Can You Make The Games?

Can You Make The Games?
(And an Argument for Everyone Training The Sport of CrossFit)

The popular and unspoken notion in CrossFit when we talk about The Open is that since you are doing the same workouts alongsides the Fronings, Briggs etc. of the world that it’s so egalitarian everyone has a fair shot of making The Games. CrossFit thrives on this belief.

Alas, it’s not true. Only a very, very small percentage of people taking part in a sport, even one that forges elite fitness, can be elite. At the 2013 Games, only .7% of The Open competitors made The Games. This number will only get smaller. If you look at High School Football, only about 3-4% of them play in college, and then 7% of those that make it to Senior College Football get selected for the draft.

There’s so many factors at play that determine if you can make The Games, or any “serious” level of competition. Your genetics (read The Sports Gene by the way, it’s excellent), cultural and familial exposure/emphasis on sports, coaches, economics, luck etc. all play a huge part in how far you’ll develop. However, the principles of maximising your potential and the fundamentals of a sport remain the same regardless of level.

In soccer, you need to have “off field” attributes, like speed, stamina, agility, etc. and “on field” skills like passing, shooting, tackling, and then there’s strategic and tactical skills of reading the game, pacing, etc. The principles of maximising your strength and conditioning as defined by CrossFit are the same too.

The difference between levels will come down to  the volume, entry point, and loading differ. I didn’t include ‘intensity’ here because intensity has become to mean either rate of perceived exertion (RPE), or percentage of maximum output, not absolute total power output. Which by its definition anyone and everyone can and does train with intensity if they’re training the sport correctly. Entry point here refers to what’s a bare minimum level of competence to qualify for a certain level. This is harder to define in team field sports than say track and field sports.

In CrossFit, the line between off-field and on-field attributes/skills is blurred, if it exists at all. Olympic Weightlifting is arguably the most useful in terms of development of both skill sets, and is the most tested part of the sport. You can trawl through this blog if you haven’t already for proof. Regardless of ambition or ability, these movements practiced and trained correctly will allow the practitioner to make the most progress across most areas for the longest time. I’m not saying these exclusively, as the gymnastic component (“basic” push/pull) needs to be addressed also, alongside cardiorespiratory ability.

CrossFit also has “on field” skills – Muscle Ups, HSPU, Double Unders, Rope Climbs. These form the entry point for what is by and large considered competitive CrossFit. They’re often a barrier to entry.

The argument should be made that access to train these, in whatever limited form, shouldn’t be left exclusively to those that are involved in the higher levels of the sport. This is personal/moral argument rather than a factual one.

Plus one needs to consider that these form the aspiration part of the activity, presenting a challenge that is itself the enjoyable part of taking part. Developing mastery over these activities keeps people motivated and involved rather than just doing it “for health’s sake”, as this quickly becomes route, and ultimately boring. It’s the same as the globo-gyms we’ve all abandoned, just now with functional movements. Practicing and learning ‘higher’ level movements cements and develops the ‘lower’ level movements.

Playing the sport ‘recreationally’, and by that we mean random, haphazard and/or low skill work, may be enjoyable up to a point, but it’s restrictive and more prone to lead to injury, imbalance and ennui.

Consider the local pick up game of 5-a-side soccer. Players involved in that are limited purely to their peer group, and a very narrow skill and ability range. Anyone who is too fit or unfit will not derive any enjoyment from it, and are limited in their growth. I’d wager, based on anecdotal evidence, that these games have a higher drop out rate and injury rate than organised sporting endeavours with training  and competition. Evidence suggests that while we may want free unstructured time, we’re happier when we’re engaged in work or a challenge that requires more effort and development. Simply, one feels better after being pushed outside their comfort zone and expanding their abilities, even if it is frustrating at the time.

Where’s the avenue for competition then for those who won’t make Regionals or The Games? One on hand it can be deemed completely unnecessary, provided you’re following a structured, progressive approach. You don’t need it as test (1RM) and comparison days (repeating benchmarks) provide a necessary opportunity to display your improvements and comparison amongst peers. While I’m in the habit of recommending things, read Top Dog on the benefits of competition.

Secondly as there’s now different tiered competitions. You have in house events, local throwdowns, competition aimed at first time/novice athletes, larger competitions with qualifiers like The Battle of London, and The Open.

Long term, there’s an awesome opportunity for CrossFit to sanction and develop a tiered official season. Sure, give everyone their opportunity in The Open, but a Division I, II, III Regionals and National Level Only competitions would give a much clearer ranking to the sport. The community and scope of CrossFit could support it too.

So everyone does The Open in February. Top 50 go to Regionals I and can vie for a spot at The Games. 51-100 take part in Division II Wednesday and Thursday and Division III athletes compete Monday & Tuesday. The fanaticism of this sport means that you’d have people volunteering for the full week, athletes from lower Divisions would probably want to stick around to spectate or judge at Regionals I.

The other option is to host The Open in November, with The Open only qualifying you for Nationals. Nationals are held in December and then you’ve enough downtime before Regionals in May. This elongates the season but should still allow for seasonal programming of training.

Either way, it’ll be fun to see how the movement and sport progresses over the next few years.

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