2016 Crossfit Games by max el-hag

As is always the case when I leave the CrossFit Games, I have a lot of thoughts/feelings and many people are asking me about them. I felt it was appropriate to write them down in order to share them. Because they are complex, and I am not great with words, I felt my typical overly long blog was a way to weed out the people who really wanted to know from the ones who are just asking for the sake of asking. What follows below is as clear of a representation of the internal chaos as I can create with my limited verbal skills:

Praising my show pony athlete

Travis Mayer is like my little brother. I see him train almost every day, I’ve been to his wedding, I know his family, my gym is located inside of his gym, and most importantly I make fun of him 24/7. So, it feels good when he has success. I am proud of his tenth place finish and he deserves the many congratulations he has been given. If you are not intimately involved with people at the highest level in this sport (or any sport) you have no idea how difficult it is to do what they do. Travis is a three times CrossFit Games athlete and I have coached him for 4 years now. I have continued to help him with his development to stay at the top of his game. After not making the Games in 2015, he went through a bit of a mental crisis, but dedicated himself 100% to getting back and earning his reputation as an elite competitor. This year was different in that he stared to see that he is able to compete with the best in the world, and that level of confidence CAN be a catalyst for another good year and a leap up the leaderboard. While I want to congratulate him, I also want to express that this year was not perfect. Things throughout the year did not always go as planned, many workouts at the Games were not his best performances, and that is part of athletics. In the past those unrealistic expectations would have crippled his ability to execute, but this year he took them in stride, pushed himself as hard as he was capable, and ended the year in the final heat on the biggest stage in the world. I truly believe he can podium at the Games, but that will only happen if he believes it, and he wants to do the things required to close the gap on the people ahead of him. That will mean that he will have to continue to make more sacrifices and choices to get what he wants. Success in sports is not easy, and it is why so many people fail or give up. But, I can tell you, if Travis wants to, he has the ability to come out next year and make an even bigger statement. I hope he chooses that path and that I am lucky enough to be in his corner. It was a much better conclusion to last year, but this coming year I hope to continue to evolve my level of understanding and support his (and all my other athlete’s, some of whom I know have a similar potential) quest for the attainment of his potential as an athlete…whatever place that may be on the leaderboard.

Praising a Coach

As a coach, this past weekend was all about him. I chose not to post a bunch of social media, nor try to get a piece of his limelight. I know other coaches choose different strategies, and I am ok with that, but that is not what I feel comfortable doing. Everyone who knows Travis or who knows me knows that I am deeply involved in the process. His success is our success, and we share it together the same way we take our losses together. But, the praise and attention he is receiving are his, and I want all of my athletes to have that for themselves. My ‘time in the sun’ comes in the form of a sense of satisfaction and pride that I take in having helped build someone from the ground up in the sport. I relish in the continual sense of peace I feel in having, up to this point, kept him healthy and progressing at a fast enough rate to keep up in the difficult sport. My glory is in the relationship I have with him that will last a life-time, not in the title I could receive as a “Games coach.” I will build my business on reputation, on merit, on results, on knowledge, and on the sacred teacher-student relationships we build with our clients/athletes. I will not build it off the attention of wins because I think that is a house of cards. The claim that you can influence the outcome of winning to a large degree sets a coach up for a massive fall from grace when the chaos of the world stops delivering the talent required to get to the top level. So, as much as I enjoy people telling me congratulations, it’s hard for me to accept or respond, because I believe that in the case of game day performance, that belongs to him.

What determines a winner and a loser?

If my mind was simple enough to believe that winning and losing is dictated by ‘perfect programming’ or a ‘secret knowledge’ that only the chosen few had, it would be much easier to create appealing marketing messages. It would also be simple to explain away poor performances on “bad nutrition” or “poor pelvic control” or “not enough thoracic mobility” or any number of other buzz word phrases people use to simplify the complex nature of sport and the human body. But that isn’t real. If you’ve been around the block long enough, you know that type of grandeur is nonsense, and a lot of people are going to be let down by these overly simple claims. For any number of people who used a successful strategy, a larger number of people followed that same path and failed. Success is reserved, by definition, for a small few. So, in the CrossFit Games, what are the contributing factors to success?

