August 31, 2015

When David beats Goliath

Posted in Sunday Business Post · 27 comments ·

This week Irish boxing lost Billy Walsh, the key man in the success of the Irish boxing team over the past ten years. The story of Irish boxing is something akin to David and Goliath. It’s such a brilliant tale, and in the context of the economic recovery, it is a salutary lesson for every small business. So let’s tell the story.

Did you know that the Irish boxing team is, per capita, the most successful sports team in the world? Over the past ten years in the Olympics, the World Championships, the European Championships and the new EU Championships, this team has won 57 gold medals, 49 silver medals and 96 bronze medals.

In the London Olympics this team came fifth in the overall medals’ table. This team, from a tiny country with a population of four million, won more medals than the Chinese with its population of 1.7 billion, or Olympic giant America, with its 300 million plus population.

How did it do it? Let’s look at this through the prism of business. How can small business replicate the boxers’ accomplishment against the giants in your sector? How can your business similarly compete?

Under the guidance of head coach Billy Walsh and his Georgian accomplice Zaur Antia, the “high performance” unit made sure that the Irish boxing team has achieved remarkable results.

This feat in the past decade is made all the more remarkable in light of the fact that in 2002 the Sports Council was about to remove all funding from boxing because our performance had been so poor.

Walsh – himself a former boxer who had reached the final eight in the World Championships and knew what is was like to lose – took over and transformed Irish boxing.

So why, in the year before Walsh took up the challenge at the European Championships, all Irish boxers were beaten in the first round and now, ten years later, it’s the most successful per capita boxing team in the world?

This is the story of belief, focus and discipline. It is also about convincing people that they can compete at the highest level. It is a story of how little wins, lead to big wins and how, with the right training, preparation and intensity, the little guy can beat the big guy.

It is a brilliant lesson for all small businesses about how the dominant player’s very strength might be his weakness and if a new, small business or start-up is disciplined enough it can win unexpected market share.

On taking up the challenge, the first thing Walsh did was to take the Irish team to Russia to see how the best did it. Russia has long been the most successful boxing nation on earth. In 2003, when the Irish team went to the Russian training camp, they were slaughtered tactically, physically, psychologically and emotionally. So much so that the Russians regarded the Irish as a bit of joke.

Walsh took the team home, tore up their training schedule and copied what he saw in Russia. He copied how they trained, what they ate, when they rested, and he asked the boxers for total commitment.

The regime was so tough that in the first year he lost half the squad, but those who stayed got fitter, stronger, more confident and then started to win medals. In the past, an Irish boxer would fear being drawn against an existing European medal holder and the fight was lost in his head before he stepped into the ring, but the little (and then bigger) wins meant this inferiority complex changed.

Why would you fear being drawn against a European medal holder when you were sparring with one every day?

By 2013, after success in the Beijing and London Olympics, in the European Championship, Ireland came second to Russia. A true measure of success is that the team is now banned from training in Russia on the orders of the Russian Boxing Federation. The Russians – with a population of 145 million people – now regard the Irish team as a threat to them.

The high performance unit led by Walsh set about overturning conventional wisdom. It took ideas and methods from the best and customised them to suit the Irish way of fighting. Every boxing culture has a different set of challenges, in the same way as every small business has its own way of doing things.

The Irish boxers changed their training schedule, realising that it wasn’t good enough to keep doing what they’d been doing for years. The trainers set about measuring everything from heart rate, to footwork, punch rate to number of combinations, diet, emotional stability and ultimately the boxers’ own belief. Did they want it enough?

Once the regime was right, and the Irish were benchmarked against the best in the world, the trainers could assess whether they were ready. By 2009, they were ready. Since then, the medals and successes have flowed. Some 202 medals have been won by Irish boxers from schoolboy/girl up, in international championships since 2003, culminating in Katie Taylor’s London victory.

Who says David can’t beat Goliath?

All of us in business have moments when we are faced with a competitor that is bigger, stronger, fitter, cleverer and much better resourced than we are. Often our response to this challenge is to withdraw and conclude that we can’t win and that even dreaming of taking on this competitor is folly.

But every business competitor is beatable; every challenger has something special and, if we work hard enough, prepare meticulously enough and adopt the discipline and focus of the best, there is no reason we can’t be the best too.

Every competitor has a weakness and sometimes, as happened with David and Goliath, the giant is at his weakest when everything seems to be going his way.

