Ben and I were talking the other day about how being a coach gives you this certain perspective on what it’s like to witness an athlete in the middle of a workout.
It’s interesting because we’re both athletes, and coaches. So, we know what both sides feel like.
The thing with the athlete side is that for most of us, it’s a very personal and independent experience. Yes, we’re all there for the community aspect and the comraderie (my spell check is telling me that’s incorrect, but Google is telling me it’s right…so, I’m moving on), but the vast majority of the experience is internal.
We may be trying to race or pace off of someone near us in the class we’re taking, but most of our attention is really on what’s going on in our own bodies: do I need to take a break right now, am I ready to start moving again, why do I feel so slow, how is everyone else done already, coach said to remember to keep the bar on our shoulders, why does that bar feel so heavy, can I finish this round before time’s up, does the coach think I’m not working hard enough, is this the right pace for me, why did I just fail that muscle-up, is it time to sprint or too soon, I shouldn’t have drank this weekend, this isn’t how I planned this one.
There’s all sorts of chatter that goes on in our own heads while we train. But, what’s really hard for most people to do is to stay calm under the sort of pressure that’s laid on us in the middle of high intensity training.
That’s the thing that as an athlete you think no one see’s or notices during a workout. But, that’s the very thing that we, as coaches, notice in an athlete in the middle of workouts.
How does each of our athletes handle pressure and the challenge of self-coaching during workouts once the timer begins and the poison starts running through their veins?
When do they drop the bar? Is it when their bodies really can’t take it anymore and start moving poorly, or is it when they give up on themselves and choose not to deal with the pain that comes along with conditioning the human body and actually getting fitter every time they train?
When do they start moving again? Do they start their 400 meter run when they get to the garage door because that seems like a more comfortable landmark than the moment when their bar makes contact with the floor? Or, when do they stop moving? Do they put the brakes on at the garage door on the way back in because that’s closer than where their bar is at rest waiting for them at their training spot? Or, do they really treat that training spot like the true end of their run because the door is just like any other object on the course of their run route?
But, the really telling one for us as coaches is how athletes deal with adversity. And, not just any sort of adversity. I’m talking more about unexpected adversity.
It’s easy to prep yourself for expected adversity: someone else uses the bike in the workout that you had warmed up with, someone else jumps up and climbs the rope just before you’re ready to, or the tape you had spent 5 minutes applying to your hands and wrists tears in the first round…of 20.
What says more than words ever could is the way an athlete deals with the really ugly stuff: they tweak their shoulder or roll their ankle in a workout and continue to swear at themselves and be pissed off at the universe because “it’s not a good time for this to happen”. Or, they find themselves at the end of a workout trying to finish the last muscle-up or last snatch, but it’s taking them so long that the entire class has circled around cheering them on…and, all they can do is be visibly frustrated with themselves for not being able to finish faster.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been there. I’ve punched a concrete wall because I missed the last bar muscle-up in a workout. I’ve roared the F-word like a God damn lion because I couldn’t hit a heavy snatch when everyone else could. I’ve spent hours in that ugly place in my head being disappointed in myself because I couldn’t row or run as fast as other girls that were training with me. I will even admit to the fact that I sometimes think that if I don’t behave like that, if I just accept it and not let it get into my head, that it somehow means that I don’t care or that I’m not really trying hard enough.
And, I still have weak moments when I let Bad Heather coach me through workouts and lifts.
But, being a coach and experiencing the alternative is so much more impressive to us than the people that can’t control their own “bad” coach.
In case you’ve ever wondered, it’s so awesome for us to see someone struggling in our class, go up to that athlete and give them a cue to help, have that athlete at least pause for a second to listen to what you have to say, make the change, continue making the change, and end up having a “successful” experience. That’s not to say that every time they do all of this they’re guaranteed to hit a PR lift or magically be able to sprint through the rest of the workout. But, it is to say that they are a good enough student that they prioritized taking the time to process the coaching that was offered to them instead of trading it in for potentially a faster time…that one workout…to write up on the whiteboard.
Because one of the things that Ben Bergeron has drilled into us as CFNE competitors is the idea of having patience with the process.
It’s important to understand a few things in training…and, in life in general.
- One workout, or even any of your wheelhouse workouts, does not dictate whether you’re going to qualify for the CrossFit Games or not. It doesn’t even say anything about your general level of fitness, forget about where you stand competitively or not.
- If you don’t make moves with the bigger picture in mind, you’re going to hit a wall sooner than later. And, that wall is far below what your “true potential” is. If programming says to “work up to a heavy” and you consistently treat that as if it said something more like “find your 1 rep max”, you’re getting greedy. And, greedy people don’t win in the long run.
- If you’re at the right place, and with the right people, you need to…on some level…hand it over to your coach. You have to acknowledge that someone else on the Planet Earth knows better than you and that they are offering you information that will ultimately lead you to the Promise Land..whatever the hell that is. I can’t tell you how many times I told someone they were pulling early with their arms or they weren’t reaching full range of motion on a squat, and I could tell they weren’t buying it. Until I showed them a video of themselves proving what I was saying. 100% of the time, they are horrified by what they see. Had they just trusted me in the first place, they would’ve saved the energy they put into doubting me and put it towards actually getting further along on their quest to be a more fit human being.
There are very few things in life that don’t come better than they do with patience. It’s one of the very most important qualities in the human spirit. Most people can, and have an instinctive desire to, react immediately to stress…whatever that stress may be.
But, the ones that are able to find the patience to trust the process are the ones that I have a tremendous respect for.
These are the people…athletes, or not…that I can place a great deal of trust in.