  • Programming. Some people call a program a group of random difficult workouts that people follow for a period of time before they compete. I think good programming must be measured on a multi-year scale. If someone progresses quickly for a year and then breaks, I would consider that bad programming for that particular person. If someone was already at the top, and followed a program, and stayed at the top, evaluating the impact the program had on them would be impossible. Programming is both an art and a science. It can turn the training methodical and not “fun,” but it can also statistically outperform randomness by a large margin if you master the art, and blend it with scientific principles. It alone will not guarantee a win or even progress, but from a statistical perspective you will lower the likelihood of injuries, you will improve people at all variables of the sport, you can plan peaks/tapers, you can get insight into the limitations of the person you are coaching, you can adjust for rough patches in people’s lives, etc.
  • Workout Selection. This sport is in large part randomized. If you’ve been around long enough you will know that there are patterns that exist at each stage of the game, but there are still unknowns. For example, this year at the CF games there was no snatching, and many coaches have a big snatch bias. This means many athletes have very big snatches relative to cleans or deadlifts, but those were tested this year. As well, how many people have dedicated a large portion of their training time to ring hspu and of those, how many executed them strict in training? As a human you are limited in the amount of time you can train, both logistically and from a biological perspective. So, you are going to have to prioritize the things that are most important, but determining a hierarchy is difficult given the randomness. Sometimes you will get lucky and those will be tested, other times you will get a test that targets something that intelligently didn’t get trained much. Hindsight is always 20-20, but in reality only the best of the best can spend time working on the nuance of obscure tests because they’re good enough at everything else. For everyone else, spending time on ring hspu instead of regular/kipping hspu may prevent you from getting out of the regionals because you aren’t good enough relatively at the base level.
  • Coaching. People often times use the words ‘coaching’ and ‘programming’ simultaneously in the realm of CrossFit™. That bothers me given how much effort goes into our coaching process and how much time we spend trying to get to know our athletes. At the Games, I spent a lot of time with Travis joking around with him, reminding him to be himself, ensuring he laughed and didn’t take himself too seriously, adjusting his pacing/strategy before workouts based on how he was feeling, giving him reminders/cues about where to keep his mind, etc. I truly respect the best in the world who are self-coached and have a mastery of this psychology on their own (like Rich Froning for example), but most people cannot do this and need help and a support team.
  • Game-Day Execution. This is largely on the athlete and can’t really be ‘taught’, only improved through experience. Some people can maintain more conscious clarity when they are suffering in a huge environment, and others get wrapped up in the madness and make mistakes. This is not only about maximizing your physical potential but is about transition times, rest between movements, remembering you need to beat people in other heats, making adjustments on the fly, dialing in the little things, racing to finish a workout and get across the chip timer sensor, dealing with no reps, breaking your intended paces, etc. These are learned skills and like anything else some people are better at them than others. There are always great trainees who are bad athletes, and continuing to make people better in the gym will not always make them better on the floor.
  • Genetics. I could put ‘drugs’ in this category, but let’s say for the sake of the article that everyone is clean. The level of volume tolerance you need in your joints, the metabolic systems, the nervous system, the amount of skills people need to have, etc are special at that level. Athletes usually have a very self-centered view of the world, and they think their “mental state”/work ethic is what separates them. This is often true of artists, musicians, dancers, writers, and pretty much every type of human endeavor. But the reality is that some people are built especially well for certain things and CrossFit™ is no different. The best of the best are bred to be that way and there is nothing you can do to get there if you are not one of them. And all of them will know as they get out of the sport or begin coaching that they were special, and they likely will say things like “I wish I appreciated how good and special I was”, because they probably didn’t appreciate it when they had it. They can spend so much time obsessively focused on the best of the best that they forget to realize that they were 3 standard deviations right of the mean of the bell curve.
  • Luck. I’m making ‘luck’ a catch-all category for EVERYTHING else. Circumstances, preparedness, not getting sick near a competition, getting the benefit of the doubt with judging discrepancies, feelings of confidence, support of loved ones, etc. You may have some influence over this but there are so many variable here that you really don’t have enough control to sway them.

The New Champ

Hats off to all the competitors both male and female, but Mat Fraser impressed me this weekend. The dominance was enjoyable to watch. He wants to win everything and I love his intensity. I’m not sure what is going on in his internal world, but it looks like he is calling on some internal rage and hatred, which resonates with me. His gaze is strong, he wants to dominate and he has found his place to ascend his own dominance hierarchy. Whenever someone finds their place, I love to observe them in their peak state of performance. I don’t speculate very often anymore, and I also am aware that my predictions are rarely correct, but I have a curious mind and I like to explore the possibilities of the future of the sport. Whether or not he will last and stay at the top of game for a long time will be determined by:

What motivates him and will that motivation stay there now that he has ‘proven himself’

How long can his body endure the intensity he puts into this

How will he enjoy the ‘fame’ that is going to come now that he will be marketed on a whole new level

Is anyone else on a faster progress curve who can chase him down and make him doubt that he can win

Will he stay healthy

Etc…

Speculation is fun, but sport is all about uncertainty and the outcomes that actually play out. Experts will always predict things and then say they “knew it” or “called it” after the outcome has always taken place, but it’s just a way to try to make ourselves feel like we have some sort of understanding of how this crazy reality works…but we don’t. So, I am really excited to see what the future holds for Fraser and what type of mark he will leave when it’s all said and done.

What does CrossFit™ as a sport mean to TTT.

I love CrossFit™ and everything that the sport has brought to my organization. A lot of my athlete’s goals are aimed at CrossFit™ as a sport/fitness program, I am able to explore an extremely complex programming puzzle, I have gotten to travel around the country and world to have experiences my peer group has not been able to, I have gotten to educate an extremely curious market, etc. But, at the Games, I realized that I am also very grateful that my business does not solely rely on CrossFit™. We are in development of products/courses for swimming, sprinting, distance running, hypertrophy, post pregnancy training, and the full gamut of physical goals, and I’m equally excited for those opportunities as I am about the continual striving in the CrossFit™ realm. I don’t say that because I saw something I disliked at the Games, but instead because I realized about myself that my mind gets bored easily and I want to continue to expand, grow and challenge myself to do bigger things until I find the limits of my (and my team’s) ability as a coach/educator. So, I am grateful to the sport, and it will always hold a huge part of my heart, but I also was happy to know that was just one part of my life and career and that no outcome there, positive or negative, can define me.

The Future

Who knows what the 2017 CrossFit™ year will hold for the TTT athletes. I do know that we will continue to challenge ourselves to create better methods. We will continue to build our team and welcome new members to the staff, educate them and welcome athletes of all levels to our community. We will continue to build a family, our vision and we will continue to strive to be the best we possibly can. I have no idea if we will even become “huge” or put someone on the podium, but I do know I will dedicate every available minute to being the best that I can possibly be physically, mentally, emotionally, and I hope that desire to improve translates into my athletes and fellow coaches and we can continue to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We will be back and we will be better…

~ Max

Created By
Max El-Hag
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