Team World's coach reveals the strategies that helped his squad win the CrossFit Invitational.
On Oct. 26 in Berlin, Team World defeated Team USA 24-19 to win the CrossFit Invitational.
The winning side was made up of Sam Briggs (United Kingdom), Frederik Aegidius (Denmark), Chad Mackay and Kara Webb (Australia), and Albert-Dominic Larouche and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (Canada). Its coach was Mads Jacobsen, a Dane who lives in Stockholm, Sweden.
Earlier in 2013, Jacobsen’s affiliate, CrossFit Nordic, won the Europe Regional and finished ninth at the CrossFit Games.
On Oct. 30, Jacobsen shared some of the planning that went into winning an event in which Team World faced five of six podium finishers from the Games and was considered an underdog. Jacobsen, of course, knew his team had a shot all along.
CrossFit: Before the competition, and before the events were announced, how would you have rated your chances of winning?
Mads Jacobsen: To be honest, we thought they were 50-50 just because we hadn’t seen the workouts. And one of the experiences we had from Team Nordic at the Games this year was that as individual athletes we were a lot weaker than a lot of the other teams, so we kind of felt like if we can come together as a team, we’ve got a 50-50 chance of winning this.
CF: What else did you learn from having a team at the Games this year?
MJ: Basically that communication within the team … really is such a decider.
CF: When the events came out, what were your thoughts?
MJ: The immediate thoughts were that I thought they looked good for us. We were all surprised at the weights—heavy weights. But then again, when we started adding it up and feeling the weights the next day in training, it was like, “Well, this is all right.” The most important thought we had was … (on) the clean ladder. It’s like, “Well, how are they going to stack their team, and how do we—what do we do? Do we try to match their strengths for the 4 points or do we just go for the 3 and the 2?”
CF: If the clean ladder looked like a tough one, was there an event that made you think, “This is ours to take”?
MJ: The last event, definitely. I had some experience from the Worm at the Games this year … so I felt like this could be ours because there’s so many points where you need to stop. I mean, in the handstand walk, it’s not often that you get six people who can do the entire handstand walk all by themselves. Somebody has to stop, so it’s like, “How do we communicate that to everyone else? Who do we let go first and so on and so forth?” So it felt like that was definitely the one where we had a chance.
CF: Luckily, that one that was worth 7 points. Did you strategize backward from that and try to stay within 6 and try and take the last event?
MJ: No. We agreed right away that we’re going to fight for every single workout. … It was all about going full throttle all the way. But it did give us a bit of comfort to know that if we got to the last workout and it was all up to that workout, we’d be in a good place.
CF: Did the order of finish in Event 1, Jackie, surprise you?
MJ: I can’t say I was surprised because I really didn’t have any anticipation toward it because I didn’t know how the American team was stacked. Our thought was basically this: our girls are pretty fast (and) have pretty fast Jackie times, so if we can get a bit of a buffer and the guys can not lose too much compared to the American athletes or the American team, we’d be good to go.
CF: Did you ask your ladies to go out a little harder than they normally would?
MJ: Oh, I definitely think so. Absolutely, I think so.
CF: Tell us about your training sessions before you knew the events and what you emphasized after you knew the events.
MJ: Prior to knowing the events it was all about our communication and transitions. We tried to come up with workouts that would challenge the team to know when to rotate, how to rotate, handing over weights, and so on and so forth, so we get to know each other a little bit during workouts where you need to work together as a team. So that was basically the prime focus before knowing the workouts. After we found out the workouts it was more like testing it. It was more like, “Well, how do we hand over the overhead squat?” for example. “How do we transition over the box? How about on the deadlifts? How many deadlifts can we do?” It was more like feeling out the workouts and finding out, “How do we communicate this? How do we change on the bar? How do we rotate?”
CF: Who was put in charge of the communication generally?