The story of Billy Walsh and Irish boxing is the story of winning against the odds, and it could be the template for every small business in the country.

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  3. Irish PI

    Funny that there is a sport in Ireland that has hauled in more medals in the UK Common wealth games, competes internationally and usually comes home with gold,silver and bronzes by the bucketful and is respected as well by the USA Russia,Germany and otheres as a creditable opponent,but is hampered by an undeserved reputation and political correctness and virtual non funding by the Irish sports council which means its participants have to fund every last bit of kit travel and equipment themselves and never gets any media coverage except to say its bad or bad things happen associated with it.It has also brought teams from the USA,UK and South Africa to a literal stretch of bog in the Midlands and increased the revenue in a multi million euro facility[self financed by private loans] and increased the counties tourist revenue by 100k in one week of competition,which experianced American participants have said are the most challanging they have ever had to deal with in Ireland.
    That sport is the red haired bastard child of Irish sports.Shooting
    We win more medals in clay piegon disiplines,F Class long range rifle shooting, Olympic pistol andothers to put us on par with Irish boxers.But we never get heard of because of negative images in the media of “guns are bad!”For ridicilous low sponsorship we are a world class team of shooters,but are ignored and villified in our own country.
    Moral for busisness is…FK the begrudgers! Do it with less,faster, better,quicker and dont expect ANYTHING from anyone until you start winning then all the suckie ups and worms will start slithering out offering “deals”.

    • CorkRob

      You hit the nail on the head – but it’s not just the Liberal Media who portray this attitude to Shooting, it’s also the Dept of Justice and certain Gardai who seem to have a mortal fear of all things relating to shooting. Take reloading your own ammunition; we are all licensed and checked as firearms holders but forbidden to reload rounds for ourselves and the historical reason was because of “The Troubles” in the North and the fear that we would start supplying ammo to the Republicans. Yet for those 30 years and still today, it is quite legal for a hunter/shooter to hold a licence for reloading ammunition in NI.
      Our Nanny state knows better that any other European country and our media hypes up every anti-shooting angle it can dredge from international reports to justify the hysteria.
      So expect nothing in terms of support from Central Government – sure why would a Minister deliver funds to you for an international competition in the midlands where only a few hundred people could see him take the plaudits , when he could soak up the adoration of 82,000 at Croke Park and feed the insatiable GAA appetite for handouts (€600m for Croke Park) ?
      My kid is involved in another “Minority Sport”, Archery and the national body has been offered something derogatory as Government Support compared to other sports, resulting in archers self-funding most international competition. One of our archers won multiple medals at European Junior level this weekend, but as we don’t have a John O’Donoghue type association (He signed off a €365,000 Sports Council grant to his local Killorglin Rowing Club – 13 members ??? – before he lost office, only a few Irish Archers could afford to pay their own way.
      Transparency at Government level – no matter who’s in office – ZERO !!!

  4. Three/four years ago I was still working out and coaching the local kids in Sooke.

    On a visit to Ireland I went to the St Mary’s boxing club in Tallaght. I was impressed with the flock of kids arriving early and the standard of training and boxing skill exhibited by the seniors and coaches.

    Yes I even got in the ring a couple of times to spar and get a taste first hand. I took back good coaching ideas. I could see the skill and aptitude. Best was the can do mental attitude.

    Good story and analogy for life skills, David.

    “The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
    Be proud of your blackened eye!
    It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
    It’s how did you fight — and why?”

  5. Mike Marketing

    David this is one of your best articles and an inspiring benchmark for all Irish businesses, particularly small ones to learn from.

    The day that we stop learning is when that last nail is banged into the pine box.

    In Sun Tzu’s book ‘The Art of War’ the Chinese military general, strategist wisely says – “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

    Sport as we know is a national Irish obsession. We can learn so much from great Irish sporting achievements, no matter whether they are in boxing or any other area.

    Small businesses in Ireland account for 80% of all jobs and 75% of €turnover. They vitally shorten the dole queues that drain us of life. This vital sector needs to be supported, motivated, taught, financed and encouraged to overcome challenges; and the stories of the successful ones told and retold to motivate and encourage others to try harder.
    It can be a lonely place running a small business.

    Billy Walsh is a national hero and deserves not only the full support of the boxing sector but anyone in Ireland that desires success in life for the best of reasons. A healthy society is one that has continuous full-time employment and where citizens achieve personal fulfillment using their inherited talents.

