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Commonwealth Games Edition, Specialty, Sports Counter Punch

By: Mercedas Taaffe-Cooper

As a Martial Arts and Boxing coach for over thirty-five years, I know from experience the connection we as coaches can create with our athletes. This connection is true for all sports coaches but there is something about Combat that goes even deeper. Perhaps the connection is so unique because it is a combat sport, there’s no room for any pretence. It’s real. As such we have incredible potential to influence young people’s lives in a way that can determine their life path.

By virtue of the fact that we teach something kids WANT to participate in, as opposed to for example school teachers, who teach subjects they HAVE to participate in, we have entered their Value World, not because we are doing a better job than teachers, simply because we are teaching something they want to learn and we are in the place they want to be, the Gym or Dojo.

Our sport is the medium that enables us to access their Value World. We need to maximise the opportunity we have. Sometimes the attraction of our sport alone is enough to do that. It creates the opportunity to engage and sustain their participation long enough to have a significant impact in the lives of these kids.

However, as I’m sure you will agree, the sporting activity itself is not always enough to sustain their interest and commitment in the long term.

In a recent survey I ran among combat coaches, most highlighted lack of consistency and resilience in their athletes as their biggest challenge as coaches.

A proportion of our athletes are competition focussed but for many of us who work with schools and parents, the medium of combat sport is often sought out to help young people develop life skills such as confidence and resilience, as well as basic motor skills, movement and fitness.

For every 10 kids that walk into our gyms maybe one will follow a successful high-performance pathway. Ninety percent wont. It is these kids that I would like to talk about.

What can we add to our sport delivery that will keep them stay involved and give them the undoubted life skills we are in the unique position to deliver?

Depending on age most classes will incorporate some fun games, physical fitness and skills training. For many of the kids this will be enough to keep them there and indeed enough to develop the confidence and resilience they need for life. For those who need a bit more help what can we add to our sessions?

It was while working as a school counsellor many years ago that it fully dawned on me the true value of using pad work as a tool to break down defensive barriers, both physically and metaphorically! I discovered that giving my client a pair of boxing gloves, a little instruction on correct technique and holding a set of focus pads for them to punch, was a wonderfully effective way to level the playing field.

Five minutes of hitting pads progressed our relationship much further than many hours of “talk” sessions. Giving them permission to punch something was like unplugging a gusher. All their defences came down. There were instant smiles and questions. We were on a joint mission!

Doing pads with a young person is such an incredibly powerful tool for connection and developing relationships. Talk therapy does not work with kids, doing something is much better, hitting pads was the best, most effective tool I have ever used!

It was many years later that I began to realise what it was about punching pads that created such a connection. I realised that for many adolescents it was the first conscious connection they made within themselves between their thinking and their physiology i.e. between their head and their body. This is the first step toward emotional regulation!

Having spent some time working as a Child and Adolescent Psychologist in a clinical setting I have witnessed first hand how NOT having the ability to regulate emotions such as Anger and Anxiety, can escalate into self-destructive behaviour.

That is why I am so passionate about early intervention and the influential role that combat sport coaches can play. IT IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE! All we need to do is give kids the information.

That is why I developed the CounterPunch program, to facilitate coaches to be able to maximise the connection they create and give them the tools they need to help give kids this information.

That is why I believe that we as coaches can be the difference makers.

The CounterPunch program combines Sports Psychology and Choice Theory, with Sports and Exercise science and Combat sport, to give coaches a structured systemised process that helps young people to get on track and reach their potential for happiness.

It uses your best resource, the sport you teach, as the medium to teach kids how to Connect with themselves, Relate to those around them and Communicate effectively to enable them to realise their full potential and be happy and fulfilled.

If you would like more information on the CounterPunch program go to

Mercedas Taaffe-Cooper is a registered Psychologist (MSc Clinical Psych), a Sports and Exercise Science graduate (BSc) and International Boxing Coach with over thirty-five years of coaching experience.

Born in Ireland, Mercedas’s initial involvement in sports was with kickboxing, in which she won both European and World Championships. She’s one of Ireland’s most successful coaches and has worked with boxers who’ve ranked top ten in the world.

Mercedas moved to Australia in late 2006 and became a dual citizen in 2009. Passionate about connecting with and enabling people to reach their potential, Mercedas moved to the Northern Territory to work as a Child and Adolescent Psychologist. It was there she developed CounterPunch with the support of the Northern Territory Government (NTG). Mercedas moved to South Australia in 2015 and continues her work with CounterPunch as a private consultant and CEO of CounterPunch Pty Ltd.

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