Sigmundsdottir Taps Max El-Hag as Coach, Ready to Make “Dramatic Changes”

February 9, 2021 by
Image Credit: Sara Sigmundsdottir
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Speculation over Sara Sigmundsdottir’s future training direction can be put to rest, the two-time podium finisher has officially confirmed with the Morning Chalk Up that she’s enlisted the help of Max El-Hag as her coach moving forward.

El-Hag is the head coach and founder of Training Think Tank based in Alpharetta, Georgia, and is now tasked with helping one of the biggest stars in the ecosystem regain her footing at the sport’s highest level. 

Remind me: After starting her career with back-to-back podium finishes at the Games in 2015 and 2016, Sigmundsdottir has battled through a flurry of injuries compounding by multiple coaching changes along the way that have seen the fan favorite’s performance at the Games begin to slide. 

  • In 2017 Sigmundsdottir moved to the United States, joining in with the Mayhem crew and she would go on to win the Open worldwide and the Central Regional, before finishing 4th at the CrossFit Games in the first year in Madison.
  • In 2018 she moved back home and joined Red Pill Training and coach Phil Mansfield. Sara finished 21st in the Open, 3rd at the Europe Regional, and despite suffering a broken rib on day one, was in 6th place overall heading into the weekend before eventually withdrawing due to the rib injury.
  • After finishing 19th at the 2019 Games Sigmundsdottir decided to be a free agent, spending time traveling and training with different groups while competing at multiple Sanctionals and the Rogue Invitational. 
  • Sigmundsdottir pushed through a bacterial infection and issues with adrenal insufficiency before finishing 21st at the Games in a modified stage one. In the time since she has refocused on rebuilding her overall health. 

Fans who kept a sharp eye out may have noticed hints about the coaching change last year, when Sigmundsdottir started tagging Training Think Tank in her Instagram posts and stories in December. Interestingly enough though, the journey towards the partnership had roots way back when Sara first made a coaching change after her 2016 podium.

  • Sigmundsdottir: “In 2017 I visited Max and Training Think Tank, I spent a week with them but I just wasn’t ready at that time for what he wanted from me in terms of commitment, I just wanted to be a free bird at that time. I had lost a little bit of the fun in the sport, and why I was doing it, and I needed to find the fun again. What he said I wasn’t ready to hear, but it still stuck in my head the whole time.”
  • El-Hag: “She wasn’t ready to make dramatic changes to her approach and she wanted to continue to cultivate the competitive mindset that was proving successful. Fast forward three years and the circumstances were a little bit different this time around. This go-around, she was in a position where she knew what she wanted from a coach and she had built a team to support other aspects of her game; mental performance, nutrition, and body work.”
    • “She felt like the last piece of the puzzle was hiring a coach who could handle programming and physical development. We had some previous interaction and prior to confirming her decision she reached out to Noah to get some insight into my coaching process. After she heard what she needed to hear, we jumped on a call to do some goal setting, set boundaries, and decide if we wanted to move forward to take on the season together. Ultimately, we both felt it was the right time and a good fit,” El-Hag continued.
  • Sigmundsdottir: “I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes since then, and in the last year I’ve worn so many different caps as an athlete, a student, a family member, that I just went into overload. What made the decision easy now was that I had pushed for a long time being by myself that I was finally ready for what Max had presented me in terms of him believing in me and what he believed I needed to do to reach my full potential”

With the official start to the season just a month away, the coach-athlete relationship had to hit the ground running while Sigmundsdottir continues to rebuild her health from the ailments of 2020. It’s a difficult task, but certain elements have made the early stages fruitful.

  • Sigmundsdottir: “Max has built such a good team around him, what I love about it also is that he gets opinions from others, he’s not afraid to ask questions, and he doesn’t need to be the coach and expert in every area. He’s very good with the mindset, but he’s willing to be open and learn even more and listen to the athlete. He’s honest, he tells you exactly what he’s thinking, there’s no B.S. and I absolutely love that. He isn’t afraid to call you out, and in doing so simplifies things so you don’t overthink it.” 
  • El-Hag: “Building relationships takes time, so a couple months isn’t enough to establish a full perspective or relationship bond. But, in the short time we’ve worked together I’d say it has been a rewarding experience on my end. We are definitely still learning to work together and it can be difficult to make changes to training or ways of thinking in a veteran athlete.” 
    • However, I have been pleasantly surprised that we have already started accumulating wins in training. I’m excited because we have some pretty clear long-term competition goals and some short-term training goals to help us strive towards those achievements. I believe that she is learning to trust my expertise as a coach and feels supported by the rest of the team she has built.”

The path forward is a significant opportunity for growth on both sides given El-Hag’s past success with similar athletes, and the competitive history Sigmundsdottir brings to the table as an athlete with two CrossFit Games medals around her neck. 

  • Sigmundsdottir: “Noah (Ohlsen) was pretty much like me, everybody knew his potential, but he was always competing at the Games and he was so sad and had so much fear instead of enjoying what he was doing. That’s exactly what I’ve experienced. He was putting so much pressure on himself that when it came to game day he couldn’t reach his potential. I relate a lot to that.”
    • “I’m learning to trust my body again while also trying to improve my fitness. I’m also learning to trust someone else in that capacity, and since I was my own coach for a season so I’m pretty bad at communicating, which means I’m also re-learning that process also and putting that into someones hands. It’s a big area of growth for me.”
  • El-Hag: “This has been a great opportunity for me as a coach. Working with someone like Sara requires me to learn to communicate messages more clearly, (she) challenges me to think about my methods, and connects me to a broader audience to grow the Training Think Tank community. 
    • “However, all great opportunities also come with challenges, which I feel like we are both ready to take on. My goal, ultimately, is to help her reach for her goals with a more refined veteran approach. If we do that successfully, I believe that we will be able to reflect on the experience and say that we both added value to each other’s lives in professional athletics and outside of the competitive arena.”

The 2021 season will mark the fifth since Sigmundsdottir last stood on the Games podium, but at 28 years-old, she still has some of her prime athletic years left in the sport. Sigmundsdottir’s potential is undeniable, and with plans to spend time in Georgia training in-person with the Training Think Tank crew, the Icelandic “Dottir,” is hoping that a fresh approach and environment will make her struggles at the Games a thing of the past. 

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