What to Think of When Sparring/Fighting
It’s easy to experience a mental block when stepping into a ‘live’ situation. The threat of an opponent who could potentially crack you with any number of punches tends to make us blank out. But what should we be thinking about? What makes it difficult is the infinite number of possibilities that can happen in a chaotic event like a boxing match. What we need to do is make a series of A or B choices that help us compartmentalise the situation; this allows you to focus on a few key things, instead of worrying about everything.
Think of it this way. During boxing training at a Legends boxing gym, especially for 12 Rounds or Sparring classes, sometimes we do a left-hand only round. This is immediately less stressful because you can now compartmentalise the infinite possibilities. Punches will only come from one side. You know that for a fact. Your mind is free to operate instead of being overwhelmed with possibilities.
Similarly, in a live boxing situation, we need to think of categories to help us compartmentalise, so we know what to focus on. Here are a few such categories.
In the opening seconds, make a quick mental note of which direction your opponent likes to go. First – when they have a choice, do they prefer to come forward, or maintain distance? Once you know the answer, your mind will stop thinking of the 1,001 possibilities, and you can focus.
Let’s look at a quick example. If the answer is that they like to come forward, you don’t need to think about closing the distance with feints or jabs. You don’t need to think about what combo to attack with. All you need to think about now is how to make them come forward into your punches. ‘Pull’ them forward by moving backwards while remaining balanced, and cracking them with a right hand when they chase you, for example.
Next – do they prefer to circle right or left? Suppose it’s left. Then your mind can compartmentalise attack and defence. When they attack, it’ll be from the left, so step right and pivot. The cross guard or shoulder roll or wall will be effective (generally speaking). When they defend/escape, it’ll be to the left, so step to your left and throw wide left hooks.
Does your opponent like to start exchanges? Or do they let you start, and then respond? This alone can potentially control the entire fight, and there is an answer for each choice – we just have to be aware of what’s happening, so we can focus on the right things.
Do they like to start? Then we can take this away from them by being first; they most likely prefer starting because they want to have a mental head start. We can also force them to start from too far away by maintaining distance and cutting angles; their first shot will be out of range, and we can punish with a counter.
Do they let us start, and then respond with a combo of their own? Then we can take this away from them by using feints and jabs to make them ‘false start’, taking away their confidence and reaction time. This is where combos like jab —>step back —> 1-2 come in handy.
Again, these are just examples, but it shows you how to compartmentalise – make a quick mental note, then focus on the answers.
Note: On Taking Breaks
Thinking about the above can take time. Or you may need a few seconds to figure out how you want to tackle the problem after you have determined what it is. Obviously, you can’t take breaks. So what’s a boxer to do while figuring out?
Jab. Move. Don’t care if the jab lands or not. You’re just creating space for yourself to figure out the strategy. Once you know what the above 2 categories are for the opponent in front of you, time to go to work.
Why Is This Important?
Have you ever seen boxers fail to pull the trigger despite getting repeatedly outpointed? They seem to follow the opponent around but aren’t sure what to do. They throw punches but without a purpose, and most of them don’t land. This is because they don’t have an objective. Are they trying to attack a left-side circler? Are they trying to press an outfighter? They don’t know, so they just box, and then they lose.
Now, not every fighter NEEDS to think of a fight in the ways mentioned in this article. Some smooth operators have fine enough instincts that they can intuitively figure out what to do. But for a lot of us, that doesn’t always work.
It’s much better to have a process to fall back on, that you can apply even when the going gets tough. Instead of getting discouraged that your jab is not landing or you can’t seem to push the opponent backwards, ask yourself those questions. What direction are they going? Do they like to lead? Jab and move while asking those questions. Once you have the answers, start going to work. Even if you lose the fight/spar, you got to train your mind in problem solving, and that is the most valuable skill you can have.
At Legends, boxing is everything to us. Besides getting in a great workout, we want anyone who trains with us to box well. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also a ton of fun! Download our ‘Legends SG’ app to book your free trial today, and perfect your punches with us. WhatsApp message us at 8949 2236 if you would like to start booking for Boxing Personal Training sessions!