Play that packs more than a punch

What’s a good way to teach discipline? How about letting your kids throw left hooks and 13-punch combinations at their friends? With the Chicago Park District’s boxing program, kids train hard and play hard as they learn about commitment, discipline and confidence.

“There are life skills learned through boxing,” says David Kennedy, the park district’s deputy director of sports and recreation."It’s a lot of hard work and dedication.”

About 2,000 kids around Chicago pack in their punches at the boxing classes, offered to those older than 8. Many of them participate in other sports, but turn to boxing for more training and instruction from their coaches.

“It’s like father-son,” says Frankie Smith, a coach at the Robert Taylor district."You teach them about discipline, about hygiene, about staying in school, about the facts of life.”

Most kids in the boxing program train one to two hours three days a week in classes with about 20 others. They practice on punching bags, study hand and foot movements, stretch, jump rope and practice sparring."I could do a lot of training,” says Pierre Courtney, 9, who began boxing three months ago."It’s hard work and I love doing hard work.”

Rico Gonzalez, a volunteer coach, says the best part about his work is helping a struggling kid and getting him back on track at school and home.

Gonzalez, who trained as a child in the Loyola Park District, knows the difference boxing can make in someone’s life."The minute you walk into those ropes, it just makes your life easier,” Gonzalez says."Whenever I do that, it makes me feel like I can do anything.”

The park district will offer free classes until Dec. 9. Kids ages 8 to 16 can come in their gym clothes and receive free equipment usage and instruction. Usually, costs range from $5 to $10 for 10 weeks of instruction, depending on location. To find a park district boxing program near your neighborhood, go to

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