Why I Coach Boxing For Free

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“In an age of instrumentalization, the hobbyist is a subversive: he insists that some things are worth doing for themselves alone, despite offering no payoffs in terms of productivity or profit. The derision we heap upon the avid stamp collector or train spotter might really be a kind of defense mechanism, to spare us from confronting the possibility that they’re truly happy in a way that the rest of us—pursuing our telic lives, ceaselessly in search of future fulfillment—are not. This also helps explain why it’s far less embarrassing (indeed, positively fashionable) to have a “side hustle,” a hobby-like activity explicitly pursued with profit in mind.”

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

The quote above is extremely applicable to me, particularly as it relates to my obsession with boxing. Some people really can’t wrap their head around the fact that I volunteer my time to Dreamland Boxing, with no profit incentive. In addition to my time, I’ve donated a considerable amount of money to the gym to sponsor training camps for amateur fighters, giving them the opportunity to train and recover at gyms such as NorCal Functional Fitness, Sensory Speed, PerformanceGaines, and Sports Medicine Institute. I truly do this for the love of the sport.

Some things are worth doing for themselves alone.

I have a weird stance with taking money to teach boxing, particularly at Dreamland. I’ve turned down all paid private lessons since May. I didn’t even realize that my supposedly temporary Zoom trainings lasted 18 months with a group that couldn’t make it to the gym (also free). People think I’m giving away too much for free. But when I give, I receive. Coaching is like a sport to me and I almost feel like I’d pay a membership to be able to work fighters corners.

Not to mention it sucks the joy out of boxing to turn my hobby to a hustle. I partly did that in 2020, when I made online courses to raise money for the gym during the start of the pandemic. Truth is (brutally honest to those who actually read this far) that my courses are crap and need to be redone – it’s organized content, but made from segmented IG live videos (don’t buy them). I’d need to re-record all of my videos in better quality, but that’s not my top priority now.

When I think about boxing and money now, I make sure my volunteer time is non-negotiable, and comes before any paid sessions. My conflict is never paid time vs unpaid volunteer time. Instead, I pit my paid time vs my personal time – which makes me value my paid time even more. Indirectly, it makes me even value my unpaid time more as I can only focus on the fighters who give me their 100% effort. So maybe even those sessions aren’t really free – my fighters pay me in sweat.

I coach 7-10 hours at the gym every week (unpaid). I would only consider private lessons after I fulfill my responsibilities coaching the amateur team or taking fighters to the track or trails. I want to keep the focus of what I do community-oriented and for the love of the sport. Private lessons never take my focus from my fighters. Since private lessons eat into my already-lacking personal time, I only take private clients when I have the capacity to give them my full attention and provide them a service deserving of that rate (1 hour typically comes with a ton of follow up and individual video breakdowns of the trainee’s form, etc.). So as of now, I’m not taking any private clients. When my mom’s yoga studio re-opens next year, I may take 1-2 fitness clients. I doubt I’ll take any private clients at Dreamland and, if I did, I’d just donate the proceeds back to the gym (but I’d prefer not because that would eat into my 10 hours). Maybe it’s just me – but I need that compartmentalization. Dreamland’s a second home to me, and a place that turned my life around when I was a teenager. I strive to help others undergo that same transformation.

I didn’t choose to be a coach. Coaching chose me. When Dreamland Boxing’s original founder, David “Sarge” Neeleman (RIP), fell ill, he asked me to help keep the gym alive. People may not know this, but the gym was a ghost town for a period of time between Sarge’s failing health and Jesse taking over the gym. I committed myself to always giving back to the gym.

When I was young, I used to think about what I bring to the sport of boxing. I’m the best at 152lbs. I won fight of the night. I’m going to win nationals. Blah, blah, blah. Truth is, I was extremely mediocre at the sport. It’s not about what I did in boxing, it’s about what boxing did for me. I’m forever in debt. So I’ll keep paying it forward.

This attitude keeps the spirit of why I coach in tact and prevents me from burning out. I coach boxing because it brings me so much life to help others develop new skills, push their limits, and be the best that they can be.

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About the Author:

Coach Ian is an ultra-marathon runner and a volunteer coach at the non-profit boxing organization, Dreamland Boxing, in San Jose, CA. He competed in boxing for both Dreamland and collegiately at UCLA. His goal is to empower all to be the best that they can be, in boxing and in life. You can find Coach Ian on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.