When Jeremy Fisher signed up for the 2008 CrossFit Games, there were no qualifiers and no stadiums—he was enlisting in a weekend at Dave Castro’s ranch in Aromas, California involving only four workouts: chest-to-bar “Fran,” five rounds of deadlifts and burpees, and as Jeremy describes it, “that fucking hill run.” Sunday was a heavy squat clean version of “Grace.” A lifelong athlete and intense competitor, he was both fast and strong, and he placed a respectable 33rd out of 196 male athletes. But CrossFit had begun its weave into the fabric of the mainstream fitness world and the following year, he only made it as far as Regionals. His main takeaway from competing and being part of the CrossFit world years before the 10,000-affiliate milestone and the Games airing on ESPN? There is no training adaptation more important than strength.
As we’ve mentioned on Inside the Affiliate before, coaching skill is only a small part of what it takes to run an affiliate, and there are countless other qualities that are required to excel in this business. For starters: the ability to manage people, make tough or sometimes unpopular decisions, listen to your instincts, and the humility to know that you won't always be right. Two weeks ago, we talked about how to start a great gym. This week, I’m sharing 5 things I’ve learned since starting CrossFit South Brooklyn and growing it into a thriving affiliate.
Hey everyone! This is just a quick note to say I'm going to be in Carson for the 2014 CrossFit Games this year. This is my first time back to spectate the Games since 2009 in Aromas, so I'm pretty excited to see how much it's evolved in only a few years. On that note, if you see me, please don't hesitate to come over and say hi! I'd love to talk shop and meet anyone and everyone who reads the blog. One of the best things I've experienced since starting ITA is all the great conversations I've had with other coaches and owners about running an affiliate, programming, and everything under the CrossFit sun. So again, please don't be a stranger!
When I decided to start CrossFit South Brooklyn, there wasn’t another CrossFit gym within the 97 square mile span of Brooklyn. Now, if you want to affiliate, it’s more likely than not that there are already other gyms in your area, since we just hit 10,000 affiliates around the world. The ubiquity of CrossFit provides you with a number of examples that can inform what you do or don’t want your gym to look like. It also means that the number of resources to help you along the way is increasing exponentially, this blog being one of them! Plenty of those resources break down the costs of affiliating, and I will certainly address those. But this article will be a response to the questions I’ve historically gotten from people who are interested in starting a gym.
Choosing the right CrossFit gym can be a major decision in your life. A bad experience can taint your perceptions about CrossFit as a whole and discourage you from finding a box that suits your needs and interests. In CFSBK’s weekly Teaser classes, I always tell people that they should be informed consumers and shop around at different gyms before signing up. I do this for two reasons: first, as a sign of good will toward the other local affiliates, and second, because I'm confident enough in our program that I don't feel the need to horde potential members. If our Teaser participants like our vibe, they'll sign up; if not, maybe a different affiliate is better suited for what they want.
But as a consumer, what should you be looking for in a gym? I’ve been involved in the fitness industry for over a decade and I'm consistently shocked by the lack of research or expectations consumers have before signing up for fitness programs. Below, I've outlined a few things that I recommend people keep in mind when shopping around for a CrossFit affiliate. If you're already happily training at an affiliate, we hope you'll send this to friends and family considering starting CrossFit in a different region.
Growing up, I hated team sports. I didn’t like being responsible for the outcomes of other peoples’ experiences, and I didn’t like other people being responsible for mine. This disposition was part of why I wanted to become a coach, have my own business, and do it without partners. I loved that every class and aspect of the gym came out of my own expectations and intuitions. But as our gym got bigger, one of the skills I had to acquire was being a better team player. Most CrossFit coaches have pretty strong personalities, which can lead to wanting to control everything—especially when it comes to running a group class. Working with people isn’t always intuitive, and requires practice and clear expectations about each person’s role.
Continuing on in ITA’s series about CrossFit group class coaching expectations, I’ve outlined basic guidelines that allow my coaches to focus on working as a team, and not be sidetracked by logistics while running classes. There aren’t assistant coaches or interns at CFSBK, and everyone has an equal share of work. We ensure that there is transparency and balance between who does what, which goes a long way in avoiding disputes or ambiguity regarding roles and duties. This also provides good guidelines for feedback if there is an imbalance in how coaches are working a class together.
CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman once said: “I can tell you what it is that makes you successful in business, more specifically as a CrossFit affiliate. It’s the blind and relentless constant pursuit of excellence.” On ITA, we never get tired of talking about what we think makes an excellent CrossFit coach. Last year, I wrote about how as an affiliate owner, your coaches are the most important resource you can leverage—they are the brick and mortar of what will make your business solid. Earlier this year, I wrote an open letter to new coaches, emphasizing a few basic principles for getting started on one’s career. And a few months ago, ITA profiled one of CFSBK’s coaches, who shared 10 pieces of advice for other coaches.
Today, we’re continuing on in our series about the concrete expectations I have for CFSBK’s coaching staff during group classes, and these six categories below cover all the behaviors—specific to the unique, complex art of coaching—that I believe every professional CrossFit coach should embody during classes. Each of these categories reflects CFSBK’s own constant pursuit of excellence, and hopefully there will be plenty of crossover for your situation as a coach or affiliate owner.
In last week’s article, I wrote about a brainstorming session a few years ago that led me to identify my expectations for my coaches during group classes. I wanted those expectations written in concrete terms so I could communicate with my staff more clearly and get all of us on the same page. As I stated before, I believe there are underlying principles of coaching that are consistent regardless of coaching style, personality, or context, and I now have a basic document that functions as a "job description” for my coaches. Last week, we talked about the importance of timeliness, and today, we’re going to address effective communication.
When I first started teaching group classes after years of training clients one-on-one, I quickly realized that communicating with a class was an entirely different skill that I needed to acquire and develop. Working with groups necessitates clear and effective public speaking skills. Your success coaching at or owning an affiliate is largely predicated on your ability to communicate with groups to accomplish the training goals of a class in a way that engages every member.
A few years ago, I sat down and thought, “What are my expectations for my coaches when it comes to running group classes?” I wanted to list those expectations in concrete terms so I could communicate with my staff more clearly and get all of us on the same page. I believe there are underlying principles of coaching that are consistent regardless of coaching style, personality, or context. Out of that brainstorming session, I developed a basic document that covers the expectations I have for all of CFSBK’s coaches during group classes. This functions as a "job description," and also serves as a reference point I can revisit to provide feedback in a non-personal way. The document has proven extremely useful.
CFSBK’s Coaching Expectations are broken up into six categories:
- Tandem Coaching Guidelines
- Large Class Logistics
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to deconstruct and dissect each of the categories I’ve listed as part of the job description. The goal of this series is for us to share our perspective on what’s been effective, and for you to either appropriate our ideas for your particular situation, or develop your own. Whether you’re an affiliate owner or coach that’s part of a team of other coaches, I promise that having consistent expectations for your team automatically ensures the quality of your coaching will be more professional and consistent. So, let’s start with Timeliness.
A handful of ITA readers requested that I write about the kinds of supplements and products we sell at CFSBK and why. The short answer is that beyond our training services, we don't sell much else. Like most affiliates, we sell shirts and some other seasonal apparel such as hoodies and sweatpants, which are both fun to design and help build community by allowing members to rep their home gym. Beyond that, we carry lacrosse balls, Kelly Starrett’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard, and the following three supplements: fish oil, magnesium, and vitamin D. We are also a host site for a local Paleo prepared-meal service and three different CSAs. The food service pays us in food credits, and we don't make any money off the CSAs—we just think supporting local, sustainable agriculture is the right thing to do.