You can walk into any local "fitness boxing" gym in your area and hear all about the benefits of picking up the activity. Boxing, real Boxing isn't an "activity". It's a very specific set of movements with a very specific goal in mind. That goal is to put yourself in a position in which you can land a punch without your opponent being able to hit you back. This is it, plain and simple.
I specialize in working with hockey players, both in the NHL and with players in the developmental programs of various NHL franchises. Being in Detroit, I have gotten to do quite a bit of work with the Detroit Red Wings over my many years of owning Watters Performance. One of the hardest things to do is convince a professional athlete that they should be competent in any other sport than the one they are paid to perform in. Any of the hockey fans reading this will certainly remember the names of famous Red Wing enforcers Bob Probert, Joey Kocur, and even more recently, Darren McCarty. These are all past Red Wing enforcers that worked with the legendary Emanuel Steward at the even more legendary Kronk Gym in Detroit in the late '80s and early '90s. They were learning to box, but they were also training their bodies to become better hockey players. This was simply by accident. Their purpose was simply to fight. Sports science is different today, and we're able to take the activity and break it down into a reason.
Boxing And Hockey Are Both Anaerobic Sports
Hockey, you skate extremely hard for short shifts. In Boxing, you fight for 3 minutes and rest 1. But there's something much deeper, and this is why the crossover becomes so effective. Unlike many sports, Hockey forces you to react much faster to the stimulus in front of you due to the simple fact that your body is moving faster. Your brain has to react much differently to accelerating into the corner to get a loose puck while taking notice of where the defenseman is that's trying to line you up for a hit than it does in simply waiting for a pitch to come from a fixed location on the mound. Boxing is oddly similar in that regard. You've got punches coming at you from various angles that you have to react to in a defensive way while still being conscious of responding offensively with your own shot. This requires activation of the rods in your eyes, the part responsible for peripheral vision. Your eyes don't know what sport you're playing. They simply know they have to pick up the movements just off-center to what's directly in front of you and do so quickly.
There are many drills you can do to work on peripheral vision, but I've always been a believer in a simple saying – the body becomes its function. If you do a drill in a controlled environment, it will not yield the same results as you'd achieve if you were to work the same type of drills under stress. Going into the corner in Hockey creates adrenaline, stress. Setting up a punch while knowing your opponent is going to try to hammer your back does the same. This is what we, as strength and conditioning coaches, should try to achieve. We mimic the body's response in a similar situation but just dissimilar enough to create a little bit of discomfort.
The first drill is to simply work on pad/mitt work while on the ice and in skates. Having played Hockey for most of my youth up to today, my skating is good enough that I'm able to do this. I know most don't possess the same combination of skill sets. The punch combinations are thrown while moving around the rink, usually with the lights dimmed to activate the rods more effectively.
The second drill is to actually spar on the ice. We'll both have our dominant hand gloved and our lead hand free. While both in headgear, we simulate a hockey fight – using the free hand to grab and try to control the jersey while throwing punches with our gloved hand. Why? Because these drills mimic what they will be doing on game day. These non-scripted, reactionary movements stimulate the same brain/eye movement activity that they'll use during the game, regardless of whether or not they ever fight. Even the biomechanics of throwing a punch is applicable. While taking a slapshot, your weight starts on your back leg and pushes your momentum forward onto your lead foot. All while keeping your head up and eyes focused on a target. Throwing a punch is the same motion and the same transfer of weight and power. The same back foot to lead foot transfer of power and weight while, at the same time, rotating the hips forward and keeping the eyes fixed on a target are almost identical to the sequential movement of a slapshot. That being the case, learning how to develop the movement of throwing a punch correctly can do nothing but make the movements required to properly take a slap shot improve accordingly. Besides, being able to spar with a pro hockey player while on skates may be the only time in my life where I can say I outperformed them on the ice – and that's a win/win.