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Fight or Game

At the ITA Munster Open this past weekend we had the opportunity to sit down with a coffee and watch the end of the Saturday competition. The Shannon and East Cork competitors were finished for the day and we got to chatting, as we always do, about coaching topics and ‘what next’. Juliana Kovaliova had just finished a tough final with Alice Larkin and Jessica Williams had likewise just battled it out with Ellie Hendrick. All four girls had dug deep, bitten down on their gumshield and fought hard to the end, then hugged it out and put on a smile for the podium.

So our conversation started with this… do you tell your students that sparring is a game or a fight?

The sport has characteristics of both. You score points within a defined set of rules with no need to inflict harm on your opponent to win the match. You control space physically using kicks and punches that are more effective when they’re forceful. A code of conduct applies and sportsperson like behaviour is expected. Contact is contact, and it hurts, but we encourage it. So which is it… fight or game?

We both start from the principle that sparring is a game, a tough game, but definitely a game. The idea that it’s a fight is too emotive for most people, especially early on, and is why it can be so challenging to get competitors to behave rationally and intelligently in the ring. Emotional responses to being hit cross the spectrum from fear and disappointment to anger and outrage. None of these help us to reach a positive outcome in the ring and may lead to a dislike of the game in general. So to begin with, we reinforce the concept that sparring is a game and that the challenge is to provide problems your opponent can’t solve while solving the problems they present to you.

At some point though, like on Saturday, the solution to the problem is to dig deep, bite down and fight! If that appetite, heart, courage, grit, determination, fight… whatever we call it isn’t there, all the game skills in the worlds won’t bring success. So we first learn to play the game, then we learn to play hard, then we play to win.

What do you think?

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