Fear: Overcome It To Reach Your Potential.

This article will examine the notion of fear and discuss the implications it has for those choosing to confront it as an intrinsic part of their sport. Learn more about fear and how boxers deal with it right here.
The role of a professional boxer is not an easy one. Standing in the squared circle, while trading punches with someone who, given half a chance could kill with one shot, is not the most pleasurable of prospects; or is it?

The thrill associated with overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to dominate ones opponent, apparently is enough for many pros, who choose to risk their reputation, and indeed, their health, to engage in this most unforgiving of pursuits. Boxers live with fear. But why do they choose to do this, and how do they control it.

The Concept Of Fear

Before answering these questions, fear, as a concept, needs to be examined. The whole notion of fear is a complex one. It needs to be overcome, if progress is to be made, yet it often attracts via the challenge it presents.

Boxers face fear on a daily basis. Indeed, living with fear is part of their job, and the management of this fear is fundamentally important in becoming a champion.

Fear cannot be consuming, nor can it be completely ignored. It must be used to one's advantage, to generate the best possible outcome. The dilemma of fear can be found in any facet of life.

Such is its paralyzing potential; fear can literally sap the energy from a person, making them reluctant to pursue their goals and dreams.

Ultimately, fear must be completely controlled, lest, due to its paralyzing effect, it rob one of their potential. At the least it should be considered, and acted upon in a positive way.

Given its complexity, fear can be controlled in a myriad of ways, with differing outcomes, stemming from the different forms it takes.

Boxers & Fear

    As mentioned, boxers are one group who face fear continually. The build up to a fight, an intense sparring session, and, of course, the actual fight are all breeding grounds for fear.

    How do boxers deal with fear as an ever-present companion? What are the different ways of combating fear, and reaching greater heights as a result? This article will examine the notion of fear and discuss the implications it has for those choosing to confront it as an intrinsic part of their sport.

    Learning to overcome fear could be the real key to personal development and goal achievement. In this article, I will provide a comprehensive overview of fear, and, as stated, examine some of the ways in which fear can be eliminated, or used to ones advantage.

    Boxing will be used throughout to underscore how fear operates in a sporting context - specifically how it governs the build-up, and outcome, of a competition.

    It is hoped the fear boxers face, and the various ways they deal with it, will help others to achieve their potential, without its impeding influence.

What Is Fear?

Right at the heart of fear are feelings of apprehension and anxiousness, concerning a real or imagined event. Preparing for a speech, or, as this article intends to highlight, endeavoring to go one on one in a boxing match, are contexts where fear can take hold.

Fear is a basic emotion that can cause one to intensely dislike a situation, or object.

Fear Or Phobia?

    Fear of the dark, and/or of heights, rank as common fears. These fears can, in fact, present themselves in a clinical manifestation, called a phobia - a pathological fear of one of a number of psychological events or objects, either serious, or comparatively minor.

    Phobias are not your typical fears, and these often require psychiatric help, and medications, to overcome.

    Phobias: A Few Less Common Examples.
    • Ablutophobia - Fear of washing or bathing.
    • Anemophobia - Fear of air.
    • Chelonaphobia - Fear of turtles.
    • Defecaloesiophobia - Fear of painful bowel movements.
    • Gerascophobia - Fear of growing old.
    • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia - Fear of the number 666.
    • Vuteuthindion - Fear of picnics.
    • Xerophobia - Fear of dryness.
    • Zoophobia - Fear of animals.

    Phobias are often irrational, and typically interfere with life to the extent that one might become paralyzed with fear at the slightest mention, or sight, of the offending stimulus. Indeed, phobias should not be confused with fear in its purest sense.

    Fear is not always considered a phobia in the clinical sense of the word, as fear is generally considered a symptom of certain beliefs, ignorance, or certain psychological problems - not the core problem itself.

Fear Is An Emotion:

    Fear is classed as an emotion, and depending on the emotional circuitry of the brain, can be learned in various ways. It can also be good or bad, depending on the context in which it is experienced.

    Fear of dark alleys, for example, might prevent a mugging, if one's fear stops them from using alleys as a short cut. On the other hand, certain fears might restrict one from achieving all they can from life.

    Fear can hold people back from their dreams, and obliterate any hope of extending oneself to greater fields of endeavor. Indeed, fear can either serve as a warning, or restrict potential for personal growth.

    Having distinguished fear from phobia, it is worth pointing out that fear itself can present in many different ways. We all have certain fears, many of which have no undue effect on our daily interactions.