MJ: Sam was generally the one in charge on the girls’ side … . And then on the guys’ side, it was different from workout to workout, whether it was Chad or if it was Frederik. But one of the things we talked about was that there will be a louder voice than anybody else, but at the same time we need to be kind of fluid enough to change if ... somebody gets really tired, gets slightly injured or something like that. We need to be able to listen to somebody else, as well. … You saw that with Sam on the deadlifts. Kara got on the deadlifts, had a couple of lifts, (and) her grip was really fried from the box-overs, and so Sam just steps in and grabs it again. That could have been any one of those girls. There was no hesitation from Kara to just take a step back.
CF: How did you choose your pairs in the clean event?
MJ: What we did was we said, “Who would be our strongest lifters?” And it was Chad and Kara, and then we tried to stack them in the 3-point slot because we had a feeling the strongest lifters would be in the 4-point slot for Team USA.
CF: When you saw Rich Froning go out to the 4-point bracket, did you get the feeling you had made a good decision?
MJ: Oh absolutely. I was definitely happy to see that because it was a gamble. It could have gone horribly wrong.
CF: You made up a lot of ground on the Worm in Event 5. Tell us about the strategy on the log.
MJ: One of the experiences we had from the Games was that if you have a big guy in front, the pairings in the Worm don’t matter as much as the communication does … . As we practiced on the Worm, we saw that everybody was pretty much in unison and they worked beautifully as a team.
CF: You almost managed to do all three sets of 20 without putting the log down. Was the plan to go 60 reps unbroken?
MJ: I think the mindset coming in was that, “We’re going to go for 60—we’re going to try to do this.”
CF: What was the strategy with Sam doing smaller sets on the overhead squats in Event 2?
MJ: It’s one of the things that we talked a little about, especially the girls got together as a group and just talked about it. It’s like, “Well, if Kara and Camille, who are fantastic overhead squatters, if they feel like they’ve got enough gas in the tank, let’s try to save some out of Sam so she can go heavier or harder on the deadlifts. We don’t want to wear anybody out.” That was one of the great things we had was we all sat down as a team and then brought whatever we could to the table, and one of the things was just that: Kara’s strong overhead, and Camille’s also got a great overhead squat, so if they felt like they could carry it, let them do it.
CF: How did you pick the order in the lunges in the final event?
MJ: We all sat down and discussed it and, you know, at first we thought, “Let’s try to get the strongest athletes out there first so they won’t have to be stopped by somebody who’s slower. But at the same time, you don’t want to have one person out there on their own and everybody else is done. They’re just going to get stressed out, which would be even worse. … Chad is strong in the overhead walks, so (it was important) to have him be the last one, and then (we made) sure that some of the other women who are able to finish that overhead walk fairly fast got out first. That was all up to the team really. We had a plan of making sure that Chad was last, and then Kara would go first, but it was one of the things again that on the fly—depending on how people felt after the workouts because the rest was just so short—they could change that any which way they wanted.
CF: Did any strategy get altered because the rest was so short between events?
CF: Is there anything you felt like you had done wrong or any place where you felt like you made a mistake?
MJ: Not really. The reason I think so is because we had an idea that we went for, and we had a plan that we thought would be able to give us the opportunity to perform at the best of our abilities. And I’d say the core of that plan was to enable everybody to change on the fly in case anything changed because these athletes are so seasoned. They know exactly how they feel and what they’ve got. Do they have another repetition or not?
CF: After this experience, what advice would you give to affiliate coaches who are training for Regionals and the Games next year in team competition?
MJ: I would recommend that of course they need to have strong raw material, like strong athletes altogether, but more than anything else, I think what they need to do is make sure that, as a team, these people come together, that there is no dominant force who takes over and everybody else just jumps in line. The thing with (Team World) that was so magical was that everybody brought something to the table. Nobody just sat back and just enjoyed the ride. Everybody was there to share knowledge from before, to share experiences from before, and in a team you need to find that harmony between the athletes. Now they need to be great athletes, absolutely, but without communication within the team, and that fluidness as a team to be able to change and trust each other to let them change, you’re not going to get anywhere. Because it’s going to happen: somebody’s going to cramp up during competition, somebody’s going to lose a rep, and you just need somebody to step in without stomping on anybody’s feet or anybody (saying), “Oh, but the plan was this and that,” so that everybody is aware—acutely aware all the time—of what the team needs and not what the individual needs. I think that’s the trick with this team.