Combat Psychology and Training Performance

There is something unique about combat sports, such as fighting. While it’s just as much a physical sport as any other, it also takes a lot of mental strength. The psychological aspect of boxing is something well known but often underestimated.

In the past, we discussed competitive state anxiety and how it can adversely affect your performance. Now we’re going to discuss another psychological aspect of boxing called combat psychology. We will deal with how to overcome “in-the-moment” anxiety that can often leave you're frozen, unable to make the quick decisions you need to win the fight.

What is Combat Psychology?

"Fear makes men forget, and skill that cannot fight is useless." — Brasidas of Sparta

The above quote pretty much sums up the essence of combat psychology. You can train your heart out. You can try your best to prepare for all possible situations that may arise during a fight. But, experiencing the real thing is completely different from a training session.

During training, there is more room for mistakes. In fact, training is all about making mistakes, because that is how you notice and fix your weak areas. You have more time to think. Coaches are telling you what to do next. You're fighting an “opponent” who is working with you, rather than against you, to help you improve your skills.

In the ring, it’s different. There are punches coming from places that you don’t expect. Your opponent is making moves that you’ve never seen. You get a hit to the face that knocks you off balance, physically and mentally. There is a crowd of people screaming and cheering, leaving you distracted and unable to focus.

Combat psychology is a concept that speaks to how you respond to stress in a “combat” situation. No matter how skilled you are or how much training you have under your belt, you can almost “freeze” and forget everything you know. Clearly, this can have a huge impact on your success as a contender. Let’s look deeper into this concept and learn how to overcome it.

Stress and Decision Making

All types of sports carry with them a certain amount of stress. If you take boxing as an example, you realize that your body is in a constant state of alert. You need to be aware of your opponent, watching and predicting the next move, knowing that there’s a chance of getting thrown off if they pull out an unexpected combo.

During these adrenaline-demanding situations, our natural fight or flight response kicks in. The fight or flight response is a series of physiological processes that occur when we experience a stressful situation, causing you to either respond to the threat (fight) or flee (flight).

We often think of stress as a bad thing, but it can be helpful. Stress is what pushes us to be productive, proactive, and it can save our lives in dangerous situations. When not managed, however, it can have negative impacts.

The fight or flight response affects your body physically. For example, you may experience an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, shaky knees and heavy breathing. It also affects your mental performance, causing your quick decision-making skills to go down the drain.

Interestingly, people under stress tend to focus more on the possible positive outcomes of any given situation, while not weighing the negatives as heavily. This concept may explain why we tend to “freeze” or “blank out” during a stressful match. You may be considering how you can gain leverage over your opponent without considering how they may overcome you. That leads to a surprise when they throw out a punching sequence that lands you on the ground; you forget how to respond.

Training Tips to Overcome Combat Psychology (With and Without an Opponent)

Anyone can experience the effects of combat psychology no matter how skilled they are. But the great news is that there are ways to overcome it and be your best in the ring.

Train Like It’s the Real Deal

Stress Inoculation Training is a training technique geared towards helping athletes cope with performance stress. This cognitive-behavioral concept developed by psychologist Donald Meichenbaum is often used in sport psychology. It essentially builds up a person's “immunity” by gradually exposing them to stimulated stressful situations to prepare them to handle the “real deal.”

During this type of training, it’s not all about the physical practice under stress. It’s also about learning how to develop positive thinking and self-talk. This technique fully equips the athlete, both physically and mentally, to be better prepared to manage their stress levels and improve their performance.

The more you train like it’s the real deal, the more that will carry over to your actual performance in the ring.

Practice Makes Perfect

Training is certainly a crucial aspect of boxing that teaches you a great deal. However, there’s nothing like truly being in the ring.

True growth and skill development come from practice. The more you put yourself out there and fight, the more comfortable you will be. You will begin to develop habits, your own fighting style, and will better understand your body and mind and how it deals with stress in the ring.

Focus on Both Strengths and Weaknesses During Training

During training, be sure you aren’t focusing too much on one thing. It’s easy to pursue your strengths and better them in order to use them against your opponent. On the other end of the spectrum, you might become so preoccupied with improving your weaknesses that you forget to build on your strengths.

Be sure to find a balance that allows you to work on both your strengths and your weaknesses. The more well-rounded of an athlete you are, the more confident you will be in the face of your opponent.

Practice General Stress Reduction

Certainly, the stress experienced during a match is different than the stress you might encounter during a training session. Likewise, the stress you experience in the studio is different from the stress you experience in your personal life.

That said, it’s important to develop methods of general relaxation and stress reduction in any situation. Learn how to breathe deeply to calm your body. Practice bringing your thoughts to the present moment, so you are more aware of your surroundings.

Determine what helps calm you down and practice that in your daily life. That might mean 15 minutes of meditation every day. It might mean closing your eyes and feeling your breath. Perhaps for you, it’s taking a couple of minutes to reflect before you start your day. Whatever stress reduction methods work for you, try implementing them into your life on a daily basis.

Reflect on Your Performance

After every fight or training session, take the time to reflect. What went wrong? What went right? Which areas can you improve next time around? If you experienced performance stress or combat psychology, what steps can you take to overcome it? What do you think caused that crippling anxiety and how can you be more prepared next time?

We often go through life in such a rush that we don’t allow ourselves time to learn. We don’t reflect on ourselves or our actions. Reflection, however, is an important aspect of developing a growth mindset. Reflecting on each performance is a great way to improve and overcome anxiety.

A healthy mindset is one of the fundamental pillars of the Gloveworx studio. Taking steps to train your mind, overcome fear and build a mind-body connection is key to personal growth. Develop the mindset of unstoppable with a Gloveworx training session!