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  • Writer's pictureDannielle K Pearson

It’s All About the Foot Work: What boxing taught me about the importance of having a growth mindset.

I have always been an athlete. My challenge was never a lack of athletic ability but rather finding a sport that captured my long-term interest.  When I was in middle school, I played basketball until High School, where I, was no longer tall enough to play Power Forward and my free throws weren’t good enough to be a short or point guard.  I tried my hand in swimming, but the 5am wake up calls in the depths of Chicago winters, and the endless feeling of water trapped in my ear, quickly eroded my interest.  Track and Field had promise but I am not a runner and shot put lacked cardiovascular rigour.  It was not until my mid-twenties I found a sport that captured my attention, that sport was boxing.   The sound of the glove hitting the pad perfectly, the way the boxers seamlessly manoeuvred around the heavy bag, a delicate balance between precision and force.  I was taken by the illusion of ease and an internal belief that the fight in me was enough to compensate for the lack of “know how.”

It’s for good reason trainers and gyms offer boxing classes, it’s fun, exhausting, and effective.  The mistake they make is they don’t teach the fundamentals. You can’t box if you don’t know how to move.  My first coach, Don, knew this and while I was keen to start “punching,” Don was insistent my priority was foot work.  During my first lesson, I spent ten minutes on pads and forty minutes getting acquainted with footwork drills.  The next six months, while I hit pads, the heavy bag, and engaged in light sparring, I spent 75% of my time in a ballet room practicing my foot work; five days a week two hours a day.  What many do not realise, boxing is a martial art.  Boxers aren’t “brawling” they are boxing, these are two very different things. When a boxer lands a hook, the clenched fist and arm are simply the vehicle.  The force and momentum are created by the twist of the hips, the whole of your body generates the force behind the punch; you are harnessing and using kinetic energy.  This makes boxing one of, if not the most, technical sport to learn.  While talent and athletic ability are nice to have, they are meaningless without doing the hard yards, humility, listening, observing, and persistence.  

In my experience the tonality in most boxing gyms is one of determination, respect, humility and a knowing that you can always do and be better. It’s universally understood that the pathway to your best is made incrementally not exponentially.  You are never too big, tall, short, small, or fragile to win or lose a fight. Your mind set is the perpetual difference, not your physical capability.


I have had many moments in my past and recently where my mindset has been fixed. A downward spiral of self-affirmation and belief that my previous accomplishments are the sum of my value; my former triumphs imbued forever. In these moments, I have gained little, inspired none and remained stagnant.  I am grateful that my boxing career gave me the foundation to identify when I’ve slipped into “fixed mindset mode.” The knowing that this is only a haven for a bruised ego and where our insecurities thrive.    A growth mindset doesn’t imply a perpetual sense of optimism, the absence of insecurity or the existence of hardship; in many instances its reaching for growth when you feel you can’t.  A good boxer knows his or her best differs from day to day, and when you get knocked down, you don’t give up, you get up.  As we close out the year, I am reminded of that ballet room.  It was not where I wanted to be, I got far more satisfaction in throwing a punch but it’s where I needed to be, it was the pathway to being better.  



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