"It's a very cool dynamic that we all have the ability to lead. I think that says a lot about our team--that we're made of leaders," Sam Dancer said.
The team competition of the CrossFit Games is all about leadership.
For the past two years, Hack’s Pack Ute has won the Affiliate Cup. The team is famous for its captain and namesake, Tommy Hackenbruck, who handpicked his athletes, coached them and called the shots when it was time to throw down.
But leadership looks different for each team making its way to the top.
For CrossFit Conjugate Black, the Central East’s first-place team after the 2014 Open, leadership means knowing when to take charge and when to take direction.
“We all know everyone’s abilities very well, and we appoint the main communicator as the person who feels the most comfortable with whatever the workout may be, and that changes all the time,” said team member Sam Dancer.
Whether that means taking orders from Dancer, an experienced regional competitor, or 19-year-old Hunter Britt, dubbed by Dancer the “teenage phenom,” teammates trust each other’s expertise unfailingly.
“It’s a very cool dynamic that we all have the ability to lead,” Dancer said. “I think that says a lot about our team—that we’re made of leaders."
After finishing each Open workout in the top 10, and taking first place in the first three workouts, CrossFit Conjugate Black is making a run for the podium this year—and not just the one in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“We are training as if we are going to be on that podium at the Games,” Dancer said. “There is not a single person on our team that expects anything less.”
And to get there, they believe building rapport is just as important as building strength.
“Our primary concern is developing our ability to communicate with one another,” Dancer said. “So we can trust in someone making calls, and we can know if that person were to make a call, everyone else needs to follow without question.”
Building CrossFit Conjugate Black
CrossFit Conjugate competed at regionals last year after finishing the 2013 Open in ninth place. However, they ultimately fell from the ranks after a DNF on Event 3, a seven-minute AMRAP of burpee muscle-ups.
This year, CrossFit Conjugate qualified two teams for the Central East Regional: CrossFit Conjugate Green (23rd place) and CrossFit Conjugate Black.
Before the season began, Shane and Laura Sweatt, affiliate owners and members of CrossFit’s Powerlifting Seminar Staff, set out to build a more balanced team for the Conjugate Black roster.
“We were trying to find a male and a female (who both) really excelled at gymnastics, are exceptionally strong and who can kind of do everything,” Laura said.
Four of the six CrossFit Conjugate Black teammates are new to the fold. Joining returning competitors Britt and Mark Nelson are Melissa Doss, new CrossFit Conjugate coaches Dancer and Lindsey Kelly, and Dancer’s wife, Jennifer Nobis-Dancer.
All but two athletes finished the Open in the top 48 in the region, including a top-10 finish by Dancer.
“They all have something they’re really good at, and all of them are a lot stronger than the average (CrossFit athlete),” Sweatt said. “There’s nothing any of them are lacking.”
But it’s not enough to have a team of good individual athletes; to get to the podium, a team needs to think as one mind and work as one body. With so much new blood and so little time to bond, the team had to take a crash course in trust.
It meant being willing to ask one another for help when necessary.
“It’s about vulnerability,” Nobis-Dancer said. “It’s taken hard work to let our guards and egos down. We had to learn to give each other our hearts.”
Preparing for Cincinnati
With some teammates who coach and others who work full-time jobs outside of the gym, members often train in pairs during the week, following programming written by the Sweatts and focused on building endurance.
“Even if they lost 5 percent of their strength, they’re still going to be a lot stronger than most other regional athletes,” Sweatt said.
Saturday is the sacred time for team training and building trust.
“That’s when we work on communication and teambuilding,” Sweatt said. “We work on things outside of the gym to build character. You can have six people who are studs, but if they’re selfish, it just doesn’t work.”
Soon, the team will head for the hills to get to know each other better. Retreating to the Sweatts’ mountain home, the team will chop trees and lug logs, fodder for building “weird obstacles to train with in the woods,” Britt described.
“It’s (Shane’s) idea for getting the team to work really well together, and get out of the gym but keep training,” he continued. “Just working together in an environment that’s totally different from what we’re used to.”
As the No. 1 team in the Central East, CrossFit Conjugate Black knows they’re strong, fast and agile. Rather than setting new PRs, the team’s top priority between now and regionals is staying healthy.
“A lot of people think (before) regionals is the time to hit it hard,” Nobis-Dancer said. “But you don’t want to overuse your body. They forget that you’ve been training all year for this. It’s not like you’re gonna all of the sudden get better in a month and a half.”
With just weeks remaining before the big event in Ohio, the CrossFit Conjugate Black strategy remains the same as it has been since before the Open.
“Our primary goal is to continue to get closer and build stronger relationships,” Dancer said. “We are all exactly where we need to be to do well at regionals and the Games, and we’re only going to continue to do better.”