The CrossFit Games Open: Let Go of the Leaderboard
The leaderboard is like a drug. Once you do the workout and establish a score, it places you in the worldwide pecking order of “who is better than you” and “whom you are better than.” Have you ever experienced the drug-like euphoria of logging on and seeing your standing higher than you expected it to be? Or better yet, that you beat her? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, have you felt the crash-and-burn bottoming out feeling of seeing that you’re in 257thplace, out of only a few thousand in your age group or region? The leaderboard is quite possibly a therapist’s dream come true.
Besides the obvious payoff of either making it to regionals, either in the masters online qualifier or as an individual or team bound for one of the regional qualifier events, the leaderboard serves another function - telling you just how good, or not, you are. And admittedly, it’s easy to get caught up in the self-analysis that comes with entering your score and seeing some familiar names way above yours. I suspect we all go through that on some level. We’re all always competing, are we not? For example, you may know someone at another box locally that is your age and gender, and with whom you have been trading gentle cannon-ball lobs across Facebook for some time:
In reality, what he means is, “You sonofabich. You are not going to out-Fran me. I will post my new PR a week from Tuesday.”
We even get caught up in this trap in our own boxes sometimes. While we congratulate our box-mates on that new back squat record, secretly, in some way, we sometimes think, “That can’t be. I should have a bigger squat than him. I’d like to see the video to see if he went below parallel.”
We’re only human folks.
As I have discussed before, CrossFit is a magical cocktail of competition and camaraderie. The camaraderie that we experience when we’re cheering each other on to the finish of a workout is sometimes superseded by a private sigh of relief that it’s you cheering on him, and not him cheering on you. Still the fastest. No one beats ol’ Pat at Helen. Nice try, kids.
Again, we’re human. It’s hard sometimes to admit, “Hey! I am the seventh fittest guy in my box!” Everyone wants to be “that guy” on some level - the rock star, the beast. The one who crushes everything. The one with pristine butterfly pull ups and a huge clean and jerk. The one who seems to have an endless supply of lung capacity and comes in first, every time. (Luckily, at Cincinnati Strength, that guy happens to be the nicest man on the planet. I can’t stay mad at Pete.)
And when we are not that guy, then it’s easy to let ego slide in ahead of rational thought. On the box level, it means that sometimes our outward words of congratulations are tainted by an inward burning fire of hatred. (Okay, maybe hatred is a bit strong, but you know what I mean.) And when it comes to the Open, it means that we can sometimes look at our own score and determine our worth as CrossFit athletes based on where we placed.
Not everyone does this, mind you. Some people truly look at the Open as a fun five-week test. But many others look at it as validation of a year’s worth of work, validation of their very worth as a CrossFitter. You have trained for a solid year for this - and you only got xxx reps on 14.1? I expected more from you! What will everyone think? Why are you even doing this? You will never make it to the games, what’s the point? Time to look into Pilates.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at your Facebook feed right now. I can assure you it’s full of agonized posts about whether a redo is in order, strategy questions, laments about leaderboard shenanigans, and all manner of various and sundry wails. People agonize over that leaderboard. Why? Because it’s a measuring stick - a public measuring stick - of your place in the worldwide CrossFit pecking order.
Here’s the good news: it doesn’t matter.
Why? Because where you sit on the leaderboard, and, for that matter, where you sit in your own box’s athletic hierarchy is completely out of your control. You can work night and day to develop your skills as an athlete, your strength, your lungs, your muscle ups, your strategy, and your mental toughness. You can control everything that is related to your goals to perform - except everyone else.
What is happening across the country and across the world in other boxes with other athletes who are directly in competition with you are things you cannot control. This is the variable that ultimately determines where you sit - both on the leaderboard and in your own box. You have no control over how good, or how great, everyone else is.
Your position on the leaderboard and in your box is, when you think about it, completely arbitrary, based on the huge variable that is everyone else. So why would you define yourself according to variables that you cannot control?
If I am the resident badass at Cincinnati Strength and Conditioning and all of a sudden Gerald Sasser starts training there, then I am no longer the resident badass. But not one single thing about me changed. If I am a habitual regionals qualifier and due to the explosive growth of the sport, I am no longer even in the top one hundred in my region, it’s due to the 99 people ahead of me who are better - people who started the sport, people who improved, people who moved into my region.
These are all variables outside our control. Our self-worth as athletes, and by extension as people, should be determined by markers we set and against which we can test ourselves. My goals for athletic performance are best served by being directed at my performance only, using myself as the measuring stick. Did I do every rep with integrity? Did I leave it all out there? Am I happy with my performance as a performance, regardless of where it stacks up against yours?
Detaching from the leaderboard is probably one of the best decisions I made for myself in 2014. Last year, I hovered over it like a vulture, second-guessing every performance, researching my competitors to no end, sweating bullets every Sunday night at 7:50pm. You know the drill. It’s just not worth it. Because what my friends are doing over at CrossFit New England, or out in California, or Texas is 100% out of my control.
And so far, one workout in, I am having a blast. Detach and enjoy.
Photos courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.