How do I know if my athlete is ready to compete? For that matter, how do I know if I myself am ready to compete? Although competitions are meant to test the abilities of the athletes, high-level athletes should possess those skills that are required to compete at a high level, and entry-level athletes should possess basic skills required to compete at a basic level.
But how exactly are these levels defined? An issue in CrossFit competitions is that these definitions (high level v. entry level) vary from affiliate to affiliate, from coach to coach, and from competition to competition. If we were bodybuilders and had dreams of competing, but did not have a six pack or know the basic poses, our coach would (ideally) tell us we were not ready to compete. But with CrossFit, the events are so much fun and very exciting to be a part of that many athletes and coaches are neglecting the fact that there may be some fundamental pieces missing in an athlete’s preparedness for competition.
During the latest Next Level Invitational (NLI) event, I noticed personally, and in over 800 photos (thank you Craig Inaba of ATP Extreme) there were many athletes with very bad form and in very compromising body positions. I understand that, under high intensity, form will break down. However, form break down is quite different than having bad form to start with. The likelihood of an athlete’s form improving during the competition is slim to none. All too often I see coaches trying to correct an athlete’s movement during the competition. It’s not going to happen. There is nothing wrong with providing cues, but trying to get the athlete to do things they have not been able to maintain in training is asking too much at that time.
As coaches, we MUST do a better job preparing our athletes for the riggers of competition. Some affiliates will sanction only the athletes they believe to ready for competition; others simply support the desire of an athlete who comes to them having already signed up for a competition. If we are a true sport, with legitimate coaches and head coaches, shouldn’t we rely on their having a deciding factor?
I recognize the catch 22: a coach has a paying client who wants to compete, so how do they not encourage and support that. But I believe the health and success of an athlete’s career is more important than momentary pacification. As a coach, you have to be prepared to bench someone, to have them stop and address areas that need improvement. I always believed that this aspect of being a coach is what my athlete is paying me for. The coach is the person the athlete is trusting with the development of their athletic progress. As with any head coach of basketball or football or baseball team, it is my responsibility to determine who is ready to play in the game, and who is not.
Some gyms have specific competition teams; I think this is a great idea. Establishing a clear qualifying process which athletes can follow in order to make it on to the competition team is an excellent tool which could include movement patterns to be performed under varying levels of intensity, and tests of overall fitness level. Pre-screening would help find chinks in the armor, allowing for corrections to be made and practiced, and prepares an athlete more thoroughly for competition. Those on the competition team would train and prepare together for an upcoming competition season.
Ah, Competition Season. Many athletes are always “in season”. This is partly due to the fact that they don’t know any better. Remember, I am talking about athletes who are currently competing, on the verge of competing, or thinking about competing. Too many athletes in our sport participate in every competition that comes down the pike, and they do this all year round. And after doing this they wonder why they plateau. Athletes in most every sport progress through seasons: off-season, pre-season and in-season. So why should the sport of Fitness be any different? The purpose of the “off season” is to recover and address any nagging issues – most often in our case, mobility is the number one thing to address. Then during “pre-season”, athletes work on building a solid base. This may mean addressing a particular area of deficiency – strength, Olympic lifts, gymnastics, cardio vascular endurance or power. Once the base is established, the training will intensify and stage the athlete to peak at the right time. This sets up “in season”, where the athlete is trying to peak each competition.
When I am working with my athletes, my overall goal is to educate them so they understand some important concepts: the importance of proper movement; how improper movement can lead to injury or slower time or less weight moved; how to address any mobility issues they have; the logic behind some of the progressions; the importance of a focus for the session or cycle. When the athletes are on board with the program, they are more in tune with what is expected of them, which helps them know if and when they are ready to compete.
And so I ask the question: When is an athlete, or you, ready to compete? Our sport has a special challenge due to the underlying principles of being prepared for the unknown and unknowable. But some things are known… like that you need to be able to squat without your knees caving in or rolling forward on your toes. If these are happening in normal training sessions with little or no load, what do you think will happen once you add weight and surround yourself with thousands of people yelling and screaming for you to go faster? I’ll tell you – underperformance, and possibly injury. Coaches and athletes, lets take an honest look ourselves before stepping out no the competition floor. Competing too soon can be more detrimental that not competing at all, competing all year round isn’t good either. Taking the time to fine-tune both basic and advanced skills will not hurt you. And the good news is, there are so many competitions these days that if you miss one, there will be another good one just down the road.
Train smart. Train Consistent. Train Hard. Have Fun
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