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    However, one persons fear, on a relatively benign level, might be another's paranoia - a psychologically crippling condition. Similarly, a stimulus that causes one to become mildly anxious could spark complete terror in another.

    The point being: there are different degrees of fear, and the way in which people experience it depends on many different factors. Fear can be described by different terms in accordance with its relative degrees.

    Fright, terror, paranoia, dread, horror, distrust and anxiety, all constitute fear. What distinguishes them is explained below.

Different Degrees Of Fear


    Fright is a sudden, intense, fear, which typically occurs when one immediately comes into contact with the offending stimulus. Fright is more acute, than say, paranoia (defined below), which is more pervasive. Also a causal agent in agitation and extreme anxiety, fright can pre-empt the realization of danger, and help one to escape an undesirable situation.


    Terror is thought of as intense, overpowering, fear. In contrast to fright, terror can be an act in itself - as in terrorism. Terrorizing others, and being terrorized, can elicit the aforementioned intense, overpowering fear. One, who is a threat, could be considered a terror.


    Paranoia, as a condition, or state, is considered an extreme, irrational, distrust of others, and can, at its extreme, form a psychotic disorder characterized by delusions of persecution with or without grandeur.

    What Does Grandeur Mean?
    A state where one who considers themselves to be worthy of the highest praise or regard.

    As it relates to fear, paranoia has the potential to cause agitation, and disordered thinking where a potential threat is behind every corner.


    Dread is closely linked to terror in that it specifically means to be in terror of, and to anticipate with alarm, distaste or reluctance. Profoundly fearful anticipation is a hallmark of dread. The expectation of something big (good or bad), can elicit dread.


    Horror is an intense form of fear - characterized by intense dislike, or abhorrence. As opposed to terror, where fear stems from an established threat, or an acute, unpleasant stimulus, a state of horror can occur when something that inspires it is presented - a horror movie for example, or a horrific accident.

    It could be argued that it really boils down to a question of semantics, but the meanings of horror, terror and dread do have subtle, and not so subtle, differences, which can be readily described by those who experience them.


    To distrust basically means to have a lack of confidence, or trust, in someone, or something. Having no confidence in oneself prior to an important event, could spell disaster in terms of the outcome of the event on the individual in question. Being under-prepared can cause feelings of distrust, and resultant fear.

    Extreme distrust of others borders on, or, in some cases, defines, a state of paranoia. As mentioned, paranoia is one degree of fear, as it can cause agitation, and disordered - fearful - thinking.


    The word anxiety conjures up images of dread, and apprehension. However, it can be used in a positive sense to describe a longing for something. Being anxious to engage in some activity is an example of this application.

    Anxiety, however, is more commonly used to describe a state of uneasiness or apprehension. A troubled state of mind, a mind filled with fear, nervousness and worry, characterizes the thought processes of an anxious person, at the undesirable end of the spectrum. As it relates to fear specifically, anxiety could be thought of as a vague from of dread, which persists in the absence of a specific threat.

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Can Fear Be Controlled?

Controlling fear really is the key to countering its potentially debilitating effects. All major athletes confront fear regularly, as they continually challenge themselves to out perform others, and better their previous results. Boxers, as mentioned, are one group of athletes who face the prospect of being seriously hurt every time they climb into the ring.

The act of preparing to face off against their opponent would be enough to send the average person running to the hills. Exactly how do these athletes confront fear, and use it to their advantage?

Know Yourself, & Know The Enemy:

    Great general Sun Tzu once said,

    "If you know your enemy and know yourself you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles."

    He said this over 2500 years ago, yet this philosophy, and its underpinning precepts, are used to great effect when modern-day warriors do battle.

    Sun Tzu & The Art Of War.
    The earliest known work on military strategy and war, The Art of War consists of 13 short chapters attributed to a man named Sun Tzu, also known as Sun Tzi or Sun Wu.

    Little is known about the man, but it is widely believed he was an accomplished general when he wrote the text, which emphasizes surprise and deception ("When capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.").

    The work became known in Europe in the 18th century, and something of a manual for U.S. military strategists in the 20th century, popularized by Henry Kissinger, among others.

    Aristotle tells us in order to develop virtues you have to practice dealing with situations which are relative to those virtues. To develop the ability to overcome fear, it is therefore important to develop courage, as this is what comes closest to this particular ability (the ability to control fear).

    Aristotle is one of the "big three" in ancient Greek philosophy, along with Plato and Socrates. (Socrates taught Plato, who in turn instructed Aristotle.) Aristotle spent nearly 20 years at Plato's Academy, first as a student and then as a teacher.

