03 Aug What CrossFit Really Needs To Do To Become A Legitimate Sport
“The CrossFit Games are designed to test, not train, fitness. The goal is to find the fittest athletes, not to produce an easily replicable workout program.” ~ About the Games on CrossFitGames.com
In CrossFit HQ’s quest to test and find the fittest athletes in this year’s 2015 CrossFit Games, it created more controversy for itself than it ever has in recent years. Social media blew up with comments, posts, and blogs written from fans, former athletes, CrossFit coaches, and athletes participating in the 2015 Games of their displeasure of this year’s CrossFit Games experience. Of course they’re were many devil’s advocates to these post supporting the Games but the majority of the CrossFit community definitely sensed something was wrong with this year’s version of the Games.
Some of the blogs that got the CrossFit community buzzing were the following:
Survival of the Survivors: The CrossFit (Hunger) Games : Written by a former masters athlete Patrick McCarty who competed in the 2011, 2013, and 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games
Emily Abbott Interview : Emily Abbott was sitting in 11th place at the 2015 CrossFit Games when she was interview by 2014 CrossFit Games athlete Emily Beers.
An Open Letter to CrossFit HQ : Written by Dr. Adam Schulte. He is a primary care sports medicine physician who served as the medical team lead at four CrossFit Regional Events, medical staff at three CrossFit Games including the 2015 CrossFit Games.
The Top 3 Things That Can Save The CrossFit Games : Written by Simon “Thor” Damborg who’s a experienced CF-L2, founder of RainCity Athletics in Vancouver, and former CanWest Regionals athlete. He also has a large beard.
The main concerns highlighted by these blogs were:
- Questionable and irresponsible programming,
- The Games organizer’s inability to ensure athlete safety,
- Should have paid judges, and
- Not very entertaining to the spectator.
If you’re a part of the CrossFit community then chances are you have read these blog posts and formed your own opinions on these concerns. If you haven’t read them then take the time to read them as they’re all very good and bring up some excellent points to consider. It’s clear that the common denominator that each of the above blog posts was the author’s dissatisfaction with CrossFit HQ and I totally agree with them. Their blogs opened up discussion and debate between the CrossFit community about the major issues with this year’s Games and CrossFit as a sport in general. All this discussion should be a good thing for CrossFit as it definitely has room to grow and the community is voicing their opinions and strategies to help it. Unfortunately, I don’t believe those in power at CrossFit HQ are listening nor do they want to listen to what the community is saying and that right there is the underlying reason that the CrossFit Games and CrossFit as a sport could be in trouble.
In my opinion, to address the concerns listed above, it is necessary for CrossFit to make a change to the overall culture they’re cultivating and have a change in CrossFit HQ corporate structure to truly evolve and reach its potential.
The current culture of CrossFit is one that has been cultivated over the years by CrossFit HQ and very much adopted by many of its followers. CrossFit’s mascot Pukey the Clown, “pain is weakness leaving the body” type quotes on tee shirts, lack of tee shirts worn by dudes, knee high socks and booty shorts worn by chicks, and the evolution of the CrossFit Games are examples of this culture. Those who don’t do CrossFit say things like: “Don’t do CrossFit man! It’s a cult!!” or “how do you know when you meet a CrossFitter, don’t worry they’ll tell you”.
My clients have lots to say about the events leading up to the Games and how it looks like a reality TV show at times. Froning v.s. Fraser Open 15.1!! “What’s with all the lights and all the screaming crowd around? It looks like a wrestling match”. It’s difficult for me as a coach to defend the spectacle portion of the process because it truly does look like a reality TV show at times. Furthermore, I can’t promote the sport of CrossFit to my general population clientele if the CrossFit Games is the current pinnacle and marque event of the sport of CrossFit. Most of them watch it and say “that’s ridiculous… People pay to do this?”. The overall quality and standard of care of the events leading up to the Games is not comparable to an established, organized, and recognized sport so I can’t in good conscience promote that and say “sign up for the Open for $20 because it really embodies the community feel of CrossFit”. It doesn’t. The main goal of the entire process leading up to the Games is to find the fittest. Period. Oh and to make some serious cash for HQ. The workouts aren’t all-inclusive even with the new scaled option because a scaled workout is not the same as a progression for a movement and there isn’t a scaled division in the Games so what’s the point really?
CrossFit’s culture is not one that lends itself to long term development of CrossFit as a sport. New workouts, new equipment, and new formats and playing fields each year just to up the ante and get ratings is not a culture of quality nor does it have long term development of the sport in mind. It’s an act of desperation to become noticed. “Look at me! Our athletes can survive the most craziest workout ever! Wait till the next event where the fans will vote what the workout is!!”
Imagine if the fans were given the chance to vote on the next play that a team has to run in the fourth quarter in the SuperBowl. Great for ratings maybe, but not good for keeping the integrity of the sport’s goal in mind.
A culture of quality and continued development is the direction CrossFit HQ needs to go. If they had that type of culture then they could adapt a Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) approach similar to what a child who ultimately wants to play in the NHL or NBA must go throught. It’s a long process that has multiple stages, each with different prerequisites, each with different expected outcomes, and each consisting of several governing bodies to ensure the integrity of the sport and the goal. For example, they could set up stages called Newbies, Intermediate, Local Athlete, Regionals Athlete, and Games Athlete. You must meet the prerequisites in order to enter that stage of athlete so for example, if you don’t have an Olympic weightlifting total of 250kg, a sub 3min Fran, and a fight gone bad score of 400+ reps then you might as well save your $20 because you can’t enter the Regionals Athlete stage anyway. It’s like little Tommy who needs to be able to ice skate backwards before entering the stage where they allow body checking.
