Encouraging girls to stay in combat sports: ongoing inclusion initiatives in Norwegian boxing

The year 2017 saw a new ‘Girls Revolution’ in Norwegian Boxing. It all started in June, when Undisputed World Champion Cecilia Brækhus selected 18 girls and invited them to Kragerø to participate in a training camp. The camp was hosted in collaboration with The Norwegian Boxing Federation (NBF) and was a great success for the participating boxers.

Participants at the ‘Cecilia Brækhus Training Camp’ 2017 (Photo by Kenneth Bruun)

 

Following the success of the training camp with Brækhus, the NBF initiated their own inclusion project for girls in boxing. As a result, a new series of all-girls boxing training camps were created. In September, the NBF hosted its very first ‘Open Training Camp for Girls’ in Trondheim. This was the first of four planned open training camps for the season of 2017/2018. A main objective of the camps is to encourage girls and women to stay in Norwegian boxing, as athletes, coaches, leaders or judges/referees. The number of women in NBF has been at a stand still since the early 2000s. Women make up around 20-24% of the members in Norwegian boxing clubs. However, only around 9% of Norwegian boxing coaches are women, and while there are no numbers documenting women boxing judges and referees, it is generally thought to be even lower than the amount of women coaches.

The low representation of women in Norwegian boxing means that girls who box often experience being ‘the only girl’ or one of very few girls during the training sessions in their boxing gyms. Most of them are coached by older male coaches and very few have experiences with female coaches or other female leadership role models in boxing on a day-to-day basis. With this in mind, creating a social space and a meeting place where girls in boxing can meet and train together might encourage girls to stay in combat sports longer – as athletes, coaches, judges or leaders. All of NBF’s ‘Open Training Camps for Girls’ are hosted by female boxing coaches and leaders. While male coaches also contribute, women boxing coaches and leaders run these camps.

First ‘Open Training Camp for Girls’ hosted by The Norwegian Boxing Federation in Trondheim, september 2017

Two girls practicing their technique  (Photo by Kent Even Grundstad)

NBF’s training camp in Trondheim attracted 34 female boxers, representing 14 boxing clubs from all over Norway. As a first try, the camp was thought to be a success. The second training camp was held recently, in Bodø, from the eighth to tenth of December. For the second camp, the number of participants increased as 43 girls came to Bodø to train together. NBF is planning to host two more camps during the 2017/2018 season.

 

The next camp will be in Drammen in February. For the final camp, in May, the participants will travel to Ireland together, to train with St. Brigid’s Boxing Club Edenderry and AIBA 3-Star coach Liam Brereton. NBF is hoping that over 50 Norwegian girls will participate in the final camps of the season.

Participants at the ‘Open Training Camp for Girls’ in Bodø (Photo by Kent Even Grundstad)

Two girls sparring (Photo by Kent Even Grundstad)

 

Not an elite sport project

The camps are open to any Norwegian female boxer, regardless of age, experience and skill level. Both in Trondheim and in Bodø, all kinds of female boxers participated: youth, junior and elite. The participants ranged from beginners, with only 5-6 months of boxing experience to national champions at youth and junior level. Anyone who wants to come to these camps are allowed to come. The only requirement is that the participant needs to be registered with a Norwegian boxing club. Still, NBF’s project does not have any aims connected to ‘talent development’ or elite sport. The aim is simply to encourage and motivate girls to be a part of, and stay in Norwegian boxing at some level. For girls and women in masculine and male dominated sports such as boxing, creating meeting places and a good social environment across clubs, cities and regions, might motivate more girls to take up coaching or other leadership roles in boxing – or to stay active as athletes longer.

Boxer in action at one othe training camps (Photo by Kent Even Grundstad)

 

‘Girl Camps’ and Sustainability?

Inclusion initiatives aimed at girls and women, such as the NBF training camps, can be criticized as unsustainable ‘one-time’ events that do not succeed in bringing about long-term social change and better condition or inclusion for girls and women in sport. This is a valid point, as many of these projects are vulnerable and dependent of the engagement of specific individuals/experts. In the past, NBF has hosted several similar projects that have disappeared after a few years as key agents had to decrease their engagement in boxing due to getting a new job, moving, having children or other life changing events. Creating a project that is not dependent on any one or two key persons is the main challenge NBF is facing with their new training camps for girls. As of now, these camps rely completely on the volunteer effort of a small group of coaches and leaders. While these individuals are doing a great job trying to create a better environment for Norwegian girls in boxing, should they drop out, the project would not survive. Involving new people, creating a sustainable sporting and social environment, independent on any one person or select few, is essential for NBF’s new inclusion program for girls to be sustainable long-term.

About author
Anne Tjønndal is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social Science, Nord University, Bodø - Norway.
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