Entering the Lions Den

Kate Waters is a recently qualified Level 2 coach at Rathbone ABC. She got into boxing through an unusual route. As a professional Fight Director in theatre, television & film, she was working on a production that required the actors to be boxers. Kate took herself of to a boxing gym to do some research and got hooked.

Kate is one of the first cohort of women on the England Boxing Female Coach Development programme. The new programme, which runs for a year, see’s 10 coaches mentored by one of England Boxing’s five female Talent Pathway coaches, attend regular online training and biannual in person development. 

She writes below for FNC about her visit to the English Institute of Sport, a part of the programme funded by Maverick Stars Trust.

One weekend in the middle of September ten women gathered at the home of GB Boxing in Sheffield in the English Institute of Sport, for the first time in person, as part of the Female Coaching Development Programme.

The Lions’ Den never fails to impress.  Five rings, one being the 2012 Olympic ring which sits proudly in the middle, bags hanging from the ceiling and pictures of past Olympians adorning the walls, looking down on you.  The space smells of excellence and I was there as one of ten selected female coaches.  This was one of those moments where you pinch yourself to check that you are not dreaming.

My only objective for the whole weekend was to embrace it with an open-heart, a sense of humour and to grab the opportunity with a “both hands” attitude.

“What are your hopes and fears?”

This is what we were asked first. We gathered in small groups and with a big red pen we scribbled down our thoughts.

Our hopes poured onto the sheet of paper: To make connections, To be inspired, To gain more knowledge, To leave the comfort zone, To make friends, To push boundaries, To raise the awareness of female boxing, To embrace female culture.

Our fears: Messing up, Imposter syndrome, Feeling anxious, Not being good enough, Giving the wrong instruction.

Well, our hopes outweighed our fears so, in my opinion we were already winning.

What did I fear? Without wishing to sound too relaxed, I did not really fear anything.  That doesn’t mean I do not get nervous and that self-doubt doesn’t slip in, but I have learnt over the years to use those feelings positively and open myself up to my fears, diving in and embracing the unknown.  Sometimes I emerge successfully, sometimes I emerge having failed, but I always emerge having learnt valuable lessons.

The playwright Samuel Beckett said,

Ever tried?  Ever failed?  No matter – try again, fail again, fail better.

If you really think about this quote and use the word fail” positively, it basically frees you up to keep on discovering, learning and giving you permission to fail on the way.

So, cornering an unknown boxer in the 2012 Olympic ring as my first boxing task, that was a “dive in with both feet” moment!

There was no time to be nervous, no time for self-doubt, the priority was to introduce myself to my boxer and build a rapport with him before he slipped under the ropes of that auspicious ring for his gym bout – a huge moment for both of us.

Whilst I was lacing up his gloves I found out all about his background, experience and his hopes for the spar. And I used this knowledge whilst cornering him. The bout seemed to whizz by and I was buzzing after having cornered Chi in that ring.  Definitely a weekend highlight.  The feedback from Chi was very helpful, and as I continue my development I shall encourage my boxers to give me feedback, so that the boxer/coach relationship becomes more cohesive and connected.  I believe this can start from an early age.

The weekend was jam-packed with practical tasks, conversations and reflection. Everything was done with purpose. Padding with purpose, shadow boxing drills with purpose, video analysis and designing a class related to the analysis so it had a purpose. I’ve taken that into my coaching. On the Monday after the residential I went into the gym armed with six rounds of shadow boxing drills.  I made them competitive, put scenarios in during the round i.e. stopping the boxers and giving them a standing eight.  It gave the drills an edge and the boxers were very responsive. Shadow boxing on that night was electric, energized and edgy.

I am incredibly proud to be part of this group of women.  We came together as a team, supported each other in the corner, but were also respectful of each other’s roles. No competition, no judgment, just solidarity.

The sharing of ideas and knowledge has to be one of the benefits of this course.  Constantly being questioned, constantly questioning your-self and constantly borrowing ideas that can be developed, enhanced and adapted.  

It is great to be part of a little bit of history that could ultimately see the nature of coaching change because of this group and the connections which we are making. This is a unique group of people, one that we should look after and nurture.  For me it is like finding another tribe, where we all have a common interest, and are driven and passionate about what we do – this is something worth hanging onto. It feels right to share the following quote that Amanda (the Lead development coach for England Boxing) lives and breathes by: 

If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.

As I reflect on the weekend.  I know that it is my responsibility to continue my development and I think this is a continual process. I continue to question, explore, create, push boundaries. I put myself on the frontline on a weekly basis.  I embrace new challenges, adapt and stand up for what I believe in.  Unlike my job where I feel like I am flying solo most of the time, in my boxing world I feel I have a reliable community, and through this group that support bubble has grown. Obviously I want to evolve as a coach and as I continue to embrace all these opportunities I feel myself growing, I see the change, I hear it in my voice. But coaching for me is my outlet from a world that is transient, self-absorbed and lonely.  It is my escape route where I feel I have some value and a purpose and it is essential for my physical and mental well-being.

So, amazing women everywhere and especially this first cohort of the Female Coach Development Programme, we are the very essence of UBUNTU

‘A person is a person through other people.  I cannot be all I can be if you are not all you can be.  I can never be threatened by you because you are good, because the better you are the better I am.’

Let’s keep building each other up and lowering that rope ladder to inspire the next generation of female coaches, we have an obligation to pay-it-forward if we are to become more visible in the world of boxing.  Finally, there is another quote which I like: Well-behaved women rarely make history!