EVER come across a coach with a ‘one size fits all’ attitude towards developing boxers? What if we told you that individuals can interpret coaching and learn skills in various forms and phases? Would you alter your approach to learning or coaching?

“Muhammad was aware of what to look for and he handled it on his own. He did his own thing. I never programmed him” – Angelo Dundee on coaching Ali.

Safe to say Muhammad Ali mastered boxing, few would disagree with that.

So what is needed to reach this level? Well, there are four types of skills:

* Cognitive – intellectual skill

* Perceptual – interpretation of presented information

* Motor – movement control

* Perceptual-motor skill – movement control in light of our environment

To master these, it supposedly requires 10,000 hours of practice.

Whilst this figure remains debatable, it is reasonable to suggest all athletes, including boxers, sacrifice years of their life to reach the elite level. At Combat Conditioning, we use a range of coaching methods to suit different types of learners. On our Olympic lifts, we use lift regressions, visual and verbal cues and feedback through technology or the most basic of methods.

According to one psychological theory, athletes move through three phases of learning:

* ‘Cognitive phase’ – where athletes are concerned with learning what to do rather than how to perform a skill.

* ‘Associative phase’ during this phase athletes are refining how a skill should be executed.

* ‘Autonomous phase’ near-automatic thought processes underpin the skill affording increased focus upon the strategic decision-making

So, how does an athlete learn a skill, or a number of skills so well in the case of open environment sports such as boxing?

For any learning to take place, skills must become memories and these are developed when sensory input (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic [touch/movement], olfactory [smell] and gustatory [taste] senses) are integrated to form short-term memories. However, it is known that the short-term memory is a limited store both in terms of the quantity of information that can be stored and the duration this can be retained.

Is there anything that can be done to facilitate skill learning in sport?

Yes there is and it concerns feedback, without it no learning would take place. Feedback provides athletes with error-detection and error-correction abilities comparing the expected and actual outcome (e.g. that punch missed!) and the expected and actual movement quality (e.g. that punch missed because it was a wild hayemaker!) and it can take two forms: intrinsic and extrinsic feedback.

* Intrinsic feedback – contact between a boxer’s fist and opponent’s target area would be felt kinaesthetically (internal) or visual sense would immediately inform a boxer of a punch that missed (external).

* Extrinsic feedback – typically a coach, supplementing the intrinsic information and can take many forms (e.g. demonstrations, verbal instructions, video replays).

Coaches play a vital role here as they can guide the boxer based upon their own previous experiences or knowledge.

Assuming the situation is new to the boxer they will be unlikely to have the correct strategies in place to respond correctly so coach intervention is fundamental in this situation.

Hopefully you can see without either form of feedback, boxing would likely involve all-out slugfests with little concern for the technical, tactical and physical abilities necessary to succeed in boxing.

Visit www.boxingscience.co.uk sign up to their mailing list to receive the free ‘Punch Harder’ E-Book.

*For training information and workouts from some of the biggest names in combat sport don’t miss the Fighting Fit: Train like the Stars special*