6 Coaching Lessons from a Corner Man

In 1981 the legendary Muhammad Ali retired from boxing, yet today Ali remain one of the greatest boxers of the last century with a very inspiring and unique career and character. In 1981, the same year, a new shining star rose – Sugar Ray Leonard who won the Unified World Welterweight Championship.

Behind these two legendary boxing figures and a list of 13 others there was one name, less known by the large public – Angelo Dundee. Angelo was the best Coach and Trainer any boxer would have dreamed of. What Dundee built around Ali’s potentials and skills was one of the greatest coaching achievements. The coach wasn’t only a methodical guide but he was invested personally, he was the observer, the focused, the available, the critical and trusted guy. After his death in 2012 Angelo Dundee left some of the very inspiring coaching lessons.

Self-consciousness is the Key: in many organizations coaches tend to implement the Johari windows exercise on their team members in a bid to build trust amongst the team and develop a sense of self-discovery and awareness. It’s very important for the coachee to reach a developed level of self- consciousness, the more the coachees know about themselves the more they are productive, cooperative, and effective.

A Coachee-centered coaching: to establish a favorable coaching environment and results it’s capital that the coach is ready to embrace the cochee with his own style, his differences and complexities, the role of the coach is not to dictate the rules and do things “the way I want them to”, it’s rather to adapt to the coachee mindset, vision, and objectives, and then to polish them, empower them, and lead them to the right and most successful direction in sync with organization’s goal. The process is more about focusing on issues and problems of the coachee – instead of reshaping the coachee to the needed model and result.

When Angelo Dundee started coaching Ali, he quickly noticed that he had already developed his special “butterfly “ moves, a very new and atypical style he created. Another trainer would have suggested to get rid of it as this might be a tiring process along the rounds for a heavyweight fighter but what Dundee did was simply to adapt to Ali’s moves style and started honing his talents and reinforcing his athleticism.

Authenticity empowers innovation: when coaching different members of your team, it is a very delicate and challenging process, Intelligent & Efficient coaching requires an exclusive approach to accustom each individual’s goals and aspirations. Coaching is not a pre-sewn suit that the coach won on experience and will ask every Coachee to wear while changing the tie colors, it’s a creative approach adapted to every new situation, individual, group or issue. The coachee should be the first inspiration of the coaching method. Every coachee, every sitatuion or issue is a chance for the coach to innovate a new path that will lead the coachee to get the best results out of himself and impact the business positively.

In his first years Dundee spent a considerable time observing and studying master trainers like Whitey Bimstein, Freddie Brown, Emanuel Steward or Gil Clancy. But once in their shoes he was never a follower, he was always authentic and renewed every time he started coaching one of the 15th world champions he led to the title. Just after Ali’s retirement, when he started training Ray Leonard, Dundee noticed that Ray Leonard was trying sometimes to move bit like Ali . So he started working on Ray to shape his own style and stop Ali’s imitation.

Intrinsic motivation coaching: the level of engagement and motivation of the coachee is one of the best indicators of the success and the impact of a coaching process. The coachees motivation is a from-within process. The role of the coach is to lead the coachee to explore his own motivators which can inspire, stimulate or spark this sense of positiveness. The best coaches are those who find always the best words to put in right context or share the needed feedback at the right timing. Motivation requires a great sense of communication and formulation. Coaches motivate others not only by words but inspire them by example and actions.

Sisu & Perseverance: The best insurance for successful coaching is perseverance and endurance. The coach’s role is also to handle the frustrations of the coachee in a long term process and empower the coachee with the ability to cope with obstacles more frequently and always try to go beyond expected to hit higher achievements and success. Successful coaches are those who agree to walk with their team member the hardest roads and difficult circumstances with the same motivation which is believing in the coachee ability to surpass and overachieve.

In one of his very criticized moves, Dundee teamed up with Foreman in 1994 who just turned 45 years old. Dundee pushed him to reclaim the Heavyweight champion title from Michael Moorer.The move was described as suicidal by the press of this period. But ended by Foreman regaining his champion title and becoming the oldest heavyweight champion of all time. Dundee was asked later what qualities were really needed a fighter, he answered “Balance is a must; so is great co-ordination of hands, feet and body. But I guess the most important ingredient is desire: the desire to be a fighter, the desire to win and the desire to be the best there is.”

Trust and respect: the coach-coachee relationship is tightened around these two components. The stronger these two are, the more beneficial the coaching flow and the desired result. It is the coach’s role to proactively build and establish a respectful and trusted atmosphere with his coachee.

In the book Speed Of Trust, Stephen R. Covey says that Trust “is, if developed and leveraged, that one thing that has the potential to create unparalleled success”. The more trust is established between the coach and his coachee, the more respect is earned. These 2 character lines once in place can ensure a high intercommunication level. The feedback, observation, motivation and instructions are well exchanged and impactful between two individuals that trust and respect each other.

Angelo Dundee was known as one of the most genuine and respected coaches within the boxing sphere.

Ali always showed great respect to Dundee and described his blind trust on him saying “whenever I was in the middle of a fight and I would come back to the corner at the end of a round, I knew Dundee would give me effective and concise advice. “You come back to the corner and he’ll say, ‘The guy’s open for a hook.’ If he tells you something during a fight, you can believe it,”

At the organizational level, the coach is an inspiring individual in which his first role is to surround the coachee with proper goals assessment, feedback, questions, observations and motivation. Aligning all of it with the company dynamics values and objectives. Results are measured by the coachees performance impact enabling the business target and strategies.


Abdel Madjid Messaad is an experienced L&D Professional who has worked across North Africa and the Middle East. Currently, he is the Senior Sales Capability Training Manager at Microsoft Mobile in the Lower Gulf Area. Certified in Adult Learning Design guidelines, Madjid Is passionate about innovation in Learning & Development, and eLearning technologies.

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