Having a great coach is among the most important factors in improving your boxing ability. Is it just knowledge and experience? There is more to a great boxing trainer than just knowing everything.
Look at the man behind Mike Tyson and you’ll see a Cus D’Amato. Look behind Manny Pacquiao and you’ll see a Freddie Roach. Look up Floyd Mayweather Jr’s family tree and you’ll find 3 achieved boxers from the Mayweather clan. Having talent locked away deep inside you is one thing, you still need to find someone who can unlock your true potential. A great boxing coach will do this. It is more often than not that the outcome of great fights were decided by the men in the corner and not just the men in the ring.
In fact, having a trainer is so important that many professional fighters have teams of trainers, each coach specializing in a different expertise relating to boxing. From what I’ve seen, here are the common roles of the different members of training teams. If you already have a boxing coach, see which one he fits under.
This often the fighter’s first coach, father, older brother, or senior sparring partner when he was still developing. This coach knows the fighter the most. He knows exactly how the fighter feels and knows exactly what to say and what to do to make everything better. He knows all the fighter’s habits, knows how he likes his hands wrapped, where the fighter puts his wallet in his bag, and how low to tilt the water bottle over in between rounds. When all hope is lost, this trainer believes in his fighter till the very end.
The Strength & Conditioning Coach
This is the guy with the clipboard and stopwatch. He doesn’t care about the fighter’s excuses; if you’re not hitting the expected numbers, he won’t be happy. This is the coach that tells you all the rules, decides what time you go running everyday, everything you have to eat, and watches you every minute of your workout. He’ll also remind you not to have sex the night before big fights.
This is the boxing expert. He’s probably trained dozens of world champions before. He analyzes the opponent and gives his fighter a set fight plan. He works the fighter heavily on the mitts and gives endless technical adjustments. Everything goes by the book with him. He knows the counter-style to every boxing style. During fights, he’ll pass on clever tactics for you to try out. He wants you to do exactly what he says—nothing more, nothing less.
The reality, most boxers will never get to this point. You don’t get to have an offensive coach and defensive coach like a pro-football team. At best, you’re hoping to find one person who truly cares about your success and will fill all the positions up above–and do it all for free from the goodness of his heart. Alright, so let’s go looking for him.
How Do I Find A Good Boxing Trainer?
I get asked that all the time. The easy answer I tell some people is “Just walk into a gym, pay the membership fee, and see what trainer they hook you up with.” Try it for a month and see how you feel. When he starts to bore you or you feel like there’s nothing new to learn, tell him you want to learn more and that you’re getting bored. Sooner or later, you’ll find another.
A better way to find a trainer is to go find one yourself. Go into a gym and watch how different trainers work with their fighters. Are the fighters encouraged and making constant adjustments? Do the fighters always seem tired and pushed beyond their limits? Ask other boxers who they recommend you to work with. But once you meet these trainers, then what? How do you know when you’ve met the perfect boxing coach?
What To Look For In A Boxing Trainer
I have always found these qualities in all the greatest trainers that I have ever met.
Being experienced doesn’t always mean knowing everything and spending decades in the ring. To me, being experienced simply means that they have experienced many different situations, regardless of how many fights they had or how many years they spent boxing. One fighter can learn two things in one fight whereas another fighter can take three fights to learn one thing. Which fighter would you consider more experienced?
The question is…how do you know your boxing trainer is truly experienced?
A truly experienced trainer will focus only on what truly matters.
An inexperienced trainer is often one that makes you work on everything. He’ll make you do every drill and practice every technique to perfection. It is silly to try and become great at everything. Not only will you be wasting a lot of time on techniques that don’t need improvement, you will be taking away precious time from the techniques that do need help.
Everything an experienced trainer tells you to practice is exactly what you need most. For example, the trainer might understand that fixing your jab and improving your back-step will make 80% of the difference in your fighting ability and he’ll have you working precisely on just that. Nothing else to complicate things, nothing else to distract you from what you really need to focus on. That, my friend, is the mark of an experienced trainer.
Although this is something that is often built up by experience, experience is not always necessary. A great trainer doesn’t just describe perfection and show you perfect moves. He’s able to analyze as he breaks everything down into manageable steps and simplify even the most complicated moves. He knows how to explain everything easily, concisely, and in a way that helps you remember. He explains so easily that you find it hard to make mistakes. You realize that he never teaches you; he simply guides you in a way that makes it hard for you to make mistakes.
When you perform a move incorrectly or make a mistake, he is quick to identify the problem immediately and explain it in a way that you understand. He is more than just a demonstrator, he can problem-solve as he analyzes your movements and your mistakes.
During fights, he becomes your strategist. He is quick to identify and analyze your opponents quickly. He doesn’t say meaningless things like, “You should jab more.” Instead he’ll say, “Jab every time you see him drop his right hand.”
