The topic of courage and heart is talked about so much in athletics because it’s a big part of competition. The other emotion that is the subject of a lot of conversation, even as many as three or four times in these blog posts alone is fear.
Fear is addressed so regularly, not because it is something that should be focused on, but in order to control it, harness it and master the role it plays in the sport of boxing, it has to be fully understood.
There are numerous quotes on the topic of fear. Some of the most notable and quotable ones are attributed to the legendary trainer, Cus D’Amato, who said “The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It’s the same thing, fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters.”
In essence, the purpose of fear is to warn and prepare the human body for conflict. It sets the body’s natural fight or flight response into high gear. Amongst other physical reactions, you know that your heart beat begins to quicken, your pores open up, your body releases extra adrenaline and blood flow increases because you can feel it. What you may not be fully aware of is that there are two types of fear; physiological fear (instinctual) and psychological fear (mental) and both are very different. Both types of fear have some applications to boxing, but when you know the difference between the two you can them begin to discern what’s real and what’s not.
Psychological fear is experienced when we feel like something is at stake when it’s really not. The type of fear you may feel of being rejected when asking a girl out on a date or the type of fear you may feel when taking a test; neither of those are reality-based because the outcome won’t result in physical, bodily harm one way or the other.
On the other hand, physiological fear is your body’s natural response to real potential harm. Since most fighters, in many circumstances have to feel some level of fear for their physical well-being, both psychological and physiological fear have some basis to exist. The question a fighter should ask himself is how much of his fear is based on real concern for his physical well-being and how much of it is strictly made-up in his head. Those “what if” circumstances may be allowing you to control your fear or they may be having control over you.
If, as a fighter, you dream-up all of these wild scenarios in your mind about getting cut, getting head butted, getting knocked out or, worse yet, suffering life-threatening injuries in a fight; those types of fears, although legitimate, may be playing on your psyche more than what’s necessary. It’s much better to set those types of heightened fears aside and not let your mind wander. Don’t play those mental games with yourself. Focus instead on the real physical response your body is having to getting itself physiologically prepared for combat.
Feel your heart racing.
Focus on your rapid breathing pattern and try to control it. Slow it down.
Let your hands be sweaty and walk around on shaky knees.
Don’t try to fight back the physicality of fear.
You know what it is. You know how it operates so you can call it by name. Maybe that makes it a little less mysterious and seem likes less of an unwelcome guest.
Now…come fight time, don’t try to keep it locked outside the dressing room door. Welcome it in, let it sit beside you and tell it to “Shut up.” while you get ready to fight.
You might be surprised when you stop battling against it, how that same fear that was paralyzing you can turn from an adversary into an ally and potentially one of the strongest forces in your corner.