The 1% Podcast

Gary Keegan



  • 01

    Gary Keegan

    A Masterclass in Performance Leadership


My guest today is Gary Keegan.


Today’s guest was a driving force behind previously unseen success for Irish teams and athletes on European, World and Olympic stages. Gary Keegan is the Founder and CEO of Uppercut, a High Performance Consultancy, with a unique advisory service that helps transform how individuals and organisations achieve high performance in sport, business and leadership.


Gary has spent most of his career immersed in high performance across a range of competitive business and sporting settings. He is also the former Director of the Irish Institute of Sport and former High Performance Director with the IABA’s High Performance Boxing Programme.


In this episode, we discuss his early life and how he got involved in the world of coaching. We talk about his general approach and attitude to performance, which has brought so much success to teams and athletes he has worked with, including the Dublin senior footballers and Tipperary Senior Hurlers. We also dive into the art of leadership, coaching models and the importance of mindset, character and teamwork. 






Show Summary


3:24 Gary’s different background in boxing 

  • Started boxing at club level
  • Left home aged 16 to work
  • Went into coaching aged 19


5:46 What impact did individuals like Austin Carruth have on his coaching career?

  • “I was curious about anyone who was producing over the longer term”
  • Paddy Hyland’s trajectory
  • The Godfathers of Boxing
  • Exploring people’s philosophies and personalities
  • Joining the National Coaching Committee


8:32 Shaping his thoughts and coaching perspective on how to prepare boxers

  • Surrounded by a community of great coaches
  • Being a paid salary vs voluntary coach
  • The strong club structure
  • The 1996 Summer Olympics 


12:04 When the world of amateur boxing changed in the 00s

  • Started to materialise around 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up
  • The International Olympic Committee changed the rules and qualification process
  • Being left behind after four Olympic cycles


14:07 Appointed the first Director of the High-Performance Unit to map out and sell the ambition of Irish boxing

  • Irish Rugby was making waves around 1996
  • Overcoming self-limiting beliefs in the sport
  • Learning to reflect on what’s changing in other countries
  • Responsibility of leaders to find the employees and athletes, and providing the right environment
  • Billy Walsh’s work ethic
  • Building personal relationships before professional


22:08 Looking ahead for Irish Boxing

  • Excited with the system that they have built
  • The need to celebrate more on what they’ve won and achieved
  • “Let’s not forget where the hunger came from”


24:14 Gary’s high performance philosophy

  • The environment we can create around people, and how it influences behaviours
  • Caring about others and your standard
  • The inner-opponent
  • Commitment, not perfection
  • Everything is context-driven, e.g. the pandemic. So operate in that context.


27:31 How to develop, deepen and maintain relationships

  • Being clear on what roles the relationships are
  • Certain relationships can derail athletes
  • Trust needs to be assumed from the beginning
  • Everybody is a performer, not just the athlete


30:26 A process for evaluating performance

  • Data and context
  • Translating data into a game plan


32:15 Advice on delivering constructive feedback

  • Ingrain it in the culture
  • Latin ‘cultus’ meaning ‘care’
  • Feedback only that brings value
  • Giving feedback regularly
  • Establishing time to reflect and pause with the team
  • The three characteristics of motivation: purpose, autonomy, mastery
  • “We master the context of the challenge”


36:28 The balance between effort and time for long-term strategy

  • Many leaders can fall into a short-term mindset, e.g. the next season
  • “Intention drives attention” – the goal drives the process
  • Developing your skill set
  • Dopamine rewards
  • Adopt the mindset that’s orientated to improvement
  • Create a space to reflect on your success


40:49 How to avoid complacency and maintain the ‘hunger’

  • “If you think you know what you’re doing, you’re heading backwards”
  • Being a lifelong student
  • “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” ― Epictetus
  • Keep the team curious by the keeping leaders curious
  • Being clear on the right intent


44:53 The similarities between great leaders

  • Select the right people to work with
  • Shared values and philosophies


47:23 Get people to know what they should be looking

  • Have a shared vision and purpose that has a higher meaning
  • Identify how the purpose moves within you first
  • Accept that there will be forces working with and against you


51:09 Why are some people coachable and other people not?

  • “Everybody is coachable”
  • Some people struggle to express their vulnerability
  • It’s the quality of the coach who can see the potential
  • “When you see more in people, you work harder for them”


53:14 Incorporating mental behaviours and beliefs into a performance program

  • Team players need to focus on their own delivery of their skill set
  • See and understand the process
  • Awareness highlights choice


55:53 The lessons learned from sport that people can translate to business or their life generally

  • Parallels in leadership, building a team and environment
  • Sport can also learn a lot from business
  • Going outside of your boundaries
  • Collaboration


59:00 Why some individuals or team implode at certain times, and how to manage this

  • Design a high-pressure environment
  • Recognise the challenges and prepare
  • Exposure to pressure


1:00:51 Ambition, motivation and having a sense of purpose for high performance

  • Purpose is the priority
  • “There needs to be a place you want to get to”
  • Exploring as a group
  • All Blacks making their bed in hotel rooms
  • It’s about how you interpret the pressure


1:04:04 The relationship between character and sustained success

  • Focus on character, not reputation
  • Schools don’t talk about character enough
  • Early stages of a sports career teaches the individual a lot about their character


1:07:30 Can mental toughness be worked on?

  • A lot of it is innate, but it’s something we learn from a young age
  • It’s the coach’s job to develop the space for mental toughness


1:11:02 The role of self-talk

  • We provide focus for the mind each day
  • Be aware of how your emotions affect your experiences


1:13:57 Knowing when to, and not, push through resistance

  • Out of comfort zone in his first leadership role
  • Look internally for the answers
  • It’s a point of growth, not to step back
  • It’s about learning and find a way to ‘fix’ it
  • Feedback is common form of resistance for people


1:17:57 Applying curiosity to Gary’s life

  • Use it when exploring his self-talk
  • “How are you demonstrating your curiosity?”


1:21:23 What makes an effective team?

  • It can’t be built, but cultivated
  • “It’s better to achieve as a group than to achieve as an individual”
  • Core values


1:24:12 Having a shared purpose

  • It needs to be clear 
  • Be driven by desire, emotion, knowledge, and shared context


1:27:53 Bringing out the best in each team player

  • Have a respect for critical analysis
  • Express trust in the team


1:30:18 On having worked with Liam Sheedy and his leadership style


  • Clear sense of responsibility to the group
  • Right level of attention to anybody in the team



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