A great trainer will always seek to understand you. He is a sympathetic communicator and knows the relationship isn’t always about you listening to him. You are the fighter and you are the one in the ring, not him. Your amateur fight next week matters more now than whatever title fight experiences he had many years ago.
He cares that your left arm shoulder is sore. He understands that you only made mistakes because you were trying to focus on something else that he told you to do. He wants to know how you feel before he tells you what he saw.
The understanding trainer will know how to adjust your workouts to fit you perfectly. He understands that every fighter is different and that not everything is “one size fits all”. He knows how your body is different and can make up new workouts that fit your fighting style and physical ability. He doesn’t criticize you for not being like the others, he understands how you’re different from the others. Most importantly, he understands even when you don’t say a thing.
Great trainers are incredibly creative. They know how to come up with new training routines and new techniques all the time. Time-tested routines and common logic will always apply but anytime you hit an obstacle, they always a find a way to win. It is not your trainer’s job to remind you that you’re too short or too slow to box–that’s your opponent’s job! When you box long enough to realize that boxing is an art, and not a game of checkers, your trainer’s creativity becomes an incredible asset.
Success Oriented, Not Failure Oriented
There are too many trainers with a sick obsession of training till failure. No workout is ever good enough for them until you’re completely out of breath and throwing up after every workout session. What’s even worse is that they expect 110% out of you even if you’re still sore from last week. “No pain, no game.” is their excuse for every ridiculous workout.
I will let you in on one of life’s biggest secrets when it comes to achieving success:
If you want to succeed, don’t train to fail, train to succeed.
Your training attitude becomes your spirit in training and ultimately in the ring. You want to make sure that the way you train prepares your body, mind, and spirit for success.
A great trainer knows how to push you without taking you beyond your limits. He’ll set goals and challenges for you and then hold you responsible to them. Over time, you begin to trust him and build confidence in yourself as you accomplish goal after goal, each one more challenging than the last. A great trainer doesn’t engineer your failure by giving you an impossible number of push-ups. He’ll meet your dedication halfway with a magic number just slightly beyond your reach. A great trainer sets you up for greater successes, not greater failures.
What makes a great trainer for one fighter could make a terrible trainer for another fighter. The reason for this is personal chemistry between the two. Different training styles, mental attitude, fighting spirit, and temperament often make the difference between good chemistry and bad chemistry.
The important thing is to make sure that the trainer is good FOR YOU! It doesn’t matter how many world champions they trained. What matters is that you get along well, you have fun while you learn, and you feel great about your progress.
Sense of Humor
It takes a person of great character to be able to laugh and joke at your mistakes. Boxing is not always about being 100% serious all the time, you’re supposed to have fun and enjoy your passion, remember? You’re a boxer, not a monk. Boxing is a lifestyle not a curse.
The mind and spirit needs a break; creativity needs an outlet. Great trainers free your emotions, not limit them. Great trainers will enjoy the genius of your stupidity as they correct it.
Trainers to Avoid
These are the trainers you should watch out for, not all of them are bad. I’m just referring to the ones that CAN be bad. I’m referring to the boxing coaches that think they know everything and let their ego get in the way of developing your natural fighting style.
The Old Guys
Their whole family grew up around boxing and they’ll remind you a hundred times of how they sparred with Muhammad Ali. They’ve probably fought hundreds of rounds in the ring and have decades of experience. so what’s the problem?
The problem is that these old guys think they know everything there is to boxing. The old guys are so full of pride and ego that they don’t feel there’s anything new to learn. These dinosaurs will disregard new advances in training, equipment, techniques, health and answer all your questions with “this was how i did it”. Worst of all, they do this at the cost of your money, your time, and your health!
These trainers will never appreciate you. No matter how hard you work, you are still not a world champion and they will never respect you as a fighter. They won’t even train you seriously until you prove yourself by getting beat up in the ring by more experienced fighters.
These are the same cynics that will claim till the end of time that boxers today can never be as good as the ones in their times. That everything was better when they were fighting. Some of them don’t even enjoy boxing anymore; they’re just in a gym all day because they spent their whole lives boxing and couldn’t build themselves a respectful status in society anywhere else. don’t let their bitterness for the game and the world ruin your fun in boxing.
The Pure Strategists
I like to refer to these guys as “the boxing nerds”. They’ll sit there all day discussing the endless counter-punches to beat different styles of different fighters. They’ll fantasize endlessly about fighters from different eras and argue who would win and why. Every possible outcome could be accounted for by their foolproof logic. In theory, they could create the perfect fighter to beat any other fighter if they wanted.
