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What is optimisation

What is optimisation?

By Spartans Mind

Optimisation is a term that we use pretty extensively at Spartans. We aim to optimise the health and well-being of our members. We take optimisation very seriously, aiming to optimise physical and mental well-being. We have programmes that align with our goal of optimisation.

However, we have recently been asked: “what do we mean when we refer to optimisation? What is our definition of optimisation, and how does it avoid becoming an endless quest for perfection?”

At Spartans, we define optimisation as follows: When the external reality matches the individual’s internal subjective experience and goals“. I recognise that this definition can seem a bit of a mouthful, so let me unbundle the definition’s various components and make the Spartans definition of optimisation clear.

The starting point for understanding optimisation is to understand the individual. Each of our members has their own goals and areas they want to improve. Likewise, given the right tools, individuals can define for themselves when they are taking steps toward their optimal self and when they are making improvements to their internal and external well-being. So optimisation is individualised.

The second point is the link to external reality. Just as individuals will imagine their ideal future, optimisation aligns with that ideal future and external reality. In short, our goal is not that one imagines their optimal life but that their optimal life becomes a reality with the help of Spartans; when the external reality matches a person’s subjective goals, one can be said to be in a state of optimisation.

To better understand the model, we can graph the core parameters of optimisation. We can also look at how the break between subjective experience and reality can lead to sub-optimal alternative ways of being.

Optimisation matrix

Optimisation matrix

 

The graph has two axes corresponding to the two optimisation parameters used at Spartans. Subjective well-being is how a person feels about themselves and their emotional, mental and physical well-being. The other graph is their external reality which, as discussed, is their alignment between their hoped-for and experienced life.

At the bottom of the graph, we have low levels of subjective well-being and poor external congruence. In psychology, people in this block are said to be experiencing depressive realism. The theory of depressive realism was initially brought forth by Alloy and Abramson (1979), who noted that depressed people might often see the world more accurately. The subjective experience matches the external reality.’

Next, we have those whose external reality remains negative, but their subjective well-being remains positive. Many people negotiate life by activating these positive illusions (Taylor & Brown, 1988). While maintaining positive illusions is certainly better than being in a negative emotional state, the ultimate goal is that a change in thinking patterns matches changes in external reality.

The next block in the graph is those with a favourable external reality but who remain in a negative subjective state. These are people significantly helped by boxing as the physical fitness component of boxing can help them to experience more internal positive states and ultimately have more gratitude for the life that they are experiencing.

Optimisation, the goal Spartans has for its members, is when a positive emotional state matches a positive external reality (Englert, 1997; Englert, 2016). Spartans’ goal is optimal performance through our various boxing programs and Spartans Mind. When the subjective experience and external reality are both positive, a person is on the road to optimisation.

We at Spartans recognise that people will move between the various categories in the optimisation matrix. Life throws curve balls, changing our external reality. We may experience changes in subjective well-being as we progress through life. We may experience optimisation only to set new goals and start the growth process again. 

Spartans is with our members for the journey with apps and programmes that help throughout the optimisation process. We believe that boxing is a lifestyle that aids physical and mental health, and we are privileged to partner with our members on their journey toward optimal mental health.

 

What is optimisation: References

Alloy, L.B.; Abramson, L.Y. (1979). “Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: 

Sadder but wiser?”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General108 (4): 441–485. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.108.4.441PMID 528910. 

Englert, P. (1997). Eliminating the negative in positive illusions: A blueprint 

for the maintenance of mental health during unemployment and redundancy. In P. Howland (Ed.). Voices in Continuum (pg. 115-126). Victoria Postgraduate Association: New Zealand.

Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: a social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin103(2), 193.

csr business

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Business as Usual

By Spartans Mind

Societal change, driven by generational youth movements, is very much part of human history. Rock and roll in the ’50s, the anti-war/peace movement of the ‘60s, and, more recently, the Arab Spring are all attributable to the youth of the time. Youth often usher in a new age that improves the human experience and addresses shortcomings in the current system. In recent years, millennials and Generation Z have influenced business ethics. No longer can businesses solely focus on profit. Organisations need to take their responsibility seriously to the community. A new term has been born, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). 

