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Females Young people Self-care and development Inspiring Stories

Knocking Out Bias One Smile at a Time

At the age of 22, boxing coach Naadrah Hafeez has already knocked gender bias out for the 10 count! In a sport once viewed as the remit of men bloodied from brutality, the future face of boxing is a young, Muslim woman fittingly nicknamed 'The Smiler'. Full to the brim with spirit, she wants to inspire more girls to lace up their boots, tighten their gloves and create a new generation of female coaches and athletes. UK Coaching’s Jack Kelly went to meet her

Naadrah’s journey into the world of combat sports began at the age of 10 when she decided to try taekwondo. She has never looked back.

The daughter of a teacher, Naadrah caught the coaching bug early and participated in her first coaching session at the age of 14. Witnessing the positive impact on the toddlers in attendance, she knew from that moment that she wanted to build a career in coaching.

At the age of 18, she started studying Sports Coaching at Leeds Beckett University.

Throughout her studies and her experiences in and out of the ring, Naadrah has maintained a positive can-do attitude, which helped her land a role as Boxing Academy coach at her local club, Gladiators, in Huddersfield.

Naadrah attributes her early success to the club’s inclusive environment. She explains with a contagious smile: “They have been amazing in my learning and development, and I think that’s important in getting people into sport and coaching. We need to find these places and tell others about them. If I had trained in a negative environment, my career would be very different now.

My age, race and religion were never seen as a barrier. I was instead seen as the future.”

Coaching during Ramadan

Boxing is a sport that requires energy, physicality, and concentration and Naadrah has had to adapt her training programmes and coaching methods during Ramadan, when she is fasting.

“It can be hard with the lack of sleep and dehydration, and it can affect my mood and energy. To overcome these obstacles, I drink a lot of water in the hours that I can – sipping regularly. I also drink isotonic drinks after training to refuel and rehydrate.

“I also find that my clients, boxers, and fellow coaches uplift my mood and keep my energy going. The people you surround yourself with have a huge impact on how you feel, especially when you’re tired or hungry.”

Naadrah’s love for coaching is rooted in a desire to help others, especially children. But as she has developed and grown in stature as a coach, she has embraced opportunities to coach adults and doesn’t view her age or gender as a barrier.

Talking of stature, she joked: “The only obstacle has been the size of the people I coach! They are often bigger than me, so I have to use bigger pads.

But I’m not intimated, all they see in me is a good coach, not my gender. It’s important to build that relationship with your clients because you work better together when they know who you are.

“And I know maybe people think I am young, but I am constantly learning and doing the research behind the coaching. I view coaching as an art and science, and the mental and research side is just as important as the physical aspects. It’s helped me build relationships with athletes as they see that I know stuff. To beat the bias and be the best, you need to earn their respect and prove that you have the knowledge.”

‘If I can do it, so can you!’

Naadrah feels lucky that she has the right people supporting her, but she knows there is a long way to go.

“We should recognise and represent everyone’s existence. The higher up we go the more we need to see the representation of different races, religions, and genders. It’s so important that people can see themselves in coaching and positions of power and success.

Being young, Pakistani and a Muslim, I want to show people like me that if I can do it, then so can they. Sport should always be inclusive. You should be heard and valued, and you should be able to feel like you belong anywhere. It’s moving in the right direction, but it needs to happen from grass-roots to the very top.”

At the age of 22, Naadrah is not just the future of coaching, she is the now.

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