November 15th, 2022
Why College Boxing is Important
by Joab Corey
Faculty Advisor and Coach of Highlander Gloves at UC Riverside
When people find out that I spend my evenings and weekends coaching a college boxing team, they are often surprised that college boxing even exists. When they find out that I spend my days teaching economics as an associate professor at UC Riverside, they seem even more shocked. I’m sometimes asked how I can devote my professional life to education and helping college students develop critical thinking skills necessary to solve complex problems, and then spend my limited free time helping them pursue a dangerous sport that involves inflicting strikes to the head and potential brain injury. It does seem paradoxical to those who ask these questions. For them, it’s akin to building a bridge during the day, and then just tearing it down at night, especially since its not unusual for some of the same students in my economics classes to end up in the ring with me the very same evening. It has been my experience that there is one common thread running through all those who ask these questions: none of them have ever participated in the sport of boxing. This is because those who have participated in the sport of boxing already know the answer.
As a former USA boxing athlete and now boxing coach who works with college student boxers every week, I know that the lessons I learned in boxing have helped me succeed as both an undergraduate and graduate student, and that many of the members of the boxing club I coach have echoed a similar sentiment. In addition to being more physically healthy, boxing helped teach me a level of discipline that helped me achieve my academic goals. Most sports offer the youth who engage in them a sense of structure, responsibility to themselves and their teammates, and increased work ethic, among other valuable lessons. This is why youth sports, when done correctly, has been so widely accepted as a positive development tool. However, in addition to these crucial lessons, boxing emphasizes some other lessons that are more unique to it and other combat sports. The most notable of these is grit, which is defined as courage and resolve, or strength of character. In a world where comfort is a priority and increasing technology has made almost every aspect of our lives easier and more convenient, many people are starting to lack the ability to deal with struggle, stress, or just being uncomfortable. Ask any competitive boxer what they felt heading into their first sanctioned bout, and they will likely tell you about being excited, but also nervous. If they are being completely honest, they will probably also mention being afraid, not necessarily of getting hurt, but afraid of failing. By walking up to that ring and stepping through those ropes, they have confronted and overcome those feelings of apprehension and fear, and they are better for it. This is the first of several reasons why college boxing is important which, like a typical amateur boxing match, will be presented in 3 rounds.
Round #1: Boxing Builds Stronger People.
Life in general, and college in particular, is notable for putting people in stressful and uncomfortable situations. In college, these situations could include taking an exam, giving an oral presentation, or completing a project by the deadline. Colleges and universities around the country recognize the stress that students in higher education typically experience as they have devoted a considerable number of resources to address the physical and mental health concerns of their students. Those who actively pursue the sport of boxing not only gain the physical benefits brought on by strength and cardiovascular training, but they also train their mind to overcome obstacles. They face and overcome the fear of getting in the ring, they get used to being uncomfortable as they stare down the punches being aimed at them, and perhaps most importantly, they practice getting up after being knocked down. It’s these lessons learned especially through the sport of boxing that helps these student athletes overcome obstacles in the classroom and in life. Most college boxers don’t become professional fighters, but they all turn pro at something, and those lessons of courage and perseverance tend to stay with them as they accomplish those professional goals. It’s been said that education doesn’t only occur in the classroom and that college is about more than just getting a degree, which brings us to the second reason why college boxing is important.
Round #2: Participation in Boxing Enhances the College Experience
As someone who attempts to teach life lessons both in the classroom and at the boxing gym, I can honestly say that I probably reach more students on a deeper level being a college boxing coach than I do being a college professor. In my economics classes, I teach students how to maximize under constraints or get the greatest benefit at the lowest possible cost as a way to hopefully help them get the most out of their lives. The size of my classes range from 15 students in a small honors class to 570 students in a large lecture hall, and every once in a while I will get an email from a student saying how much they appreciated the class and how it changed their lives. I treasure these emails as they make the frustrating parts of my job more bearable. That said, most of the students who come in and out of my classroom will report having a good learning experience, but probably won’t remember too much about what happened in the classroom years from now. Very few ever stay in touch with me to let me know one way or another. However, those members of the boxing team, particularly those who traveled with and competed in USIBA tournaments, have repeatedly told me that participating in college boxing was one of the most memorable parts of their college experiences. They can’t tell me what they learned in their communications or political science class, but they can recall every detail of flying out to the national championship tournament, staying in a hotel with the team, making weight, competing in front of a crowd, and all of the training sessions that allowed them to engage in these activities. Many of my boxers have said these experiences were a first for them as they have never been on a plane, left the state, or even stayed in a hotel before. If college is about helping prepare students for life, then getting access to these experiences through boxing has definitely enhanced their college experience. Further, they have told me that the bond they make with their fellow teammates and in some cases, even their competition, is stronger than the bonds they made with their fellow classmates. One of my student-athletes pointed out that being a part of the boxing club was like being in a fraternity, just one that focused on building bonds through positive activities like working out and competing, versus negative activities like hazing and alcohol consumption. If the higher education experience is also about education outside of the classroom and more than getting a degree, then college boxing definitely has a place in helping to prepare its student athletes for taking on, and even, changing the world. This brings us to the third reason why college boxing is important.
Round #3: Higher Education and Combat Training Should Not Be Separated
Athenian historian and general, Thucydides, was quoted in saying “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools”. This quote from this ancient Greek father of scientific history illustrates why it is important for those who are getting their higher education to also have access to the lessons learned in a boxing gym. This sentiment is echoed by the fact that there are so many military junior colleges and public military colleges, even outside of the federal service academies here in the United States. We recognize the importance of our soldiers being educated and of educated people having the courage and discipline developed through combat training. It can be argued that in today’s world of misinformation and internet anonymity, it is more important than ever for people to have the education to discern what is factually right and wrong and to have the courage and tenacity to defend their understanding of the facts. Boxing training helps endow individuals with that level of perseverance to stand up for that in which they believe strongly to be right and true. It might be better for everyone if this trait of perseverance was combined with the critical thinking tools developed through higher education that can help college students figure out what that truth is. So, while boxing as a part of the college experience might seem unusual to those who don’t have any experience with the sport, I can’t think of anything that might be more necessary.
Faculty Advisor and Coach of Highlander Gloves
Associate Professor of Teaching in Economics at UC Riverside