USA Boxing

The Lost Art of Coaching for Character


By: Coach Edward Ochoa Jr.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of USA Boxing.

What is the definition of character? The dictionary defines character as “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person” or “the stable and distinctive qualities built into an individual’s life which determines his or her response regardless of circumstances.” My personal definition of character is the ethical decisions or responses a person makes when under great trials, hardships, pressures, afflictions, adversity or success.

We live in a materialistic culture where fame, wealth, and popularity are valued more than genuine integrity and character. The sport of amateur boxing has suffered terrible decay as the pursuit of fame, riches, and prestige of the professional ranks has trumped the virtue of pursuing noble character such as honor, integrity, responsibility, dependability, and self-respect. Today, many boxing celebrities proudly flaunt their immorality or lack of character on social media and in the public. As a result, our boxing community’s most prominent role models include countless people who are known best for their lack of character rather than for being men and women of honor and virtue. Why is this a problem? It is a problem because coaches and young athletes emulate these flaws as if they are virtues of character or a way of life. That is hypocrisy at its finest because this teaches our youth to think that as long as you have fame, wealth, and prestige, you can lack integrity and moral character and still be a considered a success in life.

The pursuit of moral excellence begins with you the coach. God designed us to be men and women of exemplary character. As the late hall of fame coach John Wooden states, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” As coaches, it is our responsibility to pursue a life of honor and virtue so that we can make a positive life-changing impact on the lives of the athletes in our care. We live in an era where many coaches care more about winning and being liked than being the leader/role model that with the responsibility of being a coach. There is a hard line between being a friend and being the leader/role model necessary to impact an athlete’s life. Coaching is a service. We serve our athletes which means that we have their personal well-being as their higher priority. I want my athletes to trust me and know that I care more about their well-being than I do my own success and trophies in my gym. How do they know you care? They know when you are making them better men and women not just in the ring but outside the ring. As the great military General Douglas Macarthur once said, “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent." That is our responsibility as a coach and our duty to God, our fellow man, and to USA Boxing. It is imperative that the coach is the leader, role model and mentor that many of our athletes lack in their personal lives. Leadership is not a title but action. The quality of your program, is not determined by how many belts and titles your kids have won, but on how you have made that kid a better person outside the ring at home, school, and in their community. Why does this matter? Because in various ways, we the coaches are the last line of defense in genuinely making the impact many young men and women desperately need today. When it comes to character and integrity, it first has to begin with coaches raising the bar in their own lives before you can effectively impact the lives of those around them. Besides parenting and the military, a boxing coach is the next most significant tool in developing and influencing a person’s life. For example, most kids today grow up in either a single parent home or in a home that is lacking the right leadership or upbringing. The next most influential person may be a teacher, however, a teacher nowadays is limited to the influence they can make in the classroom, as opposed to a coach who on a daily basis, can develop and nurture character traits such as courage, perseverance, discipline, trust, commitment, dedication, and excellence in the lives of their athletes from the time they are 8 to 18 years old. Therefore, one the most critical aspects of a good boxing program or gym should be a good character development program that can impact their athletes lives far beyond the boxing gym. There are three ways that coaches can ensure their program can make a lasting impact on their athlete's lives, the first is character must begin with the coach; secondly, integrity must begin with the coach, and lastly, the coach’s moral influence should instill character outside of the ring.

