elitefts™ Sunday Edition

I'm a very lucky strength coach, and person, for that matter. I've been very lucky in that I always seem to get hardworking and diverse people who want to help out and give me some free, or poorly paid, labor. I assume they all just show up because of my good looks and that they want some eye candy. But whatever the reason, this has not only made my life easier, but it has done much to make my university's strength and conditioning department better.

This month I spoke to an interesting person who helps us out one day a week. Joe Divosevic is the owner of a local boxing gym and another just all around cool place called Mac-Fitness. Joe has been spending one or two days a week helping out the athletes and doing some boxing training with them. I asked Joe to give us some information on how to use boxing and other combat sports to improve our athletes. Here's what he had to say:

TH: Joe, tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in boxing.

JD: Coach Hamer, first and foremost, thank you for this opportunity and for the time that I've been given to work with your athletes at Robert Morris University. I consider what you do as a strength coach and mentor for the student athlete one of the most important jobs on the planet.

I started out as some kids do with aspirations of competing in a sport where only I can determine the outcome of the event. Boxing was the game that I chose. I started at the age of 16 while in high school at a little club in the basement of a local fire hall, and the fighter I emulated was Mike Tyson. I studied his films for hours at a time. I watched everything he did from head to toe. I learned so much about discipline and what it takes to become a master of a trade. Believe it or not, I enjoyed the training as much as the competitions. Boxing has given me so much. The opportunities it has given me are countless. In a way, it has set me apart in what I can provide in a program.

TH: With the growth of MMA, do you work with boxers as well as MMA athletes, and what are the important differences in choosing one style versus the other when training athletes?

JD: I work with both types of combat athletes, but my heart is with boxing. I've done some MMA training and submission grappling tournaments and had some success with it, but I found that it's much more taxing on my body than boxing, especially being a heavyweight.

The style I choose depends on the athletic goal, the sport, and the athlete. Some athletes aren't very physical, and some sports have minimal contact. For example, training a tennis player is different than training a wrestler or football lineman. Regardless, the combat instructor must realize the ultimate goal of the athlete. The instructor must have the ability to tone down certain combat movements to accommodate the athlete. The same would be true in the weight room where the strength coach must understand that most of his athletes aren't “weightlifters” but are athletes lifting weights to enhance performance. Some exercises may at times need small modifications to better suit the training goal.  The last thing the head coach wants is an injury caused by this type of training. Boxing training is typically a little kinder on the joints if administered properly, so more times than not, this is the training of choice.

TH: I know that we've spent a lot of time working with our basketball team on boxing technique. What did you learn most from this experience?

JD: The first thing I learned, or that was confirmed, was that these basketball guys have most of the physical qualities you need to be a successful boxer. The agility, length, balance, coordination, fluid movement capability, and body control are all critical traits to being a successful fighter. I've always believed this to be true about basketball players. Most don’t gravitate to boxing, and I don’t blame them!

The other thing I learned is that if you make it fun but realistic, the student athletes will get more out of it. If it isn't explained why something is done a certain way, the drill becomes irrelevant. These kids are smart and want to grasp the real meaning of the movement. You can't treat it as just another good workout. It must have substance to carry over.

TH: If another strength coach wanted to start using boxing, where would you suggest he start?

JD: The coach must understand the sport and the differences in working with athletes who aren't training to become boxers. The athlete’s goals for his sport must be the top priority. You know as well as I do that we don’t just do something to do it. We don’t do it because others are doing it or because it looks cool. If MMA and boxing training tactics are abused and not modified, I guarantee someone will get hurt.

I see many Division I football programs implementing MMA style training and even building combat facilities for athletic enhancement. Unless they create a controlled environment specific to their goals, the schools are asking for trouble.

TH: As a former competitive lifter, how do you feel the combat sports can help a competitive lifter (any and all disciplines, Strongman, powerlifter, Olympic lifter, etc.)?

JD: Well, I already know what lifting has done for my boxing, so this is a great question. Most importantly, it helps with the mindset. In a combat-style sport, one is competing against another athlete. There isn't anything between you and that opponent. In the competition, you both have a common goal, and that is to defeat the other guy. You must control the opponent and manipulate his intentions. The same mentality can be useful with competitive lifting. It is you against the weight. If you control the weight, your chances of completing a successful lift are pretty good. If the weight controls you, the outcome won't be good.

TH: Because I know that my athletes know you and want to read this, tell us about your boxing history.

JD: I started amateur boxing in high school. I competed within the gym but not officially until I was out of school. I then began to compete in “real” matches locally and then started to travel for competitions. After competing in several boxing events, I took a small break from boxing in my late teens and early twenties to focus on competitive powerlifting. I loved lifting weights, especially heavy ones. Fortunately, I had a bit of success as a lifter, but I also missed the boxing. You can say that I had a bit of an ADD disorder for competition.

I returned to boxing at the age of 21, fought at the amateur level for a couple more years, and then decided to compete in “toughman” style competitions down in south Florida where I was living. I later realized that fighting in these competitions would negate my amateur boxing status, so I was forced to turn professional in 1995 at the age of 25. I shared my professional debut with Paul Spadafora. I had over three dozen combined boxing matches and am very fortunate to have never been “knocked out.” I only lost twice in my career—once as an amateur and once as a professional. I can honestly attribute most of this success to my mental and physical preparation. I always took my training seriously, as most athletes should.

TH: Any final thoughts?

JD: I've been very fortunate to be able to take my experiences as an athlete and use them from a coaching perspective. There isn't a day of training that goes by when I haven't learned something new about myself or another student. It's just as fun being a teacher as it was an athlete.

When I was asked by Coach Hamer to conduct a boxing style workout for his basketball guys, I was honored to know that he had confidence in my ability as a coach. The greatest part about coaching is the opportunity you have to make a difference in an individual’s life. I believe that most athletes don’t care what you know. They just want to know that you care. This speaks volumes from a coaching perspective.

TH: Thanks Joe!

There are so many things I learned through writing this article with Joe. First and foremost, I realized what an asset he really is in my department. I said at the beginning that I'm very lucky. Reading this made me realize how true that is. Something Joe said that we all need to remember is: “The greatest part of coaching is the opportunity you have to make a difference in an individual’s life. I believe that most athletes don’t care what you know. They just want to know that you care.” I would be remiss if I didn't tell a short story that happened to me this weekend and relates perfectly.

On Saturday night, we played our "across town" rivals in basketball. This is always a big game for us, as we're in the smaller conference and we're the smaller school, so wins are always extra sweet and the crowd is always extra big. While at the game, one of our university administrators said that there was someone who wanted to meet me. A woman came over and introduced herself. She then went on to say that her daughter is on our field hockey team. I don’t always know these girls because one of my assistants works with this team. But she told me who her daughter was and I'm pretty sure I knew which young lady she is. She then floored me by telling me that her daughter came home from break and said, "Mom, you have to meet Hamer. He really cares more about us as people than as athletes." Now, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. It means more to me to hear this than to win one game (we did go on to win by 26 points in this game).

Use all the resources available to you and this may mean your local boxing guru, your academic people, or your student life people. You'll be able to do so much more! We are stronger than the sum of our parts.

“The powerful should mind their own power.” — Kenyan Proverb