    After Plato's death he travelled widely and educated a famous pupil, Alexander the Great, the Macedonian who nearly conquered the world. Later Aristotle began his own school in Athens, known as the Lyceum.

    Aristotle is known for his carefully detailed observations about nature and the physical world, which laid the groundwork for the modern study of biology. Among his works are the texts Physics, Metaphysics, Rhetoric and Ethics.

    Motivation From Fear:

      Boxers, and other fighters, know, as a result of hours of practice, the effects fear will have on them specifically. In addition, they will often learn to discern their opponents' fear.

      What separates these athletes from the average person is the confidence they have in their fighting abilities, tremendous courage, and an ability to use the adrenalin that is produced from fear, to put them into a heightened state, where their performance is improved, not restricted.

      Pro Middleweight boxer Ishe Smith is motivated by fear:

      "The nervousness that comes before a big fight helps your hormones disperse to the right places. You need that adrenaline to get in the ring, and execute your boxing abilities. I believe that nervousness, or being anxious, helps you when you are an athlete."

      Click To Enlarge.
      "You Need That Adrenaline."

      The average person, on the other hand, faced with the same challenge, will probably fall to pieces. It seems therefore, that one key to controlling fear is to develop confidence and the ability to assess any given situation fully before acting.

      Also, learning to use adrenalin as a performance booster, rather than a preventer (a common effect of rapid adrenalin output), will help one to remain calm in an intense situation.

      Fear is often an unexpected phenomenon. As such, we often do not know exactly when it will strike, but the better we know ourselves, the more efficiently we can use this fear to our advantage. Take, for example, the victim of a mugging. This person, prior to the mugging, is oblivious to an impending assault.

      However, their ability to successfully negotiate their way out of this situation, or fight, and subdue the attacker, depends to a large extent on the knowledge they have of themselves, and of their assailant.

      Being aware of the attackers movements (facial and body), and ones present state of mind, will better place one to exploit any such situation, in which they find themselves.

      The "Fight Or Flight" Reaction.
      The set of processes that occur in the body when it is confronted with some form of physical or mental stress. For example, if a person is faced with danger (as from a vicious animal about to attack), the nervous system signals for adrenaline and other hormones to be released into the blood.

      These hormones prepare the body either to confront the attacking animal or to flee to safety (thus, "fight or flight"). Changes in the body include increased heart rate, dilated pupils of the eye (to improve vision), and increased supply of blood to the muscles (to prepare the body for action).

      This ability develops over time, and can be improved daily (not just when facing an aggressor). Thinking positively about oneself, and establishing healthy lifestyle changes (such as an improved diet and increased exercise) will help one to remain calm under stress.

      Accepting life's challenges, rather than pushing them away for fear of failure, will also gradually strengthen one's ability to deal with fear. Like a boxer preparing for a fight, one must train their mind to accept nothing but victory - confidence and increased self-knowledge will develop from this.

      Self defense expert, and champion fighter, Geoff Thompson knows all about controlling fear: "Fear never goes away," he says.

      Click To Enlarge.
      Geoff Thompson.

      "I learned early on in my practice that while we can lose a fear of a certain thing or situation we will never get rid of fear completely, it will always be there while we continue to expand. Rather we learn to recognize and control fear, deeming it a powerful tool that will aid us in our response to confrontation."

Using Boxing To Control Fear?

    Practice Building Courage:

      According to Gordon Marino, Professor of Philosophy at St. Olaf (American football and boxing coach), boxing has tremendous potential to assist one in overcoming fear. "Boxing gives you a context to practice dealing with emotions like fear and rage. If you stick with it, boxing can help you control those very elemental emotions, says Gordon.

      As mentioned, fear is one emotion that can have a psychologically crippling effect. But how can boxing, an overly aggressive sport, promote an ability to control negative emotions? As Gordon explains, if one is over-emotional in the boxing ring they are likely to fail.

      "It's all about preparation and consequences, and these are very transparent in boxing. Boxing gives you experience at being afraid and dealing with fear, feeling like you're going under.

      You're forced to confront risky situations. I've got a couple of boxers who are so different to how they were a year ago."

      Gordon's comments underscore the belief that boxing teaches skills transferable to life contexts that require courage. This courage will have a dramatic effect on how fear is controlled. "There aren't many arenas where you get to practice building courage," Gordon says.

