Ready for the Unknown: Preparing for the Known
I guess I may as well throw my poo stirrer into the pot (that sounds horrific in reading it back … sorry) and see if I can help some Games athletes avoid heartache and disappointment. In case you don't know me, I own Outlaw CrossFit and am currently the coach of Becky Conzelman, Brandon Phillips, Talayna Fortunato, Jason Hoggan, and the lovely Laura DeMarco (who is taking this season off due to the fact that my baby is in her belly). Yes, Becky and Brandon qualified for the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games over the course of the first two weeks of Regionals. This means I was at two Regionals in two weeks and I saw some controversial stuff, to say the least.
I was front and center for the Michelle Benedict thruster redo, a phantom "foot movement" that put Talayna (yes, we had slow motion video which proved she didn't move) out of Workout 2 somewhere roughly 20 pounds lower than she would have been, and, *hold your breath,* I was there for the A.J. Moore kettlebell swing upheaval that has got to go down as one of the craziest things I've ever seen. During all this I talked to many great people on all sides of the action, and I can hopefully share a few insights that will help coaches and athletes prepare for the Games.
I'm not going to share any opinions on things that have already happened. If you want to buy me a pint (Magner's, please) at the Games I'll tell you my opinion, but this is strictly to help – not hurt – the community. I do know that A.J. Moore is almost cartoonishly fit. He was everyone's man crush at the Mid Atlantic Regional, and I don't know if I've ever seen anyone play the sport as ferociously as he does. That being said, he would have owned the Games, and it is an absolute shame that we don't get to see him at the Home Depot Center.
A.J. and I struck up a rapport in the warm up area at some point on Friday. He and Brandon are teammates with 2Pood. Brandon wanted me to give A.J. a little good-natured trash talk. He is instantly likable and we had some fun little chats. While A.J. was warming up for the now infamous Workout 4, I made a comment to him about the kettlebell swings. I noticed that he wasn't all the way vertical with the bell and having just seen the judging at the South East Regional, I knew he'd have problems. I talked to him about using the "snatch style" swing and watched a few of his reps as a kind of pre-judge. Again, I will not comment on what happened after the clock started, but I will say this – all the issues could have easily been avoided.
I have enjoyed playing sports my whole life, but I am nearly obsessive about coaching them. My mind almost never meanders into playful dreams of vacations and riches, but spends most of its free time fixated on one thing – how can I lead my athletes to victory. Don't worry, I'm not a crazy guy wondering around muttering rep schemes to myself, but I will leave no stone unturned when it comes to a competitive advantage. I watch videos until my eyes water, track HQ programming trends like the stock market, study the patterns of other elite competitors, have entire years planned for my athletes, and most importantly, I never, EVER send my athletes into a competition unprepared.
If you are a coach and you send your athlete into a Regional level CrossFit competition without them knowing, having practiced, and completely mastered the movements and standards required for that weekend, then you are not a coach – you are a buffoon. HQ gave us the workouts so early this year that there should be absolutely no excuse for not being good at EVERYTHING. For instance, I saw numerous athletes completely uncomfortable with the standard of jumping to the rings on "Amanda.” Were you asleep during the Games last year? Becky doesn't even ask if she should jump to the rings anymore, because she knows I'm going to just laugh at her. I don't even think she'd know how to do a muscle up while being able to stand and hold a false grip.
Kids, I'll let you in on a little secret – this is a professional sport now. The Reebok people are wonderful and they may have the best intentions, but they changed the whole game. Ten-year endorsement deals, posters in Foot Locker, and a $250,000 first prize mean that you better have your shit straight. If you think Bill Belichick would send Tom Brady on the field without knowing some critical aspect of the game plan (or how to throw the ball for that matter), then you probably don't understand the sport and should go back to your personal training job.
I've been there for bad judging, silly standards, disappointment, and, finally, ecstasy. I drove eight hours from Ohio without saying a word because I watched Becky lose a spot in the 2010 Games on the last workout – by one point. I drove six hours from Jacksonville that same year with a smile on my face because Laura won a tiebreaker with the wonderful Leah Polaski and earned a trip to the Home Depot Center. Last weekend, I helped my fourth athlete, Becky Conzelman, in the last three years qualify for the CrossFit Games. She was an athlete who was referred to my gym because someone told her she'd be great at CrossFit, and I was the best person to coach her. Needless to say, that was the greatest compliment of my professional life and I take that sentiment very seriously.
I am not a genius and I don't have a "super secret system" that makes my athletes better than any others. I am not a supplementation guru, and I don't really understand the hormonal effect of four ounces of kale. However, I do make damn sure there is nothing left to chance. Not only will my athletes know what to expect, they'll have done it a million times. I heard a young coach yell at an athlete who was failing on muscle ups. He said, "Figure out a way!" He basically wanted the athlete to try to perform a movement she was completely unprepared to perform, and thought by yelling this phrase it would allow her to grow magic muscle up wings that could help her fly over the rings.
I don't want to oversimplify this, or be a jerk. But someone other than me, five minutes before the event, should have told A.J. his swings may be an issue. If he'd known they were, was told how to correct them, and could have practiced, it would have been a non-issue. Even if the judge was extra harsh, maybe he'd only have lost 20 reps instead of the unbelievable 60 he did lose. He shouldn't have had to "figure out a way.” He should have simply been able to adjust to a standard that, while extreme, was well within the scope of his experience.