One thing I am asked a lot as a competitive fighter, by both new boxers in the gym and by friends and family, is how I stay focused during a fight. Between the lights, the cheering, and a thousand other distractions it can be difficult. So whether you want to fight competitively, want some insight into what is in a fighter’s head during a match, or just want to stay dialed in during a boxing workout to step up the intensity, here are some of the things that I do to stay “In the Zone”.
Think about your actions
Boxing, like any sport, is a careful balance of trained reflex and conscious thought. Because boxing is a combat sport and can be stressful, there is always the temptation to escape that pressure by going into full instinct mode and relying on the increased reaction speed this affords you. However, this comes at a cost. Reflexes are by nature predictable, and a skilled boxer and opponent will notice patterns and capitalize on the repetitive holes in your defenses. Here are some pointers for keeping yourself present during a boxing match and concentrating on your strategy:
Focus on the movement of your opponent.
Try to discern why they are doing what they are doing. Are they looking for a certain punch? Are they gun shy? Do they want certain positioning?
Keep your breathing steady.
In through the nose, out through the mouth--in long even rhythm. This keeps a steady supply of oxygen going to your brain, allowing your thoughts to flow, even in the middle of an exchange.
Trust your instincts.
As I said earlier, boxing is a balance of reflex and thought. If you’ve trained properly and allowed yourself to think, your reflexes will be there for you when you really need them. So if you feel that itch in the back of your head telling you to duck, listen to it.
Listen to your Coach
Your coach is going to be shouting at you louder than any fan ever could, believe me I know. It's important that you tune your ears to listen for that voice above any other. Now, that isn’t to say you should take your focus off your opponent, that is never a good idea. Here is a breakdown of what I mean:
Listen, don’t hear.
Your ears will hear the voices of people you know over the voices of strangers (Source), so you will subconsciously hear the voice of your coach surprisingly clearly over others. It's important to allow this information into your head without consciously recognizing it, which is way easier than it sounds. You’ve got someone trying to punch you, focus on that. What you subconsciously hear your coach saying will make it into your thought process naturally.
Whether it’s in the corner between rounds in a match, or when a coach is talking to you during the downtime of a workout--this is where the real magic happens. Coaches know how to motivate you and how to devise a strategy on the fly to get you to success, so it is imperative that you pay close attention and soak up everything they’re saying during this time.
The Game Plan
Boxing is a violent chess match, and you never enter the ring without a plan. The mental preparation of a boxer is just as much about building a match strategy as it is about building confidence. Having a plan for when you get into the ring will help keep you focused, and that applies to more than just fighting. A workout plan will help keep you on track better than willpower and heart alone.
Every step you take, especially in the early rounds, should be about executing your game plan and establishing your blueprint for the fight before your opponent can establish theirs. Nothing sharpens the mind and keeps you in the moment like working towards a goal.
As Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Sometimes, a plan doesn’t work. Don’t lose your focus just because one plan didn’t work, and do not let yourself become discouraged. Keep your chin down, your guard up, and move your feet until you find a new way in.
Keep answering questions.
I’ve said it before: boxing is a conversation. Every question your opponent asks is an opportunity for you to answer, and that’s true even if your opponent is a punching bag asking if you feel like working out today. Answering those questions, and more importantly thinking of ways to answer them, is the ultimate key to keeping your head firmly in the game.
The Final Bell
Staying in the zone is about keeping yourself motivated and enforcing your willpower over your body, and that is not something people naturally do. It’s a skill that takes practice and training whether you’re trying to focus in a fight or just trying to get the most out of your workout, and it's hard to learn without a great teacher.
The FightCamp Trainers will keep you motivated, push you to the next level, and give you the genuine know-how to train like a real fighter. Check out the FightCamp YouTube Channel and Blog for boxing and kickboxing workouts, drills, and training tips to help you stay in the ZONE!
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How Do Boxers Train For a Fight?
How to Train Like a Boxer 🥊 (COMPLETE BEGINNER'S GUIDE)
Inside a Boxer’s Mind: How To Mentally Prepare For a Fight