Emelia Dermott knows in boxing, as in life, the best lessons often come from the hardest moments.
Dermott, a four-time national champion and youth boxer for Team Canada who is studying human kinetics at the University of Ottawa, said learning from losses is the key to improving.
“If you can look at that as experience rather than a loss, I think that helps a lot because then you still feel like you’re getting better,” the 19-year-old Oakville, Ont. resident said.
It’s important for boxers keen on improving to focus not just on the outcome of a bout, she said, but on the reasons for victory or defeat.
As a girl, Dermott tagged along with her father to fitness classes. His program was structured around boxing, and when she tried it she fell in love. She started boxing for fitness and recreation. Now, she’s aiming for the podium at the 2024 Olympics.
Boxing Ontario said there are more than 135 clubs in Ontario with 2,500 competitive and 12,000 recreational boxers. The organization said its mission is to develop boxers “to the height of their potential through self-discipline, confidence, fitness and sportsmanship.”
Women’s boxing didn’t appear in the Olympics until 2012, but the sport has grown in recent years, and with the sport set to make its first ever appearance at the 2023 Canada Games, interest is expected to rise.
Some boxing analysts have said women even have physiological advantages over men in the ring. Broader pelvises create a natural centre of gravity and weight distribution on the hips enhances punching power, and some think the lack of societal expectation that they should be fighters has the possibility of making them more coachable.
Richard Souce, a former top-ranked professional who now owns Stockyards Boxing and Fitness in Toronto, agrees, saying women are easier to teach because they come with an open mind and usually just want to learn how to defend themselves.
“The hardest people to teach are older guys, like guys 30 years and plus because they feel like they know everything already,” he said.
John Melich, a professional trainer for more than 40 years, said the mental and emotional aspects of boxing, including the ability to learn and control anger, can be as important as the physical.
Melich, who has owned Champion Boxing Club in Brampton since 1984 and trained 14 national champions, said in an interview emotional control is crucial for boxers and that losing composure often puts them in vulnerable positions.
“It’s not one of these things, like, ‘okay, watch it because that guy’s mad, he’s dangerous,'” Melich said. “That’s not the way it works. They actually lose their might because they’re not focused.”
Souce, a former student of Melich, said it is easiest to train boxers who started the sport at a young age.
At its best, boxing teaches life skills along with technique, he said.
“When you really work hard, it sets you up for other things in life,” Souce said. “It just teaches you work ethic, like you got to work for things, you got to work hard.”