Since I started boxing, I became aware there was this whole universe out there which I had never known about. A history of a sport which is waiting to be told, heroes (heroines, perhaps I should say) and villains, and hordes of people beavering away to make women’s boxing happen at a grass roots level. What I’m doing is white collar boxing, or boxing as a hobby for people with other jobs. My opponent for my first fight once asked our coach what was the level below white collar, and he said, “I don’t know, a pillow fight?” As much as this made a mockery of our blood, sweat and tears, there are most certainly plenty of levels above it. Rachel Bower was someone who interested me, because apart from her career as a boxer (now retired) which included representing England and being a national champion, she is a coach who sits on the National Governing Body’s (England Boxing) Coach Education Subcommittee where she is involved in designing new coaching courses, and is active in promoting women’s boxing at the grass roots level. She has really seen it from all sides, and I was intrigued by this behind-the-scenes role in particular, and how this might be important for women.
Expect many more interviews like this one (done over email in the interests of journalistic disclosure) in the coming months.
How did you first get interested in boxing?
I joined the police around 12 years ago and in the Met there is a huge annual boxing tournament called the Lafone Cup. I heard about it and decided I wanted to enter. One of the officers at my station offered to train me and do my corner. I soon realised it wasn’t the boxing he was interested in, and he wasn’t even a coach! So I contacted the head coach for the police and travelled up to the old police training school twice a week to train.
What did you like about it when you first started?
I picked it up quite quickly and to be honest I just liked being good at something! It’s so technical, I loved how much learning was involved in something that looks so easy.
What can it teach you about life, which is of particular value to girls and women (or generally)?
I could talk for hours about this. Boxing can offer so much. In relation to women and girls it’s brilliant for self confidence. For young girls I love that it teaches them that you can do anything and don’t have to conform to a stereotype. In general it can really help people find a purpose, a constant quest of improvement and develop so many important life skills such as discipline, patience and persistence. I’ve been involved with coaching disengaged young people and have witnessed first hand how it can develop personal responsibility, timekeeping, respect and communication skills in people who have struggled with these areas in their day-to-day lives.
What were the challenges you faced as a woman in your career, in the training, competing and funding aspects of the sport?
I have been very fortunate in my boxing career. The police team had the strongest female squad in the country at the time I made the team. The coach was very proud of this and we were given his time, resources and lots of opportunity. I realise how lucky I was as this is not the case in 99% of gyms. In my last couple of years competing I moved to the famous Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club. Again I had a coach who focused on his female boxers but we had no facilities, having to change in an old toilet cubicle. Due to my day job and shift work I’ve always travelled around to different gyms to train. As a woman I’d often be treated differently at first, however, I was confident in my ability and once the coaches saw me train they would slowly warm up to the fact I was a ‘boxer’ not a ‘woman’ once in the gym.
Funding wise, as a boxer I didn’t face a problem as the club would fund travel to competitions etc. When I made the England team we also had our expenses covered to attend training camps. However, as a volunteer coach for England I don’t receive any financial support which is starting to affect the amount I volunteer. The camps I coach at are all around the country and i spend hundreds of pounds on train tickets.
Why is it so important to have more female coaches?
We don’t need female coaches just to coach women. We need them because they offer different ways of coaching and different skills than some men offer. However, there are some things that female boxers may feel more comfortable talking to a woman about and appreciate that they have been through the same thing. I feel that the more female coaches there are [the more it] will inspire other women to venture into coaching and [it] also normalises the role of women in a traditionally male sport.
Has the situation improved in the past decade or so?
It’s improved so much since I began boxing.
England Boxing, the national governing body for amateur boxing, are doing a lot to encourage more women into high performance coaching. I’ve just been appointed a mentor to help me progress to coaching at international tournaments. I do feel like some of the opportunities I’ve had, like coaching for Sport Relief, have presented themselves because I am female rather than despite of it. However, there are still few female coaches at grass roots level and this is something I feel passionate about. I share my experiences via a blog for the Female Coaching Network and social media in the hope that others turn to coaching too.
Is there a particular interest in women’s boxing happening at the moment? It feels like there is, but it would be good to get an expert view!
I think interest in women’s boxing peaked with 2012 the ‘Nicola Adams Effect’ and inclusion in the Olympics however the legacy still lives on. The professional women’s scene has really picked up and England Boxing have really invested in developing elite level boxers. There is also a thriving female white collar scene. However there is still some way to go to encourage women and girls to start and for clubs to invest in them and retain them once they get them through their doors.
Do some people still believe women shouldn’t be allowed to box?
There will always be people (both male and female) who will think that, like I’m sure some still think we shouldn’t be allowed to vote!
What was it like to coach your boyfriend?
It’s challenging but rewarding at the same time. It’s always great to see people close to you doing well, especially when you’ve played a part in it. However, the dynamics in our relationship change once we are in the gym and sometimes switching between girlfriend/boyfriend and coach/boxer can be hard.
Which female boxers, past and present, do you admire? Any key fights to watch on youtube (either up-and-coming fighters or classics are welcome)?
I’m sure everyone says this but Katie Taylor is just something else. I don’t really follow professional boxing (something which surprises a lot of people), but I always try and catch her bouts. In the amateur world Ebonie Jones is one to watch. I used to spar with her when she was a junior and by then she’d already won numerous titles. She’s now part of the Army Boxing Team and on the GB programme.