Do the benefits of youth boxing outweigh the risk of injury?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that doctors "vigorously oppose" youth boxing because of the risk of head injuries like concussions.
But trainers and boxing supporters say it teaches young people discipline and work ethic better than any other sport. Many kids in urban areas join boxing gyms to learn how to defend themselves, and end up getting in fewer fights in school and on the street, they say.
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Boxing to keep from fighting
Devin Haney's dad, William, first took him to a boxing gym six years ago because he was getting in fights at school.
Devin, 12, turned out to be a natural, and is now the No. 2-ranked boxer in his age group nationally. He dreams of representing the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics.
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Most training time spent outside the ring
Youth boxers spar infrequently and spend most of their time stretching, conditioning, and working out on punching bags (such as the speed bag shown here).
Bag-related injuries, such as knuckle bruises and fractures, are the most common type of youth-boxing injury, not the head injuries pediatricians fear most.
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Keeping kids off the streets
John's Boxing Gym, in the Bronx, N.Y., opened seven years ago. The gym is now home to about 70 child and teen boxers, although professional boxers train there as well.
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Head injuries rare
Donald Kirschner, 80, has been a manager at John's Boxing Gym since it opened.
In his 50 years as a boxing trainer, he says, the only head injury he has seen was when a fighter took on an opponent who was too big for him.
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Boxing teaches confidence
In addition to promoting physical fitness, training instills confidence, motivation, and especially self-discipline in young boxers like Oscar Cadena, supporters say.
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Basketball isn't for everyone
The AAP recommends that doctors steer young people away from boxing, and toward non-collision sports such as swimming, tennis, and basketball.
Jahron Williams, 15, joined John's Boxing Gym because he was getting beat up. He has tried playing basketball but says he much prefers boxing.
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Coaches must give the green light for sparring
Brandon Belen, age 14, was eager to spar from the moment he started training a year ago, but his coach just recently decided he was ready. "It makes you feel like a superhero," Belen says about his first time sparring.
Youth boxers must wear protective headgear, which covers most of their head and face and reduces the risk of cuts and serious injuries, supporters say. Although the pros don't take the same precaution when they fight, Belen is not worried about it. "By the time I go pro, I'll be ready."
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Protective gear goes a long way
Young boxers like Savay Drummond wear gloves inside the ring as well as during punching-bag work. And before a sparring session or competitive bout, trainers usually check to make sure both opponents have the appropriate protective gear, including headgear and gloves that fit well.
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Sparring isn't fighting
Youth boxers—such as Steven Galeano (in black trunks) and Devin Haney—typically spar for two or three three-minute rounds, or until their coaches decide they are tired.
Trainers say the goal of sparring is not to throw hard punches but to learn new boxing styles and techniques.
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Fighting childhood obesity
Steven Galeano's father, Edwin, drives his son to the gym every day and helps him train. He encouraged Steven and his brothers to take up boxing as a form of exercise.
"When they first walked in the gym, I saw something in their eyes that I never saw before," Edwin says.
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Steven, who won the Ringside international boxing tournament in his age group in Kansas City in 2010, says that boxing helps him stay in shape, staves off boredom, and keeps him out of fights at school.
"Whenever trouble comes to find me, I [learned] to control myself," he says.
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