We returned late last night from our trip to Richardson, TX, where we pulled off three nutrition workshops in two different locations. We first visited John Marshall and his crew over at CrossFit Richardson, and then talked to two different groups at Becky Strahan’s The Mat Yoga Studio.
The yoga workshops we conducted were by far the most challenging. Enter almost any CrossFit gym and you’ll find that, “grains, soy and beans aren’t actually healthy” is pretty old news. To a group of yogis, however, that is essentially brand new – and terrifying - information. Becky sent us a note a few weeks prior to the workshop, asking us to approach this issue with sensitivity. She wrote, “A few of my instructors are vegetarian and have talked to nutritionists who basically told them the vegetarian choice is wrong. They felt their choices weren’t honored in any way, and were pretty offended. For those whose vegetarian lifestyle is non-negotiable, will you be able to talk about to how to make healthier choices within those constraints?”
Trying to present our material in a manner that was gentle yet effective was a challenge we took very seriously, and undertook carefully. Our efforts to prepare for those discussions reminded me of an article we first published in February 2009, on the Urban Gets Diesel blog. It was written by our good friend Lu Crenshaw, owner of CrossFit Allegiance in Medford, Oregon. Lu writes about the importance of coaching with empathy – a method we certainly had to employ when “coaching” our workshop material at The Mat this weekend.
Read on to enjoy a different side of CrossFit and coaching, thanks to Lu’s unique perspective.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” - John Maxwell
As a former Division 1 soccer player turned CrossFit coach, I have found that empathy and understanding are my biggest challenges. I am used to digging deep and busting my butt every WOD because of who I am. Because of this, I hold a very high standard for others, and expect the same from them. This is not necessarily a bad thing – my high standards and expectations usually drive good results for my clients. However, I have found that when I temper these standards and expectations with empathy, I can drive my clients to perform truly great achievements.
Most clients are reluctant to even walk through our doors. They’ve got plenty of reasons why it took them so long to come in. FEAR is really and truly the underlying factor. New clients are scared. Stepping into a CrossFit box is a whole different world, and they are usually grossly unprepared for what we are about to ask of them. CrossFit is physically demanding, but even more than that, it is a mental battle each and every minute. We have to teach them to win that battle, to dig deep and find the potential they never knew existed. In many, this is mental, emotional and physical strength that has been dormant far too long.
This process also requires a client’s vulnerability, and trust. Clients need to know they can let their walls down and allow their insecurities to emerge without the fear of rejection. They need to know that failure is okay – in fact, that failure is an important part of the process. And if they fail, they need to be confident that we will be there to push them through… whether that be encouraging them with, “You’ve got this, I know you do”… or telling them to get up, stop being a (insert motivational insult here) and PICK UP THE BAR. Both of which, of course, I would say in the most loving and empathetic of tones. They need us to be tough, but we need to know who our client is and how far we can push them. How deep is their deep… how intense is their intense?
Our clients desire our approval and need to know that we are proud of them and the effort they exert. This is manifested in a different way for each client – and that is where a coach’s empathy comes into play. Clients need to feel safe both physically and emotionally; but they also need us to bring out the best in them, through any means necessary. The Firebreather doesn’t need us in the same way as the insecure, weak, over-stressed “desk jockey” (who drinks too many venti caramel frappaccinos, extra caramel, hold the whipped cream). The Firebreathers already know what is inside them – they just need us to DEMAND it of them. The Desk Jockey, however, doesn’t understand CrossFit. He needs us to teach him what “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity” is truly all about – and what it can do to change his life.
CrossFit is a unique program, in which you can take many generations (grandparents, mothers and fathers, young adults, teenagers and pre-teens) and have them all do the exact same WOD. But we as coaches must understand that they are all at a different place in their fitness levels and in their lives. Through our coaching, each one will find something new, inspiring, even life-changing within themselves. Whether they remember what it was like to be fit somewhere in their past, or discover new potential to be powerful, or see an improved quality of day-to-day existence through fitness, it is our job as a coach to bring that out in all of them, while bringing them all together.
I challenge you to find empathy in your own coaching – the kind of empathy that takes you AND your clients from good to truly great.
Lucianne “Lu” Crenshaw is the owner of CrossFit Allegiance, in Medford, OR. Lu has a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology, and is a former D1 soccer player. She is a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, and is certified in Barbell, Gymnastics, Running/Endurance and Science of Exercise.