With the Olympic Games underway, it is a great time to focus our attention towards an Olympic powerhouse. And while the story alone is interesting, there are important lessons that can be realized by studying the success of one small island nation.
Cuba is without question the most dominant force in amateur boxing. This small island of 11 million people won its first Olympic boxing medal in 1968. In the time since, Cuba has captured 32 medals, including 26 gold. These astounding numbers are slightly deceiving however, considering that Cuba boycotted the 1984 and 1988 games. Their totals would have likely surpassed the 40 medal mark (through 2004) if they had competed in the 1980’s. In 1992, they came back and won 9 medals, including 7 gold.
So, how does this nation of 11 million people create so many champions? New York City alone has over 8 million people. Cuba isn’t competing with New York City however. Cuba has dominated the United States, along with the rest of the world. An entire world of boxers cannot compete with an island of 11 million people.
How can it be?
Many will read of Cuba’s success and assume that the nation has the most sophisticated training methods in the world. They must have dedicated PhD’s, sports scientists, nutritionists, certified trainers and specialists, etc. all working around the clock, right? After all, our industry promotes the message that one cannot excel in today’s sporting world without highly sophisticated methods.
Yet, to your surprise, Cuba’s methods would be considered rudimentary by many in our world. Their athletes are not successful because of a state of the art facility. Their coaches didn’t become successful by paying thousands of dollars on Internet certification programs. Their small island isn’t blessed with a superior genetic pool.
So, what is the secret?
There really is no secret. Cuban boxers begin training as youngsters. There is a boxing academy in each of Cuba’s 14 provinces. Children have access to the sport, and take pride in becoming champions. Within the video clips below, you’ll see how the Cubans advance through their system. One of the young fighters makes the following statement:
“To become someone, you have to make sacrifices. If you don’t, you can’t become what you want to become.”
These young fighters are raised with this mentality. They train hard and become active as youngsters. The combination of hard work, consistent work, pride, and experience is instrumental in their success. Boxing is one sport where experience is a must. No amount of bag work in the basement can substitute the need for real competitive experience. Cuban fighters commonly rack up well over 100 amateur bouts, often much more. This amount of experience is worth its weight in gold (literally).
Take some time to watch the following documentary. A related article can also be read at this link.
The Cuban story highlights many truths regarding athletic preparation. Successful coaches know their sport. Their knowledge wasn’t developed in a laboratory. It comes through years of involvement in the actual sport. Speaking from personal experience, many of my own mentors would be considered uneducated from a societal standpoint. Their knowledge of the sport however is as refined and advanced as the most educated professional. There is absolutely no substitute for experience.
There is also no substitute for hard work, just as there is no substitute for pride in your work. The fact that a nation of 11 million people can continually dominate the international boxing scene shows us that there is much more to athletic success than simply having superior genetics. Hard, consistent work with experienced coaches is the only real secret, and this is the message that we should all be preaching.
And no, this isn’t a knock against sports research and science. A week doesn’t pass without me actively studying new material. There are times however when we must fall back on the most simplistic definition of science. Merriam-Webster lists the following definition:
Science – the state of knowing
Cuba knows how to develop champions, which makes their methods as scientific as any. As a coach, it is useful to learn from those in the trenches, who continually produce champions. Spending time in an archaic gym that produces champions then becomes just one more step in the “scientific” process.