“Conscious Coaching” is a book by a Strength and Conditioning coach that I just finished reading. It challenged me to take a look back at my life in order to be a more effective coach going forward. The challenge from author Brett Bartholomew was essentially to find your why. Not the “I want to change lives” why, but truly the root of why you want to change people’s lives. So, I did a little soul searching and found mine.
I want to help athletes reach the next level because I never did.
Growing up, basketball was my sport. I played constantly. I watched basketball, both current and vintage (Hardwood Classics on ESPN). Both my Dad and sister played college basketball, and I had the same goal. I overheard people say I was athletic or talented, but I knew I was short and didn’t have a natural athleticism. I looked up to underrated pro players like Steve Nash, who made up for his lack of raw ability and small size with skill, smarts, leadership, and consistency. When I was playing my best, I brought the ball up the court, called the plays, got teammates into the correct position and made smart passes, just like my hero Nash.
High school rolled around. I went from a private Christian school where I could do no wrong on the court, to a public high school where I had zero “ins” to making the team. Tryouts were a new experience for me. I was confident in my abilities, but nervous about the process and the sixty other players trying out.
The coaches put me on the JV team. To me, that felt like a loss. I had thought I would make varsity, maybe as a reserve, but definitely on the team. Instead, I played a year on JV as a backup, which fell totally short of my expectations. I didn’t take it well. I practiced less and took less pride in basketball.
Around this time, I started CrossFit with the intentions of getting stronger and faster for basketball. A few weeks later, I finally got the call up I wanted—I would be practicing with the varsity squad as a sophomore. In scrimmages, the changes CrossFit wrought in my physical ability were noticeable. Less bruises from hitting the hardwood, less getting burned on the defensive end, more power in jump shots. I was becoming an athlete.
And yet a couple weeks before official tryouts, I quit.
It was unexpected from most around me, but I had lost interest. I had loved basketball, but that had been drowned out by my singular focus of playing in college. I had failed to set short term goals: be more consistent from the free throw line, develop quicker feet for faster change of direction on defense, etc. Without those shorter goals, it felt like I never made progress, and the love of the game faded away.
Instead, I started working out religiously. Exercise took the place of basketball. Instead of dribbling, I lifted. Instead of shooting, I did pull-ups. Instead of watching Hardwood Classics, I watched CrossFit videos. Guess what happened in the long run: I burned myself out the same way, by looking too far into the future instead of measuring short-term progress, and eventually lost sight of why I did it. I’m finally learning from this pattern and ready to pass that along.
As a coach, I want to help young athletes get more adept at the game they play, but more importantly I want to help them retain passion for what they are doing, and love the person and athlete they are.
Young athletes are more pressured now than they ever. Today’s young athlete is often pigeonholed into one sport at an early age, chained to year-round training schedules, burdened by the pressures of eager parents and early recruiting, and compares themselves to other athletes on social media. Off seasons are shrinking, and this comes at a cost. Recovery and reflection is crucial to the mind and body of an athlete. Many athletes continue playing for the sole purpose of achieving a scholarship. Our current culture is madhouse of constant comparison, and experts are linking social-media fueled comparison to depression and anxiety. All these things take their toll when compounded together, inevitably leading to burnout and disappointment.
Long term goals (or dreams) are important motivators. But focusing on effort, developing mastery of a particular skill, taking pride in your work, trusting the process, cultivating self-awareness, and measuring progress based on how far you’ve come protects athletes from burnout and enables them to enjoy their journey in sports, every step of the way.
Sports are meant to be fun, not a job. Sports should teach invaluable life lessons, not crush souls. I regret forgetting that. I wish I could go back and play basketball again to feel the joy and freedom of competing on a team and being on the court.
These experiences have become part of my motivation to work with young athletes today. I want is to help them get stronger, faster, more resilient. I want to help them be the best they can be by setting achievable goals and doing the work. But above all, I want to help them keep the passion and joy they feel for their sport at the center of all that they do. Because that is the purpose of it all.
The CrossFit Open comes around once a year and it only lasts for five weeks. From the outside it sounds like just five random workouts spread out way too far apart and only 20 people plus national champions will qualify from the open straight to the CrossFit Games. The chances of making it to the CrossFit Games are similar to a young basketball player making it to the NBA. But the Open has dozens of reasons to signup and compete and they aren’t about winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in Madison, Wisconsin. Here are my favorite five reasons to signup!