For many companies, however, CSR is nothing more than virtue signalling with a profit motive. Businesses adopt a CSR strategy because it is good for business. When oil companies start talking about the environment, banks start talking about their love for people in financial need, and alcohol companies start responsible drinking campaigns, a degree of cynicism is only natural. Not that virtue signalling is necessarily a negative. Indeed, if one focuses on outcomes, virtue signalling is a catalyst for powerful outcomes.

CSR is, however, often a one-off event marketed extensively on social media. The sleep-out once a year on the street, the quarterly volunteer day and beach clean-ups all make for good PR, without any substantive change or actual impact on lives, be it the business people or the recipients.

When it comes to CSR, boxing gyms are different. CSR has always been part of the very fabric of many boxing gyms. In the spit and sawdust gyms located in many working-class areas, the gyms have always been a natural community for troubled youth and those less fortunate. Gym owners and boxing coaches donate their time, resources and even homes to help the less privileged. Many world-class boxers got their start through such gyms, including; Mike Tyson, Canelo Alveraz, and Tyson Fury. Legendary trainers like Cus D’Amato are legends not only for developing champions but also for how they devoted their lives to helping others.

Spartans is a unique blend of original boxing ethos within a world-class modern fitness centre. Our roots remain with the fight gyms of the past, packaged for the modern environment. We cater to the fighter, weekend warrior and the general community simply looking for a means to get fit. Our roots are in boxing history but with a broader offering than many of our predecessors.

Spartans does not have a CSR division, nor do we talk of CSR. We are a boxing gym, and the community is implicit in the business model. Spartans integrate CSR in our business not as a sporadic event but as a pillar of Spartans Mind. CSR is not an add-on to our business; CSR is what we do.

Strengthen is the pillar within Spartans mind focussed on community outreach. Under strengthen, we work with two groups, each with its strategic partner. The first group that we work with is at-risk youth. In Singapore, we have connected with Impart, an organisation that provides holistic support for youth in Singapore. Our programme includes boxing for physical fitness and social services to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.  

The second group we partner with is Neugen, to work with ex-offenders and their families. Real change comes from working with a broader net than just the ex-offender, and reintegration starts with the family.

Futureselves underpins both of Spartans outreach programmes. Futureselves is an assessment and intervention hosted free by our technology partner, Podium. The Futureselves programme helps people set life goals across multiple domains and then put the strategies to achieve their goals in place.

For Spartans, CSR is how we do business. We don’t call it CSR. Community is a core value of our corporate office and each gym. Through ‘Strengthen’, we aim to build communities not with one-off donations or one day of voluntary work but through dedicated programmes with strategic partners. CSR is a good thing, a great thing driven by a need for societal change. For Spartans, we call it BAU.

boxing and community

Youth Resilience, Boxing and the Community

By Spartans Mind

I have been working with young people since I was 19 years old. One of my favourite questions to ask a young person is, “What’s your dream?” It was this exact question that led me to seek assistance for a youth to fulfil his dream to become a boxer.

Narish, the youth, has made significant strides in the Singaporean boxing scene. He faced many childhood adversities and did not have role models to guide him while he was growing up. Personally, I witnessed his growth as he picked up boxing. He managed to overcome his unfortunate circumstances to achieve greatness in the boxing realm, which translated to growth in his other spheres of life.

It got me wondering how effective it would be if I could enrol more youths in a boxing programme. This was when I chanced upon the Spartans Youth Outreach Boxing programme and decided to enrol a couple of my youths. The journey that awaited me was beyond my wildest imagination.

The story of “Zack”

Zack’s life wasn’t easy, filled with domestic violence and neglect. Led away from familial safety, he sought solace in gangs, substance abuse, and promiscuity.

His transformation came when he joined Spartans boxing youth outreach programme. There, he met many people and heard many stories. One of the most inspiring moments for Zack was with Amir Khan. Amir Khan was one of the guest speakers. He shared his life story on how martial arts impacted his life. Amir Khan pursued his dreams against the odds that he faced in his life. He didn’t let setbacks or limitations determine the path he was going to take. This showed Zack that a life of crime was not the only pathway forward.

The story of “Dan”

Dan’s life was full of unrelenting crisis, filled with abuse. He was removed by the child protective services to be placed in safe places. Often, he found himself suicidal in prolonged depressive states.

