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Eye of the tiger in football

Is it a coincidence that Lennox Lewis announced his retirement soon after I put the gloves on for the first time?

“Hit! Punch! Be a man and beat the s**t out of it!” A strict voice doesn’t give me an option, so I keep on hitting. Adrenaline is floating. I feel the violence. I am bit scared how much aggression I have in me. Soon I start to feel exhausted but I just keep on putting my hardest punches inn. I feel bit sympathy but I have to finish this. No mercy. When I am done, the punch-bag is still unharmed. I am not. I am in the floor from the pain. Pain from exhaustion. It is almost K.O.

Crystal Palace football club has taught me to hit and punch. As a part of our training program we have learned boxing. Our club have no intentions to be more violent though or actually use any skills of boxing in the games. We haven’t misunderstood the term “knockout stages of playoffs”. We do all this only because it is a good fitness exercise. It took the best out of me at least.

For many of us footballers this is all new. Yet so smart. Using training methods from other sports and learning from them can be revolutionary. Boxing is an ideal upper body exercise that works also for your CV at the same time. It is all based on movement by using your own body, so it is more useful than most of the weight circuits. It also gives you mental toughness and gets you going. Who wouldn’t every now and then want to throw a punch! Obviously we do it in a controlled and safe environment, only in training purpose. So the lightweight boxing can still be relieved, I am not going to fight for the belt yet. My left is still quite handbags anyway.

We footballers think we are great athletes. We think we are top of the range in all sports just because we can kick a round object for couple of hours, run and jump a bit and do some weight training. However when for example our club were made to swim, half of our team were struggling to make few lengths in a pool. At least my opinion about my fitness superiority changed after couple of strokes in the water. I always thought swimming were just a light exercise for fat people who didn’t really like to sweat. I was wrong. After first length in a pool my plan to have an easy day and maybe even check out some fit birds had changed dramatically. I couldn’t breath properly, my arms were on lactic acids and grannies were queuing to dive under me or lap me again. I probably swallowed half of the pool and was constantly about to drown. I didn’t feel like a top athlete at all.

Swimming is another great and welcome training method to our weekly training schedule. It is a good whole body exercise which suites for many situations. The massaging effect of the water helps in a recovery. There is no impact on the water so you save a lot of pressure from your muscles and joints. It works as a recovery at the same time as a good workout. In water you can do longer sessions and more safely. That is why it is a great for injured player also. In water you can do hard fitness session even when you are a long way from playing a game. In many cases it is the only way to keep fit.

We started in Crystal Palace three months ago using boxing and swimming as a part of our training program. This is the first time here in England I have seen cross sport training methods used. It has paid off on and off the pitch. We are much fitter team now and the results have related to that. I personally feel stronger than ever.

Obviously this doesn’t mean that you automatically win championships if you can throw couple of good jabs. Or that you play better football after being able to swim twenty lengths of breaststrokes. These aren’t shortcuts to success. These are just good exercises and supplements to the training program. It gives variety and new dimensions as an athlete. Weeks can be very long working only on the football pitch. Doing something else is refreshing.

Football world is generally conservative like Tony Blair’s dress sense. People are too proud and stuck up with the same old training methods and beliefs. It is amazing that football clubs still use quite little research and scientific approach compared to other sports. Maybe we are too scared or too proud to admit that other sports and people can do things better. In many other sports training and playing is far more detailed than in football. And yet they are constantly trying to find new ways to become and do things even better. We also should use some of this knowledge and learn from it.

Not just learning from the training methods, but I also find it fascinating to watch the commitment other athletes have for their sport and their team. They are so professional and passionate that they could die for their cause and their team. Their dedication for every detail. The mental toughness. All the little things that make them so good in their sport. I respect all that. I am even bit embarrassed that sometimes we lack these things in football.

Some of the qualities and training methods used in other sports can be translated to football. It won’t make you any good though if you play snooker every day and so skip your technical sessions. And a team full of Dailey Thompsons isn’t the aim either. Everything has to be with in reason. Different sports have different requirements and develop different qualities. We don’t need all of it. We can just learn from the best parts. The rest of it has to be the good old football trainings.

So if you can run like Haile Gebreselassie, jump like Michael Jordan, throw like Steve Backley and fight like Mike Tyson, you still have to also be able to master the ball at least as good as any other in your league. In the end you are a footballer. However the eye of the tiger can give you that little edge.

- Aki

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