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To Compete, Judge or Spectate?

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By Rich Fairbrother

CrossFit is an amazing way to become fit, stay fit and push yourself on a daily basis.  Outside of what happens in just your gym, though, is a huge world that you owe it to yourself to discover.  Three areas of this world, that CrossFit offers, are competing, judging and cheering, and they’re all wicked fun.

Competing:

Not everyone who does CrossFit has the ambition or goals to go to Regionals, and then the Games, but competing (at least once) should be a staple of every member of the CrossFit community.  First off, a competition can allow you to unlock an extra gear, both mentally and physically, you didn’t know you had.  The day isn’t the same as all others – you’re amped up, nervous and excited, and that can translate into one more rep, lifting heavier weight or unlocking a killer mentality from your psyche.  No matter where you place (and I’m at the bottom of most of my competitions), it makes a huge difference when you realize you’re better than you thought you were.  Regular WODs or workouts, even practice, if you know the competition WODs ahead of time, simply can’t reproduce game day feels.

Competing also allows you to realize your weaknesses.  Every competition brings a dreaded movement or two, and that can help you go back to your gym and focus.  From double-unders, to handstand pushups, a few extra minutes before and after a class, or during open gym can allow you to become proficient at more things CrossFit.  There are also many times you’ll find you did much better than you thought you could do, and you realize all the blood, sweat and tears in the gym pay off in ways you simply wouldn’t have known without competing.  Competition also brings pressure and stress, and that’s a good thing.  You are able to hone your focus while pushing yourself through the stress.  While we go hard in our daily WODs, nothing prepares you for the stress and stakes of a real competition.  That’s a good thing and can help translate to handling different kinds of stress in the real world.

You also learn to take every day WODs more seriously.  It’s often easy to show up, work out, and sweat, but you gain another perspective when you compete.  Training isn’t just a mindless repetition, every rep counts.  All the work you put in during the weeks leading up to a competition, or months throughout the year, suddenly show up in technique and endurance during a competition.  Once you compete, it’s rare to ever want to just ‘phone in’ a workout.  You realize what you do today has consequences in the third WOD of a long day of trials during your meet.  It helps you develop an edge to train harder every day.

Competitions bring out the best in everyone, and you stand within a brotherhood and sisterhood of athletes that encourage each other.  There are people that want to win, and win badly, but time and time again, athletes are cheered from within their own ranks on the battlefield, as much as they are from the spectators.  I’ll talk a little more about this under cheering, but I will say, athletes intrinsically know how hard competitions are, and counted for or against them, always want to see someone rip off a PR.  To wear a shirt labeled “Athlete” is a fun thing, and brings you into a camaraderie that can only be forged from competition.  People look up to you and you earn a different badge of respect from the community, that win or lose, you went up against your toughest competition of all, yourself, when it was timed, weighed and posted.

There are plenty of competitions from serious to fun, that can provide all these results, in a safe way to do so, no matter your skill level.  Even just one can bring a new dimension to your every day workouts and broaden your understanding of community spirit.  As the saying goes “even last place beats everyone who didn’t compete”.

Judging:

Judging is a very easy way to give back to the community, and is especially helpful to organizers of all competitions.  It means something to go out with an athlete, or group of athletes, and simultaneously uphold the standards of a WOD along with being their lifeline to sanity while they push themselves to their limits.  Judging doesn’t mean you can just show up and score people while you wait for the signature (which looks worse than any doctor’s after they’ve pushed themselves to those limits).  Judges are required to know the movements, requirements and techniques involved in order to score accurately and efficiently.  It’s not easy.  You are responsible for a lot and at times it can be very stressful.  There’s a joke that usually is said before every meet and that is – “warm up your no-rep”!

While it is a responsibility, it also yields benefits nothing else can (save for perhaps coaching).  The first benefit is you develop a unique bond with an athlete or team for several minutes.  This team looks to you for guidance, the count, good or bad repetitions, and of course how much longer do I need to suffer!?.  This is especially true of first time competitors.  They are nervous, timid, and sometimes scared, but when you can calmly tell them what’s expected for that WOD, and help them count while encouraging them, they get through it.  Many will ask you to count out loud, many will ask you to cheer (and by cheer they mean either yell nicely for them to keep moving or yell not so nicely), and many will say after, that they’re glad to have had such a close knit supporter, inside the field, so to speak.