Dan’s high point in life came after joining Spartans boxing youth outreach programme. He managed to pick him up through sheer determination and the physical activity helped his condition. Over time, his moods stabilised and he was motivated to do boxing. He was even offered an admin job at one of the clubs which allowed him to sustain himself. The change motivated him to complete N levels and enrol with ITE. Now, he is in higher Nitec and trying his best to complete the programme. This gives him a fighting chance in life to achieve bigger things for himself.

Some of these boys were victims of complex trauma as a result of the numerous adversities they experienced in their childhood. Yet, they came out as victors after joining a boxing programme. For them, a more active approach such as boxing was beneficial for managing the physical impacts of trauma. I witnessed how boxing relieved their tension rather than them trying to calm their impulses through their former coping mechanisms. I discovered that the youths were able to experience significant release as they were working with the impulse and energy rather than against it.

I can personally testify of the transformation of every youth in the programme. Their growth began when they were willing to try something new like boxing. They had embraced their failures and worked through their discomfort. This process of redefining discomfort was a necessary part of adopting a growth mindset: It meant that they showed up even when they didn’t have the mood for it. It meant that they pressed on when they felt like giving up.

Pressing through these moments of discomfort fostered their growth. Over time, the boys learned to push past their comfort zone and understood what progress looked like. You have to dig deep and press on sometimes, and the programme helped facilitate the process, strengthening their individual sense of grit.

Project Grit, which will be done in partnership between Impart and Spartans Boxing Club, builds on these youths’ experiences to bring something better. Group therapy is interwoven with traditional boxing and fitness training to bring a programme that marries the best of mind and body care. 

The 12 week pilot will work with youths aged 13-18 years, with sessions split into two parts. The first half consists of group therapy led by a clinical psychologist / psychotherapist and the second half is traditional boxing and fitness training led by a professional boxer and boxing coach.

Through group therapy, youths are equipped with practical skills which empowers them in terms of interests, education and/ or employment.

Through boxing training,  youths will learn boxing fundamentals and self-defense techniques while promoting the development of physical fitness and healthier lifestyle habits.

Drawing on the power of community, this programme uses the Developmental Relationships Framework to engage and nurture the youths-facing- adversities. The youths will be brought on learning journeys to visit different companies for exposure to possible working environments. And there will be guest speakers from varied walks of life who will inspire the youths to aspire towards their future selves with their life stories. 

Put together, we will empower a community of peer supporters, volunteers, role models and professionals to support youths-facing-adversity in a safe, trauma-informed space to build resilience, and mental health skills, inculcating values, and imparting relevant life/vocational skills using a psychological toolkit called FutureSelves. 

I hope every little moment of interaction during Project Grit will help youths-facing-adversity to experience a span of new narratives about themselves, their prospects, and their communities. Consequently, youths will be better positioned for adulthood and the workplace.

With regards,

Narash Narasimman

trauma-and-boxing

Trauma and boxing – An interesting pairing

By Spartans Mind

Of all the precursors to poor mental health, perhaps none is as impactful as trauma. As a category, trauma captures a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Hence, it is tautological that trauma negatively impacts a person’s sense of well-being. Indeed, the impact of trauma on mental health is pervasive. In this article, you will know more about the trauma and how boxing can help to recover from it.

Trauma is a significant cause of anxiety as the triggers reactivate brain circuitry related to the initial traumatic event. Trauma is debilitating and often results in depression and general inactivity for many people. Trauma can also result in psychosis-like symptoms such as dissociation as the brain attempts to process and make sense of the traumatic event.

A healing process will need to commence post the traumatic event. The bulk of this will naturally be psychotherapy and, where appropriate, psychopharmaceuticals to help the healing process. However, more experts are calling for exercise to be part of the treatment plan to help a person to get back on their feet (Ratey &  Hagerman, 2008).

As discussed in earlier blogs, boxing is a modality that aligns well to be an additive component of mental-health treatment. Boxing fits into a broader category of exercise known as HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). HIIT has a growing body of supporting evidence indicating its benefits for mental health (Martland, Mondelli, Gaughran, & Stubbs, 2020). The following are some key findings on HIIT and how these relate to addressing the impacts of trauma.