Coaching with Character

Character must and always begins with the coach. A coach’s philosophy and ethical standards are by far the most critical aspect of any program yet one of the most common things overlooked today. Regardless of the level of coaching, athletes can only grow in character and integrity as high as the level of character and integrity their leaders possess. When it comes to building relationships, it must all begin with trust. Trust can sometimes take months or years to develop, however, it can be destroyed in a matter of seconds. Moral and ethical leadership is perhaps the single most contributing factor to the success of building trust with your athletes and parents. So, the bar of character must first begin with leadership. Today, from the ranks of amateur to professional boxing, the emphasis on winning overrules the integrity of developing character in athletes. Sports have become winning centered rather than athlete centered. Regardless of the level of the athlete, the coach must set the bar high. Coaches are in a position to interact with their boxers in a way that teachers, and in some cases, parents can’t. It is imperative that coaches effectively communicate with their boxers in ways that will inspire and motivate their athletes to reach their full potential. This ultimately inspires them to be driven, not just performance driven, but character driven. The truth of the matter is that when we accepted the role of being a coach, whether you like it or not, we are ambassadors of USA Boxing. As a coach, you represent the sport of boxing to your athletes, parents, and your community. Every day—in public and in private—we will face decisions that reflect our integrity or lack of it. What we watch, what we say, what we do, and even what we refuse to stand for will reflect ultimately you, the coach, but it also reflects the sport of boxing. Our choices all add up to a life of honor and integrity or lack of it. You either are going to give light that your athletes and others will admire, respect, or are drawn to, or you will blend in with the rest of the crowd. Coaching for character may not go with the status quo of coaching for self-esteem today, but we must not minimize the fact that the sport of boxing is a dangerous sport in the wrong hands with the wrong coach. However, with the right coach, it’s the safest sport there is and the best sport for building life changing skills such as courage, discipline, perseverance, integrity, and respect. Life changing skills that will impact families, communities, and our nation.

Integrity Begins with the Coach

Secondly, it doesn't take long to find an article on the internet or watch a video of youth athletes or professional athletes, crediting a coach for the life-changing impact he or she has made in their lives. The impact coaches can make in an athlete’s life is very well documented throughout the century. However, in today’s athletic culture, according to the Joseph Institute of Ethics (Strand, Ph.D. 2013), many coaches are teaching athletes to cheat or cut corners without regard for the rules or sportsmanship. For a coach to impact their athlete's character, a coach must not differentiate between the athlete's character decisions in and out of the ring. Many coaches hold a high bar when it comes to teaching boxing skills, and strategy to win medals and belts, however, many stop short in the areas of character development. It is here where they will allow their boxers to cut corners in most cases for fear of the star athletes quitting the team or going to another gym. Many coaches may not like this idea of instilling a character development program into their practice schedule because their athletes or parents may not like it, or it may cut from their practice time, however, if a coach truly desires to make an impact in the lives beyond the boxing ring, coaches must take it outside the lines of normal practice schedules. How? By the accountability and practice of good citizenship not just in the gym but also at home, and in the community. Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest coaches that ever lived said it best, “It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won their heart, they will follow you anywhere.” Having high standards for your own personal conduct will lead to developing high standards of integrity in your own athletes which can be the critical difference in a boxer’s life. In order for this to be highly successful, you the coach must first have the proper character and integrity your own athletes can model. Character in the gym all begins with you the coach.

The Moral Influence of the Coach

Which then brings us to my last point, it is a great privilege to be called coach, boxing can be a valuable tool that can provide life-changing events in a person’s life. However, for a coach to be effective in instilling character in life-changing ways, the coach must exemplify and model character themselves. It is essential that coaches develop a character first coaching philosophy by striving to be men and women of character first in their own lives. The truth of the matter is that when we accepted the role of being an amateur boxing coach, whether you like it or not, we are ambassadors of USA boxing. You represent the sport of boxing to your family, athletes, parents, and your community. Coaching is a lot more than teaching Xs and Os. When a boxer becomes character driven in life, then the sport of boxing begins to make a difference in lives far beyond winning medals and belts. It is a privilege to be called coach. The late pastor Billy Graham said it best, “A coach will impact more people in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime.” I take tremendous pride on the impact I am making in my athletes, and in my community. Although it is an honor to be recognized for my hard work and commitment to excellence, however, praise is not the measure of my success. My own measure of my success is not based on the opinion of others no matter how positive or negative they can be. My own personal standard of the success of my program is this: 15-20 years from now when we see what kind of husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers my athletes have become. What kind of coaches they have become? What kind of impact are they making on their family, boxing gyms and in their community? Then and only then will I know how good my coaching and my program really was. It takes courage to do this, however, the mark of a great leader is not how well he avoids conflict, but how courageously he accepts it. It is my sincere hope that coaches in the boxing community will take a few minutes to consider the importance of being a character-driven coach and that you will commit yourself to a journey of living and coaching for the greater good of our athletes, our communities, and for the greater good of USA Boxing.


Coach Edward Ochoa