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Are You Driven By Comparison or Quality?

With the conclusion of the 2022 quarterfinals, athletes in the sport of CrossFit (unless you have advanced to semifinals) are officially in the "transition" time of their year.

This could mean several things. For athletes who were partaking in the Open and Quarterfinals (attempting to make Semis or the Games), this is a time that you are reevaluating. This includes coaching, weaknesses, steps to take, plans for the next “season,” and perhaps planning what competitions you'll be training for before next year's season. This may also mean you're taking some time out of the gym or at least serious “training,” which is a great time for reflection.

For athletes who participated in the Open, whether it was to be apart of the community or to just have fun, you've probably continued on with your normal lives and attended your normal class workouts. You're probably happy the Open is over and excited to see what next year will bring. Some of you may pay attention to your placing within the region, state, your affiliate, or against other teachers, nurses, and firefighters. Others may have only been on the Games site long enough to submit scores, and aren’t really sure how the leaderboard even works. No matter your level of participation, let's all take a second to take pride in being a part of such an incredible, life changing program. Even if you don't participate in the Open, by being a “CrossFitter,” you're part of a culture full of people that are devoted to making their lives better. The number of charities, businesses, friendships, marriages, and occurrences of people saving their lives by choosing to be a part of this culture is astounding.

CrossFit has done wonders for the world of fitness. It's given the world the first ever measurable, observable, repeatable, and comparable fitness program. This is one of the most important claims of the program and it's made the competitive sport of CrossFit possible. This comparable nature is unique to CrossFit, as it is based on real results and measures, not opinions or judging. If it weren't for this, there would be no CrossFit Games, there would be no CrossFit Open, and CrossFit would likely not be as profoundly popular as it is today.

Although there's value in the competitive nature of the sport and training methodology of CrossFit, this also can be the root of some things that are wrong with CrossFit. Take a second and ask yourself, are you a quality driven athlete, or a comparison driven athlete?

Are you wondering, “What is the difference?” Let me expand.

Whether you're someone who advanced past the Open/ Quarterfinals, someone who wanted to advance but came up short, or you just do CrossFit to be healthier, happier, and look better naked, this self-reflection question applies to you. All too often in the affiliates, I hear people discussing their times, scores, weights, standings, who beat who, and what could have been done differently to get a better score. People tend to get caught up in the comparative nature of the event. This is troubling for several reasons. First, this could mean that, even if maximum effort was not given or technical standards were not upheld, athletes may take pride in their performance. Be it because their name is at the top of the gym's leaderboard app, or they were done before the rest of the class and got to put their equipment away first. One of my favorite athletes of all time, Steve Prefontaine (Olympic long distance runner in the 60’s and 70’s) often discussed how troubling it was to him that someone could win a race despite not having given their best effort. His mentality was that the quality of race and effort given forth was ultimately more valuable than who won the race. (Side note: he won a lot of races, often in a dominating fashion with unnecessarily large leads over his opponents).

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. ”

— Steve Prefontaine

Inversely, another concern with excessive attention being put into the results of a workout is that people could give their best effort and have a huge breakthrough in what they thought they were capable of. Yet, they may feel no pride in their performance because they had the worst score in the class. I often hear this dialogue:

“Great job on that workout!”

“Oh please! I was struggling. I was the last one done.”

This is subtle, but it shows that the value is being placed in the result and not the effort. This is all too often the general mindset at affiliates. We have gotten away from the barebones, grinding garage gym mentality, and put too much stock into how well we place in a workout.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

— Jonathan L.

This is even seen in high-level, competitive CrossFitters. Athletes “leaderboard” throughout the Open/Quarterfinals to help them decide if they should continue trying to improve their times or scores. This essentially means one of two things: 1. You didn’t give your best effort on your first attempt or 2. You think seeing another person’s score is going to allow you to magically improve your fitness and get a better score. But if you are focused on effort and quality from the beginning, you can take comfort in a single maximal effort, knowing and trusting that you could not have performed any better than you did.

A quality driven athlete has developed the self awareness to gauge the value of a training session or workout independent of a comparative result. Being quality-driven allows for an athlete to gain more knowledge from their training and develop measures of their performance that cannot be seen on a leaderboard. A quality-driven mindset can allow for an athlete to find the benefits in any workout, even if they didn't place well compared to others. The qualitative measures can be found in effort and intensity. This is despite whether or not a pace or plan was carried out successfully, if movement quality was maintained while under fatigue, how breathing was effected or controlled, and an overall self-analysis of how the training session “felt.”

The caveat is that an athlete who is driven by quality and effort may have disappointment in a workout, despite having placed well relative to the “competition.” This may initially seem like a negative quality, but in fact, this is a virtuous way to operate.

Isn’t virtuosity one of the qualities our culture is built around?

These quality-driven athletes are so self-aware, they even know when they could have done better after a victory. This allows for lessons to be learned and applied to future training, regardless of how the performance was in comparison to others. For example, following a victorious effort (relative to the athlete’s goals) in 22.3, a quality driven athlete might say “My breathing was a little out of control during the chest-to-bar pull-ups and bar muscle-ups, so that is something I need to address and try to improve on.” Many think that, to be successful in this sport, you have to have an elite ability to “turn your brain off.”

However, I think that elite self-awareness is far more valuable.

I challenge you over your next few weeks of training, or even the next year, to be conscious of these changes in mentality and perspective. Think about what it is that drives you. How do you measure or gauge the value of a training session? What does it mean to be successful in your workouts? Challenge yourself to be more self-aware and in-tune with your training. Seek optimal performance relative to your capacity, rather than your opponent. Remember, we have no control over what someone else does, but we can always control our own effort.

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