Imagine being in a small gym of only 10 members. Two of those members are middle-aged women, three are young soccer moms, four are men who just switched to CrossFit from the local bowling league, and then there is you: the fire breather of your box. You could be the fittest guy in your whole town. Every time you post a score, you are miles ahead of everyone else. Others are in awe of your talent. As you finish each WOD ahead of the others, you revel in your superiority. Then one day the unthinkable happens: A new young stud joins your box. You know you can’t beat him outright in a workout, so you start a covert operation. You make sure no one likes this guy. I mean, if you trash-talk him enough, maybe his scores will suffer. Maybe he’ll leave your box for a globo gym and give you back your advantage.

Sounds silly, right? Yet, this scenario can and does happen in CrossFit and other businesses. Competition is an integral part of the CrossFit experience. Anyone who knows anything about The Sport of Fitness knows that benchmarking yourself against others is vital to igniting that inner fire.

However, misplaced competition can be a bad thing. In business, we often measure ourselves against numbers: sales quotas met, speed attained, hours logged. Just as in fitness, the best competition is with yourself: Can you exceed your perceived limitations? Comparing yourself to other business benchmarks is useful only to a point – it helps you understand what is possible or commonly achieved. Without benchmarks, you may be confused about what constitutes virtuosity vs. mediocrity.

CrossFit boxes are prone to serious competition from other affiliates. This can be helpful, but it also provides temptation to skew the results in your favor. Badmouthing other gyms is one way I have observed this happening. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good trash talk. Having a CrossFit “tribe” and being proud of it is great. However, when talk approaches the tacky and, may I dare say, unethical, a line is crossed. If the young fire-breathing athlete in our example jabbed at the competition, and also insulted the soccer moms to appear superior, wouldn’t you use the term unethical?

In a recent real-life example, a local box owner discovered the opening of a perceived rival in an adjacent town. Instead of just focusing on business, this gym’s personnel made a concerted effort to trash talk the new affiliate owner, despite the fact that the new guy hadn’t signed up a single athlete. Talking openly about the inexperience of the new coach, they attempted to shut down their competition before allowing them to compete. That’s like greasing your opponent’s bar before competing in a WOD. Not cool. Trash talk is fine in the appropriate context, but ethics dictate that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed.

As a dentist (my profession), I would never trash talk another dentist. It’s tacky and it doesn’t make me look good. If I talked about how bad another dentist is, it would only show my insecurity. Do I compete in business? Of course I do. But the way I compete is by being the best I can be, not by squashing someone else’s reputation.

CrossFit boxes will always have competition. That’s a fact of life and a business reality. The best and classiest way to handle it is to focus on your own skill. Like the Army slogan, “Be all that you can be,” don’t focus on beating down everyone else before they get a chance on the playing field.

Dr. Sortman discovered CrossFit while practicing dentistry for the Marine Corps in Okinawa. He practices general dentistry and owns CrossFit Unsalted in Grand Haven, Mich. 

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