Are You Coaching?

The New World Order

CrossFit has two distinct sides to it. There is the strength & conditioning aspect for people who are wishing to find a fitness program that is challenging, results based and rewarding. The other side is that of the “sport of fitness” where a new breed of athletes and coaches have emerged.

In that new emergence, athletes have taken movements that were commonly held as “exercises” and through programming of event
organizers (some better than others…), have flawlessly executed them for speed, time, and maximal weights (again, some better than others).

With the new athlete comes the new coach. A coach who can strategize, provide feedback and motivation, with an understanding of human physiology, exercise science and human performance to elicit the biggest gains from their athletes. In essence, the CrossFit coach is now a person that tells their athletes how to conduct “exercises” quickly to win or place well in competition, or get fitter, faster, stronger, and healthier in the gym.

Inside the gym, the CrossFit coach does the same thing. The phenomena of coaching is not reserved for competition, it’s reserved for those who teach someone athletic skills, no matter in what form or capacity. Baseball players have hitting coaches, golfers have swing coaches, rodeo cowboys have roping coaches. They all do the same thing. They teach skills necessary for athletic performance.

I am not even going to digress into the ridiculous statement or argument that CrossFit competitions and the methodology are nothing more than “exercising fast”. These comments are made by pogues who don’t get it, get winded going up a flight of stairs (but have great goddamn triceps from all those pressdowns), and who forget that all competitive events started out as some type of “exercise”. You name it, they all started out as a form of exercise that a few folks tinkered with and then realized they could be competitive with, so rules and regulations were applied. I’ll be damned if strongman competitions don’t resemble gym-based exercises that are now modified and regulated to be competitive. The chuckleheads that criticize the “sport” of CrossFit sure don’t bark up the strongman tree and with good reason as a 6’6”, 300 Lb Swedish man would giggle like a schoolgirl as he squished their head like a grape.
Anyhow, I digress. Along with the new role of a coach, in or out of the gym, it should probably be understood what it means to coach.

In my view, a coach is a communicator, motivator, a strategic analyst, and sounding board. Unfortunately, I think there are way too many “coaches” out there who don’t get that. I see it all the time.

I obviously coach regularly and go to competitive events on a regular basis as a coach and competitor. There are many times I sit back and take in what’s going on outside of the competitive floor and just shake my head. All too often I see “coaches” screaming stupidity and irrelevance at their competitors or being hand-clapping cheerleaders without bringing one single piece of useful information to the athlete. Many of these “coaches” come from gyms that have good competitors or clients, but if they had the right environment they could be great. That is the fault of the coach/gym owner.

Give Them Relevance

Trust me, your athlete knows they need to pick up the bar, use their hips, or run faster. They aren’t as dumb as might be thought unless they went into complete vapor lock (or they aren’t coached well in the gym as to proper ROM, movement and form, in which case they probably shouldn’t be competing).

What they really need to know is what they can do to make those efforts easier, more efficient, or time their rest/work, reps or rounds better. Screaming repeatedly at them like a drunken idiot to “pick up the F’ing bar and get your ass moving” is worthless. It doesn’t motivate and it tells them nothing. Hell, half the reason they do it is to shut the loud mouth up!

There is no “a-ha!” moment with dumb statements like that. It’s plainly evident that the athlete is in last place and doesn’t like it/doesn’t want to be there/wants to go faster, but sometimes they just can’t. I don’t need to be reminded of that. No shit! I know. Tell me something I can use! 

How about telling them to take a few breaths, shake it out, gather themselves and work with good ROM/form through a particular number of reps before resting or moving on? Give them valid coaching cues. I know for a fact, they’d be able to use that info to their advantage and wouldn’t feel berated and like a slouch, despite how hard they are trying. Hell, by slowing them down and getting under control, they may start to make up ground while the spastics tire out and fade away.

Telling an athlete how good they are doing, regardless of where everyone else is, can be more important and positive for them then reinforcing the fact they are down at the bottom of the pack and losing ground while sucking wind like a gopher in the desert. My personal experience, as well as that of my gym clients and competitive athletes, proves that being told I am looking rock solid and moving beautifully through my hang power cleans while the rest of the field is looking like Quasimodo doing reverse curls with a barbell, keeps my head in the game and motivated.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. Yelling tunes people out. Unless a coach is yelling across a crowded gym or competition floor, shut the pie hole and TALK to the athlete. I don’t want to hear banshee like yelling. I hate that. It makes me want to punch people and that is looked upon as being slightly unsportsmanlike. I would argue most people feel the same way.

Like most people, yelling is a negative action and we tend to tune that kind of stuff out. We don’t want to deal with it and competition is no different. If you really want to get your athletes attention and have them tuned into you as a coach 110%, talk to them. Just a normal talking voice or slightly raised if it’s noisy, but in a conversational manner and decibel level that makes them search for your voice. Give them short, concise commands, prompts or encouragement whenever they are within earshot or you can stay close enough to provide input.