Trauma and Boxing: Focus

People who experience stress due to trauma are often on edge, their minds prepared for the fight or flight response. Humans are unique in that we don’t require danger to be clear and present to elicit the ‘danger response’- our minds can imagine the situation. 

However, just as the mind can work against us, we can utilise our understanding of the brain to work for us. Boxing has some unique benefits as an exercise modality for reducing trauma-related stress. 

As boxing has a skill component, the brain is activated away from thoughts of the imagined stressors and toward the new activity. Learning new movements results in a hormonal rush of norepinephrine arousing attention and dopamine focusing the attention toward goal behaviour. The drive toward goal-directed behaviour increases focus and improves one’s sense of well-being.

Trauma and Boxing: Energy

When we are stressed, cortisol signals increase glucose in the bloodstream. Increased cortisol is why stressed people often gain a spare tire around their mid-section as glucose unused will eventually become fat. Cortisol adds injury to insult as it increases protein breakdown for energy, resulting in muscle loss. Our bodies respond to the perceived stress as they would the stress of a famine. Once the event subsides, we store the extra glucose and protein breakdown as fat around our belly- protection against future famines.

The upshot is that you need an outlet for all the energy build up and boxing is a natural outlet as it is cardio-intensive and high impact. Boxing will increase calorie expenditure during exercise and decrease the chance of belly fat occurring after the event as the body utilises the additional cortisol in naturally responding to the fight or flight response.

Trauma and Boxing: Calm

Stress is a nasty bedfellow when it comes to memory. The brain wants the person to avoid the traumatic experience again; therefore, we have adapted to deeply recorded negative experiences. In addition, the increased cortisol can stop new memories from being encoded effectively – The neurons can’t be part of new circuitry. Ultimately it is hard to learn new material. Your brain has become obsessed with the trauma. 

Through mindful attention to the development of the new skill, new memories are formed in an environment where external and internal distractions are minimised. Boxing classes not only have the skill component, activating new memories, but the non-threatening class environment naturally reduces stress enabling new memories to be formed.

Energy, calm, and focus are three of the most critical psychological markers that people should measure daily to keep on top of their mental health. For this reason, the Spartans App allows all of our members to have a daily check on these areas, graphing responses over time. However, the benefits of boxing at Spartans go well beyond just energy, calmness and focus.

An insidious effect of trauma is social isolation. Loneliness is one of our greatest perceived threats to survival. A cruel outcome of trauma is that it often isolates people, leaving them locked at home and in their minds as they avoid any traumatic triggers. Social isolation deepens the effects of trauma, such as depression, creating a negative cycle for mental health.

Boxing classes allow a person to interact with others in a safe environment. There is accountability to attending booked classes and a no-pressure environment of participation. The person feels a sense of community, safety and belonging. Having access to programmes at home, the person can start at their own pace, with some helpful prodding from the gym and systematically transition into class. 

In summary, boxing is an effective additive to a trauma recovery programme. Boxing provides a healthy distraction in a supportive environment, rerouting brain circuitry, improving resilience, and providing the outlet to help a person get back on their feet and set them free from the trauma.

References

Martland, R., Mondelli, V., Gaughran, F., & Stubbs, B. (2020). Can high-intensity interval training 

improve physical and mental health outcomes? A meta-review of 33 systematic reviews across the lifespan. Journal of sports sciences38(4), 430-469.

Ratey J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark. Little Brown and Company.

choke

Progression and Avoiding the Choke

By Spartans Mind

In fighting sports, there is a term known as ‘gym champ’. The gym champ is a fighter who can fight well in the gym, but when fighting in competition, their performance drops. The colloquial term for this behaviour gap is choking or choke. All sports have their version of choking: the double fault, the missed 1-foot putt, the trip on the final hurdle. 

Knowledge of choking is not only relevant for high-performance athletes (Beilock, 2010). The weekend warrior and even the casual member can enhance their enjoyment and speed up their improvement by understanding the choking phenomena. 

In this week’s blog, I unbundle some of the contributing factors to the choke and what the experienced athlete and weekend warrior can do to avoid the choke and ensure they can optimise their progress as athletes.

