In his latest column for Boxing News former European super-lightweight champion Joe Hughes talks about why he is now coaching amateurs and why you’re not just a trainer. But does it scratch the itch for someone who is not officially retired?
WE were in Essex last weekend with a lad who was boxing there. It was a long old day. We left in the gym minibus at about 9.45am and got home at 11pm.
Our lad won. He’s had a bit of a tumultuous life, so it was nice he won. We’re with the Amateur Boxing Alliance rather than England Boxing so it’s not as big an organisation but he won the youth national title for the Alliance. That was a pretty big achievement for him, coming from nothing, and he only started boxing two or three years ago. One of the reasons for me getting into coaching isn’t necessarily to try and find a future champion who is going to earn you millions. Having a positive impact on people’s lives is an intrinsic motivation and feels good.
Training is quite a switch for me. I do enjoy it and trying to pass on what I was given. My old amateur club Malmesbury put a lot of time and effort into me. They probably weren’t expecting me to ever have a bout but were willing to put the time into me. I feel it’s important that I give that back and not just take, take, take from the sport. I personally think I’m a good coach and cornerman. I’ve been there and done it at a pretty good level. I had a lot of amateur bouts. I won multiple national titles so I’m well experienced.
It’s quite interesting being the cornerman, navigating someone through a fight and treating each boxer differently because of their personalities and boxing styles. You’ll see a lot of amateur or less experienced coaches try and teach all of their fighters to box the same way. We try and teach them every sort of style you can. Teach them to box going forwards, backwards, on the inside, at long range, every conceivable thing you can and let them try and figure out what’s best for them. You also have to be a psychologist as well as a coach. Sometimes weeks at a time you’re trying to support the boxers with the mental side of it as well as physically and teaching them boxing.
We’ve got some lads in there who don’t get nervous, which isn’t always the best thing. They’re nice and relaxed and take a fight on an hour’s notice. Then there are others who for weeks leading up to the fight are really nervous and they question everything. You try to coach them through it. I was treated in an old-fashioned, old-school way to just get on with it and that worked for me. I had my own self-belief, so I was alright with it. Not everyone’s the same. The psychology side of the sport is interesting and such a big part of it. A lot of the lads I do coach do trust me because I’ve been there and done it.
A vast majority of young people should be doing something like boxing or a martial art. Once you’ve been in the gym environment it can be overwhelmingly positive. Boxing changes lives. It can help someone struggling with confidence, struggling to get a job, or struggling to socialise. It sounds ridiculous to someone who doesn’t know the sport but so much more comes with boxing than just fighting. It’s a shame they no longer do it in schools.
I would still rather be the one in the ring competing and that’s always the thing. When you’re helping boxers get ready you remember what you used to do and it’s quite nostalgic. It makes you miss it. Holding the pads and helping someone warm up makes me think about when I used to warm up. It brings back memories and I miss those times but it’s the next best thing.
It hasn’t had an effect on how I feel about my own career. The way I feel changes to day to day. There will be some days I think I need to box again. And if that means ringing up a small hall promoter asking if they have any dates, I’d do it. I’d tell them I’ll do my best to sell tickets and not to worry about the purse. If I can sell enough tickets to pay my opponent and enough on top of that to make money then great but don’t worry about it, I just want to box. Then there will be other days where I think why do I want to put myself through all the physical and mental stress, or the risk. I’ve got a family, my life’s good without boxing – so why would I consider it?
As I get older and older, I’m going to feel less like it because the older I get the further away I am from physically being able to do it. Getting older will shut the door. I think to myself I’m still young enough, I haven’t lived an outrageous lifestyle, I’m sure I could come back and get myself to a certain level but, then, at what cost?
Boxing’s been part of my life since I was a little kid. I’ll always be involved in it most likely through coaching. At some point I would like get my pro licence. I’ve got a good boxing brain, particularly to have competed at the high level I did with such a physical handicap, and physical drawback to my boxing. A lot of that was due to my brain not my body. If I get my pro licence, it will be because some of the amateur lads I’ve trained over the years decide they want to turn pro. I’ll decide to get my licence then and help them and go from there.