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Does a Coach Need to Compete?

Whether you’re competing or not, you better be sure to hold the standard.


Leadership is the ability to get a person or a group of people to move from one position to another. It’s helping people evolve and improve. Much of this is communicating standards, inspiring certain behavior and helping followers meet or near their potential.

As a CrossFit coach, this takes on many layers. Do you need to compete in CrossFit to assert your leadership? I don’t think so. It’s surely one way to inspire and lead the pack, but it’s not the only way. In fact, it’s not the only way because genuine context is everything.

Would competing, even at the highest level, have the same effect if the coach was, for example, a poor mover? It’s hard to listen to a coach talk about “the little things” when they don’t practice them, right? In that way, competing may actually do the opposite and expose the coach as a poor leader. After all, a theoretically sound leader is better than a phony in reality, in my opinion.

What if the coach competed like any good leader would, but his attitude was generally negative about the judging and the results and he had pointed excuses for his shortcomings in competition?

You see where I’m going with this, yes? Context is everything. What you do doesn’t change who you are.

That is good news if you’re not the fittest in town, but you’re a leader for your people. It’s bad news if you think you’re helping your people by competing from the front with qualities you wouldn’t want in your students.

Now as someone who’s been in leadership roles from professional athletics to business and as someone who’s studied leadership at the university level, I don’t believe that the best leaders have to specifically lead by example. This is the reason that people who can’t run fast can coach the world’s best in sprinting, for example. It does, however, make things quite confusing if you demand behavior out of your followers that you disregard yourself. Do you see the difference?

In that way, if you’d ask your athletes to move with commitment to quality and integrity, one would agree that it’d be difficult to really follow a leader who doesn’t move with quality or practices suspect reps. Many of the less direct examples of behavior, like dealing with injury, come to mind, as well. How is it that a person would be a sufficient leader in physical fitness concerning injury when he doesn’t handle his own injured business?

So, no, you don’t need to compete to be a good coach. You don’t even need to do the activity that you’re currently coaching, but if you do, you sure all hell better hold the standard that you keep for your followers or you won’t have many. And everything rides on the fine line of authenticity. How you navigate your successes and failures is on display as a leader, so expect followers to take specific notice with your behavior.