    Channeling Fear:

      For boxer Ishe Smith, fear and boxing go hand in hand, and, in his view, fear can have positive consequences.

      "Fear is good and it definitely plays a part in a boxer's life. For the most part you get used to getting hit. You don't like to get hit but you have to have a little fear to help deal with this.

      "To me, fear and being scared are two different things. You might be scared of the neighborhood bully, but that fear is something different, you can have the fear of losing and it can motivate."

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      As mentioned earlier, fear can be channeled into a positive outcome, which will help to build courage, and consequently a greater capacity to deal with it the next time around.

      According to Ishe, fear is a positive experience that all boxers need to excel in their sport.

      "You shouldn't confuse fear with being scared, and personally speaking, I do not have much fear about getting in the ring. There are a lot of scared boxers out there.

      "I think that the nervousness that comes over me, like that butterfly feeling in your stomach, helps, because it helps you to remember that you are only human, and you need to do the best you can do, and execute what you learned in training."

Have Strong Inner Faith

    To counter the fear they face before a big fight, many boxers seek guidance from above. Top middleweight Ishe Smith prays before each fight, and feels this helps him aleve nervous energy and calm the mind.

    "I pray, a lot. That is the only thing that seems to ease my mind. I do get nervous though, and I think that prayer is needed in these circumstances."

    Click To Enlarge.
    Ishe Prays Before Each Fight.

    The strong belief in a powerful force (in most cases God) can have a profound effect on a boxers confidence levels. Indeed, religious conviction is extremely empowering, causing one to feel indestructible and unstoppable.

    A favorite scripture among Christian athletes is from Philippians 4:13:

    "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

    The adoption of the literal translation of this scripture is immensely powerful, and has guided many a champion to victory. Fear becomes lessened, and emotions often are balanced in favor of a positive outcome, when ones faith is strong.

    Boxing legend, and former undisputed heavyweight champion, Evander "real deal" Holyfield, was famous for putting more of his faith in God than in his fists.

    Evander placed a strong emphasis on prayer before every fight, and credited it for his amazing ability to remain calm and take control, under the most intense circumstances (when he fought Mike Tyson, in Tyson's prime, and defeated him soundly, for example).

    One commentator has said,

    "Holyfield sang along to a gospel tune on his CD player before leaving his dressing room, leading his camp in a joyous, revival-style celebration. One fighter said, "It was as if the fight was a preliminary. He had already won the main event in the dressing room!"

    The scripture James 5:16 reads:

    "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

    Indeed, many boxers are able to confront extremely fear-provoking situations due to their strong conviction, and belief of a powerful force guiding them. Fear is effectively controlled, as a result.

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Blocking It All Out

    One way to deal with fear is simply to block it out, before it becomes overwhelming. Obviously, this will not change the situation, and better, more confrontational, strategies should be used, but it can help when these other methods (mentioned earlier) cannot, for some reason, be employed.

    One man who is as close to the action of a professional fight (as anyone other than the boxers) is cut man Dave Tenny. He feels many boxers are not really affected by fear after the bell has rung. "I don't think the effects of fear or nervousness really affect the fighter once they are in the ring and punches are flying.

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    The nerves, or fear, go out the window, and then it's just a case of "how can I knock my opponent out." The build up to a fight is often the hardest part for boxer, and a way to deal with this is to block any negative thoughts says Dave.

    "I'm not exactly sure its fear, but most fighters will tell you they feel nervous. This is a normal part of boxing.

    "I have never heard a fighter say he's scared. Maybe two weeks before the fight there is total concentration and a fighter might seem edgy or reluctant to be around people.

    "But just before he enters the ring, before that long walk, he probably only hears his trainers voice. He's in total fight mode and he wants the fight to be over, before the anxiety gets to be overwhelming."


Fear in boxing, as in life, can be a paralyzing emotion. Fear comes in many forms, and through correct identification, and sound planning, can be effectively countered, or transformed into a positive force (as in the case of adrenalines energizing effects). There are many ways to address fear:

Knowing oneself and ones enemy, blocking it out with complete focus on the task at hand, using exercise, diet and the competition itself, and having a strong inner faith being several ways. Given goal attainment often hinges on ones ability to control fear, it makes sense to counter this fear to further ones chances of success.

The boxing examples featured in this article are intended to serve as motivation to anyone experiencing a lack of progress, due to fear. If boxers (who are involved in arguable the hardest sport in the world) can work through fear, their lessons are ones we can all use.


  1. Marino, G. (2005). Preparation: Mental and Physical. BBC.CO.UK. [Online]