Ben Bergeron is the owner and head coach at CrossFit New England, the team that swept the North East Regional in the team competition. Here, he discusses why team competition is becoming more popular with spectators, some secrets to the success of a team, and the community at CrossFit New England.
We've heard from some that teams are more exciting than the individuals, but others have no interest in teams. What are your thoughts on the attention the team competition gets, and why? Why do some fans love it and others don’t?
"While the Games’ stars will always be the individuals – deservingly so – I think the excitement and complexities of the team competition are bringing a lot of fans to the sport for many reasons. First, athletes from an affiliate tend to feel more pride in their team’s performance than they do from the individuals. This only makes senses as there are more team members (6 to 8 on a team vs. an individual) so the chances that your “best buddy” is competing is higher. Also, teams tend to follow the regular “class WODs” of the affiliate, while individuals are usually working on their own programming. This means the other members feel more camaraderie and closeness to those athletes.
"The second reason the team competition has gained popularity is the added component of strategy and teamwork to the workouts. While the individuals are tested in the 10 components of fitness, teams must master and excel in several more domains. Spectators are realizing that strategy and teamwork are equal footing as strength, endurance, and power. It is amazing to watch any team, in any sport, execute with precision and timing that is usually reserved for individuals.
"Lastly, I think many people are realizing the amazing fitness levels the team competitors now posses. While they are certainly below the individuals, they are not simply “good CrossFitters.” They are phenomenal specimens of human performance."
How long has CrossFit New England competed in the Affiliate Cup? How has the team competition evolved in that time? How has your team preparation changed over the years as well?
"This will be the third year that CFNE competes in the Affiliate Cup. In our first year of competition, we took 17th, after only being open as a full-time affiliate for six months. Since then, our team, our training, and the sport have changed incredibly.
"The first year, we simply took the 6 fittest individuals who didn’t qualify individually, and showed up on game day for what was a relatively easy day (at least by today’s Games). The events were: 1) Max pull-ups, plus max 3-rep overhead squat; 2) A team running relay; and 3) a station workout involving 6 standard CrossFit movements. There was little strategy involved and even less teamwork, since most of the events were based on individual performances.
"Today’s A-Cup is a whole different story, demanding competency at skilled gymnastics, heavy barbells, and a premium on team ork, strategy, and communication. At CFNE, we recognize that in the early years, the team with the 6 fittest individuals would always come out on top, but today you have to have 6 beasts that can work together seamlessly. To help train the “team” aspect of our performance we do up to 4 team/partner workouts per week. Competing on a team requires different skills than an individual and you only get better at those skills by training in that environment."
How are you choosing your roster? Is it the 6 most well rounded athletes who aren't competing as individuals, or are you looking for people who excel in certain areas?
"When choosing our team we look at a few factors. First is the overall general fitness of the athlete. We want the best all-around athletes, not specialists. We want all of our athletes to excel in every time domain and task. I believe if a general physical preparedness competition is programmed well, it should punish the specialist, even on a team basis.
"Second is how the team members mesh with each other. Are they friends? Do they like hanging out with each other? In training, we are going to be spending hours, days, weeks, and months together. The team aspect has to be there.
"Lastly, we look at balancing the team. Do we have a strong male and female runner? Do we have a male and female for a strength event? Who is our gymnastic guy/girl? We will play to strengths as much as we can without sacrificing the overall work capacity of the team."
To the casual observer, it's obvious some teams have strategies, but it might not be clear what those strategies are. Can you break down your strategies for two different Regional workouts, and how they played out? Regional Workouts 1 (row/handstand push up/row) and 4 (the 250s) are good examples.
Regional Workout 1: "This was a relatively low strategy workout, but there, we did set a few goals that helped us perform well. We knew we needed to get through the HSPU in one rotation, so we set it up so our strongest “HSPU-er” would get the most rest before having to start his set. That meant he would row first. Next we thought that there might be a chance that we could get the HSPU done without having to use the women at all, so we put our next strongest guy second. On game day, our strategy paid off. J.C. did 34 HSPU, Mat cleaned up the remaining 16, so our females could simply focus on the rowing. For the row, every athlete had a set split that they were to maintain for the first 750 meters. No sense in blowing your load in the first 400 meters when you have another 1,100 meters to go. Then the athletes were allowed to go for broke with 300 meters to go."
Regional Workout 4: "I believe this WOD came down to cycle times (how long does each rep take?) and transitions (how long does it take to move from athlete to athlete?). Basically every team could keep moving through the entire workout quickly and be competitive as long as they were moving their bodies or the load quickly, and not resting between attempts. We strategized this workout by having a set rotation, and then giving each athlete a rep scheme for every movement. For example, Derek was tasked with doing the most chest-to-bar pull ups, while Sonia was responsible for doing the most kettlebell swings. We knew that Heather, J.C., and Derek were double-under ninjas, so we told Sonia to take that station off and crush the KBS and OHS.
"On top of the prescribed reps each athlete had, we had signals and “code” words to signal transitions so teammates would be ready when it was their time to go. I believe the transitions are the most underrated aspect of team training. In this workout, there were 1,000 reps. If each team member averages 15 reps at a time, that makes for over 65 transitions. If you shave one second off every transition you are going to be over one-minute faster than the next team without getting any faster. One minute is HUGE! And this is a conservative example. Next time you watch a team compete, time how long it takes them between athletes."
Why do you think that CFNE has been so successful in team competition? What factors are most important?
"Our teams success is a result of our community. We have an amazing gym full of incredible coaches, individual competitors, masters competitors, and our team. But the gym is much more than the few that make it to the Home Depot Center. Our entire gym is filled with amazing athletes who compete with each other and themselves everyday. We had more than 220 athletes compete in the Open this year, and everyone thrives on making themselves faster, stronger, and fitter.
"We explain the importance of mental toughness, workout strategies, and upholding standards to all of our members, not just the Games athletes. We hold meetings a few times a year to discuss and educate ALL of our members on what it takes to compete in the Games season. We tell everyone that Team CFNE is not just the 6 athletes who compete at the Game – it is everyone that represents CFNE, in any competition, at any level.
"On top of that, we do a lot of mental coaching at CFNE. Inspired by Greg Amundson, we talk with our members about the importance of a strong mental approach to training and how words and thoughts can influence your performance. We don’t allow any negative words at the gym. Pre-workout, sayings like “this is going to suck,” “I hate burpees” and “5 rounds? This is going to hurt,” aren’t allowed at the gym. Instead we say things like “I am going to get fitter today,” and “I’m going to get better at burpees today.” Our athletes know that thoughts become words, words lead to actions, actions create habits, and habits determine your destiny."