1. She has chops.
I have had many coaches over the years who didn’t actually compete, or hadn’t competed in the sport they were teaching me, but the very best ones did. My skating coach (woah, whole ‘nother set of stories) had made the Olympic team. My basketball coach was a top-notch player. And my boxing coach won a world title. Just because you’ve done something like this doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher, but sometimes that experience mixes beautifully with a teaching heart and you get a winner who trains other winners.
2. She takes the sport seriously.
I have absolutely nothing against the casual enjoyment of a particular sport. I was a casual runner for a while. Played a little bit of workplace and subdivision softball too, and it’s fun. But nothing sucks worse than coaches or trainers who are consistently late, distracted, or unprepared, and that goes for all leaders, across the board, for me.
3. She cultivates the newcomers carefully.
I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of boxing trainers with something to prove who gave each new kid a whuppin in the ring just because they could. There are times when a newbie needs a careful lesson on controlling power or paying attention, but for the most part, it’s not a great idea to prune a seedling. Instead you keep the weeds away and give it a little extra care. This is particularly important in boxing, and even more so for women new to the ring. The first time I got in the ring was with my trainer, and she didn’t throw a single punch. Instead she let me feel what it was like to move around the ring and encouraged me try my first awkward jabs. Later she put me in only with experienced boxers, guys who knew how to meet me at my level. She didn’t unload her wicked straight right the first time I wore headgear without a facebar; she pulled her punches until I started to understand both how to protect myself better and how to take a punch. She let me experience the joy of the sport before I took on the punishment.
4. She makes the team work as a team.
We all train on our own in addition to training with the team, but when we’re working as a team we train together, starting on time, working at the same pace, helping each other and offering encouragement and support when we can. There isn’t a lot of chitchat or social stuff going on in our training; it tends to be more serious. But that doesn’t mean a heartfelt call to finish well or a sympathetic groan of misery isn’t heard on a regular basis.
5. She protects her people.
Don’t let her catch you stretching before you’ve warmed up. And if you aren’t training hard, she’s not going to allow you in the ring. If you’re in the ring, she looks out for you and calls it off if you’re in danger or calls you out if you’re putting someone else in danger. Inattention to these things in boxing means serious injuries and people leaving the sport.
6. She’s incredibly tough.
She knows you are cursing her name the day after she kicked your ass really badly in training. She knows not everybody will agree with her decisions. She doesn’t expect to win popularity contests, she expects to train winners. And she doesn’t ask you to do what she won’t do (and she can usually do it with her eyes shut and hands tied).
7. She goes the extra mile.
You know these coaches – they’re the ones who drive long distances to take a group to a meet or event. They spend unpaid hours working to find matches for their fighers. They respond to emails and share information that might be helpful to you; they let you draw on the contacts and connections they’ve spent a lifetime building up. And they are happy to do it. When you find someone like this, you know it’s different. It’s wonderful.
Did I say “7 Reasons”? Well I meant eight. Because this last one seals the deal.
8. She’ll have a beer with you, too.
Trainers are people, too. As an adult, the more serious you become about a particular sport, the more enjoyable it can be to share some off-the-clock time with your coach, either as a team or one-on-one. Even if it’s just taking a look at pictures of a recent concert together after team training is over, or enjoying a beer ringside at a fight, it builds trust because it builds the relationship.
I want to give a special shout-out to the trainers who have been such a gift to me over the years: Coach Buddy, Coach Poppenheimer, Coach Yates, and Coach Bonnie Mann: you guys make all the difference. Thanks for everything.
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