The Growing Disconnect Between CrossFit Athletes and Coaches

Sixteen years after was launched, people still find themselves walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time. But let’s be real — 16 years is a long time, and things have changed quite a bit. When CrossFit first became popular, everyone’s visit or experience was pretty similar at any box you went to. Maybe you were a curious athlete, or perhaps you were just bored and wanted to try something different and new. Either way, you showed up, eager to learn, and your coach was eager to coach. The relationship between coach and athlete was established in that first meeting and ultimately created the backbone of each gym. Sixty minutes later, you’re fit as shit! Okay, not quite, but you just got a taste of the Kool-Aid and you’re all in. Dirty, brutally hard, community driven, CrossFit.

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Fast forward to today. Each box has a different schtick than the box located 87 steps down the block. As coaches, we’ve had 16 years to gain knowledge and experience. Some of us have 5-10 certifications, years of licensing and education, and over tens of thousands of hours of coaching and experience. Yet somehow, coaches are now managing classes versus actually coaching classes. There is less and less trust in the coaching staff because it’s all about the bottom line, which means there’s less and less care from coaches to actually improve athletes.

Additionally, athletes aren’t looking to commit…instead they’re seeking loyalty rewards from Groupon for buying every CrossFit promo available. They’re searching for a “free week” at such and such gym and have exhausted all avenues of free fitness possible, from CrossFit to yoga to trapezing. All of this exposure means athletes walk into a box and think they know everything that has to do with everything about fitness.

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Photos courtesy of Siem Photography

These changes have created a disconnect between athletes and coaches that has come on full force like the dark side, and we’re all feeling the strain.

Let’s look at it this way. As a coach we expect any of the following three types of athletes to walk into any given class:

-The 365, 24/7 CrossFit “fiend”

-The “I just want to get a good workout” athlete

-The “Ummmm, no thanks I do my own thing” #competitor

Thankfully, athletes are still crowding gyms at all times of the day and are eager to get better and improve themselves. Their work ethic and motivation is ridiculous, but no matter which category athletes fall in, they all have one thing in common: they need to be coached! No matter how long you’ve been exercising or what style of athlete you are, at some point you need coaching and you will continue to always need coaching. This includes those coming from others gyms or those with advanced athletic backgrounds…yes, even you reading this. My favorite common bullshit line I hear a lot is, “Hey, yeah…I’ve been CrossFitting for like two years. I’m good don’t worry.”

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Really bud? Your atrocious rounded back and catch on your power clean says otherwise.

Attitudes have changed, and let’s be real — people are beyond sensitive now. Coaches don’t want to look bad or not know something, and they get super butt hurt if they’re upstaged. Athletes can’t be seen being coached because, oh man, that must mean you suck if the coach is actually helping you out. It’s a ridiculous and vicious cycle that has spread like wild.

How do we get back to the connected relationship that built the house of functional fitness, you ask? Simple. Set a standard. Give a shit — that goes for coaches and athletes.

For athletes of any type, find comfort and confidence in your coach. The relationship must be established by the coach, hopefully right when you walk into the door for the first time. That said, if you don’t know something but need help, go fuckin’ ask your coach! We often have a floor full of athletes, and while it’s our job to pay attention and know each athlete individually, we only have two eyes. Help us help you and just ask!

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Also, like anything else you invest in, do your homework before joining a box. Be prepared to possibly bounce around until you find the right combination of support and knowledge from your coaches. Any coach on the floor should be able to assist you during class…but if you feel a certain coach can impact or help you reach your goals, reach out!

Now coaches, how do we gain the people’s trust back? Take pride in stepping on the floor and coaching your athletes from top to bottom. Linda, the wealthy gold digger in class is scared to Olympic Lift, but make sure that when she does, you coach her enough to actually feel comfortable and safe. Be sure to explain to the competitive athlete that his KB swings aren’t being done wrong, but they can be so much more efficient which in turn will help him perform overall better in his upcoming competition. Be patient with the athlete who on a daily basis, talks with you about percentages, different techniques, and mobility. Just like you’re mother in law, they’ll always be there no matter what, so just deal.

So next class you walk into, both athlete and coach reading this, have a different mind set. Whether or not you can barely think from your crazy day, just let loose and work. Respect each other and listen to each other, and we’ll all build the connection we need to keep the magic of CrossFit alive and accomplish all of our goals.

Mike Ramirez is a coach at Reebok CrossFit 5th Avenue in New York City.  

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.