5 proven lessons for Olympic and worldly success

I recently attended a talk by the Head Coach of the US Boxing Team and Wexford legend, Mr. Billy Walsh. He shared his five proven lessons for Olympic success. While he was talking about boxing, the same lessons can be applied to any area you want to excel in – business, sport, music, writing and life. His first key message for winning is having the right people and the right process in place.

The process is underpinned by his five powerful lessons:

  1. Clarity of purpose: This is about being clear on what you want and then doing the right things to achieve it. In his case, the vision was to get his team winning medals on world podiums. No excuses, the hunger to win, a continuous improvement mindset and high performance are fundamental to achieving this.
  2. ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, said Peter Druker, the late business management guru. Culture is the environment we operate in and decides whether any strategy fails or succeeds. It is the values, beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that people share. Culture is ‘how’ you operate and defines engagement, passion, and execution. Billy highlighted how the best strategy in the world will go nowhere without the right people and culture. He sets an entry price that is non-negotiable. The bar is high – demanding resilience, commitment, courage, performance, preparation, belief, fun and honesty. His formula changes mindsets and enabled him as head coach to transform his teams – from ‘Dodos’ to ‘World Class Winners’. The differences between a ‘poor’ and a ‘rich’ culture is clearly defined and understood. A rich culture has no excuses, promotes world class thinking and empowering behaviours and values, is process focused and demands professional behaviour in and outside the ring. Athletes are supported at every stage of the process to the highest standards. Poor culture is outcome focused, tolerates excuses and part time commitment and has lower standards.
  3. ‘High performance is a choice’. It is exacting and demands a lot of sacrifice. It is not for everyone and that should be understood. It involves a decision, relentless focus and doing the work that is necessary to achieve the result 100 percent. A commitment to continuous improvement is his fuel for sustainable and repeated success. Visualisation and surrounding yourself with messages of success support the process. Prepare like you want to compete. Use best practice, gather information, simulate conditions and be ready for the critical moments. Assess your competitors through a performance lens.
  4. Benchmark against the best and then outperform them. The same advice is given in business. Copy someone doing what you want to do and do it better.
  5. What is good enough today won’t be good enough tomorrow. Continuous improvement is essential to stay at the top.

  6. While not all of us are destined to get Olympic Medals, we can all learn from Billy about how to do better in the boxing ring that is our life. He is humble, easy to connect with and says it how it is. He is very generous with his success formula. And he has proven that it works, twice – winning seven Olympic Medals as head coach for Ireland and in the US – two different countries and very different work cultures. He joked that they don’t understand him there. But obviously they do – and are giving him the space to freely work as head coach. Authority, responsibility, and accountability are in the right balance. The gift and challenge Billy gives to us is an understanding of what it takes so we can apply the lessons as relevant in our lives.