Inclusive Boxing packs a real punch

When somebody first mentioned the idea of disability boxing to me, I must admit to thinking “you must be mad!”

Whilst interest in boxing has steadily been growing over recent years, there are still those who consider ‘the sweet science”too dangerous’ and therefore, definitely too risky for disabled participants…how wrong they are.

CHIOW met with Lucy and Stu O’ Connor back in April to sound out some ideas around developing a disability boxing session at their club in Eastleigh. Given our efforts to create the Disability Coaching Network, we were obviously intrigued.

Both Stu and Lucy are in the Royal Navy and like many volunteers, juggle a full-time job with full-time hours volunteering at their club. However, not satisfied with their 300% growth in their first year, their passion is such that they want to bring the sport to communities that have previously been denied the opportunity.

The timing for their proposed growth falls in line with a proposed expansion of their current facility.  Though only a year old (they celebrated their  one-year birthday on 4th March 2014) they are already out-growing the space they inhabit at the home of Hampshire County Cricket, the Ageas Bowl.

“Its amazing to think that we’ve grown from the two of us to 424 members in just twelve months”, declared Lucy.

However,the club has not rested on its laurels and continue to grow by providing outreach schemes in local schools, including Wilden, Bursledon and Woodlands.  With growing membership the club have had to grow their coaching team as well and now have six qualified coaches to support both the largely recreational and competitive boxing membership.

We’re very much a family club and provide for those members who wish to conduct boxing training for fitness as well as those who wish to compete.  Our members range from  7-70.  Many of our coaches are parents who brought their kids to the club to box and then just wanted to get involved.  At a guess I’d say less than 10% of our membership is interested in competitive contact boxing.  The rest just love the training and developing their skills and confidence.

So why disabilty boxing?

Stu explained,

…to be honest we hadn’t given disability boxing much thought until one of our own boxers walked into the gym and asked if he could join. We both scratched our heads, but were willing to give it a try and since then we’ve been thinking about creating a new opportunity for people who are disabled.

Dan Rush has Cerebal Palsy.  He walked through the doors of the club around 6-months ago, explaining he wanted to box.

Dan tells us what he can and can’t do, but there isn’t much he can’t do.  In fact he often embarresses other members of the club with what he can do and they can’t.

Whilst some might find it surprising that the notoriusly traditional England Boxing (formerly the Amateur Boxing Association for England or ABAE) is now opening its eyes to the potential of disability boxing in growing its popularity.  Given the struggles women have had to go through to be recognised as equal partners in the sport, there is a surprising willingness by the ABAE to explore this new market.  However, the recent sanction of Deaf Fighters by the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) has opened up the sport to some communities that may not have previously considered the sport had a pathway for them.

Since meeting Stu, Lucy and Club Chairman Richard Butriss, the group have been doing their homework, visiting a club in France that already has an established inclusive boxing programme.

Stu addresses his recreational boxers at their home base at the Ageas Bowl.

Stu addresses his recreational boxers at their home base at the Ageas Bowl.

Sport Hampshire & IOW have also been doing some research and plan to bring two experience coaches from the north of England to Hampshire, to help Poseidon and other interested parties, develop their skills and knowledge around a more inclusive approach.

Peter Hull, Disability Sports Development Officer for the county explains,

We’re working with local Sports Development Officers and sports groups to gauge the interest in boxing.  However, we’re not planning to run before we can walk, so our first steps will be to work with those from the deaf community and once we have a working project, we’ll explore pan disability opportunities with other clubs around the county. It’s vital that we create better links with non-sporting organisations to share the offer and evaluate the demand.

We’ve also sought the support of the England Boxing and will be joined in this endeavour by Avoen Perryman, Club Support Officer for the South East region.

I’m really excited by the prospect of developing something innovative and inclusive, which uderpins the England Boxing’s social-inclusion agenda.  Having spoken to other clubs across the region, there’s a great deal of interest in the initiative and I hope we’re in a position to replicate this on a much wider scale after we launch the pilot with Poseidon.  We’re building on work that has taken place in th North West and Yorkshire, but this will be the first project of its kind in the South.

One of the keys to the programmes success will be coaching and CHIOW will support the project by developing the training programme and monitoring the results.  Plans are afoot to launch the first round of coach education this summer with a view to sessions getting underway by autumn.

If you know of anyone from the deaf community who might be intersted in getting involved, then please get them to contact Peter Hull on peter.hull@hants.gov.uk or get in touch with Stu and Lucy via the club email poseidonabc@me.com.

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Posted on 30/06/2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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