In a recent YouTube video, former Olympic medalist Tony Jeffries (who retired undefeated from boxing in 2012) shares his advice on the techniques and mentality that first-time boxers can adopt when they begin sparring.
It’s important to remember, when sparring, that you are there to improve your technique and get better, rather than treat the exercise like a real match. “We’re not going in there for a fight, we’re not trying to knock our opponent out,” says Jeffries. “We’re in there to learn.”
It’s all about the basics
“Don’t be trying to throw an uppercut or a pivot hook, trying to look all flashy,” he says. “Work on the basics, that jab, that one-two, that good footwork, because that’s going to help you… Don’t get ahead of yourself.”
Listen to your coach
It can be incredibly difficult to focus on anything in the moment other than avoiding getting hit, but Jeffries recommends trying as hard as possible to stay relaxed so you can take in whatever instructions or advice your coach is giving you.
Keep your eyes on your opponent
“It’s common for novices to turn away when that punch is coming at you, or cover up and put your head down,” he says. “This is the worst position you can be in, because you don’t know what punches are coming at you. So keep your head up and your eyes open.”
This might sound incredibly simple, but Jeffries states that when a newbie boxer steps into the ring, what often happens is they will hold their breath. “If you’re holding your breath, you’re going to get tired very fast, so don’t forget to breathe.”
Again, it’s easy to tire yourself out if you come into the session too hot, and that applies to mental energy as much as physical energy: sparring requires you to constantly be thinking about your opponent and your next move. “You’re going to be working your mind a lot when you’re in there,” he says. “You want to be able to finish the round off… Breathe, stay relaxed, and that’s going to help you get through.”
When throwing a punch, always think about the punch that your sparring partner will throw back. “If you’re thinking about a punch coming back at you, it’s harder for your opponent to hit you,” says Jeffries.
Pick the right sparring partner
“If it is your choice, believe it or not you want to spar with someone who has got lots more experience than you, who is way better than you. If you’re in there with someone better than you, you will learn more.”
You might cry
It’s highly likely that your eyes will water, simply because that’s what happens when you get punched in the nose. “Don’t worry about it,” says Jeffries. “People won’t think that you’re crying.”
“Even at the end of my career, I still got nervous when I was sparring, no matter who I was sparring with,” he says. “When you visualize, and you walk through that fight in your head, when you come to get into the ring to spar, you’ve already done it in your head and the nerves will be less… I used to do this before every single fight.”
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