Observations From Regionals


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If you WOD at the local box, let me tell you that while your workout is hard, going to Regionals or The Games is an eye-opener.  Here are some observations from Regionals that might not be readily apparent to the casual observer.

1.  There is only one sport that I can think of that represents women as well as our sport does.  That sport is tennis.  Even in that example, it’s not really the same.  Go to any Regional or Games event and you’ll see just as many people in the stands for the women’s events as there are for the men’s events.

Sometimes the women’s events close the show; sometimes it’s the men’s events.  I don’t know the exact statistics but women represent the majority of people that participate in our sport.  As a father of two young daughters that are following these footsteps, that is kind of cool.

2.  Remember that 5’8” running back from your high school that ran for like a million yards and scored thousands of touchdowns? Or that female gymnast who almost made it to Nationals when she was 13? Well those folks own a gym on the other side of your town now (probably in an industrial complex).

They don’t coach as much as they used to because they’re busy training for the Regionals.  It is really the Super Bowl of our sport.  I know this sounds weird because the Games are held in Carson and that seems much bigger.  The reason Regionals is bigger is because it’s all or nothing.  You come in 4th, you go home – no ifs, ands, or buts.  It’s all on the line here.

Two very special athletes will be crowned King and Queen at The Games but at Regionals it’s a blood bath.  Unless you are one of the 5-10 people that are promoted semi-aggressively, fans have no idea who you are.  Even in the case of the biggest names in the sport they are extremely approachable.  Most of the athletes are “snap famous” because there are just SO many fit people at these events, they all kind of blend in.  By the time you are done snapping your fingers and realize Christmas Abbott just walked past you your selfie opportunity has passed.

3.  The NPFL (National Pro Fitness League) will fail.  Remember the XFL?  I do.  It was a nice side show that brought video game camera angles to the sport of football – those same camera angles that you now see on NFL broadcasts.  Do I want it to fail? Absolutely not!  In fact I love the idea of a pro fitness league where the athletes are paid.

When you come to a Regional event, the first thing that stands out to you is the sea of tents set off to the side.  Those tents have a massage table, a hibachi grill, and the most expensive lawn furniture you will ever see.  For three days these tents host the “sea of red” (CFNE) or “the sea of green” (Invictus) and the best athletes in the competition as a general rule.

People drive hundreds of miles to root on the athletes that work out at their gyms.  (I wanted to say that they work out WITH them but let’s be real here.)  There are something like 36 women and 45 men competing this weekend.  The 36th female and the 45th male can crush any daily programming they see; they are not like us.  They are Elite.  To say that what we do is the same as what they do diminishes their effort.  Which brings me to my next point.

It’s that community that makes Regional events special.  That just won’t happen in Phoenix where the athlete’s aren’t from Phoenix.  I hope I am wrong but I doubt I am.  The NPFL has a lot of hurdles to jump but that is the one I can’t get past.  I love watching people compete and I think they will push HQ to program more entertaining events but at the end of the day, that will be all that happens.

 4.  Someone is listening at HQ.  Sure, people will be kipping this weekend and you will see more than a few people struggling with weights they should easily handle.  Why? Because the movement standards are getting more and more strict.

Let me give you some examples of some changes that may have gone unnoticed:

  • Hand stand walks unbroken.  In the past you could get away with being mediocre, but no longer.
  • Strict HSPU’s.  How many?  Only 54.
  • Legless rope climbs.  Sure, you can kip these but SHOULD YOU?  From what I can tell if you had to kip these you probably weren’t finishing.
  • Hang Snatches.  In the past you could power snatch these.  This year you couldn’t.  Now we just need these same standards to trickle down into the boxes.  I can tell you personally as someone deconstructing a lot of poor movement patterns, I wish I was just made to do things right from the beginning.

5.  I’m going to lump these as one:  judging and criticism.  The judging is not standard, which is good and bad.  The judges have a thankless job that is really hard.  Let me give you some examples of how it’s a GOOD thing to have some sub-par judging.

There are roughly 80 athletes competing as individuals.  6 of them will move on.  Maybe 10-15 have a legitimate shot at the Games.  That means 65 people are just hoping to have a good time in their version of the spotlight and not get hurt.  All that bullshit about how our sport hurts people is ridiculous.  Of course it hurts people trying to push their limits to the very end.  It’s a sport – it’s a competition.  It’s what they have signed on to do.  We can talk all day long about making WOD’s safer but that is another conversation for another article.  When one of those 65 athletes is basically at muscular failure, the judge is going to be more lenient.  You see it over and over and frankly they should be more lenient.  That guy or gal just wants to leave in one piece and the crowd just doesn’t want to watch that person get hurt, some leniency is required and typically given.

