I came back from my meeting with boxing coach and father of four boys, Jimmy Galea, feeling elated. What a unique experience to sit and interview him for nuggets about life as a boxing coach, husband, father, and grandfather.
Jimmy, the youngest of 12 kids, is humble and at the same time very outspoken about his very singular mindset: to do as much as he can with the resources he has for the good of his family. As the images below show, Jimmy is ‘inked’ from head to toe, with a unique story, and deep sense of religious meaning or a family memory behind each tattoo. With all this, I sensed a kind of ‘No Regrets’ philosophy that I found infectious.
As a father, he taught me that it’s possible to be of service to one’s children without necessarily pandering to their needs on a particular day or within a particular time frame — but rather to equalise support to them as individuals over a period of time. This was great insight for me and a solution to something that I have struggled with. It’s true what they say, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear’. I enjoyed my time with Jimmy, and I hope you will too!
Rapid Fire Q & A’s:
Zodiac sign? Taurus (on the cusp), 20th of April!
What one or two words best describe you? Gentleman & Patient.
Favorite sporting movie/book? Book — Muhammad Ali Story.
Favorite sports quote? “A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits.”
Are you a better coach or fighter? I think I’m a better coach. I didn’t have the guts for the ring.
What is your proudest personal sporting moment/achievement as a coach or player? Coaching my son Iman to become the Malta National Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1997.
I have some regrets as I look back that I couldn’t give as much energy and enthusiasm to my other boys Patrick, Brian, and Jamie, who were all good athletes/football players in their own right. I’m sorry to say I just didn’t have the same enthusiasm for football that I had for boxing!
Who inspired you as a young athlete? Coach Bertu Camilleri, an ex-Malta boxing champion, and my late friend Anglu Gatt who passed away in 2019. Both great boxing coaches in their own right!
What was your favourite routine prior to a fight? Is there a favourite food, a favourite mantra, any visual cues?
As both a fighter and a coach, I used to keep a picture of my opponent where I could see it every day: ‘not to hate but to fight’. This daily point of focus gave me the belief and strength I needed to know I could win.
What, in your mind, are the top qualities for a successful coach in your area?
In my view, as a coach you need to lead by example. The objective of this is to show discipline — which is a transferable quality. Combined with good listening, empathy, and belief, this empowers the athlete to perform.
If I were to talk to you about ‘mindset’ in the context of sporting or every day performance, what thoughts does that word trigger for you?
For me, mindset has simply been about constantly doing the basics that add to a good performance, i.e., sticking to the training plan, diet, and rest.
In your estimation, what percentage of ‘total sporting ability’ is based on mindset? I would say that around two-thirds of the overall sporting ability comes from having a positive or forward looking mindset. This includes:
- Self-confidence — gained through time, exposure to the sport at the highest levels and skin in the game. It includes self-respect about your potential and value as a person, and hard work and sacrifice to increase your sporting ability.
- Growth mindset — take every opportunity, push limits, and open new doors.
- Respect — for the people who support you in your life and allow you to do things better than you could have ever done on your own.
- Learn fast — in boxing this means you take less punishment. Staying humble and being respectful gets you far. Keep your ego under control.
Do you use any particular techniques in your coaching to improve the mindset or the headspace of your athletes? I give motivational talks to athletes I coach to help them believe they are better than their opponent. When you are under pressure in boxing, the reality is often that getting punched means that you are feeling some level of pain. Therefore, it’s vital that the boxer can adapt/cope in such circumstances.
This question brings to mind a quote I love from Ricky Hatton, who was asked why he made so many punches to his opponent’s body during a particular bout. His response was ‘I know how it feels’!
During my coaching days, I read about Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs, who was a role model for the sport on mental toughness, both in and out of the ring. Briggs came from quite a turbulent background due to the early death of his parents. He was a troublemaker from an early age, spent time in prison, and struggled with depression. Boxing, which he took up at age 17, gave him the tools to build mental toughness. He influenced me as a coach due to an affirmation technique he discovered as a tool to stay positive and focused in dark times. He reportedly said that he was given this gift during a heavy-bag workout one day at his local gym.
I use his mantra ‘LET’S GO CHAMP’ and ‘A QUITTER NEVER WINS AND A WINNER NEVER QUITS.’ as tools to build resilience whilst coaching!
What do you find are the main differences in performance between more experienced athletes vs rookie athletes you have coached? Experienced athletes can handle ‘under pressure’ situations better, while rookie athletes can have more stamina for comebacks.
How can you tell someone has the right mindset? A boxer with the right mindset will be engaging in fight-related discussions, showing he/she is focusing on fight night and the opponent’s weaknesses and strengths.
Looking Forward and Back
What are your thoughts about how young athletes are coached and perform today might vary from reality? Is there a gap? Any recommendations for improvement?
Today’s lifestyle offers many distractions. As a coach, I believe that discipline is key. Athletes must train hard, have a balanced diet, get good rest, and stay away from drugs, alcohol, and late nights.
How do you deal/have you dealt with failure? Analyse, pinpoint, and discuss with the athlete mistakes that have been made. Then, make a plan to not repeat those mistakes and strengthen your weaknesses.
What would you say to your younger self just starting out in sport, based on your life experience to date? Have a better set up to train young athletes. In the early years, I trained my boys using very basic equipment, improvising where necessary with items from my trade as a builder! And two more things:
- Be very clear about the expectations of clients when it comes to boxing — it is a contact sport.
- Life without sport is nothing — get moving!