Not all fighters start out with the ability to, figuratively, stare down the barrel of a gun without blinking. They don't have that unwavering fearlessness to take whatever incoming fire is raining down on them, while remaining cool, calm and collected. Instead, they flinch, blink or shy away when the pressure hits. Some in the boxing business call this being gun-shy, which is basically demonstrating a vulnerable or passive reaction to getting hit.
Some fighters start out gun-shy, while others develop it over time. Most beginners have it because they are either afraid to get hit or just aren't used to the aggressive nature of the sport yet. Honestly, watching boxing on TV and the concept of exchanging blows is different in most people's minds than it usually turns out to be in reality. In other, more experienced fighters, being gun-shy develops over time. They take too many punches, are in one-too-many wars or, after having been knocked out, develop an inability to take punches with the same conviction. Granted, it's not easy walking back into the lion’s cage once you've already been bit, but an athlete who is afraid to be hit is just plain in the wrong sport. If you can relate to this or have an athlete who suffers from being gun-shy that doesn't mean it's a lost cause. Some of this reaction or overreaction may be rooted in natural response, more than fear and, if that's the case, there are a few tricks you can try to help overcome this aversion to taking your lumps.
Use a full face headgear. Some fighters don't like them because they are afraid that it makes them look like they are overprotecting themselves and some trainers feel like they provide a false sense of security. This might be partially true in both cases, but who cares? There is nothing tough about taking unnecessary shots to the face. Granted, it may not be best to use one all of the time, but if it is helping you get over some apprehension to getting hit or, literally saving face, then use it to your advantage. Once you get accustomed to getting hit, without absorbing the entire surface impact of the blow, you can occasionally incorporate a headgear that provides less coverage. The fact is…we see more and more top tier professionals using these because their physical health is important to them. Black eyes, busted lips and broken noses tend to put a halt to training and the less wear-and-tear they can put on their bodies and heads, the longer their careers can last.
Another trick you can use is to work the speed bag from close range. Get close enough that the speed bag bounces and rebounds only fractions of an inch from your eyes. Work on keeping your eyes open as the bag bounces close to your face. Blinking is a natural reflex that happens to protect your eyes, so you might have to work a little to recondition yourself to keep your eyes open and focused, even with something bouncing right at it.
Pick on someone your own size...NOT. Instead, work with a smaller sparring partner and ask him to throw a variety of punches, but not load up with any big shots. This will help you work on your defense, but can also help acclimate you to the idea that every punch doesn't necessarily hurt. Some fighters, because they've either been thrown into a combative situation too quickly or faced tough opposition too early on, develop the perception that getting punched hurts more than it really does. That’s not to say that getting hit shouldn't hurt, but sometimes fighters build it up in their minds until they've decided that every punch is devastating, even when it’s not. Some are, but most are not. If you develop the attitude and ability to take a punch, the level and power of a punch can build from there. Sometimes starting small (light) is necessary.
Your reaction to getting hit is a component of your defense, so address it as a part of a whole. Revisit your defensive fundamentals. Be sure you are blocking, slipping and avoiding punches properly. If you are unsure about your defense and ability to keep from getting hit solid, then you will lack confidence anytime you are engaging with your opponent. This uncertainty will show in how you react when you're on the defensive. Flinching, cowering away and over-covering up are all signs of having a fear of getting hit and could be based in a basic uncertainty of how to deal with it. Total confidence in your defense means that you know you have an answer for anything your opponent throws. You never have to shy away from the question you know you'll have an answer for.
Like confidence and heart, the ability to take a punch can be built. Yeah, some guys are just naturally-gifted in one or all of these areas, but some people have to work at it. If you can honestly say to yourself, "I am not scared to take a punch." then there's nothing wrong with stepping back and building or rebuilding on this aspect of your defense. It might require some self-examination and self discipline to get back to the basics, but sometimes you have to start over in order to move forward.