Coach Every Athlete, Every Class

Some recent conversations with fellow coaches, visiting athletes, and friends in the fitness community have underscored for me exactly how wide the quality spectrum for CrossFit coaches is. I’m continually shocked- and ashamed- when people thank me for performing the most basic of a coach’s tasks. Demonstrating movement standards, no matter how basic the movement or advanced the athlete, should be routine, not extraordinary. There is no need to thank me for spending 15 minutes breaking down a beat swing, or working with you on your double unders, regardless whether or not you’re my athlete… I’m a coach. I’m supposed to coach (and I love to coach). That’d be like thanking a cat for taking a nap- it’s a cat. It’s supposed to nap.

It blows my mind when people act as if I’ve gone out of my way to work with them on a skill. And, realizing that this is out-of-the-ordinary for them, it also fills me with shame that there are coaches out there NOT doing their jobs. I encourage athletes to try out different gyms all the time, even if mine is their first exposure to CrossFit. Every box has a different ways of doing things, and different attitudes… my priority is always an athlete’s health and wellness, not the size of our box- if another gym is a better fit for an athlete, I WANT them to go there.

I realize now that experiencing different coaching styles can make athletes aware of the quality of coaching they receive on a daily basis… and will make them demand the best. The reason my athletes expect to be coached every single day is because that’s all they’ve ever known- they’ve been coached for each and every WOD at ABV. The reason I’ve had that attitude from the first class I coached is that’s all I’ve ever known- it’s how Robert VanNewkirk at CrossFit Discovery teaches and how he expects his coaches to teach. This is a recent letter he sent to all of his coaches:

“Last week, while coaching the noon class, I jumped in to get my squats and presses done for the day. Lifting while my athletes were taking their rest between sets, everything seemed to be fine until I realized that one of the guys was way too far forward on his squats. Helping him to fix the problem opened up a group clinic on achieving stability in the squat. Needless to say, I missed my next set and my workout was all over from there, because my athletes needed direction. I realized that the dream of training with the class without compromising their experience had been a fantasy.

I love to coach. I also love to work out. But sometimes those things just can’t go together. It is tremendously helpful for us (coaches) to be active athletes, to share the painful experience of a par   ticularly tough WOD, to know what it’s like to lift even when we don’t feel strong or motivated some days. However, the vast majority of the time, that experience has to come outside of a class that we are running. Our athletes need us to watch them, teach them great mechanics, help them maintain good positions, demand excellent movement standards and make sure the group moves safely through each session.

Remember to Coach Every Athlete, Every Class. It may be just a few seconds of encouragement one day and could be 10 minutes of detailed technique work the next. But the takeaway is that while we have a comfort level and great camaraderie with our classes, we as coaches must give our absolute best and teach them every time out of the gate.

Whether we have a highly technical lift, complex gymnastics movement or plain old running in the WOD, there are opportunities to improve our athlete’s technique that we must take. Emphasis on skill is what separates our gym from the vast majority of others. Pick a point of performance (or emphasize one in the material accompanying the coaches email) and bring it on home. We can’t go over every detail of every movement every time, but we need to commit to the constant refinement of our athlete’s skill.

New athletes need close monitoring. They have agreed to shelve intensity for one full month and to focus on mechanics. They need to be given instruction for that time to be worthwhile.

Our faithful, longtime (awesome) athletes who have generally good mechanics need an expert eye and a simple focused cue in order to reach the next stage of their development. Make sure to check in with them, too.

If you see that an athlete is having a hard time with a movement, it is vital to let them know that you have noticed and then offer a simple suggestion for getting a better result. Keep cues simple and use what you know about that individual to tailor a coaching strategy.

If an athlete needs help and you offer a cue to fix it, stick around to see that they actually apply the idea. If not, try another tactic. Remember that using tactile cues to put your athletes in correct positions can save lots of time.

Below are the opening lines of the manifesto on professional fitness training from Coach Glassman. Please read the whole piece when you have a few minutes.

‘I am a fitness trainer. My practice is more than just a job; it is my passion. My clients are my top priority and their successes are my life’s work—I am a professional.’