    One final thought. Katie Taylor that brave Bray lass was ignored for many, many years. She and her father Pete believed in her many talents.

    Do you ever wonder how she is the current Irish, European, World and Olympic Champion in the 60 kg boxing division? Katie has won the world boxing title five times. Absolutely incredible.

    She trains with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.

    People like Billy Walsh are precious assets and need to be protected and encouraged with their dreams.

    I hope that he stays and is not lost to this country by foolish self-serving suits.

  6. [...] Since 2014 Foreign Central Banks Have Withdrawn 246 Tons Of Gold From The NY Fed – Zero Hedge When David beats Goliath – [...]

  7. DB4545

    A timely and relevant article David showing how we can do a lot with very little when we ignore rules (designed to impede us by dominant players) and operate to our own agenda. In essence it’s asymmetrical or guerrilla warfare applied to sport,business and life. Look at what a self confessed obnoxious little bastard called Michael O’Leary did with Ryanair when he saw a model that worked (Southwest Airlines) and was coached by Tony Ryan and Herb Kelleher. As Moshe Dayan said about about the six day war ” If I lose this war I’ll start another one in my wife’s name”. We need people who ignore the rules in a positive way.

    In relation to shooting sports I can only agree with the comments above. We have a frankly ridiculous legal framework in relation to firearms in this Country. The Citizens who own licensed firearms in this State are not a threat to the public, the State or their fellow Citizens. Criminals are. Criminals don’t obey firearm or any other laws that’s what makes them criminals. If a licensed firearm holder uses that firearm in self defence (and I believe that in some extreme circumstances all Citizens should have that right) that firearm can easily be linked to them for forensic purposes. If a criminal uses a firearm they dispose of it to break the forensic link. Criminals are extremely savvy in relation to forensics

  8. DB4545

    and are adept at evading the law. Illegal firearms can be sourced by criminals with ridiculous speed and ease. The UK and Ireland(excluding NI) have stringent firearms laws. Some EU Countries have firearms laws on a par with US States. We have open borders and in those circumstances it’s virtually impossible to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. We really need to review these laws using common sense and view the reality rather than the dangerous and blinkered perception we hold in relation to firearms at present.

    • coldblow

      I think you are right. It is just another form of political correctness.

      In America, everytime there is a shooting we get the same predictable sermons over here about American gun laws. why don’t the writers get in touch with the White House rather than tell us?

      • DB4545


        And there’s the problem Coldblow the link with firearms is always made in relation to the US. Nobody in their right mind would want the US model in relation to firearms. There are plenty of Countries in the world where firearms are in wide circulation and it causes no issues for public safety. It’s notable that the major players on both sides responsible for the recent havoc in these Islands are allowed to legally carry firearms for personal protection. They tried to undermine the State, were responsible for the deaths of many people and endangered the public on countless occasions. Yet the ordinary law abiding licensed firearm owner is seen as a threat to public safety. Maybe time for a rethink on firearms legislation?

  9. Thinking is the famous poem written by Walter D. Wintle,

    If you think you are beaten, you are;
    If you think you dare not, you don’t.
    If you’d like to win, but you think you can’t,
    It is almost a cinch that you won’t.

    If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost;
    For out of the world we find
    Success begins with a fellow’s will
    It’s all in the state of mind.

    If you think you’re outclassed, you are;
    You’ve got to think high to rise.
    You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
    You can ever win the prize.

    Life’s battles don’t always go
    To the stronger or faster man;
    But sooner or later the man who wins
    Is the one who thinks he can!

  10. blackcase

    Agreed “David this is one of your best articles and an inspiring benchmark for all businesses…”
    – though I think you could replace “all businesses” with “in this country”

  11. coldblow

    I am very surprised that they were considering withdrawing funding as it was one of the few things the Irish were good at in the Olympics (remember Michael Carruth in the 90s and his gold medal, and we also got a silver in the same Games as I recall). Yet it wasn’t all that many years ago when, on Gay Byrne’s radio programme and elsewhere, they were always going on about these mysterious things called ‘olympic-sized swimming pools’, which we simple had to build if the country had any self respect. (In my experience school notices about swimming classes, be they national school or secondary, always end with the words: ‘Your child is required to attend this class as it is a compulsory element of the school curriculum.’ They never say that about football or any sport that normal children like to do, and it seems that many don’t actually enjoy swimming.)

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