Competing is for everyone. One of the key beauties of CrossFit is the infinite scaling options. The fittest in the world can and will compete just like the 56 year old that has osteoporosis and hadn’t worked out in 25 years until starting CrossFit a few months before the open started. One of the best things about the open is when people go from saying “no way I can do that. That’s for people like you” to saying “I did that!” Competing is for anyone and every one and every one includes you!
Competing causes intensity. Any competition brings another level out of an individual. You hear professionals say it all the time. There’s something about the bright lights that bring the best out of them. I have done the open every year it has been around (2011). Every year I am pushed in a way that is unimaginable and greater than the previous year, or I have short term memory issues. Knowing not only am I going through this uncomfortable workout but so is everybody at D5 and people throughout the world. That push from everybody around me helps me to be the best possible athlete I can be in that moment. The bright lights and people around cause my intensity to rise and my mental and physical fitness to increase!
Competing brings unity. Group fitness has the incredible ability to bring groups of people closer together. It’s why businesses, teams and the likes will go do ropes courses together or do trust falls. Doing/accomplishing difficult tasks alongside somebody else creates a bond with who you just “suffered” next to. Not many things physically challenge you like the open does and nobody in the world will try as hard at a workout as CrossFitters. Being an affiliate owner/coach I have seen friendships formed and other groups get closer together when going through the open. It’s beautiful. Competing with people makes you friends with those very same people!
Competing leads to motivation. After the open is over there is an unquestionable motivation to get better and to beat yourself next year. Athletes of all levels after a tough loss or a glorious win want to be better. They want to never feel that loss again or feel that win forever. Competition will always open your eyes to what you need to work on. Then the motivation lasts longer than most motivation streaks where they come for a couple days and leave. This one comes and stays for months. The Open is a great opportunity to find motivation to work on new skills, get stronger or just increase your fitness as a whole throughout an entire year. Compete to get motivated!
Competing is fun. At D5 we host an event called Friday Night Lights every Friday during the open. We have a theme of the week, something like cowboy night or superhero. Sometimes we it’s bigger than that and we dedicate it to a friend in the gym going through something. These nights are flat out fun. We do the workout, cheer each other on, blast music and often times go out after. As adults we forget the fun and silly sometimes and these nights give us the opportunity to put underwear on outside our pants or pulling out our nerdy Harry Potter costume. Competing with the friendships you’ve formed in the gym is just flat out fun!
We learn to squat before we do a clean, strict press before push press and pull up before kipping pull ups. Why? Because when you perform the common, uncommonly well, you build a strong foundation and avoid injury. If you can string together 5 kipping pull ups but struggle getting a single strict pull up, then your foundation is crumbling, warning signs are blaring red, and your body is not thanking you. A designated strength program can fix that.
CrossFit Hellbox developed a great pull up program for those struggling with this movement, and here at D5, we are using it for our athletes too! This program focuses on the dead hang, the ring row, the segmented & eccentric pull up, and the barbell assisted pull up, along with some important accessory work. It is vital that you test yourself initially so that you can track your progress at the end of the 12 week cycle. To create objective results, testing requires the athlete to record/ video their attempt at a strict pull up and a max time chin up grip hang (supinated grip and holding chin over the bar). As with all motion, stay focused on maintaining great technique and a controlled pace. 2019 is the year for YOU to get YOUR first strict pull up!
New Years is right around the corner and with that come New Years resolutions. Resolutions are basically another way to set goals, which is important but in order for them to work you have to be SMART!
Specific: Each resolution has to be specific. This year I am going to volunteer more. That’s not specific. I’m going to volunteer at the Clemmons Food Pantry, that’s specific. This year I’m going to workout. Again, not specific. This year I’m going to join CrossFit District 5 to workout, that’s specific.
Measurable: Keeping on the same train with resolutions. I’m going to volunteer at the Clemmons Food Pantry isn’t measurable so adding to it; I’m going to volunteer at the CFP once a month, that is measurable.
Attainable: If a resolution is impossible it isn’t checked off the list and you quit on all of them. I’m going to workout at CrossFit District 5 seven times a week. That’s not feasible when twice a week you work 5am-6pm. Make it possible to attain.
Realistic: This is basically knowing your limits. I haven’t worked in fifteen years and I’m 40 pounds heavier than my high school weight but I’m going to get a pull-up next week. That’s not realistic. It has to be in the realm of possible.
Time-based: Putting a time table to the goal gives you an needed urgency. I am going to learn calligraphy. Cool, when? This month, this year, this decade, this life? If you don’t put an expiration date you will almost never complete it.
Be SMART with your New Years Resolutions!