This approach would ensure that only the fittest would actually move on to the next stages. At both the Regionals and Games level, CrossFit HQ could create a standard number of standardized fitness tests that would truly test the fitness levels of the eligible athletes. No need for new equipment each year, no need for new workouts. Just testing with the singular purpose of finding the fittest. Athletes eligible to compete at the Regionals and Games levels would know what the workouts are in advance but would still have to train regardless to beat their opponents at these events.
For many years, the 100m sprint has been the standard of determining the fastest man or woman on the planet. You don’t see the IOC changing the distance each year or putting chicanes in the lanes to shake things up and push the athlete’s limits. The IOC doesn’t make weightlifters snatch and clean and jerk outside in the hot sun because the goal is determine who can lift the most load in a standard set of conditions. Oh but what about the unknown element?! The unknown element in my opinion should be the other athletes competing or the weather if there’s running or swimming event outside. The Superbowl is one of the most watched sporting events ever and has been the same game for years but yet any given day, one team can beat another team and somehow it’s still super exciting to watch (some years anyway).
Parallel to the LTAD, is a Long Term Officials Development (LTOD) model that addresses the development of the sport’s officials (referees) at each stage. An official can’t simply write a online test, ref a few tournaments and then ref the freaking the SuperBowl. If CrossFit’s culture was one of quality rather than let’s get this done, they could incorporate an LTOD approach. It would be justified then for Games officials to get paid for their services because the LTOD approach demands that the official must pass the necessary stages and obtain the necessary prerequisites and experience at the previous stages before they’re eligible to judge the Games.
The principle of creating a culture of quality would lend itself to ongoing development and evolution. As Gray Cook says “principles drive methods… methods don’t drive principles” Without this principle, CrossFit as a sport and the Games as the testing ground will continue to look like a bad sports reality TV show.
I believe CrossFit HQ needs an advisory board that consists of qualified and experienced professionals of strength coaches, doctors, clinicians, former CrossFit Games champs or athletes, and experienced CrossFit coaches to name a few, whose unified purpose is to ensure the integrity of the goal: to find the fittest. When I say that members of this advisory board need to be experienced, I mean they should all have experience being members of boards for other successful professional sports teams or programs that have established sports. Once the advisory board is established, they need to develop a standardized system that ensures that the CrossFit events (The Open, The Super Regionals, and The Games) are successful in delivering the requirements of (e.g. movement standards, challenging and appropriate workouts, appropriate scheduling of the workouts, safety of athletes, ratings, happy sponsors, happy fans, etc.). It’s not the scope of this post to describe these standardized systems in detail as that would be a very in depth post for the future.
These system they create must also be repeatable because as Coach Dan John says in his latest book: “a system must be able to survive the loss of its founder”. Where do you think the sport would be if these two left? Personally I’m not convinced that CrossFit as a sport would survive the loss of the founders, because there seems to be no structure or system that is bigger and more important than Glassman and Castro that their successors could successfully follow to ensure it continues on. Anyone that has professional expertise and who provides constructive criticism is ostracized as Dr. Adam Schulte makes perfectly clear in his blog post above: “Making these bold statements will very likely get me removed from volunteering at future events, as CrossFit HQ has historically interpreted constructive criticism as sacrilege.” That’s a classic “my way or the highway” mentality and not a good way of ensuring long term development and the continuation of CrossFit as a sport.
The qualified board must also appoint qualified and experienced professionals and create teams within the corporate structure to execute those systems. I believe it’ll take a major restructuring of the company to take the ideals of what CrossFit was originally meant to create (the fittest man, woman, team) and ensure that the test of fitness and the sport itself doesn’t become a freaking circus (read Emily Abbot interview above) and topple like a house of cards built on an unstable foundation. It all starts with creating a culture of quality and continued development. It’s the legacy CrossFit HQ should want to leave.
The CrossFit community is supportive and passionate and the coaches at the local boxes are equally as supportive and passionate where they all want everyone of their clients to ultimately succeed and become the fittest they can be. It’s the strength, and passion of this community that has made CrossFit successful and I believe it’s the community’s actions following these 2015 CrossFit Games that will ultimately force CrossFit HQ to make a change for the better of the sport. How can we make change? Keep blogging about concerns with CrossFit HQ or the Games. Keep posting things on social media that challenge the way people think about what HQ is putting their athletes through at the various levels to the Games and ask “is this the best they can come up with?”. I believe we must demand better from HQ and make them accountable for their actions. We must also continue to educate ourselves as coaches and athletes and seek knowledge and ideologies from other training systems that teach movement quality before movement quantity as this will force HQ to do the same. Above all, I believe we must not support and perpetuate the circus act that is the current system of finding the fittest and paying entry fees into the Open or the Regionals or the Games until CrossFit HQ makes changes. If you’re at that level then do it I guess if that’s what you want to do. For me and 99.999% of my clientele, for next year’s Open, we’re going to do the workouts, judge each other for fun, and put our $20 into a pot where we’ll donate it all at the end to a local charity. It’s the culture that we’ve created to ensure long term development and growth in our community.