That said, the best athletes in the sport are judged at a much higher level and that is wrong.  If you watched Lindsey Valenzuela last week you probably saw good examples but it’s much more prevalent in person.  This is a sport where coming in 10th is a harsh penalty.  All eyes are on the stars and the judges must feel the pressure.  That is the only thing I can think when I am seeing some of these no reps.  Here are some examples that you might not see on the broadcast that you see in real life.

In the hang snatch event, the requirement was parallel but the judges were all over the board.  The worst one, by far, was the legless rope climbs.  Right now I cannot tell you what the standard is because I have no idea.  Lindsey was called for using her legs but it looked like she didn’t.  Could you touch the top of the apparatus or the part holding the rope? Even worse, some judges thoughts you had to touch ABOVE the rig.  This created a much higher standard for some athletes.  In a sport where seconds equals points, it’s the difference between having a year of wasted training and not.  Which is too bad; many of these judges are volunteers and even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t matter.  I don’t know the answer to this problem but it is definitely a big problem.

“Did they mention on the broadcast that I got hosed?”

That’s what one athlete asked as I was saying to him that on the broadcast it was clear he was judged in error.  His coach then spoke up and said “That’s hilarious!  Those announcers know not to be critical or they will lose their job”.  Judging these events is a thankless job and maybe having announcers criticizing the judges would make for a horrible broadcast, especially when there aren’t enough camera angles to correctly assess the problem.  I get that.  What concerns me more is a culture where criticism is bad.  There is way too much us against them from the top all the way down to the person that is WOD’ing in their garage.  I think that is one of the biggest reasons a lot of people are hoping that the NPFL is successful.  Not because they hate the current system, but because they just want it to get better.  If you have no competition there is no reason to get better so criticism falls on deaf ears.

6.  These athletes aren’t really sponsored.  The tenth guy on the Miami Heat sits on the bench and literally never plays.  He is dressed but the only way he is getting in the game is if the Heat are up by 50 with 4 minutes to go in the game.  That is worth about 50k to Peak Athletic.  Never heard of Peak Athletic?  Almost no one else has either but that’s the path many companies take for exposure.  Want to know what most Games athlete’s consider “sponsorship”?  Free gear or supplements.  Now before you say “So, I wish I got free gear or supplements.” There is a big difference between you and these athletes.  To be good at this you have to be fully committed.  I mean, you can make Regionals as an accountant that is devoted to training but to be the “elite-of-the-elite”, that’s a whole other level.  That level takes time – time you could otherwise use to make money.  After all, what is a job?  You are trading time for money.  Let me give you an example of what I mean:

You are supplement company A.  You want people to buy your stuff, and so a strategic alliance with a sport often makes sense.  So tell me, who is the supplement company for the NBA or the NFL?  Maybe you know who it is – I don’t – but I certainly know that Lebron uses a Samsung and that Paul George drinks Gatorade.  In our sport, the money flows top down because the stars aren’t really recognizable.  It means much more to us that Reebok supports our sport than it does that Lindsey Valenzuela wears Reebok, which is fine.  Reebok is a billion dollar company, but if you are a smaller company, you are going to roll the dice on the brand which doesn’t leave a whole lot of dollars for the people killing themselves on a daily basis.  A free bag of whey protein a month is nice but that doesn’t buy one ounce of grass fed beef or pay your rent.  Look at the biggest names in our sport that have chased the sponsorship dollars and I will show you a list of people that haven’t qualified this year.  Same goes for Level 1 staff.

I have a bit of a background in something like this so I can speak with relative authority.  I was a poker player at one in time, and one of the things that poker tournaments would do to get players to play is to add money to the prize pool.  What this did was create a trickle-down that was bigger for all participants.  You may think that there are no parallels, but it’s more similar than you think.  All of these participants are paying for entry into what is essentially a coveted spot at this point.  Certainly there are costs to running an event and that has to be taken into account, but having two athletes receive the lion share of the revenue wouldn’t go over well in most sports where the athletes are footing the bill.  If you would rather not think of it like poker then fine – think of it like golf.  The point still remains that as the pie is getting bigger (and it is) the athlete’s need to pay their rent and until we have a steady pool of athletes willing to pay the price for those prizes, our sport will remain marginalized.  That might sound fine to most people but I think that the higher-ups want to make the jump to the next level and compensating athlete’s better is a step in the right direction.

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