There is one problem: there is no such thing as the perfect fighter and so they’ll train you to a boxer model that doesn’t actually exist. When you lose your fights, they will tell you it’s because you didn’t listen to them. While this may be true, it’s not the whole truth. Boxers and boxing are more than just fighting machines; there’s human spirit, rhythm, and numerous intangibles. Pure strategists are problem-solving at its worst. They go around training fighters like machines that need to be fixed, instead of personalities that need to be freed.
Pure strategist-type trainers are forever trying to get you to adapt to new style advantages by giving up your natural advantages. Boxing trainers should be helping you win with YOUR style, not with one they made up in their own head!
The Guys Who Never Fought
Someone who’s never fought before might never be able to fully understand what a fighter goes through in the ring. It’s one thing to analyze a fight from outside the ring. It’s a completely different matter to be the fighter yourself; to be staring across your opponent face to face, to be forced to fight with fear in your eyes, fatigue in your arms, and uncertainty in your heart. The problem with trainers that never fought is that they don’t understand and therefore can’t communicate with their fighters. It often takes one fighter to be able to successfully communicate to another fighter what he must do to make the difference.
A trainer can scream, “Keep your hands up!” all he wants. The fighter will still argue back in his mind, “I AM!” This is where a great trainer will offer, “Touch your forehead when he throws the cross, touch your ears when he throws a hook.” He says it calmly.
The other problem with trainers that never fought is that they don’t know what to expect. Because they’ve never fought before, they don’t know how to judge the capacity of anything. They don’t know if your right hand is strong enough. They don’t know if your endurance is good enough. They don’t know what you really need to work on. Everything always looks perfect in practice, except to the most trained eyes.
Because these trainers don’t know when something is good enough, they’ll try to train you to perfection. Because these trainers can’t see what you might have problems with later on, they’ll expect you to prepare for everything. They’ll have you work on every punch, every footwork drill, and every defensive style. Again, doing EVERYTHING is actually a trait of the inexperienced.
Yet another problem with trainers that have never fought is that they themselves might have never had a real trainer. Although it’s possible to learn without having been trained, it’s actually very hard to teach without first learning how to train fighters. Instead of having proven drills that are useful in developing new fighters, untrained trainers constantly have to come up with their own training methods–some great and some not so great.
Some people believe it’s impossible to be a good trainer unless you’ve fought before. I will state first of all that this isn’t true. There are numerous trainers like Enzo Calzaghe, (boxing hall-of-famer Joe Calzaghe’s father), who have never fought a day in their lives and still ended up developing world champions.
While it’s true that people who have never fought might never be able to understand and successfully trainers, it’s also the same for former fighters. You should know that some fighters have so much inborn natural talent that they might have never had to learn anything. This is not unheard of in the world of boxing; there have always been fighters that taught themselves everything. Their boxing coaches were nothing more than personal trainers that just made sure their fighters show up in shape.
These former fighters will never be able to teach you anything meaningful because many things came to them naturally. They might even get impatient with you because they simply can’t understand that not everyone is as athletic as them or learns as quickly as they did. Regardless of the reason, sometimes former fighters really do make terrible trainers.
The Personal Trainer
They took a few boxing lessons and now consider themselves “boxing trainers”. I don’t blame them for having to make a living but they shouldn’t be advertising themselves as boxing trainers unless they really know how to teach people to fight, not just to throw punches.
You can always tell when it’s a personal-trainer-type boxing coach because they usually prefer to train you at a commercial gym or a local park rather than in a boxing gym. This isn’t always the case but do know that a real boxing trainer with many students would typically prefer to train them in a gym. That way he can rotate off with different fighters one at a time while the others are occupied on the bags or different training equipment.
The Busy Father
This is the trainer with a million kids. He’s a loving guy and a great trainer. The problem is that he has too many kids or boxers to look after. The worst of it is that you may not be his favorite pupil or that he’s too busy working with his more established fighters.
There just aren’t enough great trainers at the amateur and the professional level. And for that reason, many fighters will be forced to leave their trainers for someone who can give them the appropriate attention. It may happen to you and when it does, I suggest that you try to move on and find a trainer that is excited to work with you and give you the attention you need. Their dedication might not make up for their lack of experience but this is still better than you training yourself and not having someone there to watch you.
You Don’t Always Find The Trainer, He Finds You
In my life’s experience with boxing, you don’t find the trainer, he finds you. In every gym that you approach, just know that there are always trainers watching you. Even when you think that nobody is watching you hit the bags, or that nobody sees you shadowboxing in the ring, just know that someone is always noticing you. They don’t just see your physical ability, they see your fighting spirit and your ability to listen and improve. When the right trainer comes along, he’ll see your potential and want to work with you. It’s really that simple. In many of the gyms that I’ve been to, I never said much–it was the trainers that approached me. I only had to show that I loved boxing and some awesome trainers found me right away.
A good trainer inspires you to be like him.
A great trainer inspires you to be yourself.