AN international boxing coach heard how one club kept its promising young boxers engaged during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he visited recently.

Stuart O’Connor, former head coach of the Royal Navy, dropped in on Bishop Auckland Boxing Club to share advice and let members try new virtual reality sparring technology he is helping to develop.

Mr O’Connor, who also visited other clubs in the region last week, said: “It has been really interesting visiting clubs across the country and seeing the potential of the boxers at Bishop Auckland.

“It should be a really exciting time for the club, and we are already in the process of arranging a few more visits, so hopefully this can be the start of a great relationship between the Royal Navy and boxing clubs in the North-East.”

The Northern Echo:

The session was organised by Matty Stephenson, head coach at Bishop Auckland Boxing Club, who said prior to the coronavirus outbreak the club was on track to have its most successful season yet.

Coaches turned to technology to help keep boxers interested and in good shape.

He said: “We had a national development champion and a national youth finalist all in the space of three months.

“Obviously, it is unfortunate the season was cut short due to the pandemic because I am sure more success and champions would have followed.

“The one major challenge that really sticks out for me was keeping the kids interested during lockdown.

“In a world where it is so easy for kids to sit on the Xbox or PlayStation all night or log on to Facebook to talk to friends, it was extremely hard to convince them that one day boxing will resume, and we need to be the best versions of ourselves when it does.

“Thankfully, we’ve managed to hold on to our promising squad.”

The club ran three online sessions a week during lockdown, with between 20 and 25 boxers on each call, and once a week a special guest ran the session including former world champion Derry Matthews and lead England development coach Amanda Coulson.

“Post-lockdown, whilst gyms were still closed, we set up a socially distanced team run in groups of six every Sunday, which again had a great response from the squad,” added Mr Stephenson.

And he said the benefit of keeping the boxers interested is not just for the club but the community too.

He said: “This club is massively important for the local community as it teaches discipline, life skills and keeps these kids off the street and out of trouble.

“I personally believe boxing puts kids on the right path for life and as a sport, boxing is regarded as being more successful than other sports in terms of engaging with participants from minority groups.

“As a coach working with young people, there are occasions when you cover several different roles, from friendly advisor to role model and even social worker sometimes.

“The environment teaches them about responsibility, perseverance, motivation, and also raises self confidence and self-esteem.

“I just hope restrictions will be lifted and boxing competitions will resume. We have huge plans for the team including sparring camps and box cup trips within the county, nationally and across Europe.

“We have a whopping 24 carded boxers heading into the new season and a hugely exciting talented crop of youngsters coming through, so it is hard not to get excited about our current team.

“I genuinely believe all the hard work that these kids have put in, will be rewarded in the coming year.”

BABC runs junior and adults’ sessions for all abilities, so if anyone interested in joining can call Matty Stephenson on 07972-718793 or visit the club’s Facebook page.