Are you watching? Or Studying?
I really enjoy going to our pro guys’ matches. I love getting drinks and cheering our hearts out for them! I am sometimes looking for certain techniques that I know they’ve been working on, but mostly, I am not thinking like a coach, I’m cheering like a fan. Because I truly enjoy just the art of boxing! I love the way that every boxer has his or her own movement. I always say that boxing is a lot like music: When you hear B.B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughn play, you know that it’s them. Their songs have been covered thousands of times by thousands of artists, and they can all use the same fingerings and instrument, but you know it isn’t them. The voice of the guitar that is brought to life by their movements can only be created by that individual. Boxing is the same. There are thousands of boxers who may imitate certain professionals, but every single one of those has his own voice as he dances around the ring.
For that night, while we watch, I can sit back and enjoy the art of boxing, the honesty and beauty of it. But I almost always go back the next day and watch the video for those matches with very different eyes. The kind of watching we just described isn’t really going to help me or my athletes. To actually learn anything from watching matches, you need to truly sit and study.
There are several reasons that it’s important to watch film, and even more reasons to be able to discuss it with teammates. On our team, we started out small by asking everyone to watch a match that I felt like would help in what we were currently working on as a team. That grew to having more than one practice time each day, and people who were not attending every single day of practice, which meant that discussing it on a social media chat became the best way for us to get the most out of our film studies. In this discussion I ask that everyone participates. I know that we’re all busy, but your perspective (what you see that other’s don’t) is extremely important. It is one of the many ways that a team becomes cohesive, and that we all become a part of each other’s styles. See, every boxer has her own voice in the ring because every boxer sees, hears, feels, and thinks differently. They also have all had different experiences in life that contribute to what decision she makes next: especially in boxing where the decisions are made in hundredths of a second. For that reason, your perspective and what you see going on is completely individual and no one else on the team can add that perspective. Humbly listening to each other and studying as many different boxers styles as we can (in person or on film) is what makes us become the most well-rounded fighters possible—and as a bonus, film can aid in this without even adding to any injuries or future brain damage.
Whether we’re talking about watching the latest Lomo match up or we’re talking about a sparring video of a teammate, there are certain questions that can help guide your studying. Learning how to watch film is a skill. In order to help develop that skill, like anything else, we have to be taught the basics and then practice them intentionally. We also have to be able to listen to each other. If you have someone that you can discuss film with, you’ll get at least twice as much out of it. As we have discussed before, boxing is like chess. You have to be able to anticipate your opponent’s movements in order to set traps, beat him to the punch, or have effective defensive and counter movements. That means being an excellent reader of other people. How do you become that? Experience. Learning to quickly recognize patterns, facial expressions, muscle cues, motives, common tells all come only from experience. While it would be a horrible idea for your brain to jump in a ring with some of the best fighters, we can still gain some of that wisdom and experience not only from carefully evaluating their choices and movements ourselves, but also by talking about what a teammate with a totally different style sees and would have reacted like in that situation.
The following are some of the questions we ask in order to have a baseline to begin the discussion and study from:
What do both boxers do extremely well in this match?
What seems to be a downfall or “bad” thing that they are each doing?
What holes do they each have that were not capitalized on by the other, and why not? How (technically, even if you can’t actually perform the suggestion) would I have capitalized on each of those holes?
If I were their coach, what is the one thing that I would change before their next match that would make the greatest difference to their overall performance?
What is something, from both boxers, that they execute really well that I could adapt into my own style? And how would I need to change it to better fit my own movements and current tools?
How do each of them execute the thing that I’ve been currently working on? (for example, if you’ve been working on opening your hooks to the right distance, what do you see in their hooks?)
What tells do they have? (As a general rule, doing something three times in a row is a great way to identify a tell. For example, if I slightly clinch my jaw every time I’m about to throw a specific combination, you’ve identified one of my tells and can now beat me to the punch. This can also be true of throwing certain combinations: do you see that they always follow that overhand with a hook? Now you know it’s coming and can step off, block, or counter.)
What are some of their bread and butter combinations? Why are those so effective for them and will they be effective for me when adapted?
The more experience that you gain, the harder that it can be to watch some of these professionals and be so critical because you know what it takes to be doing what they’re doing. However, the entire sport of boxing is based on finding your opponent’s holes and being able to formulate a plan and capitalize on them before he can on yours. And everyone, no matter how advanced, has a weakness that can be found. Finding those, though, takes practice. The more you do it, the better and faster you become at it. It also takes holding the strong belief that everyone has holes and tells no matter how advanced they are. A coach used to always say, “we didn’t loose, we just ran out of time.” This is a great mindset to have in watching film where you can go forward or backwards, pause, etc. Start finding those weaknesses where ever you look so that it becomes second nature and you don’t find yourself in the same situation.
When you’re watching film of yourself or a teammate, the game changes just a little. First, you still need to answer the questions that are above. All of them. Even identifying what some of your bread and butter combinations are. While you think you might know, you are always changing and growing (hopefully) and it’s important to re-evaluate often. Along with the questions above, there are some important other questions that you need to ask:
What is my biggest weakness right now?
Where am I getting that weakness from?
What needs to change in my training in order to start to grow in that weakness while still maintaining all of my strengths?
How did I look in the main goals that I had set for myself for this sparring session?
What are my best strengths, and if they were not always effective, why not?
How much does my shadow boxing look like my sparring?
Is this the progress that I had hoped to see between my last sparring and now, and if not, then why didn’t I reach those goals?
What is something that coach is always yelling at me. Am I doing that thing?
How well do I follow the instructions of my coach or corner if I have one? Why didn’t I during the times that I didn’t? Was it because I wasn’t listening, couldn’t do the instruction, couldn’t understand the instruction, or thought that was a wrong instruction? (FYI, if you do not believe your coach’s instructions to be good ones or think you know better than your coach, then you need to either super check yourself before you wreck yourself or else you need to find a different coach.)
What is a way that I can hear my coach better? For example, I know I need very short, consistent, one or two words from my coach for each step. It’s too much for me to hand processing more than that at a time. If I did not understand a direction, then I need to ask what the heck that meant and how to do it. If I couldn’t perform an instruction, why couldn’t I? Do I not know how to do that thing correctly, could I not get it off fast enough before my teammate countered it, or was I not focused?
How do I fix issues from the previous two questions? What we're really trying to ask ourselves is, what are practical steps that I am going to take starting with tomorrow's practice, in order to solve these? You have to have a practical, realistic plan to put in place to make any changes possible. Just going into the gym and randomly hitting the bag isn't going to help you get any better. At that rate, you'll most likely just be lucky to maintain your levels. To do the same thing over and over and expect different results is insanity, right? So what's got to change in training to get the results you want?
Again, all of these questions are meant to help initially guide your line of thinking, not meant to limit it. There are a million ways to study film, but I know that I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing when I first started trying to watch boxing to learn more. In fact, it was a pretty long time until I started watching more famous boxing because it was too hard for me to learn from. However, I had a teammate that would always come in really late because he worked late, so I’d be done. We were always working on similar things (him in a much, much more advanced way) because the same assistant coach was our primary coach and because our bodies and styles were very similar. I started by watching him when I was done, and evaluating for the same types of things that you see above. The important part was that he was doing the things I was trying to be able to do, but better. Because the gap between our levels and styles was so much smaller than that between mine and Mayweather for example, it was so much easier to start there on learning how to study. If you’re new to this, and serious about learning how to do it effectively, start asking your teammates if you can film while you guys spar and then try to break it down together afterwards.