I fell in love with CrossFit many moons ago.
Although the coaches I worked with in my beginnings were great and incredibly knowledgable, it wasn’t their cues, progressions or even their mid-WOD cheers that made CrossFit what it was (and is) to me.
Instead, it was the people that I worked out with that made me so passionate about the sport that I am now lucky enough to call my career. It was this community of athletes that busted their humps alongside me every day that made CrossFit great. I look back with fond memories of the box socials, competitions, high fives and Facebook bants (because Instagram wasn’t a ‘thing’ back then) of my CrossFit beginnings and think,
“Yes. That is what CrossFit is all about. The Buzzword to rule all Buzzwords… Community, with a Capital C”.
The Beginnings of CrossFit 1864
When we opened CrossFit 1864 in September 2014, I knew that our box would be exactly like the box I remembered from 2012. It was going to be just like the O.G. CrossFits, but with slightly nicer equipment. It was going to be small and a little bit gritty. It would be filled with people with no egos and no drama, just a solid work ethic and drive to do their best whilst enjoying their training. Most importantly, it was going to be all about the Community.
Imagine my horror when, mid-way through 2014, our small box was up and running, and it didn’t feel like that old community at all! Of course there were high fives after class and everyone was friendly, but it just wasn’t the same. To get some advice, I met up with a friend and fellow box owner. I begged him to tell me the secret to building a strong community. Do you know what he told me? There’s nothing you can do to create a community. It just happens.
He was only halfway right.
These are the Top 3 Steps to Building a Strong Community at your Box.
Step 1: Ask Questions
I’m not talking about asking your class how their day was at your whiteboard huddle. Any schmuck can do that.
I mean ask the real questions, like you’re on a second date kind of questions (because you are trying to start a relationship, right?!). Ask your members what they do for work, what they like about it, what they have coming up this week, what are their fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations, if they prefer crunchy or smooth peanut butter.
Step 2: Listen
You’d be amazed how much you can learn about a person simply by listening, and I mean really listening. You’ve asked them what they have coming up this week and they come back to you with a lackadaisical, “ I have this race thing I’m doing on Saturday. It’s no big deal or anything”.
Now, if you weren’t really listening, you might say, “That’s cool,” and start flicking through your playlists to find your favourite warm up tunes. But, if you’re really listening, you might hear a twinge of nervous excitement in their voice.
Now, repeat Step 1. Ask them what the race is and why they’re doing it.
Come back to Step 2. They tell you that they’re doing a 10k in the park and this is the first time they’ve ever run more than 1 mile. Coincidentally, you happen to know that a couple of your other members are doing the same 10k (because you listened to them too, obvs) and now you can link up a team of people to support each other, and you know you have something to celebrate with this crew when Monday comes around!
Step 3: Take care of your space and encourage others to do the same
Our members used to make fun of me for the way I cleaned our box. Our kettlebells are arranged in colour order, wall balls are stacked neatly with their laces facing out, rings hanging perfectly aligned on the rig, ab mats in tessellated piles in the corner… the box is a thing of organisational beauty. When classes put their kit away, they were instructed to put things away “As Coach M would want it”.
And no one, I mean NO ONE, hollywood claps chalk at CrossFit 1864.
Eventually, this attention to detail created a culture at the gym where every member took care of the space and looked after their kit as if it was their own.
So, what do these three things have to do with creating a strong community?
Everything, Because they are all part of showing respect.
As mentioned before, my good friend and fellow box owner was half right. You can’t force members to cheer each other on in workouts. You can’t drag them along to box socials and expect them to have fun. Let’s be honest here, everyone at your gym is coming from different walks of life and I’m pretty confident that not everyone will be absolute best buds outside of the gym.
But, that is not what a strong community is.
Contrary to popular CrossFit belief, a strong community is not built through box socials, private member groups on Facebook, internal throwdowns, or charity events.
Instead, a strong community is forged through a foundation of mutual respect: Respect that you as a box owner or coach show to your members when you ask them questions and express a genuine interest in their lives. Respect and consideration by actively listening to what they say and responding in turn. And finally, showing respect to your gym, the physical foundations of your community, by keeping it clean, organised and in good condition.
“Attitude reflects leadership”
When you as a box owner, the leader of your community, take the steps to show this level of respect to your members and your gym, it spreads like wildfire. Not only do your members respect you for everything you do for the box and for them, they also show respect to your other members, and their fellow athletes. They start getting to know each other, asking questions, listening, empathising, encouraging, hanging out outside of the box, and eventually, even brushing chalk off of their barbells!
In my five years of experience as a box owner, I am confident that this is how a strong and unwavering community is built; not through High Fives, but with a solid dose of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
I could not be more proud of the members and the community at CrossFit 1864, which, even though I’m nearly 5,000 miles away, I feel the power of every day.
Big love, you guys.
WORKOUT OF THE DAY
Thruster: Build to a 1 rep max
10 minute AMRAP:
8 Dumbbell thrusters (15/10 kg)
12 Dumbbell walking lunges (15/10 kg)