Judging also allows you to see both the good and the bad of a competition.  It puts you inside the head and heart of someone else because of how close you are, as the clock winds down.  It lets you see some of the finest athletes around your CrossFit communities and it allows you to see how stress, fatigue and time can wear down technique as much as how training hard can result in you judging the best athlete.  It’s as up close and personal as one can get and it can be stressful as well.  You don’t have the luxury to forget the count, you must be consistent for all individuals/teams you judge and you must deliver “no rep”s when necessary.  You might also shoulder some blame, anger and frustration when an athlete doesn’t perform well, or if you make a mistake during their heat.  Ultimately, most competition organizers have your back and this happens rarely, but it can happen.

Overall though, aside from competing, there is nothing more exciting than being so close while an athlete or team pushes themselves.  And there is nothing better than being able to high five them after and say “great job” when they crushed it.  At the same time, when some athletes falter, you’re able to deliver encouragement because we’ve all been there when WODs get tough.  You’ll see over time, they’re still happy they competed and they’re still thankful you counted and cheered them on.  This goes double if you’ve competed.  You understand even more so, the emotion and stress that goes along with it, no matter how well they do, and a simple word of empathy can still make someone’s day.

From an organizers point of view, having sound judges that add to the experience, by being consistent and fair, while doing their job, makes the day run so much more smoothly.  Don’t be afraid to volunteer, but remember, you should know as much or more as the athletes when it comes time for the WODs so you’re in position to be a good judge.  If that’s too much pressure, volunteering to help change plates, or run scores, or set up equipment for heats is all necessary and welcomed as well!

The bottom line though, is that judging is an awesome way to broaden your experience, and help be part of the athletes’ experience that day as well.

Cheering:

Funny thing I would need to mention this, but I can tell you from experience, there is absolutely nothing greater than having a cheering section at a competition.  From parents to friends, fellow CrossFitters and competitors alike, showing up to cheer for athletes is the easiest, yet most rewarding experience, for everyone.

Yes, during a workout, you can hear people cheer for you.  Yes it makes a difference as to how much more and how much harder you go.  Yes it feels makes you feel like a million dollars, even if you’re not a Games athlete and you don’t understand why anyone would swing a kettle bell over their head, but you’re being judged to do so.

One of the most unique things about CrossFit is the community.  I’m hard pressed to find such a community like it anywhere else, in any other sport.  One of the most amazing things at a competition is to see athletes root just as hard for the competition, as they want people to root for them.  You see it in the Games, and you see it on a local level.  In fact, the last person to finish is usually the one who gets the loudest cheers.  CrossFit is hard enough, and going up against other really fit people can be daunting, even if you have set your own internal goals.  The lifeline to enjoying it can simply be people shouting encouragement.

It also looks good on your gym and your community.  We routinely enter competitions and it’s not uncommon for a Boomtown cheering squad to tag along.  Our athletes love it and it’s a great way to stay in touch with other CrossFitters you see around town.  It gives back to the community, and you may even be tapped to help judge or volunteer, because it’s needed.  (Wear comfy shoes, always!)

Pictures are a huge boon as well.  There’s another CrossFit joke that you might not do well, but with our customized shirts and kinetic tape, knee sleeves, customized MetCons, wrist wraps and tall socks, we can at least look good doing it.  Having pictures allows us to smile afterward, and recall fondly (or not) what was going through our heads the moment the shutter clicked.  They show the individual struggle, the team camaraderie and the spirit of the competition in ways we can’t see for ourselves during the heat of the moment.

Again, from experience, when people show up to cheer you on, it adds a level of comfort some athletes don’t get on game day.  Often, competitions are hours away, and a friendly face and voice makes all the difference.  It can also inspire you to want to train harder, work on different things and of course, enter a competition!  Seeing someone rip off 75 GHD sit-ups in a row, while most people do 20, is an amazing thing.  Watching someone max a thruster at 250 lbs feels the same.  Watching athletes stop and turn to cheer someone who is gassed and struggling to move against a clock, even when they know they won’t beat the cap, can cause a tear or two.  Watching someone new at a competition struggle but smile no matter how well they do lets us all remember, CrossFit is for everyone, and even if you don’t win, you get more out of competing than not.  There are smiles at every turn, no matter who wins.

Our community is strong, because people take them to time to involve themselves not only at the gym, but in the events that unfold around it.  It’s a good bet you’ll find it more rewarding to involve yourself at least once, whether it’s competing, judging or cheering.  And if not for yourself, you can always do it for someone on your team, or someone who might just want to hear your voice, when you tell them to keep moving.

Allow yourself to be part of something even bigger, and I guarantee you, the least place you’ll finish, is with a smile.