It goes without saying that anyone who calls himself/herself a boxer must have sparred at least once. Arguably, the most important skills in boxing are acquired only through sparring. To put it simply: a boxer who doesn’t spar is like a track athlete who doesn’t run.
What is Sparring?
Loosely put, sparring is any activity where two boxers, keeping in mind that they are practicing, are attempting to hit and not get hit. Strictly speaking, however, sparring usually requires protective measures such as, for contact, headgear, mouthpieces, groin protectors, and sparring gloves weighing no less than 14 oz., and for non-contact, target zones or open/closed fists.
The Several Forms of Sparring
Sparring is very broad and encompasses many activities. Sparring can be broken down into several forms:
- Open sparring: Both boxers are unrestricted in number/types of punches they can throw but may face restrictions in power, speed, tempo…although it is necessary that there is a constructive mindset.
- Hard sparring: Both boxers maintain a very high level of intensity (especially in power and tempo). Mutual exchanges and hard shots are likely.
- Light sparring: Both boxers maintain a medium to low level of intensity. Mutual exchanges and hard shots are unlikely.
- Closed sparring: One boxer is restricted in either number or type(s) of punches, defenses, or maneuvers and performs them with a complementary boxer. There does not have to be contact.
- Contact Drills: As instructed, one boxer is restricted to a certain number of punches, defenses, or maneuvers and performs them with a complementary boxer.
- Pseudo-sparring: Any non-contact activity where two boxers practice the skills unique to sparring.
Skills Involved in Sparring
Sparring is the only thing boxers can do to practice all aspects of boxing at once, and some of those aspects are unique to sparring (and boxing in a match). Here is a (non-comprehensive) list of skills unique to sparring (and competition):
- ring generalship
- adapting to a live opponent
- suppressing pain (after getting hit hard) and, to a certain extent, emotion (fear, anger, submission, even admiration, pity, etc.)
- staying calm
- even creativity (for example, punch variation and combination manipulation).
Sparring also allows a person to practice their technique beyond what can be achieved through shadow-boxing, focus mitts, or a heavy bag alone.
There are few recommended precautions for pseudo-sparring. Mainly, the two boxers should be competent in their fundamentals (i.e. 1, 2, footwork, and blocking), and if applicable, should clarify target zones and allowed maneuvers.
But there are several important recommendations for contact sparring: both boxers should be competent in all the basics (in other words, at least a couple months of experience) and should both be wearing protective gear: headgear, sparring gloves, a mouthpiece, a groin protector or cup, and wraps. Additionally, both should be clear on the instructions from coach or each other, and there should be a third party present (so that it doesn’t get out of hand).