CrossFit as Education: This UK Academy Brings Opportunity for Disadvantaged Teens to Get Course Credit
“It doesn’t matter where you started.”
This phrase means something special to the members of Blueprint CrossFit in Worcester, England. The words have become part of the ethos of The Academy, a member-run program that uses CrossFit as a building block to provide educational and vocational opportunities for disadvantaged teenagers.
The Academy is a 16-week educational sport and lifestyle course for 16 to 19 year-olds, all of whom are, or were, in the care system. (In Worcester, this means a child living with a foster family, with a designated relative, in a foster home, or independently.) Using CrossFit as a foundation, it’s designed to introduce students to sports and fitness, while developing life skills and personal growth and providing opportunities for higher education and skill development.
In England, at the age of 16, students take their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams, single-subject tests that unlock access to higher levels of education. However, the teenagers in the Academy’s course often fall outside of England’s mainstream education system and aren’t on track to complete their GCSEs, explained Hannah Davies, the director of the organization.
Eight teenagers are currently going through the Academy’s inaugural course, which launched at the end of July. Some of them, though capable of earning GCSEs, live in environments where they will not earn high enough scores to continue their education, Davies explained. Others, due to their past and their needs, have left school and already receive their education through alternative methods. Others still jumped directly into the workforce without finishing school.
This is where Davies and her team comes in: The Academy course counts for ASDAN credit, the vocational equivalent of a GCSE.
By the end of the 16-week, CrossFit-focused course, students will earn a total of 30 hours, or three credits, towards certificates that either take the place of the GCSE exam or provide UCAS Tariff points, required for entry at some colleges and universities.
The ASDAN credit can be used differently by each Academy student. Some, on track to take their GSCEs, will put it towards college or University. Others will use the credit as personal development, and can put it towards finding jobs and apprenticeships. And others still are already enrolled in ASDAN courses and can use The Academy to deliver their schooling.
CrossFit as Education
The Academy holds classes for two hours on Saturdays, integrating the soft skills taught by CrossFit and short, wellness-focused lectures – what the team calls “TED Talks” – with ASDAN-compliant modules.
Their physical curriculum is based on the skills needed to complete the CrossFit L1 certification, explained Chris Flanders, the CrossFit programmer for the organization. Like the average CrossFit class, students start with a skill and strength portion before applying the movement learned in a workout.
A session in practice: To meet ASDAN requirements, The Academy has to provide a comprehensive portfolio of skills learned, challenges met, and activities completed.
For example, in week three, The Academy tackles the press. After the strength portion and workout, the students sit down with The Academy team for a “TED Talk” focusing on sleep, smoking, and water, before covering the required modules from the ASDAN sports course.
“(These children) weren’t engaged in school; the formality of a classroom hasn’t worked for these people.”Hannah Davies
At the end of the lesson, each student records what they learned, the focus of the lesson, and the challenges they faced. This gives ASDAN evidence that each child is learning soft skills, like teamwork, along with English and Maths.
“We’re giving them information in a different setting,” Davies said. “(These children) weren’t engaged in school; the formality of a classroom hasn’t worked for these people.”
“It’s that kind of stuff, unfortunately, they’re not necessarily exposed to,” she continued, such as the wellness-focused talks and nurture-based skill learning. “It’s cultural deprivation. If you never went to an art museum, how do you know it exists?”
Next Up: The L1 and Becoming Job Ready
After completing their 16-week ASDAN and CrossFit course, participants move on to the second part of their journey, the L1 seminar, what Davies called “a way of greater understanding their skillset.”
“Imagine an end of year test that you’ve been studying towards, although their accreditations are not dependent on the L1. It’s also a good way for the student to feel a sense of competition in this part of their journey, but for a lot of them (it will be the) first time they’ve tested themselves,” Davies said, adding that she expects six of the eight current students to be ready for the L1.
In light of this, the L1 test section, though still in development, will be pitched as another session with “cool guest coaches,” she explained.
(The Academy has connected to the CrossFit Scholarship Program and plans for the L1 to be led by Chuck Carswell and the US Seminar Staff team when flight restrictions are lifted.)
“If our students know (about the test), taking into consideration the negative impact mainstream education has had on them, they would feel so overwhelmed or just not turn up,” Davies explained.
The third section of the 16-week journey is a job fair. The goal is to end the fair with a complete CV, compiling the skills taught by CrossFit and the sports class into one professional document.
“A lot of them don’t recognize their own skill sets,” Flanders said. “We talk about what you’ve done in a class: You’ve shown that you have the ability to organize yourself… you’ve demonstrated time management skills, [and] problem-solving.”
“It’s that kind of self-application,” he continued. “What does an employer want? They want someone who can turn up on time and can give things a go. We’re giving them the evidence of that…They’ve turned up, they’ve worked hard, and we can be their reference.”
Stages post-job-fair are still in development, but Davies said they plan to invite interested graduates of the 16-week course to continue with industry training in a months-long, government-supported traineeship or apprenticeship program.
The Big Picture
With eight weeks left in the inaugural course, Davies and Flanders agree: The program is already becoming about so much more than just CrossFit.
In just two months, they have seen changes in attitudes and a willingness to accept challenges, as they have watched these young adults begin to make conscious efforts to change their lifestyles.
“We can talk about education, we can talk about the (sport),” Davies said. “But if (someone) stopped smoking, that’s a long-term lifestyle choice that (they’re) going to have significant benefits from, and it’s because they’ve come here and want to do better here.”