Every Friday night, my friends and I get together and work out. For five weeks out of the year, we get to call it the Open.
It’s better than the CrossFit Games in our own backyard.
Four years ago when the Open launched we didn’t know what to expect. “Dave Castro is crazy if he thinks this thing will take off,” I thought the day I heard about it. As I was validating 70 scores after snatches and doubles-unders in Open Workout 11.1, I thought Castro was a genius.
Vicki, a spry redheaded Masters athlete at Practice CrossFit, introduced me to her husband that first night. At the time, she’d been doing CrossFit for more than a year and he supported her, but never actually watched her. When the clock ran out, she hit the floor exhausted and her husband teared up. He told me later that he knew what we did was hard, but not like this.
Most of the time, I’m not delusional. I know I’ll never make it to Regionals or the CrossFit Games. Most of the athletes I train won’t either. But after that first Open workout, after I saw Vicki’s husband cry, teenagers judge for their parents and veterans cheer for rookies, I didn’t care. The Open, for my affiliate and me, wasn’t just about making it to the next stage of the Games season. It wasn’t about building an ego or having one torn down either. It was about confidence.
In the end, that's what CrossFit is about: the confidence to compete regardless of the outcome. If this is your first Open or you just want to make it a little more memorable, here are some things to think about to make five weeks last a lifetime.
Garage CrossFit Athletes
I meet new CrossFitters every week of the Open. Some come from miles away, while others come from a garage down the block. Maybe they can’t afford to work out at an affiliate or maybe they don’t care for crowds, but they love the sport all the same.
Garage CrossFit athletes work out like bulls with their balls in a sling. As soon as the gate opens, it's all heart and nothing else.
Most of these athletes don’t have Level 1 Certificates, and the last coach they had was in little league. CrossFit.com provides great material, but there’s no substitute for an experienced trainer standing three feet away. The Open is a rare opportunity for me to give the lone garage CrossFit athletes the one thing they miss: feedback.
A judge doesn’t need to grade movement like a psychotic teacher with a fetish for red pens and frowning faces. They just have to count, or not count, reps.
One hundred and fifty wall-ball shots suck. Somehow, it sucks less when your judge is standing next to the wall with you. Maybe you’ve trained with that person before, or not, but now they’re fully vested in you and your performance. Best of all, you’ll turn around and do the same for them.
Judging may not quite be like training an athlete, but it’s just as personal and rewarding. We encourage all of our athletes to take the Judges Course, and a week before the Open we let first-time judges practice by judging another member on the workout. It helps first timers evaluate whether they can judge to the standards, and it gets the kinks and nerves out before the Open begins.
Taking the time to teach members what good movement looks like, instead of just handing them a clipboard on game day, pays off even after the Open is over.
It’s a rule at my box—I go in the first heat. Afterward, I’m free to introduce myself to the hoards of people who come to watch their friends. For a minute, I feel like a sweaty president kissing babies, but then I see the genuine amazement in their eyes while they watch athletes tackling a version of the same workout. The same childlike gaze I have when I watch the Games. At first, they’re quietly supporting a loved one. By the end of the night, they're screaming as loud as anyone else.
This year, we have bleachers ordered and coffee sponsors. We want them comfortable and caffeinated. They will say things like, “I could never do that.” But if I’m honest, I say that when I watch Rich Froning. Later, when they see one of our scaled athletes trade heavy bumpers for a bare barbell, they’ll change their tune from, “Never,” to “Maybe.”
Having an athlete staged at the door welcoming newcomers, preferably someone who doesn’t regularly coach classes and remembers how it feels to walk into a CrossFit box for the first time, makes anyone who comes in feel like family. CrossFit isn’t intimidating, people are. If the first thing someone sees is a genuine smile, they will drop their guard.
The Open is an expression of the training we do everyday. There isn’t a better example of CrossFit to show the uninitiated than athletes of all levels moving to the best of their ability on the same competition floor.
Many of my athletes will scale the Open workouts. To me, that says I’ve done my job as an affiliate owner, as a CrossFit athlete and as a friend.
Competing, even when you might not be able to win or keep up, tells me you get what CrossFit is about. And in some small way I’ve helped you discover your potential. The mettle that makes you meet challenges, not run from them.
Before each class we talk about the Open. Sometimes we ask if they feel ready, or whether they’ve registered. Other times we ask them how they’ll feel if 7 minutes of burpees—or some cruel iteration—comes up in 2014, or what they think 14.1 will be.
If an athlete is sheepish, we wait until everything dies down and we approach her individually. We don’t force the Open on anyone, but we ensure every athlete knows she has what it takes to play. We’ll be right there like any other day.
We didn’t start special Open programming months ago. We just did what we do everyday: CrossFit. And just like any other workout, our athletes know their limits.
Will they stare at a bar too heavy during 14.1? No, because they wouldn’t do that any other time.
Will they crumble over pistols when they struggle with an air squat? No. They'll scale and play the game just like we’ve taught them.
Will they feel defeated because they can't do exactly what Games.CrossFit.com reads? Of course not. Our athletes know CrossFit is about giving what you have to give, and then cheering for others doing the same.
The Open isn’t just for the cool kids or the athletes with a bodyweight snatch and triple-unders -- that’s Regionals and the Games. The Open is a dinner you don’t need a reservation for.
Come as you are. Compete with your crew. Stay to cheer.
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