is not for you.
He said nothing to me after she got out of the ring so I went up to him after the class and asked him what he thought and he said “better than the first time.” I just thought that was really Unconstructive .
Is this what it’s supposed to be like in contenders training? I thought there would have been more equality, consistency and constructive feedback given, regardless of ability/experience and I’m feeling hugely disheartened.
I’ve accepted that I’ll just harden up and ask for feedback every time but I really thought I would have got more from the coach – this is the first time I’ve done anything like this, I’ve been going to his boxing gym for the past year though.

I really want to do well in contenders without this affecting me . Any advice?


Johnny N July 11, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Hi Samantha,

Unfortunately, this is the case in boxing gyms all over. You have trainers who don’t have time to spread themselves across many fighters. And so they focus on their most-prized or most-decorated fighters. You can either 1) find another trainer who doesn’t have a better fighter than you and will prioritize you as his most important student, or 2) you can accept your inferior position and work your way up.

Option 2 is usually how most people do it. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, the moment you start boxing and find a good trainer, there’s a good chance he’s already training fighters with 5 years more experience than you. And so he’ll focus on them until they quit or move on to a better trainer. Little by little, if you train hard, fight tough, do well in sparring, you can earn their respect. Many guys were not respected in the gym until they beat somebody else’s prized prospect in sparring. That’s usually kind of how it goes. Unfortunately, this isn’t like the American school system with it’s “leave no child behind” policy. If you don’t look like some kind of future potential superstar champion, they don’t care as much about you. All I can say is be humble. There’s a good chance those that came before you, worked much harder than you know.

PS: keep in mind that boxing trainers make almost nothing. And so if they’re focusing on a kid who has the potential to go pro and hopefully give them a cut of his purse, they’re going to invest in that. It’s really unfortunate but life isn’t cheap and many legit boxing trainers have had to move over to the commercialized “boxercise” industry because they can’t make a living training real boxers.


Samantha July 11, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Thanks Johnny 🙂 Will stay humble.


Sam December 30, 2016 at 10:07 am

Thanks Johnny for the effort and work you put into these articles. Very informative and useful not only in boxing but also in life.


Johnny N December 31, 2016 at 10:39 am

Thank you, Sam.


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