Training Your Mind

I played hockey–as a goalie–throughout my childhood and teenage years. The main reason I became a goalie was because I was one of the worst players and slowest skaters on my team, and becoming a goalie was my attempt at getting some glory out of hockey as long as I was playing it. Fortunately for me, I was a pretty damn good goalie. Although I wasn’t athletically blessed with speed or natural ability, I was blessed with two things: quick reaction and good awareness, both of which are essential to boxing.

In my last few years playing goalie, I came upon a book at my local library called Basketball FundaMENTALS which outlined the core concepts and benefits of mental training for sports. I incorporated the ideas into my practice, then made some adaptations and saw huge improvements in my game! Since then, I’ve read dozens of books on mental training for sports and I’ve created my own template for boxing. I would like to share the framework with you.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve fought or sparred who could kick my ass in a 40 yrd dash. Most of my opponents have been taller, stronger, and faster. If you’re not blessed with raw speed, then you can definitely make up for it with quick reaction, sound defense, and scenario based training. But the key is to be able to ‘read the play’, see what’s going on, and have these skills embedded in your mind and in your boxing repertoire. Of course, you do need the essential skills i.e. how to block a left hook, how to slip a right hand etc. I’m going to assume you have these skills. If you don’t, then write me and we can talk.

When I talk about mental training, I am referring to how your mind responds to external stimuli such as a kick or a punch or a takedown attempt. There are other aspects to mental training such as mental toughness, confidence and composure under pressure, all of which are related to how you respond physically but will be covered in another post. Essentially, with mental training, you are creating movies in your mind. The clearer they are the better, the more you can control and manipulate them the better, the more senses (touch, sound) you can incorporate the better.

Let’s go over the concept of mental movies as they relate to sports. A mental movie is a dynamic sequence that you can watch over and over again in your mind. A mental movie could be of an opponent throwing a jab at you, or a left hook, or of someone blocking your left hook, etc. You could also put yourself in situations that you see in pro fights on TV. Your goal is to create mental movies with positive outcomes, and to create answers for situations that cause you problems. You want full control of the movie, you want to be able to watch it frame by frame. For the most part, positive outcomes in your mind come from positive success in the past, or at least they come from the belief that success is possible. Train your mind to see yourself succeeding and you stand a much better chance of doing so.

Ok, let’s create a scenario where I’m fighting a taller and faster opponent. Start movie – He’s circling me to the left and he’s snapping the jab quickly and frequently. How am I going to deal with this? First, I see myself cutting off the ring, he switches directions to the right, I move to my left and I cut him off again, he then moves back to his left (in your mind you could just work on cutting off the ring, no piece is too small). As I get closer he snaps the jab, double jab, and moves back to his right. I see myself slipping each jab, I’m just on the end of his punching range. I move left as he’s moving right and I cut him off again, he throws his jab again, as he does I make my move by slipping to my right and simultaneously stepping in with the double jab and overhand right. I land the overhand right, and follow up with the left hook and right uppercut which he covers up and blocks, I then step out to the right – end of movie.

The scenario above is actually quite complex, it would be just fine if all you wanted to work on was blocking and slipping individual punches. Just imagine a guy in front of you throwing single techniques. Play your movies at super slow speed, and once you are comfortable, play them at normal speed. Change up the opponent, make them faster, shorter, taller, stronger. Put yourself in front of Pacquiao or Mayweather and see what you can do.

Ok, so how can you maximize the effect of mental movies. First, you want to create them and work with them in a relaxed state so that your mind can focus on all aspects of each movie (primarily sight, sound, and feel). The relaxed state is also important because you want your mind to associate your sport with feeling relaxed. This is the optimal state for high performance.

Here is the program outline:

1) Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for 20 – 30 mins.

2) Get into a comfortable position either laying down or sitting in a chair.

3) Take 8 deep breaths – inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds.

4) Take 10 seconds for each body part and focus on relaxing it as much as possible, make each body part as heavy as you can (start at the bottom) – feet, calves, thighs, hips and glutes, lower back, stomach, mid back, chest, upper back and neck, shoulders, arms and hands, face.

5) Next 5 mins – Start to visualize yourself performing in the ring (or Octagon, or your arena of competition). At first, watch yourself as a spectator, imagine you are in the front row watching yourself perform. Go through every scenario you can think of, see yourself dealing effectively with attacks, see yourself successfully moving, defending and landing strikes. Go slow at first and see things clearly, pay attention to key details such as distance and technique.

6) Next 10-15 mins – Now go inside yourself and start to watch from your own eyes as a performer, feel how your feet move, notice your opponent in front of you, his expression and his intent, show no fear, you are calm. Now have him attack you, defend and counter, then have him go on the defensive and watch yourself penetrate his defense. Create as many scenarios as you like. Work slipping the jab of a very tall opponent as you get inside and throw your combos.

7) Conclude the event the way you would like to see it. If it is a match then conclude with a KO, or you winning by decision. If you are visualizing sparring then conclude with the final bell and you standing strong as if you could go another round.

8) Wake yourself up slowly, rub your eyes and face, rub the back of your neck, sit up and massage your legs and feet in case they have fallen asleep.

I recommend performing your mental training 3-5 times per week.