I believe evaluating a gym by its “top athletes” is a pointless pastime.
Over the years, I’ve had a few people tell me we must run a good gym because we have some great competitors. That might be true, but it might not. I always thank people for the compliment to our athletes and our staff, but I never let it affect how I evaluate CrossFit 204.
No disrespect is intended toward our competitors. They are high-profile representatives of what we do, and we care about them a lot and support them without reserve. We also work to help them achieve their goals, as we would with any other member, and their success means we are indeed serving their needs. But competition is influenced by too many variables and provides a very poor foundation for analysis of a gym as a whole.
Here’s why: If Rich Froning had shown up at CrossFit 204 four years ago, I bet we could have coached him to a win at the CrossFit Games. Perhaps not, but I think we would have had to work pretty hard to keep an athlete like that from succeeding. I think Froning could have shown up at any one of 10,000 CrossFit gyms and then won the Games. Some might have done a better job training him, and others worse, but in the end I think the results would have been the same. Some athletes are so good that you just have to get out of their way. Would his success reflect the quality of the gym he trained at? Maybe, but no one can be certain.
Here’s another example: When Aaron first came to the gym, I got him on the rings, and before I could even explain what I wanted him to do, he had completed a muscle-up. Did that make me a great coach? Nope. I just got matched up with a gifted athlete. Of course I told him I was the greatest coach in the world, and we both had a good laugh.
I actually evaluate our facility by our least-experienced athletes, the people who perhaps don’t walk through the doors with outstanding levels of strength, skill, endurance and coordination. These people might not consider themselves athletes and might not have an extensive training history. Some have never worked out before.
But are we able to make them better? Are they moving well? Are their numbers improving? Are they getting fitter? Are they having fun and making fitness part of their lives?
I ask those questions regularly, and the answers help me determine if we’re serving our clients properly.
Here’s another way I evaluate: I look at all the athletes in a class and see how the least-experienced athlete is moving. A good example is a snatch class. You might have a line of people running from the whiteboard to the back door with loads ranging from 12 lb. to 250. Eyes are often drawn to the big loads, but I think smart coaches pay equal attention to the 12-lb. snatch because that’s where the greatest opportunity lies.
We’re obviously just as driven to make 250 into 270, but what if the athlete snatching 12 lb. is struggling to open her hips and find the coordination to complete the lift? What if you give her a few cues and suddenly the bar snaps overhead and she receives it with wide eyes and a new sense of what her body can do? What if she’s lifting 33 lb. well a few classes later, and what if eight or 10 months later 12 has turned into 112? That’s an 833 percent improvement—and athleticism has been created, in addition to confidence and fitness.
I believe that if you can take a brand new lifter and turn a 12-lb. snatch into a solid 112, or even 53, you’ll be able to improve the numbers for experienced athletes. I don’t think the reverse is always true. Coaching an athlete to a first muscle-up is the hard part. After that, coaching her to do 30 in a workout is relatively easy.
And so we focus on perfect PVC deadlifts, first pull-ups and beautiful air squats. If we see those things in athletes who didn’t move that way when they came to us, we’re certain to see athletes succeed in competition as well.
And, more importantly, we’re certain to see improved fitness for all our members, which we believe is the true measure of quality for a gym.