The build-up, the money, the media circus surrounding the “fight of the century” were all potential distractions, so how might the pound for pound kings have kept their focus for the biggest fight of their lives?
I write for a website called Boxing Science, the world’s first website dedicated specifically to sport science in Boxing. Co-created by Danny Wilson, and Alan Ruddock, Boxing Science has brought together a team of sport science experts from Sheffield Hallam University to apply principles from research and practice in developing world class boxers and coaches.
In the build up to the fight of Fight of the Century, we wrote a series of articles on the science behind this potentially spectacular fight night. So I collaborated with trainee sport psychologist, Rory Mack, to write the following article for the Boxing Science website. In it, we discuss some of the methods and strategies boxers might use to remain focused on the biggest stage of them all…
Trawling through twitter, a tweet from Manny Pacquiao caught our attention here at Boxing Science. It read, simply, “Keep your focus on what matters the most.” But what does matter the most when preparing for the fight of your life? What should you keep your focus on? Winning? Making weight? Eating right? Getting enough sleep?
With so many things running round an athlete’s head in the build up to an important competition, it’s sometimes difficult to know what to focus on. In this article, we’ll be giving you some hints and tips for developing your ability to focus on what’s important.
Now whoever you picked to win the ‘Fight of the Century’, there’s no denying that both of these guys were supremely talented fighters. In a port like boxing, the battle of the minds can play a key part in who comes out on top. Who can keep their focus on what matters most?
Keep your focus
This might sound pretty obvious, but keeping your focus isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In the build up to an important fight, it’s perfectly normal to have a lot of different thoughts about a lot of different things…
What If I lose? What if I WIN? What shall I have for dinner tonight?
Whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has thoughts like this, all the time. Sometimes these thoughts are useful like when you’re thinking about how you might counter an opponent’s strengths; sometimes they’re not, like when you’re wondering how they get cranes on top of buildings.
“It’s perfectly normal to have a lot of different thoughts about a lot of different things. Every now and then our minds are going to wander away from what’s important, but having a strategy in place for when that happens can be a real advantage.”
On fight night itself, it can be easy to get distracted. Thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, as well as things like the crowd, the referee, even the colour of your opponent’s shorts, might all take your focus away from what’s important.
The key thing really, is how you see these thoughts – are they negative and distracting, or are they ‘just thoughts’ that come and go and don’t necessarily mean anything? As boxers, we should probably accept that every now and then our minds are going to wander away from what’s important; that’s just human nature. But having a strategy in place for when that happens can be a real advantage.
What should I focus on?
We started by asking what matters most in terms of focus – what should we focus on? But the honest answer is that it really does depend on the athlete. Sometimes using focus cues in the ring can really help you to keep your attention on what’s important. If you find yourself being distracted or getting ‘stuck’ on negative or unhelpful thoughts, focus cues are a great tool to help re-focus the mind.
These focus cues can be single words, or longer phrases, used to direct attention to different aspects of performance, but it’s really important that boxers develop their own cues so that they’re more meaningful.
How do I know what my focus cues should be?
So let’s say you want to develop your own focus cues that you could use in the ring for a particular fight. The first stage is to decide where you want your focus to be. In previous articles we’ve talked about the need to ‘control the controllables’, so it’s best that your focus cues relate to things that you can control!
Perhaps you want to focus on something technical, or maybe it’s something physical. Perhaps it’s something more to do with your mind-set or your mental approach to the fight. Dominate the centre of the ring? Stay light on your feet? Keep using the jab? Maybe thinking back to the ‘four corners’ might be useful.
Once you’ve decided what your areas of focus are, come up with one cue word for each of those things – ‘Dominate’ … ‘Glide’ … ‘Sting’ – but make sure these words are particularly meaningful for you. These cues should be simple, but should remind you of the job at hand.
Some athletes find it helpful to pair their focus cues with a physical cue; perhaps a couple of deep, abdominal breaths, rolling the neck and shoulders or a squeeze of the fist. This can help draw attention away from any distracting thoughts, and help you to focus on what is relevant at that particular moment, or just help you relax and feel loose.
It’s really important to practice using your focus cues in training. Get comfortable with them long before fight night. See what works and what doesn’t work for you and change your cues if you need to. But remember that your focus cues should be simple and tailored specifically to you if they’re going to help you maintain focus on the task at hand.
Practice them consistently, and when it comes time to perform, your cues might just help you to focus on what’s important and remind your body to go out there and do exactly what you’ve been training for.