BLUF – The barbell does not care about your rank, and neither should your athletes. Similar to leadership positions in a squadron, a CrossFit Military Affiliate Trainer is an effective leader because athletes want to follow them, not because they have to.
*Photos within this article were taken when I first opened CrossFit Holloman. Man, I had a lot less tattoos then.
The coaching staff at Non-profit Military Affiliates within CrossFit come from a different angle compared to staff at For-profit affiliates. This staff is 100% voluntary with their time and energy, and if they are lucky they might get their training paid for by their unit (if you were lucky enough to be in 673d Communications Squadron when I was Commander, you did!). However, just because you have a Level 1 doesn’t mean you have the right mix of leadership and experience to lead a class and build an effective community at the same time. Here are three traits that all athletes want from their Military Affiliate coaching staff:
Leave your ego, and your rank, at the door. While it can be awkward for some, I highly recommend leaving rank at the door when you are at a Military Affiliate (or any affiliate). I’ll caveat that I’m usually on the higher side of the rank relationship with an athlete, and I personally let them know that it is ok for them to address me by my first name…in the box only. Never assume this type of communication is ok; the higher ranking individual must make it known up front that customs and courtesies can be a bit relaxed when in class. Within the training environment of the box, only the roles of trainer and athlete should be respected to deliver optimized performance and deliberate safety. A “Sir” or “Ma’am” might be used out of habit, but your job as the trainer is not to exert any perceived level of dominance over your athletes, either continued from your existing rank (if you’re higher) or living vicariously through a temporary position of authority (if you’re lower). Rather, you need to create an environment of trust where athletes listen to your guidance because you prioritize the right characteristics of an good leader: teaching, seeing, correcting, group management, presence and attitude, and demonstration. Learn more about these six areas within the CrossFit Level 2 Training Guide.
You never know when your relationship in the box will come in handy out of the box. Whether you are a trainer or athlete within a Military Affiliate, I highly recommend to get familiar with your boxmate’s backgrounds and network like any other environment. Maybe you’ll meet a person from another unit you are working a big project with, and now you can get an inside track and finish early. Maybe you’ll meet a person from a unit that you didn’t know existed and learn something new. Maybe you’ll meet a spouse whose partner is deployed and is balancing the home and gym life and invite them to a night out. All of this information helps you become a more effective trainer because you will develop an authentic relationship with your athletes and not rely merely on your position of authority to lead class. As a fellow athlete, being social can become a bridge to finding other athletes with mutual goals so that you can support each other. None of these positive effects will be available to you if you maintain a strict environment rank within your box. How you as the trainer and coaching staff set the tone for teamwork is huge.
Taking the fast-lane together towards success. This isn’t a guarantee, but I found that if there is someone I know from the box and we see each other at a work-related function, I inherently have a connection with them before we even start talking about work. The hard work we share in the box creates a degree of trust and expectation that I assume translates into their work ethic. Again, this isn’t an automatic success, but at minimum you’ll have a shared experience that breaks the ice when working with others on a project. Something about CrossFit lends towards people who understand what hard work means and aren’t afraid to get to work. You might even communicate using CrossFit jargon: “Let’s get as many tasks done in possible in the next 20 minutes.” This level of camaraderie can be and advantage and both of you can achieve results much faster when compared between two complete strangers teaming up for the first time.