Screening Policies for New and Transfer Athletes 

This article is going to kick off a new category about policies that I’ve found to be helpful for running an affiliate. Many of the policies we’ve created were born out of necessity. Over the years, we encountered certain types of situations and started to realize that instead of dealing with people on a case-by-case basis, it would be easier to have set policies that we could refer to, both to make our jobs easier and prevent people from taking decisions personally. Additionally, people inherently respect and respond to order of operations. These policies also help keep coaches and any other staff on the same page.

Any athletic facility that primarily works with the general population (instead of training elite or specific athletes) caters to a steady stream of folks with vastly different physical backgrounds. As any experienced coach knows, some of these people are going to be extremely inflexible or uncoordinated, and they may also have significant preexisting orthopedic issues. Additionally, they might have a stubborn personality that is harder to coach. In this week's article, I'll talk about some ways we screen new members and transfers. The ultimate goals are to consider best practices that maintain a standard of entry into your group class programs and keep people safe.

Screening New Members
Our Foundations program does exactly what its name implies: creates a solid foundation for new members so they can graduate into group classes with a basic technical understanding of our movements and exercise philosophy. This type of program is fairly standard for many CrossFit affiliates, but it is not as ubiquitous as I think it should be. In my opinion, having a thorough introductory program is an absolute necessity for creating a safe environment in your group classes.

Our Foundations program is a six-class, three-week long cycle, and is a requirement for anyone that is new to CrossFit and wants to become a member at our gym. In future articles, I'll expand on our Foundations program and my thoughts on similar programs, but today we'll focus on how it can work as a screen for extreme cases of troubled movers. 

Foundations works in two ways: on one hand, it teaches new members the basics of proper technique and good training habits. On the other hand, it allows our coaching staff to see how people move and how much improvement they can make. No one will be a perfect mover after only six classes, and the vast majority won't even be ready for high intensity WODs. But this introductory cycle creates a necessary space for determining whether an individual is coachable enough to graduate to group classes, where they’ll be expected to safely move on their own for portions of the class.

Below is a disclaimer we provide to everyone who signs up for our Foundations program:

Upon completion of Foundations your instructor will advise you on moving forward with Group Classes out of the following options:

  1. Athlete demonstrates proficiency in the key lifts/movements and is cleared to join group classes.
  2. Athlete demonstrates some proficiency in the key lifts/movements but requires x number of additional Private Training sessions prior to being cleared for group classes.
  3. Athlete does not demonstrate proficiency in the key lifts/moments and/or has orthopedic or mobility limitations that require 1-1 Private Training sessions for an extended period of time.

It's rare that we have to ask people to perform either option 2 or 3 above, but for every 100 or so people that come through our doors, we anticipate at least one exception. It’s important to note that the majority of people have some physical limitations and struggle with the movements at first, but there are individuals who are outliers in this context. Outliers are usually people with significant orthopedic limitations, meaning they’re profoundly restricted from getting into positions we require on a regular basis. For example, an individual might lack the mobility and awareness necessary for keeping their back in a neutral position. If after six classes of dedicated small group instruction, they still consistently default to spinal flexion, then their issue becomes a safety concern and their next steps should be considered carefully.

Again, these issues don’t necessarily mean an individual is not appropriate for CrossFit; it means that the level of attention they'll need to stay safe surpasses what coaches could realistically provide in a large group class setting. If your typical class sizes are very small, you may be able to accommodate more outliers, but it’s in your and their best interest to make tough decisions when necessary.

Transferring CrossFitter Policy
People who have been training three months or less at another affiliate and intend to become members at our gym are required to do a test-out session with one of our coaches. This is a one-hour session where we review the basic barbell lifts to make sure they understand the fundamentals of technique and again—possess the capacity to perform safely in a group class. The coach will also provide guidance on what kinds of things the athlete should keep working on as they start group classes. We instituted this policy after having a handful of transfers who had taken introductory courses at different affiliates, some of which were completed in a single day and simply put, were insufficient. Often these folks came to us with little or no understanding of basic positions, and were even clueless about the names of movements.

People who have been training for over three months at another affiliate are allowed to drop into a group class with the caveat that we reserve the right to ask them to do a private session or Foundations if we feel it is needed. (CrossFit culture is such that people often email you before dropping in to let you know they’re coming.) Usually these transfers are completely fine, and after an initial email exchange, our Front Desk will remind the group class coach that someone is dropping in for a particular class. After class, the coach advises the person and our Front Desk staff about that person’s next steps, which are most often moving right into group classes.

Additionally, we’ve had a few people attempt to join group classes who say that they’ve been CrossFitting for years, usually on their own, but it’s clear to us that they’re not moving safely. These people sometimes have been using improper techniques since they began, and are often less receptive to decreasing their loads and fine-tuning their form. These individuals are rare, but our policies apply to them just the same as they would to a novice CrossFitter.

Will everyone be able to keep up in a Group Class environment?It may seem complicated to have nuanced policies for different cases, but our basic and simple principle is that we look for novice or transferring athletes to be equal to what we’ve come to expect from most people who complete our Foundations program. Which is to say: they're aware of how to get into decent positions, have a handle on the basic movements, and are ready to be coached in a larger group environment. We do not expect people to move perfectly or be well-versed in higher skill movements, such as the Olympic lifts, but they need to have had some exposure to these movements so they're not learning them for the first time in a group class setting. Again, the policy minimizes the feeling that you’re singling an individual out based on anything other than the rules, which are there to keep people safe.

What issues have you encountered at your affiliate that either led to creating a policy, or could have been mitigated by having a policy?

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Reader Comments (4)

Great article! I have been trying to write out the purpose of Foundations as of late and this just mailed it all on the head.

December 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick S.

One of the things we ran into is that I bought an existing gym that had previously been a CrossFit affiliate. They dropped their affiliation and operated as a "cross training" facility and had been in existence for about two years before we purchased. The owner avoided oly lifting and only rarely intro'd his members to it.

When we purchased the gym and reaffiliated, about 90-percent of the members stayed on with us. However, because they had been "CFing" for two years, they all felt that they were experienced, despite the fact that many had never encountered typical CF movements. This made it very difficult to stress the importance of going light on weight, learning the basic foundational movements, etc. So I ended up just running the first couple of months like foundations/on-ramp classes to get everyone back up to speed. This was met with a ton of resistance and we lost some members who did not like the the "new koolaid." But in the end, it was a good thing to do as most of those members are now proficient movers and have made more progress in the four months that I have been in operation than they made in two years with the previous owner.

December 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheresa S.

@ Nick
Thanks! I'm going to expand in great detail on Foundations in future articles too. Glad you enjoyed the article.

What a unique situation. I totally agree with your transition tactic, better to lose some members and get everyone up to speed with your standards as opposed to allowing the existing paradigm to prevail. Thanks for sharing!

What box are you guys from?

December 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

We're Raise the Bar CrossFit in Ontario, OR.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheresa S.

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