January 27, 2017
Judgment Day
By Brittney Saline
How to manage judging during the Open. 
How to manage judging during the Open. 

“No rep!”

In less than a month, CrossFit athletes everywhere will echo the two most famous words of CrossFit Games judge Adrian “Boz” Bozman.

We test our fitness in the gym every day, but once a year we keep score on a worldwide whiteboard. The best advance to Regionals and eventually the CrossFit Games, but for most of us, the Open is our Games: a chance to measure our growth, see where we stack up and note what needs improvement.

But how do affiliate owners turn accountants and nurses into Bozmanites fit to scrutinize the squat?

It’s not that athletes don’t try hard in regular classes—CrossFit is not known for attracting people who give less than 100 percent—but rather that having every rep judged can alert athletes to issues they didn’t know were there. For example, Update Show host Pat Sherwood needed a check-up himself back in 2013.

“I think sometimes people don't know necessarily that they are cheating range of motion,” said Erica Folk, owner of CrossFit Warrior RX in Crystal City, Missouri.

Of course, good coaches point out movement faults every day in class, but they usually work in a group setting and don’t see every rep. But the constant eyes of a judge and five consecutive no-reps will definitely make you get below parallel during Karen.

“You get a little soft with people sometimes during classes,” said Todd Seabaugh, owner of CrossFit St. Louis in Missouri. “You say, ‘Get deeper, get deeper,’ but you don't really no-rep them in a class. But (being judged in the Open) causes them to think a little more about full range of motion in regular class, and so you see everybody step up their game in classes as well.”

It’s a lesson that benefits both the judge and the judged, said Motier Haskins, an athlete who trains at CrossFit Beyond in Albany, New York. He’s done the Open for the past three years and has been a judge for the previous two.

“I have learned a lot from being a judge,” he said. “I have had to remind and no-rep someone on movement standards, and within those moments I realize that I, myself, do the same thing.”

So how do you train a judge?

Dan Murdock, of Process CrossFit in Oneonta, New York, encourages all his athletes—whether they plan on judging or not—to take the online CrossFit Judges Course. Process is the only CrossFit affiliate in a 60-mile radius, so Murdock said the course helps his members realize they are part of something bigger and gives context to the Open.

“I like to let (members) know that our programming is part of the whole CrossFit picture, the bigger picture,” he said. “It kind of reinforces what they've learned, and they understand the standard is across all CrossFit. It's not just me being a prick.”

The course can also help athletes connect the dots between their movements and a coach’s directives, said Sean Mast, owner of Average Joe’s CrossFit in Navarre, Florida.

“Because then when we cue them on specific faults, they are better able to understand what we're cueing them for or faulting them for,” he said.

CrossFit St. Louis has sent a team to the North Central and Central Regionals every year since 2014, and for Seabaugh, the Judges Course is the best way to make sure the right athletes make the cut.

“We want to make sure that the judging is pretty pure, because you don't want somebody in the gym who really doesn't deserve to make the team ... disappoint when they get to Regionals,” he said.

To make sure all his Open judges are on the same page, Seabaugh has them take the course as a group, going through the scenarios and debating each rep until they reach a consensus.

“It’s more of an educational opportunity beyond just taking the course,” he said. “We work together and go through why this is not a rep and point out the flaws in the reps to each other so that everybody's clear on what the standards should be.”

Mast prepares his athletes to judge and be judged through a series of mock Open workouts in the weeks before the Open. Once a week, he programs partner workouts, running each class in two heats so partners can practice counting reps while also critiquing for movement standards.

But it’s one thing to understand the concept of full range of motion and another to perceive it in action. Where exactly is that hip crease? And did that chest really hit the bar? Practicing judging, Mast said, helps athletes develop an eye for the standards—and they can do a few things to make hard-to-judge movements easier to evaluate.

For example, shorter judges can stand on a box to bring their eye level up to the bar during pull-ups.

“Or with wall balls I'll just say, ‘Your head needs to go up with the ball and down to the hips,’ so they're basically doing a squat and standing up every time the athlete is,” Mast said.

So you’ve got your coaches picked and prepped. The workout’s been announced, and now you have five days to test dozens of athletes. How do you stay organized?

“It's very much controlled chaos at its best,” Mast said, laughing. At Average Joe’s CrossFit, a handful of athletes throw down each Friday during the Open for an official Friday Night Lights event. But Mast and his coaches reserve several slots throughout the weekend for athletes less inclined to perform for a crowd.

Folk, who programs the Open workouts into regular classes each Friday at CrossFit Warrior RX, requests that athletes sign up for specific time slots during class so she can ensure enough judges are present. She also offers each athlete one “free pass” valid for a custom judging time of the athlete’s preference if he or she can’t make it during a scheduled class time.

Regardless of how you schedule your Open event, the key to keeping heats running efficiently is getting your shit together beforehand.

“I print (score sheets) out on Fridays and get them organized into piles separated by age and Rx or scaled and so forth,” said Michelle Murdock, Dan’s wife. Then, before the Open event begins, the Murdocks take judges and athletes through a workout briefing, explain the scoring and rules, and demonstrate the movement standards.

At CrossFit Beyond, a head judge helps keep the competition running smoothly. The role is filled by a coach or affiliate owner, and head judges ensure standards are being met.

Judges "may be nervous,” owner Joy Smolinski said. “It’s just like anybody else. They’re nervous and they don’t want to make a mistake, or they don’t want to no-rep (an athlete) because they’re afraid to.”

The head judge at Average Joe’s CrossFit is also responsible for collecting score sheets between heats, placing them in envelopes marked for each division for easy validation come Monday night.

Most affiliate owners will tell you it’s critical to have a plan for the Open. For five weeks each year, coaches rearrange classes and volunteer extra hours to set up workouts, judge athletes and validate scores. But the work is worth it “when you see the impact that it has on your community,” Mast said.

“It really is nice to see the athlete throughout the year prepare for (the Open), because they know it's coming, so they're pushing themselves all year long, which overall is changing their health status,” he continued. “And so the Open is really just that final measure of the year to see how we've overcome or what we accomplished this year, and (seeing) the community and the athletes pushing themselves makes it worth it every time.”