An Argument for the necessity of the CrossFit games by Mark Plavcan

If you follow CrossFit, and even if you don’t, you may have noticed a lot of discussion revolving around the CrossFit Games.   Yes there are lots of different views about the CrossFit games and what they mean to those who practice the sport, as well as those who are just spectators.  But recently views from inside of CrossFit headquarters have shown a light on what might only be referred to as a love – hate relationship with the games as well their effect on the public’s interpretation of what CrossFit is.  Full disclosure, as not only a Madison resident, but also the Owner of CrossFit Mata Leao, I absolutely love having the Games here in Madison, Wisconsin.  The energy that comes to town once a year is nothing short of amazing.  I wish you could bottle it up and have it the other 51 weeks out of the year.   That said, I fully see why this discussion is taking place and think I have a perspective that might help even it out for our readers.

To catch you up on the conversation, there is basically a split where some in the CrossFit leadership seem to believe there is too much focus on the games and the athletes, and that it is changing the perception that CrossFit is for everyone.  Others see the games as the showcase for the highest level of CrossFit and the end result of the hard work we have all come to know and love from our Daily CrossFit WODs!

I have a unique perspective on this that I believe can help the two sides see eye to eye a little more and hopefully help reshape the way many look at CrossFit.  I am a Black Belt in BJJ or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  It is my first love and passion.  It is also directly responsible for me becoming involved with CrossFit.  Early on in the history of CrossFit, before there were boxes though out the country to choose from, CrossFit was a website and the seeds of the movement it is today.  Being involved with BJJ and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) My wife Sonya and I were always looking for way to get in better physical shape.  CrossFit caught our eye because a few fighters at the time, were murmuring about CrossFit and it being prefect for combative athletes.  The most infamous being B.J. Penn, the one responsible for the name of the WOD we all now love, known as “Fight Gone Bad”.  Years later, CrossFit has become a staple for many combative athletes as a core part of their training regiment.   But, I digress!

BJJ has a lot of similarities to CrossFit when it comes to culture and Community.  We both get into our local training areas to Sweat, Work Hard, Adapt, Overcome, and Hopefully Triumph.  We succeed and fail with our friends by our sides and it strengthens the bonds among us.   But it definitely goes further than that.  With in BJJ there are many levels.  Not just belt levels mind you, although we do have those, but more so the levels at which one wishes to participate in the Sport.  Like CrossFit, there are competitors, those seeking to win championships!  And much like CrossFit, that DOES NOT make up a majority of the people who train BJJ.  CrossFit shouldn’t and doesn’t cater to those who can only place in a competition.  Neither does BJJ.  Were I only to teach to those who wish to be champions in my sport, I would have very small classes.  But worse than that, I would be sending the wrong message.  See with both BJJ and CrossFit, I do believe that ANYONE can do it.   And they should all be able to do it in the same place.

So what is the answer?  Well First, I believe that CrossFit needs the Games.  It creates an awareness of CrossFit that really didn’t exist before the Games were popular and it shines a light on what the human body is capable of.  People within the CrossFit community look forward to the CrossFit games every year, just like we look forward to the BJJ World Championships in the BJJ community.   It creates conversations and speculations on what will happen, who will win, what the surprises will be.  But most of all, it motivates us to get off our butts and train.  There is something about watching the human body perform at a level most of us are not and most likely will never reach, that motivates us to do better.  What we need to understand is that it is always OK to look at that upper 1% and appreciate what they do, we just need to make sure we don’t hold the other 99 percent to that same standard.  I once had one of my Professors in BJJ tell me that if he held everyone to the standard of his best black belt, he would only have 1 black belt.  That made a lot of sense.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t work to be the best Black Belt that I CAN BE.  After all, isn’t this all about self improvement?  So if we expect everyone who walks in our Box to perform like Mat Fraser, we would have a community of ZERO.

So where do we go from here?  First, we need to realize we need the Frasers and the Toomeys to remind us that humans are capable of amazing things.  We need to see them compete, and go head to head with the best in the world, to remind ourselves that we can always work harder.  But when we go back to our boxes we have to strap on a realistic view for our coaching.   The 70 year old that will probably never do a Clean and Jerk, still doesn’t need to try to live up to Fraser.  That 70 Year Old needs to be coached to be 1% better tomorrow than they were today, with in whatever limitations they might have.  In my BJJ Academy, we have people who are young and old, big and small, male and female and they all get on the same mats together and work hard.  It is my job as the coach to make sure they realize they are only ever in competition with themselves and that their goal is still to improve a little each day.  We have World Champions on our team and we have Mothers with 3 kids and a part time job, and many days they even train with each other.  Everyone works together for a common goal, that EVERYONE improves EVERYDAY!

I doubt it is lost on many of these Games athletes, that they have changed lives.  I know they have changed mine.  I am one of many.  But it is because of the games that we get new people into our boxes every year.  Some young, some old, some vying to be the next Rich Froning, some just need to lose a few lbs.  It is our job to make sure we understand that everyone is different and just because someone out there is doing super human feats of strength, doesn’t mean that we can’t help someone learn how to pick their keys up of the ground without throwing their back out.

My argument is simple.  CrossFit needs the games, but the games are not the be all, end all of CrossFit. If we take our jobs as coaches and Box owners seriously, we will remember it is our job to educate our community as to why we can always coexist together and that in itself is what makes the CrossFit community so great!

Mark Plavcan is the Co-Owner of CrossFit Mata Leao and Twisted Fitness Gym.

He is CFL1, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, and has over 20 years in the fitness industry.