Confidence is a must-have for successful athletes at any level of competition, but in individual sports like boxing, it might be even more crucial. Errol Spence Jr., a 22-year-old boxer who is headed to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London later this year, heads into some tune-up events in the coming weeks feeling good about his chances to be among the top three finishers in the welterweight class.
And the DeSoto native has every reason to be confident. After all, he has done some good things in the past year. Spence won the welterweight title at the 2011 Olympic Trials and then fell in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Boxing Championships in Azerbaijan to Serik Sapiyev, a two-time world welterweight champion.
Despite the loss to Sapiyev, he still finished among the top 10 in his weight class and earned a trip to London. He has been training in Dallas since then and will leave next Wednesday for a tournament in Cuba. Then he will head to Los Angeles for two duels with the Ukraine.
Spence will then return home for several weeks but knows he'll get a proper sendoff from friends and family in DeSoto come June, when he leaves for the pre-Olympic training camp in Colorado Springs.
"Right now, somebody's planning a big sendoff for me," he said. "I don't know when it that camp starts yet. We haven't gotten everything yet. I go to LA, come back home, train for two weeks and then leave. So I'll have the sendoff probably in June."
And even as the Summer Games are still about two months away, this talented young pugilist definitely has a good idea of what to expect once he arrives in London, even in this, his first Olympics.
"Yes, I do realize what I'm doing and what history I'm making by going to the Olympics. I'm capable of getting the gold medal," Spence said. "I've been to London twice. It's a nice city, a nice place."
Besides the actual competition itself, one part of the experience he's definitely looking forward to is getting the opportunity to participate in opening ceremonies along with the rest of the American Olympic contingent.
"A lot of people tell me it's one of the best parts of going to the Olympics, being with other athletes," Spence said. "Being with some of the basketball players from around the world should be a great experience."
One other part of the Olympic experience he is looking forward to is that he will get to share it with the other members of the USA boxing team, a group he has become quite close with over the past year or so.
"We have a real good friendship. We spent two months together in preparation for the World Championships and at the World Championships. So there was a lot of bonding time," he said. "We know each other very well. We help each other out a lot, encourage each other to work harder, do better and just perfect our craft. We've got a good bond and a good friendship."
His father, Errol Sr., and mother Debra, will join him in England for the Games. Having them front and center for the biggest moments of his boxing career is nothing new, but even he admits that having mom and dad in attendance always helps his confidence in the ring.
"It's a big confidence booster to have them there. Having them there supporting me and knowing they're in the crowd, I don't want to disappoint them and have them come all the way to London for nothing," Spence said.
Errol Sr. was in attendance for the World Championships last fall, an experience that not only allowed his son to punch his ticket to the 2012 Olympics, but also gave him some confidence he can carry forward.
"Yeah, it was a big moment. My father had come and made the trip to me," Spence Jr. said. "It was a big moment to qualify with a lot of pressure on my back, to qualify early for the Olympics and know that I'm going to London."
And even though he had a great run through the welterweight division at the 2011 Worlds, he also knows there is plenty that he can work on if he is to medal at the London Games. In fact, he's been working on one such thing ever since he got back from Azerbaijan last fall. "Just trying to stay more active, throw more punches, use my jab more, use more angles, just all around be more active is what I want to do," he said.
Spence more than held his own at the World Championships, but even he expects the level of competition in London to be even stiffer than what he faced in Baku.
"I would think it'd probably be a little bit tougher because you have all the nations and that's a great deal for a lot of people and it's a great deal for me. Nobody wants to lose," he said. "All the best fighters will be there and everybody will be in top shape. So I'm expecting it will be better."
Back when he laced up his first pair of gloves, he admits he never really thought much about fighting in the Olympics. However, once he learned more about amateur boxing and about what a big deal it is to get to represent your country on such a big stage, he started envisioning himself as winning a gold medal in the ring.
"I didn't really think about it. When I first picked up the gloves, I was more thinking about going pro and getting that world title, winning the world title," Spence said. "As I got more into it and learned more about amateur boxing, one of my dreams was getting the gold medal."
However, should this DeSoto native end up on the medal stand later this summer, it's a safe bet that medaling at the Olympics would definitely rate as a dream come true for the young and talented Errol Spence Jr.