TASS support helping Toussaint and other talented boxers through Covid period
April 19, 2021 | by Matt Halfpenny
Like most sports, boxing has rolled with the punches during the pandemic. But when TASS identified an opportunity to support England Boxing, we were quick to step in, as Simon Rushworth explains.
The big bout. For boxers everywhere, it’s the carrot at the end of months of energy-sapping training and personal sacrifice. Take away the contest, and it’s incredibly tough to stay focused and maintain peak motivation.
Time and time again during the last 12 months, enforced gym closures and championship cancellations – in order to comply with government Covid-19 lockdown requirements – has meant that England Boxing’s emerging stars have needed to think outside the box to keep themselves ticking over.
Given the close-contact nature of the sport, full training has been limited to the professional and GB ranks only since March 2020, but that has not stopped amateur clubs and boxers taking part in online sessions with their coaches, training in their gardens and completing running challenges, all to keep themselves in shape.
The thrill of competing and that personal contact that comes from going to the local club has, however, been noticeably absent and for teenage prospects like five-time English champion Sameenah Toussaint, she’s delighted to see there is now light at the end of the tunnel, with clubs having reopened on 12th April and competitions set to restart in the second half of 2021.
“I’m lucky that I have a gym at home so I’ve been in a far better position than most,” explained the 18-year-old European bronze medallist and aspiring Olympian, from the Patrick Wilson School of Boxing club.
“I’ve still been able to do the essentials while everything has been shut down, but I’ve not been able to spar or fight for more than a year. That’s what you live for as a boxer and it’s been a big, big miss.
“I was meant to go to the EUBC European Youth Championships and the AIBA World Youth Championships in the past 12 months but I couldn’t attend either because of Covid.
“It’s been lonely at times and, with no face-to-face contact, it can get you down, but thankfully it looks like better times are now ahead and we boxers can get back to doing what we do best.”
Sameenah isn’t alone. It’s a similar story across the country where young boxers have faced long periods of isolation and found themselves at risk of becoming disconnected from a community renowned for its positive impact on the physical and mental health of those athletes it supports.
Last autumn, with no end in sight to the pandemic and a second national lockdown looming large, England Boxing moved to roll out a four-week course aimed at addressing issues around mental health.
At the same time, TASS considered how it could offer additional practical support to boxers ahead of a return to action in 2021.
“In October we teamed up with Mental Health UK to deliver a four-week online course called Your Resilience,” said Andrea Rankine, Talent Pathway Manager at England Boxing.
“It was for our boxers who, at the time, were looking to compete at the AIBA World Youth Championships.
“We looked at coping strategies at a time when many of our athletes were also facing pressures related to exams being moved and cancelled, missing out on face-to-face contact with their coaches and peers and even struggling to source the right food.
“Boxing clubs support young people in so many ways and when those clubs were forced to shut it left a void within the community. We saw quite a few young boxers suffer with mental health problems and Your Resilience was a much-needed response to that.”
At the same time, TASS invited England Boxing to nominate boxers who might benefit from additional support focused on strength and conditioning, nutrition, lifestyle and physiotherapy.
Twelve 16-18-year-olds – including Sameenah – were identified as potential candidates and six TASS Delivery Sites (TDS) across England were linked to the newly-created project.
Initially designed to supplement the boxers’ preparations for the 2021 AIBA World Youth Championships in Poland, the sessions went ahead from January even though the England squad withdrew from the tournament because of ongoing health and safety concerns brought about by the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“It’s fantastic to see TASS step up to the mark and make this extra support available to the boxers,” said Duncan Ogilvie, Director of Strength and Conditioning and lead TASS practitioner at the University of East London (UEL).
“I’ve been working with five boxers linked to the project since the turn of the year and I know how much it’s meant to them to be able to get back to one-to-one sessions.
“I’ve been able to introduce them to the professional boxers who I work with and that’s really opened their eyes and inspired them.
“I think everyone was disappointed when the difficult decision was made for England to miss the AIBA World Youth Championships this year, but I can’t fault the attitude of the athletes I’ve been working with.
“They’ve just knuckled down and focused on the next challenge which is attending the GB world class boxing programme.”
The TASS delivery sites at UEL, King’s College, Teesside University, Sheffield Hallam University, Nottingham Trent University and Northumbria University agreed to provide a minimum of one hour’s S&C each week to the selected boxers.
But many have benefited from additional on-site support ahead of a return to boxing within the next few weeks.
Sameenah, who has been attending weekly S&C sessions at King’s College, added: “The TASS-supported face-to-face work was just what I needed.
“I’ve been stuck at home for a year and it can get a bit repetitive training on your own and doing all of your work remotely.
“You can only push yourself so far in that environment so I jumped at the chance to work face-to-face with an S&C coach.
“It’s my ambition to get onto the GB world class programme this year so I want to be in the best shape possible.
“I can feel the difference now that I have those S&C sessions under my belt. I’ve enjoyed every minute and I’m still involved every week.”
England Boxing has been monitoring the progress of the 12 youth boxers nominated to receive TASS support.
And Andrea added: “It’s been a hugely positive experience for all of them.
“It’s been great for the boxers to get back out into society, see some real people again and work alongside like-minded athletes and coaches for the first time in months.
“This is a special project and so this time the TASS support has also been available to some of our boxers who are working, as well as to those in full-time education.
“Those young people, in particular, have benefited from being in a different environment and experiencing fresh opportunities.
“It’s given them a taste of something new and it might help them to think differently about the value of education and perhaps pass that on to younger siblings.
“It would be easy to assess the TASS support at face value, but it’s about much more than S&C or other practical support.”
You can find out more about England’s Talent Squad of boxers by clicking here.