Mindful thinking makes sense during the learning process to avoid the choke

A key area of focus for cognitive psychology is the study of memory. When working with boxers, I like to discuss the difference between two types of memory; working and procedural. Working memory is similar to what many people think of when they think of short-term memory. Working memory is the small amount of information the brain can hold when completing a cognitive task. 

When you are learning an activity, say a new combination or footwork, working memory is essential to recall the steps required to learn the technique actively. The conscious awareness of the activity is vital for one to learn a new behaviour. We keep the behavioural steps in working memory, repeating the moves in our head as we repeat the moves with our body.

Being mindful of the technique, and having an awareness of your working memory related to the task, is crucial for your brain to learn the activity. Avoiding distractions and focussing just on that movement is crucial to both learning the move correctly and moving on to the next stage, which is automating the movement.

Once learnt, working memory becomes a hindrance

Another critical form of memory is procedural memory, the long-term memory for performing tasks. One of the best ways to understand procedural memory is to think of the memory activated when riding a bike. The learning of bike riding is a procedure held in memory and activated when required.

Once you have learnt a task, activating working memory will hinder performance. If you had to think about balancing while thinking of peddling fast, as when you first learnt to ride, your riding performance would suffer. We want to rely on procedural memory.

The same is true with boxing. The key to progression is avoiding accessing working memory once we have mastered a task, and it is in procedural memory. Once mastered, if you think about what is involved in the movement, you will block your ability to perform the task.  

Not only will you block the procedural memory’s capacity to automate the task, but going back to working memory takes a person back to what is known as a beginner’s mind. The person is taken back to what it was to be a beginner, and performance drops.

Keeping working memory occupied to avoid the choke

So, what can we do to stop the interference if we know that we don’t want working memory to interfere with procedural memory? We need to give working memory something to do other than think about the task. Focussing on something else, such as breathing, is a perfect way of entertaining working memory and stopping it from interfering with our procedural memory and, ultimately, our performance. 

Aiming for flow

We are aiming for what Csikszentmihalyi (1990) would call a state of flow. Flow occurs when we are doing a difficult task and find ourselves immersed in the activity. In upcoming posts, I will discuss flow in greater detail but suffice to say that if we can perform in a state of flow, then we can perform to our highest ability, and it will seem effortless. Flow occurs when a boxer has no idea how they pulled off a combination, saw an opening or avoided a punch before it left the person’s shoulder. Flow is captured in movies like the Matrix, and flow is a goal when working actively with an athlete.

Understanding why

For the athlete understanding the ‘why’ they want to progress toward a state of flow is a given; they want to perform to the highest possible level. However, understanding the why is also essential for the casual gym goer at Spartans. We know that progression is key to longevity in the sport, and longevity is key to long-term gains; by being explicit about ‘why,’ we set up a fundamental condition of flow, namely activity that leads to desired outcomes.

Understanding why we are boxing, be it for fitness or fighting, and what continual improvement looks like is part of our ongoing performance development. With all the athletes and weekend warriors I work with, understanding and reminding about the why is key.

Reaching your optimal level of stress to avoid the choke

Stress is not necessarily a negative thing. People need a certain level of stress to perform, as noted by what is known as the Yerkes-Dodson curve. 

choke

When stress gets high, the positive becomes a negative, impacting our cognitive ability. Stress hampers the ability of the brain to communicate with the body. The result is a disconnection between our thoughts and actions. Hence, learning how to manage stress, a topic for a later blog, is crucial for athletes and weekend warriors alike.

Having a crowd there and replicating the scenario to avoid the choke

For athletes, one of the most stress-producing events is having an audience watching one’s event. Athletes are only human and naturally suspectable to stage fright and feelings of humiliation from performing at a level below standard. 

The key to avoiding stage fright is replicating the situation as much as possible. For this reason, Spartan’s athletes train in settings replicating what they will experience in the ring on competition day. It is not surprising that our athletes perform so well on the local and international stages.

Stereotype threat or self-evaluation

The reason that people will often choke with a crowd is due to their self-evaluation. Working with all members on appropriate self-talk, developing self-esteem, and positive reframing is crucial to any gym that takes mental health seriously. Naturally, this is a core part of the Spartan’s Optimisation app.

