How to Compete
-by Rachel Binette
What we all love about sport is that it allows the best in humanity to shine: good competitors display dedication, mental fortitude, execution of a plan, teamwork, humility, sportsmanship, and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to achieve snatch PRs, touchdowns, and gold medals. The act of striving towards greater human achievement is why I love competition, whether it’s CrossFit, football, the Olympics, or swimming.
I didn’t always love competition. In fact, as a competitive swimmer, I hated it. I was always nervous, terrified of being embarrassed, and I hated the idea of trying to be better than other people. I was never coached into a growth mindset–to me, doing poorly meant I was bad at swimming and could never be good at it, and I was convinced that I was being judged harshly at all times. What I wish I knew then is what I know now: how to compete.
Whether you are like younger me and think that you don’t have the personal attributes necessary for competition, or you love to compete but you find that you get nervous under pressure and sabotage your performance, practicing how to compete will help.
1) Don’t try. Whether you realized it or not, you’ve been training for this competition since you started CrossFit. You’ve laid the pipe. Every competition is all about letting your abilities flow.
“Trying” causes our muscles to tense up and our brains to become over-active. Many movements in CrossFit require a high level of technique. The time to focus on technique and the time to try hard is during training. During competition, just be. Relax. Stay loose. Smile and take deep breaths. Get your game face on. Composure is your best ally.
2) Make adrenaline your friend. Feeling nervous is just your adrenaline, and adrenaline makes us better–higher heart rates are getting blood to our muscles faster, priming us for action. Breathing faster is getting more oxygen to our cells. Stay relaxed as you feel that nervous excitement!
3) Avoid the temptation to look at the leaderboard. In the Open, every workout gets our full effort. Where we place only matters during the competition if we are shooting for Regionals or the Games (and even then we shouldn’t be checking the leaderboard). Know what your best effort feels like and give it.
After the competition is when we look at the leaderboard. Are we consistent across the board in our placings, or do we have definite strengths and weaknesses? From personal experience, what we perceive to be our weaknesses and strengths are not always correct. Here’s my example: I know that my push-ups are a weakness and I know that I’m good at barbell cycling. At the Southie Showdown, I expected to place low in a workout that had push-ups in it and higher in a Clean and Jerk ladder. Opposite! Compared to my peers, my push-ups were good enough to get me the highest placing I had all weekend, while I was squarely middle-of-the-road at the Clean and Jerk ladder. This is critical information for me. Without that competition experience, I would have worked on push-ups these past months, but instead, I knew to focus on completely different aspects of fitness that are better serving me now.
4) Focus on what you can control. What are the things that we can control during competition? How well we warm up, how much we prepare our minds and bodies (with food, sleep, visualization, etc.) for the competition, how we communicate with our judges, and what we decide to focus on are all under our control.
What we can’t control is anyone else’s performance, the standards for range of motion, the weather, the type of barbell or rig set-up in our lane, or the workouts that are chosen. It takes practice, but learning to put “Uncontrollables” out of our minds during competition gets us to a more positive and proactive place.
In the case of pre-competition nerves that are distracting, try these 8 techniques for loosening up and re-focusing.
5) Have a goldfish memory. Good competitors forget their mistakes and failures quickly, like a goldfish. In competition, just as in life, things do not go according to plan. The ability to rebound from failure and mistakes, to not allow them to become our identity, requires practice. Look forward, not backward.
And remind yourself of this: we root more for the person who fell down and picked themselves back up than for the person who never tried, right? Be that inspiration to someone else.
6) Maintain perspective before, during, and after competition. Competition is low-stakes practice at staying composed under pressure. By low-stakes I mean that no one is going to die if they finish last at the Open. Our families and friends will still love and value us, our bosses are not going to fire us, and we won’t have to sacrifice family pets as punishment for doing worse than we thought we should. No one cares about how we do, except for us.
Competing is FUN. We get to hang out with other people who like to do CrossFit, listen to great music, and we give ourselves something interesting to talk about.
“What did you do this weekend?”
“A CrossFit competition.”
Competing is a challenge, but it is just one thing that we do that is challenging. Smile while you work.
The act of striving towards greater human achievement is why I love competition. You may be a beginning CrossFitter with no aspirations to achieve elite levels of fitness, but I still believe that competition brings out the best in you: dedication, mental fortitude, execution of a plan, teamwork, humility, sportsmanship, and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I believe in you, and that you are capable of far more than you think you are. My job as a coach is to push you a little outside of your comfort zone–that is what achieves the results you want and is what transforms us into being the best that we can possibly be. Only through challenge can we change. If you are satisfied with your fitness, then put competing out of your mind. But if you dream of getting better at CrossFit, want to improve your confidence and self-esteem, and like to learn new, surprising things about yourself, then competition is for you.
Ready to try a competition? How about the most accessible one out there, the CrossFit Games Open? Learn more and register at games.crossfit.com or ask a coach about our Intramural Open!