A British boxing champion who starting training kids to fight at the start of lockdown believes it could help them get through the pandemic.
Ashley Theophane, 40, who lives in London, believes teaching kids to box can help them deal with stresses caused by Covid-19. And as the UK faces a new wave of tiered restrictions, he’s urged parents to get their children exercising as much as possible to improve their mental and physical health.
Theophane – who won the British title in 2011 and trained alongside world champion Floyd Mayweather – realised young people were in need of focus and stimulation when his neighbours saw him training in his garden. They asked him if he’d consider teaching their kids.
“It’s been parents who have actually reached out to me to work with their kids,” Theophane tells HuffPost UK. “I bought different equipment as they’re young and get bored quickly, so I gave them different exercises to do.”
A prospective study, published in March found even light activity among kids was linked to better mental health as they got older. The study, carried out by University College London and King’s College London, also found more time spent sitting still was linked to higher depression scores.
“Some young people have anger issues, particularly at the moment,” he says. “Boxing helps them to channel it and calms them down. It’s definitely a beneficial way to de-stress.”
One of the kids Theophane has taught has been a young boy with autism. “I was at the local park one day, training a different set of brothers, when a father stopped me and asked me if I could train his son,” he explains. “I didn’t know he was autistic until after. I knew nothing about autism so had to research it.
“I struggled during our first session, as I wondered why he wasn’t looking at me or reacting to certain instructions. But it’s been four weeks now, and we get on. He listens to me and I’ve built a real connection with him.”
The boxer says women have also been in touch with him, wanting to learn more about self-defence. He has founded the Treasure Boxing Club, but it’s on hold due to restrictions. For now, he’ll carry on training people outside.
“Boxing is a great way for everyone to exercise,” he continues. “You don’t have to be hitting each other. There’s skipping, shadow boxing, punching the bags, pad work and technical drills.
“With lockdown and kids being stuck at home, it’s been my pleasure to help them where I can. I try to make the workouts enjoyable and fun.”
Theophane, who has fought and won in 12 different countries, also wrote a book during lockdown, telling of his journey from growing up in a disadvantaged area of London, to fighting in Las Vegas. His childhood experiences have made him even more determined to make a difference in children’s lives, he says.
“My aim to finish it went back to last October, when there was an ongoing knife crime issue with youths,” he says. “I was one of those kids 25 years ago. I changed my life after going to prison and had a successful boxing career.”
Want your kid to get involved in boxing? If you don’t have outside classes nearby, you could try out a YouTube boxing follow-along class at home.