A go-to cognitive switch

Athletes who become stressed often need the means to get back on to the level. A statement, or body action, is required, acting as a switch for the person to begin a calming process. The switch is known as a cognitive switch, and part of mental work with athletes and members is helping them establish a cognitive switch that they can use when their emotions become unwieldy. 

Organisations have a role

Organisations have a role to play in helping members control their choke response and ensuring member progression. Stress management is not just an individual issue; organisations working with athletes must be mindful of the topics discussed in this blog and help.

Spartans takes this seriously; the progression process is evident in the design of the programs and the technical advancements in the gym. We have tools available to members to help them establish their optimal stress levels to perform. We help our athletes avoid the choke response by simulating the fight experience and ensuring they stay in procedural memory and flow.

Today’s blog is an example of how Spartans aims to optimise our athletes’ performance and regular members’ performance. Optimisation is one of the three arms of Spartans Mind, the others being repair (run in conjunction with clinical psychologists) and strengthen (our outreach programme for at-risk youth and ex-offenders). We look forward to keeping you updated on all the developments in Spartans Mind through the blog and, of course, our in-gym initiatives.

References

Beilock, S. (2010). Choke: What the secrets of the brain reveal about getting it right when you have to. Simon and Schuster.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Csikzentmihaly, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (Vol. 1990). New York: Harper & Row.

why boxing

Why boxing? Why Spartans Boxing Club?

By Spartans Mind

In 2022 I took the opportunity, post selling my company, for a career change. While still a committed psychologist focused on high performance, I chose to follow my passion and take up the role of Chief Psychologist at Spartans Boxing Club. The reasons behind my shift in focus say a lot about the evolution of boxing training, its relationship to mental health and being able to work for an organisation that takes a holistic approach to the health of its members. 

Boxing is a form of exercise that has proven benefits for mental health.

A recent paper (Shosa, 2020) reviewed the therapeutic benefits of boxing with noted benefits including:

  • speech, social interaction skills, and mental health of individuals with Parkinson’s disease;
  • improved gait, balance, activities of daily living and quality of life;
  • one of the effective rehabilitation programs for COPD patients;
  • enhances mood, helps posture, improves hand-eye coordination, and effectively mental illnesses

The benefits of boxing resulted in the coining of the term ‘therapeutic’ boxing and a call for more studies on how to incorporate boxing into holistic approaches to mental health. Indeed, the term therapeutic boxing encapsulates the many papers and studies that have shown the benefits of boxing for mental well-being. In a research paper for the Northern Ireland Assembly (Hull, 2012), boxing was one of two sports cases studied for improving mental health. The qualitative comments are encouraging for boxing

  • Before I started the Boxercise programme I was suffering from agoraphobia, low self-esteem and depression, I wasn’t working or leaving my house other than to attend medical appointments. It had a major impact in helping me regain ownership of my own life…The first three sessions I found it very hard. It was the last place I wanted to be – I felt down, had low self-esteem and low confidence, but by the fourth session I was actually looking forward to it. By the fifth session, I had a lot of confidence and had started to eat properly and sleep. I was managing to go out and see people and by the end of it I had got the boxing bug.
  • I was really looking forward to it, to be honest, something really physical rather than just talking about things. It was the first thing I’d looked forward to for years…Once you start to learn the complexities of boxing, I found it was the only time I could focus completely on something else, with no time for my mind to wander off and think things it shouldn’t.

The science behind the benefits of boxing is not just from single studies. In a recent meta-analysis (think an analysis of multiple studies combined) of the benefits of HITT (High-Intensity Interval Training), boxing was one of the most studied exercises, demonstrating a range of positive results and the exercise modality with the highest completion rate (Martland, Mondelli, Gaughran, & Stubbs, 2020)

After a review of the literature, the benefits of boxing across the well-being spectrum were clear. I want to be part of the growing movement for holistic health, and Spartans offered that opportunity.

Optimal health is not just physical

Building on the previous point, boxing helps those suffering from mental health issues and those interested in what I have termed supra or optimal performance (Englert 1997; 2016). Fitness centres need to recognise that the driver for many people to go to the gym is not just physical but also about improving their mental well-being. Gyms that are genuinely committed to the health of their members can’t ignore the mental sides of health, which are arguably more important than physical fitness.

