How We, as Coaches, Failed Our Members in the Open

by Coach Nivi Carbonell

Now that I have your attention with a rather click-bait type title, just know: I don’t not intend to attack anyone in this. These are simply observations I’ve made for myself, as a coach and leader within my own affiliate. By writing these thoughts out, I simply hope to share a feeling that maybe my fellow coaches maybe having as well and so we can grow in a united front against a sedentary lifestyle. I did this simply as a means to rate my own performance as a coach, not as an athlete, and see where improvements can be made in order to better serve my community.


I’m not going to go workout by workout, breakdown each and give thoughts on the programming, the rep schemes, the intended stimulus, etc. I know there were plenty of successes during these workouts and those will be celebrated for sure. Our next Skol Sessions episode will dig in the weeds to examine Adrian Bozman’s first official Open as the lead programmer. Instead, I want to take an objective look at what more I could’ve done to make this a more memorable experience for everyone within our walls.

Right from the start, I think a better emphasis on “the basics” is an essential point of improvement. There are always eyes on the high technical skill moves like ring muscle ups and strict handstand push-ups, the big weights like we saw from the thrusters and from the snatches and the ability to keep moving, as demonstrated in the chipper of 23.1 and part A of 23.2. But what I saw was a breakdown of basic movement patterns, like the ability to burpee at a steady rate. As a coach, I’m well aware there’s a huge dislike for burpees. I get to hear about it all the time and though this sentiment is understandable, it’s also a necessary “evil”. Especially if you place it in a proper context and I think this is where I personally fail a bit.

As coaches, we must make movements relatable to everyday life, so that all joking aside, there is a better understanding why people should be doing these movements. For example, let’s stick with the burpee. There are a lot of clumsy people in the world. I find myself tripping over flat surfaces constantly and I believe I have a decent amount of balance. We also live in an age where people’s noses are constantly in their phones and awareness to the things around us is decreasing. So, the idea that we can trip and fall or get knocked over because we or someone else wasn’t paying attention is a very real thing. The ability to pick ourselves up without assistance is vital, especially for senior citizens. Basic skills are perishable. If you don’t practice them consistently, you lose them. And there’s no guarantee that they’ll come back. Being able to sustain the basic movement patterns to their truest forms is an important point I need to do a better job of emphasizing. This also leads me to my next point: scaling and progressions.

As a coach leading a class, I’m expected to have answers for the most common questions that arise. I’m also expected to have proper substitutes for complex movements. Something I was taught a long time ago during my time at CrossFit Garden City was if I couldn’t look at a movement and think of 3-5 substitutions, as well as a couple of progressions to help any member meet their workout needs, I didn’t do a good job preparing for class the night prior. This is definitely something we need constant improvement on and something I know I can always do better at. My native genius tends to lean towards thinking on my toes and being able to adapt to any situation or adapt most things to anyone’s needs. I admittedly lean into this and rely on this a little too much sometimes, however. So, I know I owe it to my members to give them more. Preparation is key and it ensures we have a proper understanding of things to come, whether it be our normal programming or an Open workout that released the day prior. Planning ahead will help with logistics and allows us to decide how we’d like to run our classes. It allows us to plan for potential pitfalls and have a backup plan if things go haywire. We can remain cool, calm and collected in front of our members, who will likely be the opposite at times. And this brings me to my final key for improvement: to be the leaders we are supposed to be, in our actions, in our words and how we carry ourselves.

As coaches, we are the subject matter experts. We have many people looking to us for that expertise, and who trust that we will always have their best interest in mind. For my own growth, to be the type of coach I want to be, an important skill is to keep our cool in the face of any adversity. A lot of affiliates worldwide had a lot to say when it came to the Open WODs, and 23.2a/23.2b in particular. Between the floor layouts (which I agree were silly and not necessary for sure) and the 20 minute time domain, it was easy to get upset. Long time domain Open WODs make it very difficult for coaches to control a class and complete two heats within an hour.  We had to let people know we were going to run late and to bear with us.

To a lot of coaches, this was a nightmare and bit of an inconsiderate move by CrossFit HQ. Maybe they’re correct. It’s something we can address with them as a point of improvement. Where we need to be careful as coaches is with how we let it affect our moods, and how we speak about it. Our members feed off our energy as the leaders of their fitness community. If we are grouchy or negative about it, no matter how justified, it does play a role on how people feel about the WOD. Again, this can be considered minor for some, but for my own personal growth, I know I can do better here, and I want to be better here. Because at the end of the day, especially within the fitness space, no one will remember what exactly what you did for them, but they will remember how you made them feel. We as people all tend to focus in on the negative. As coaches, limiting the negative experiences will keep people coming back. We are human, we will make mistakes. We will make people feel bad and we will make some angry. We will influence negatively. Once we’ve accepted those facts and acknowledge it can and will happen, we can grow, as we preach to our members daily.

You can’t have the good without the bad, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in the negative. We can learn from every encounter, every experience and use it to fuel a better future. Whether it be in our respective professions, like coaching, or just everyday life. Growth is constant, don’t resist it. Have those hard conversations with yourself and talk about them. Put pen to paper and make those things real. Act upon those realizations and know there’s a road to improvement. This is just my way of doing it. So now, we move forward, better for it.

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