Part 3: Openly Competitive

At the time of writing we are already past the midpoint through the Open workouts for the year. Feels like we just started and now the fun is almost over. But not to worry. The rumour has it there will be a second set of open workouts already in October. Soon, we all get a new chance to test our overall improvement in fitness as well as help others to do the same by bringing down the gavel and laying our judgement on all those filthy no-reps.

This is great news, right? We all love the Open and more specifically, we just cannot wait to be judged again. Perhaps that’s not the case. But the truth to the matter is that there is something very magical about the Open. You cannot help but feel the excitement in the Saturday workouts. The air is ripe with anticipation and -dare I say it- fear. But what exactly is it that makes the Open feel so special? And is this limited only to the Open or are we witnessing a broader phenomenon? Something to do with competing? Because whether we like it or not, the Open is a competition.

Compared to individual competitions taking place in some distant location, the Open brings its battleground right onto our doorstep. Setting the scene in our own gym, the Open gives us the opportunity to bring each of us closer together and make us stronger as a community. As judges, we get a front row seat to witness PR’s being made every week. That’s the Open at its finest. As athletes we get to focus on the task at hand and, for once, leave the mundane work of counting reps to our judge. That’s a rare treat. In short, the magic of the open can be easily harnessed to work for our mutual benefit. But why so many of us shy away from this and don’t sign up? Competitions can be intimidating and stressful if taken the wrong way.

My first experiences around competitive sport come from over 25 years ago. As a young adult I was competing in Martial Arts. Short but fortunately relatively triumphant career didn’t leave too many visible marks. Although sometimes I wonder if my preference for stupid jokes is a result of being hit in the head too many times.
Fast forward to present day plus adding 15kg to my body weight, I’m going through my second career, this time as a CrossFit masters athlete. So far having taken part in five CrossFit competitions on an individual level, I’m by no means an expert. I know next to nothing about tactics or how to win events etc. But even with this limited amount of experience I’m able to reflect on how I feel about competing and what goes through my mind when the game is on. This I would like to share with you today.

There is a simple method I like to apply for mitigating the anxiety and pressure arising from competing; focus on the things you can control and then empty your mind of the rest. Aim to do your absolute best for the day. No more, no less. That’s always enough. Alternatively, you can think of yourself competing WITH the other athletes and not AGAINST them. You only compete against one person. Yourself.

The biggest misconception about competing is getting too carried away by letting other peoples’ performance determine how good or successful we see ourselves on the whole. A competition is all about ranking the participants based on their relative performance i.e. our score compared to all the other athletes. If we see ourselves only through the lens of others, we are completely at their mercy. We shouldn’t let our placement on the leaderboard overwhelm and dictate how we see ourselves in the bigger picture. A single competition is only a snapshot of our fitness. It knows nothing about how we got there or where we are going.
Economists sometimes use the concepts of stock and flow when debating over the relative importance of level versus change in some random variable. In fitness we can think of this as our current state of affairs versus all the gains we’ve made recently. Take two athletes for example. First one back squats 120kg but has plateaued in her progress for two years. The other has a back squat of only 80kg but she started from 50kg just twelve months ago. Which one is a ”better” athlete? You’ll be the judge. Fitness and health are continuous processes that can never be fully mastered. Let’s not get sidetracked when competing.

For me competitions are a cornucopia of motivation. All the weaknesses, I have, get exposed and the severity of those weaknesses stare at me right in the eye from the scoreboard. After a competition I always know what to focus on. Usually I make a list of things that didn’t go as planned and start working on them one by one. Unfortunately, the list doesn’t seem to get any shorter as new line items pop up like the grey hair around my temples.

I would be lying if I claimed I don’t get nervous competing. Although the nervousness has diminished somewhat over the years, it hasn’t gone away completely. Whether I’m about to do a competition qualifier or standing on the start line of a competition event, I can sense it creeping in. The fear of failure. The fear of not reaching the standards I’ve set for myself. Fortunately, the feeling subsides the second 3-2-1-GO is announced.
All five competitions I’ve so far managed to plow through have had one thing in common. The feeling I get after the last event is in the bag and I know I can finally relax and get back to training with all you guys. That’s the best feeling. Just want you to know that.