The 1% Podcast

Billy Walsh

  • 01

    Billy Walsh

    Fighting for Success


I sat down with Billy Walsh, current USA head boxing coach and former Head Coach of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) High Performance Team, to discuss the recent Olympics, his approach to performance and development, and the future of boxing in the Olympics in light of the McLaren report.


Billy shares his thoughts on a range of subjects, in what is one of the most in-depth conversations with one of Ireland’s greatest ever coaches. We touch on his preparation for the Olympics with the backdrop of the pandemic, his background in boxing and coaching in Ireland and some of the great boxers he coaches including Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington.  


Billy’s successes to date at European, World and Olympic level are unprecedented in the history of Irish Sport and he is carrying this into the USA setup. We also take detours into Elite Performance and how this can relate to excelling in business, the benefits of motivation and attitude, leadership and adapting to change.


Show Summary


3:42 Recapping the most recent Olympics

  • Steady progression over the last few Olympic cycles
  • No medals in London, three medals in Rio de Janeiro and four medals in Tokyo


7:48 The impact of the pandemic on the preparation for the Olympics

  • Repurposed a disused Macy’s store
  • Finally back in their Olympic training centre
  • “These games are going to happen at some stage, so we need to be ready”
  • The team learned to be adaptable and flexible
  • “We can work from anywhere if we put a ring up”


12:21 Why is it so hard to become an Olympian?

  • “You’ve got to be different from other people”
  • The rigorous training program over a long period of time
  • Create an environment where your athletes can focus solely on the Olympics


16:36 The McLaren report

  • Continued fallout from the McLaren report into potential corruption at the 2016 Olympics boxing tournament
  • Johnny Watterson reported that Katie Taylor’s defeat to Mira Potkonen of Finland is one of those listed as “suspicious”
  • Billy was very shocked by the discovery
  • Boxing was one of the very first sports in the Olympic games
  • Having everything out in the open is a great opportunity for boxing


19:55 Billy’s external impression of the US boxing setup before he got involved

  • “With 320 million people, why aren’t they winning medals?”
  • Four pillars: strategy, structure, leadership and culture


23:05 Instilling a high-performance culture

  • They first had to build a Team USA
  • Setting high standards and expectations for training, for example everyone had to arrive 15 minutes early before training
  • The importance of consistency in coaching


29:49 The 4-year cycle and recruitment of a team

  • The average age of their team at the Tokyo Olympics was 22.4
  • The average age of a medallist is 26
  • Common obstacles include relocating
  • It’s important to maintain the vision of winning an Olympic medal


31:20 Going from amateur to professional

  • Going through the Olympic cycle is the best way to become professional


34:43 The most important attributes to look for in potential Olympic fighters

  • Character and determination are essential
  • Look out for humility and a strong work ethic
  • You can teach your fighters the best techniques


35:27 Maintaining a work/life balance with his wife and kids in Ireland

  • Billy visited home 3 – 4 times a year pre-pandemic
  • His children are 32, 28 and 27
  • He went home for five weeks recently


37:30 An interest in other roles for other organisations

  • Billy has always wanted to be a coach
  • He is very content being Head Coach
  • With a background in GAA, it could be something for the future


39:35 What drew Billy to boxing

  • He started playing soccer, Gaelic football, hurling and boxing
  • Billy took to the adrenaline from boxing


41:22 Why boxing is so popular in Ireland

  • There is a lot of history behind boxing in Ireland
  • “It’s ingrained in us to fight”
  • It’s been a part of the Irish culture for a long time


43:19 Knowing when to specialise in a sport

  • Specialising is the key to success
  • 10,000 hours of training
  • There is a power in having played different sports


47:55 Advice for young athletes not getting selected

  • Billy was overlooked for the 1983 Los Angeles games
  • Don’t give up or surrender


52:55 Why some great boxers don’t succeed at the Olympics

  • It’s from having a small team
  • Distractions from outside the ring


58:52 The key attributes of Katie Taylor

  • In 2012, she won the second Olympic boxing gold for Ireland of all time
  • She is very strong mentally and her faith in God keeps her focussed
  • She is always ready, physically and mentally
  • She is a national treasure
  • Katie single-handedly brought women’s boxing to the Olympics


1:05:04 The importance of having a routine

  • The young body performs better under routine and structure
  • You need to create a “structure that’s going to get the best out of your body”


1:07:17 Typical routines or pre-game tactics

  • Visualisation is so powerful 
  • The coach structures the day so the athlete doesn’t need to worry about things


1:09:37 Creating a team ethos when ultimately the athletes compete against each other

  • Billy is a team-based coach
  • “A team is a big part of who we are”