Secret coach's diary part 4: Winter's drawing in
In the fourth part of a candid and revealing series, an anonymous ABA coach describes his experiences, offering an invaluable insight into the highs and lows of life in and around English boxing's amateur grassroots ...
Winter's drawing in and the gym is freezing. In summer it’s like a sauna, you have to go shirtless just to pad out sometimes as the heat and humidity makes your shirt wringing wet. In winter, however, you can see your breath.
I once sent a picture of the gym to a prominent American boxing writer who told me “it looks like the upstairs of an abandoned warehouse. Like all good gyms."
It’s not quite an old warehouse, but that description’s not far off. It’s in a tough part of town and it’s obviously a boxing gym from the outside. I love old school gyms and I am privileged to work in one. We did speak a lot about more modern sports science techniques on the England boxing course and I think that is brilliant, but I also hope that the drive to 'modernise' boxing doesn’t result in gyms becoming too gentrified.
Of course, gyms are often located in undesirable areas because premises there are cheaper to rent or buy, and most kids who box can’t pay the higher prices for classes which would be necessary to support a larger mortgage or the down payment needed to buy a more upscale property.
It also goes without saying it’s a psychological test. Do you want to come to a rough part of town? Are you willing to put up with the sweat stained ceilings and the musty smell? Do you want to work in stifling heat and biting cold? Do those spots of blood on the ring bother you? Did you want to box so bad you managed to track us down?
If you overcome all those questions then you have already overcome a big mental hurdle.
But I sometimes think we are perhaps losing people who could be good boxers. What if they’d love to box but they feel there are too many barriers to overcome? Perhaps they can’t afford it. Perhaps they are too intimidated to even enter a gym.
I don’t know for a fact if boxing is or isn’t losing people, but I think the decline of a large scale working class with some disposable income has definitely had the knock-on effect of less kids being able to afford to train. True, most people in gyms are volunteers, however gyms still need income to pay for electricity, first aid kits, gloves, heavy bags, ropes, maybe even a ring if they are lucky. Nevertheless, I’ve seen kids in our gym who can’t afford the fees being given subs and waivers.
The Olympics this year, though, as always, has led to a boom in kids turning up at the gym, plus a few parents appearing as well who want to take up a fitness class or learn some basics. So it certainly isn’t all doom and gloom - I can only speak of our gym, but we try to be as inclusive as possible whilst also making people aware that boxing isn’t an easy sport.