Boxing helps those less fortunate

I started my career in youth work. Initially, this was counselling, but over time this moved into running a youth centre for disadvantaged youth. I have worked with ex-offenders, some of whom have gone on to great accomplishments. In this later stage of my career, I wanted a job where I could give back. I wanted a job that involved working again with troubled youth and showing them that life can change.

Boxing is almost synonymous with youth programmes globally. In many socially depressed areas, one will often find a boxing gym. Despite many of these youths coming from violent backgrounds and concerns about boxing programmes increasing violence, research findings such as those in the Irish report mentioned earlier indicate quite the opposite:  

There had been some anxiety among health professionals that Boxercise and boxing methods may actually increase aggression and violence among people with mental health problems, which certainly has not been the case whatsoever…What it has done is to improve physical fitness in all participants in some there was quite noticeable weight loss. This is quite important to help prevent health risks such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. (Dr Deji Ayonrinde of the Bethlem Royal Hospital).

Few occupations allow me to blend all my passions and give back to the community, especially in a country that has given me so much. 

Spartans takes the down-side of boxing and boxing safety seriously

All contact sports have potential downsides on the body and the brain. Boxing is no exception, and the downsides of contact boxing are well documented. Spartans is a different gym that has adopted the slogan, ‘boxing without bruises’. 90% of the members will never spar or enter the ring. A further 5% will engage in light sparring.  

For the 5% of members who actively spar or fight, our sparring is done in a controlled manner with head gear, mouth guard and lowered intensity. For the fight teams, those that want to fight, safety is paramount, not just at Spartans but as mandated by the Singapore Boxing Federation. Fights are stopped well before severe damage, standing eight counts are liberally given, and coaching corners are always mindful of the health of their boxers.

Serious competitive boxing is a young person’s sport. Much like soccer, rugby and any martial arts, there are risks. But for those who love the sweet science, managing these risks is part of the price of enjoying the sport they love. Gyms like Spartans understand the need to prioritise safety and make boxing safe for all, including their fight team.

Spartans Mind

With all of these benefits and safety concerns addressed, it was a no-brainer to join the team at Spartans. Working with the senior leadership team of Russ and Naz, we developed the concept of what a holistic offering might look like and agreed on three arms:

  1. Optimisation: Taking the mental health of our members seriously, we will introduce an app and tools that allow members to monitor their mental health, with helpful tips, videos, and interventions for those that want or need a mental health boost. We have partnered with one of Singapore’s leading providers of wellness apps to offer the service, which will be a first for Singapore fitness centres. In addition, we will look at novel ways to integrate mental health initiatives into our existing programmes and keep members up-to-date on boxing and mental health.
  2. Repair: Working in tandem with clinical psychologists in the community, we will be offering programmes to members and non-members that combine psychotherapy with physical activity. Progress will be monitored and include one-on-one sessions until the person is ready and willing to join a class.  
  3. Strengthen: We have developed an outreach programme for disadvantaged youth and ex-offenders. Working with Narash and the team at Impart and Futureselves, this 12 programme aims to teach life skills while improving physical fitness.

For those wondering how serious I ‘am about this change, let me say that I believe so much in Spartans that I have invested in the company. Being part of such a fantastic team and wonderful group of people was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down, and I feel blessed to be starting my next career. Watch this space.

References

Englert P. (2016) Confronting Reality Beyond Positive Illusions: Objective 

Appraisals for a Growth Mind-set and Positive Mental Wellbeing. Paper presented at the International Conference on Wellbeing, Singapore.

Englert, P. (1997). Eliminating the negative in positive illusions: A blue print 

for the maintenance of mental health during unemployment and redundancy. In P. Howland (Ed.). Voices in Continuum (pg. 115-126). Victoria Postgraduate Association: New Zealand.

Hull, D. (2012). The relationship between physical activity and mental health: a summary of evidence and policy. Northern Ireland Assembly, Research and Information Service.

Martland, R., Mondelli, V., Gaughran, F., & Stubbs, B. (2020). Can high-intensity interval training 

improve physical and mental health outcomes? A meta-review of 33 systematic reviews across the lifespan. Journal of sports sciences38(4), 430-469.

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