By having an athlete tune into the coach and seek out their voice, they do a few things. One, they process the information better. They have to listen and that means processing. As long as the coach is giving pertinent, worthwhile info (that should have been made evident in the previous paragraph), the athlete can process and apply it better.

Secondly, when things are at a “Grade-A” suck factor, having something that takes an athletes mind off the work and pain can be a blessing. Seeking out the voice, processing info and lingering on it takes the athlete off of the “oh my God I am dying over here” thoughts.

Lastly, talking instead of yelling in a chaotic and stressful situation or environment is pure command presence. It shows confidence and control. In my line of work, it’s not the loud mouth asshat talking smack and threatening me that scares me. Instead, it’s the quiet guy who says very little and only does so in a conversational tone while standing back out of the way taking it all in. That’s the guy I watch closely and tune into. It’s the same thing in the competitive arena. If you’re a coach who wants an athlete to respect you, talk to them no matter what the pressure. Whether it’s to encourage them or give them some gritty feedback, talk, don’t yell.

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Cheerleading

Cheering is good, unless you’re Miko Salo in which case it’s “only for the girls”. Cheering is motivation and we all need to give some and get some from time to time. But for God’s sake, no one wants to hear “Go Tommy, Go Tommy, Go Tommy. Good Job Tommy. Go Tommy” on an endless play loop with nonstop clapping as the soundtrack. That’s enough to make an athlete straight up lose his mind and ask the crowd to kill the supporter. Athletes need some cheering, but we sure as hell don’t want a cheerleader squad. If that were the case, we’d have stayed in high school and kept our letterman jackets.

Keep stuff short and simple. Too much going on is too much going on. That’s going to tune people back out. If there is one thing to focus on to make life easier, give them just that. No more, no less. They know what to do, now let the athlete go all Zen and do it with an occasional prompt here and there and some short encouragement.

Motivation & Support

Coaches are there to motivate their peeps. A few positive comments here and there do the trick just fine. Pepper those in along with some good information to help the athlete in their efforts, and talk to them to keep them in the game, and you will be doing what a good CrossFit coach should.

Keep in mind athletes are going to have up’s and down’s. It’s part of the process. Listen to them and take care of them. Spin a positive light on their efforts and make sure they see what they DID accomplish rather than what they DIDN’T accomplish. If they are demoralized, bring them up. If they get injured, take care of them and fix them up. Just show them you care. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen coaches tell athletes that they blew a workout/event, or didn’t care about how the athlete was doing afterwards. While it’s okay to have fun with things later on in good nature,  berating an athlete or being overly sarcastic post workout/event is damaging. That’s usually unappreciated and if it’s done to me, be prepared to catch a hot one.

Keep in mind that honesty is a must, but the time and place must be right. Don’t sugar coat crap. That silly horseshit about “every kid gets a trophy” is part of why society is so jacked up. No one wants to hear the truth anymore, they just want kittens, cotton candy and high fives. This is the real world and I hate to break the news to everyone, but we are real people and we need truth to make us better. Sometimes you are gonna suck, so you are better off hearing it from a person you respect than to go around never knowing. Just be to the point and make sure the time is good to address it.

Strategizing

While I consider myself a relatively intelligent cat, I have complete lizard brain when it comes to athletic events. My whole goal in the event is to go hard until I can’t go hard anymore. I don’t think about pacing, tempo, strategy, etc. for myself. I just am going to put the hammer down and hope I don’t auger in before the rest of the field.

While this has worked for me many times on the bike, wrestling mat, or in CrossFit events, it’s also failed miserably a few times. Those were the times I could have used someone removed from the situation with a clear head not intent on destruction, to give me a course of action. Coaches should be that person. I can do it from the outside looking in, but not for myself. In times like that, a CFC coach like JK is money on the spot as he’ll do higher math to tell you how to get the most benefit out of the event/workout and stay at the front end with a kick for the end.

The fact of the matter is most athletes are the same. They are focused on the task at hand, and that is to go hard until the clock stops or the wheels fall off. If no plan was implemented before the clock started, then it’s gonna be a crap shoot. Not many athletes can get into the event and figure it out on the fly, so don’t put them in that position. Talk to them before the event and get them in a plan and then STICK TO THE PLAN. Don’t deviate unless there’s a major contingency, and there better be a plan for that too.

The plan should keep them within arm’s reach of other competitors and allow a final burst to make up any minor lost ground. The plan should not be the Crazy Ivan special – Lift heavy, run fast, go again, pray it ends soon. That one usually doesn’t end well.

Sure, it’s only CrossFit, but competitors are competitors and plans and contingencies for any sporting event are a necessity. This is no different when people are trying to do their best and/or win.

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Put it Together

This is a new era of athlete and coaching. To be the best we can be on either side of the fence, we need to think about how we do our job in the gym or in the arena. We make sure our coaches understand their role at CFC to employ these tactics in their interactions with clients and athletes. It’s important to building trust and community.

Coach, motivate, empathize, and lead. Those are our roles as coaches and we need to do them well. Our athletes are counting on us!

Ian Carver
Supreme Allied Commander
CrossFit Centurion