CrossFit Games

Coaches Close Up, Cueing Athletes from the Competition Floor

October 25, 2020 by
Courtesy of Shane Orr (
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Look into the Coliseum in Madison, WI in the midst of any pre-2020 CrossFit Games and you’ll see athletes on the floor alongside judges, broadcasters, media, and the event team. But one element has remained noticeably absent from the competition floor over the years, coaches.

  • While coaches can accompany athletes to the warm-up area and athlete briefings, they haven’t been allowed on the main stage and can usually be found amongst spectators watching the events, unable to communicate directly with athletes.
  • This year, for the first time, coaches were allowed to line the edge of the competition floor and to communicate with athletes directly throughout the course of Event 3: “The CrossFit Total.”

One big thing: The 2020 format at the Games has given athletes and coaches a significant advantage in real-time strategizing and coaching. And, it brings the athlete/coach dynamic in CrossFit more in-line with other professional sports.

What athletes are saying: The impact of having their coaches within arm’s length proved significant for the athletes. In fact, for some, it made all the difference.

  • “Having him [coach Max El-Hag] there was vital to being able to pull off a 3rd place finish,” Noah Ohlsen reflected on having his coach during the CrossFit total.
  • “Without having him there to run the numbers for me, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do what I did,” Ohlsen added, noting that the strategy given to him by his coach out on the floor for the final deadlift allowed him to put the pressure on his fellow competitors and lock in his third-place points.
  • “It was really fun to have them around to kind of strategize,” said Brooke Wells who came in second in the event, adding later that it was nice to have someone there to help her crunch the numbers and close the gap between her and Tia-Clair Toomey.
  • “They’re there for the whole year of training and coaching and programming for us. Just having them there, experiencing the journey with us, is not only enjoyable for us but also rewarding for them,” said Tia-Clair Toomey.

Toomey noted that the experience was a pleasant callback to her experience on the weightlifting platform where coaches take care of the number-crunching for athletes so they can focus on themselves. However, she also seemed indifferent to the idea of needing a coach right by her side during an event.

  • “Throughout the rest of the year, Shane preps us so well that we know what we need to do to execute our game plan,” Toomey said. Noting that while it was nice to have her husband and training partner on the floor with her, it didn’t make or break the event.
Photo courtesy of CrossFit LLC.

What the coaches are saying: This experience was not only important for athletes, but also for coaches, who commented on how the new setup allowed them to be better coaches and support systems for their athletes during game time.

  • “In events like the total and the bike/rope climb event today it’s great that we are able to have that access [to the athletes],” said Kari Pearce’s coach, Justin Cotler.
  • “I’ve always felt one of the big elements missing at the Games was coach access during events. In most sports coaches have the ability to affect “in-game” situations and outcomes with their athletes. In CrossFit, the Games have rarely afforded us that ability,” Cotler added.
  • Cotler also noted the importance of his ability to be right by Pearce’s side during Stage 1. “Stage 1 of the Games was phenomenal and really special in that I was able to give Kari what I felt she needed as far as coaching/support in order to get into that top 5.”

The big picture: On many levels, it seems like coaches are finally getting the access and the respect they deserve. Moving forward, some continue to hope for increased coach access.

  • “It’s a great indication of our sport growing and constantly evolving,” commented Toomey.
  • “I hope with new leadership in place at HQ that coaches will get the respect we deserve and no longer be considered “spectators with limited access,” said Cotler.

While it’s unknown at this point what the next season will look like, one thing is very clear: The ability of the coaches to make game-time decisions for their athletes on the floor can make or break an event and is something to be considered moving forward as the sport grows and evolves.

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