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April 25, 2017

How to Motivate Different Athlete Personalities

Written by William Imbo

One of the best parts of CrossFit is how athletes encourage and push one another. When the pain gets deep and you decide to fight on during a workout, you too might benefit from a little external motivation. However, the kind of motivation each of us feeds off of varies widely.

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Different people respond to different stimuli in different ways. As such, here’s a comprehensive list of ‘dark-place’ athletes—and what you need to say or do to help them finish that WOD.

Athlete Type: A gentle touch is all I need
This method is generally best suited to CrossFit newbies or those who don’t want the whole class watching them struggle. In such cases, it’s not advisable to stand in front of this athlete screaming at them to PICK UP THE BAR when they’re in obvious discomfort (such as I found out recently when a friend of mine said “Will, I’m going to fu*$#% kill you!”). You need an approach with more finesse. Instead, calmly ask the athlete how many reps they have left, and once they tell you, simply respond with something like “Come on, you got this, only ten more reps left.” Help the athlete break the rep scheme up into manageable chunks, but stay cool, calm and collected. The athlete will likely respond in kind.
Words to use:
“How many reps do you have left? Ok, X at a time, then a quick break—you got this.”

Just as you have a yin, so must you have a yang. I’m sure you know of the athlete who is so far into the depths of their own personal hell that only a rumbustious roar from as many people as possible will bring them back from the edge of doom and into the victory halls of Valhalla. It helps if you know the athlete before launching your onslaught of verbal encouragement, but these athletes are great to push forward. Honestly, I have screamed and yelled and sworn and basically launched anything that comes into my head at these athletes, and such is their nature that they take all of these words to build a mental battering ram in order to finish the work before collapsing and never being heard from until you see them at the next class.
Words to use:
“Hey X, we’re going to a dark place so suck it up and get ready to push through this f*&%#$!” “MOVE!” “Don’t stop now—FIGHT THROUGH IT!”

Athlete Type: Give me 50/50
Not every athlete needs constant encouragement, nor do they want to stop to take technical advice when they are pushing themselves to get the best time/score. As such, one must know the temperament and attitude of the athlete to know when to step in and give a few words of advice before backing up to let them do their thing. If you see them slacking or slowing down, by all means give a few yells to pick up the bar—but avoid any heavy instruction, as it won’t be well received.
Words to use:
“Keep moving!” “Almost there, you got this!” “Hands on the bar and go!”

Athlete Type: Break this WOD down to build me back up
Conversely, there are athletes who will appreciate a coach coming over to help break down a movement that they may be struggling with. If they’re left on their own to battle the movement and keep a strong head they will likely become frustrated that the technical aspects of the workout are giving them so many problems. Having someone come over and calmly explain for them to grip the bar differently or snap their hips can mean all the difference in the world. In addition, having a coach help break down how they are going to attack the WOD before they start, or help them develop a good rep scheme for each movement during the workout, will allow for the athlete to methodically move through the work and push themselves in and out of the ‘dark place’ between reps and short breaks.
Words to use:
Dependent on movement and workout. If you’re comfortable giving technical advice and you’re not a coach, do so—but a shortened version. For example: “Snap your hips more on the clean,” “When you catch the wall ball, quickly drop into that squat and force your knees out.”

Athlete Type: Anything you can do I can do better
Misery loves company, right? This athlete will be in the midst of a personal battle with the WOD and their dark place, on the verge of slowing down, taking a break, maybe even calling it a day. Alas, they spy their archenemy workout buddy soldiering on, oblivious to the pain that seems to affecting everyone else in the class. All of a sudden, staying in the ‘dark place’ for a little while longer doesn’t seem so bad compared to the thought of letting that villain win not keeping pace with your comrade.
Words to use:
“Name of archenemy workout buddy” is ahead of you by 3 reps. Pick it up!”

Athlete Type: Just let me get in my zone
Finally, we have the silent assassins. Those lucky few who need no support, no coaching, no outside influence whatsoever. They welcome the pain, they let the darkness wash over them—they can take it. While the rest of us are yelling or battling our demons and letting out roars of approval or grunts of despair, a look into the mental scene of these guys would reveal a tranquil garden with a waterfall and peach trees as a rainbow splits the horizon—or so it would seem, based on their calm exteriors. Somehow, someway, this athlete is able to embrace the discomfort of the WOD and finish before you even realized they were doing the workout in the first place.
Words to use:
All the words of encouragement will be going on inside the athlete’s head. Besides, you won’t even know they’re struggling.

Athlete Type: I’ll Let me motivate myself
Every box has one of these athletes—possibly more. More often than not these are the more vocal athletes at the box—not that that’s always a bad thing. When they start to journey into the depths of mental and physical discomfort, let them do their thing. Their passionate roars of exertion and motivation are as much for the class as a whole as they are for the athlete themselves. One feeds off of the other, and in the end, all succeed.
Words to use: None. Let the athlete do all the ‘talking’ to fire himself up.

About William Imbo

William Imbo is an Associate Editor at BoxLife magazine, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and holds an MPS in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University. He is an avid CrossFitter and loves film, music and travel, thanks to having grown up across Europe. A fan of the New Orleans Saints and Newcastle United, Will's favorite CrossFit girl is Helen-least favorite being Isabel.

2 thoughts on “How to Motivate Different Athlete Personalities”

  1. People learn in different styles…auditory, tactile, visual. Getting to learn clients and the ways they learn is the key to offering the best help available. Knowing if XX’s son just left for bootcamp, or XX’s father can switch form after watching a short video of his lifts makes a huge difference in the motivation to come to the box each day and challenge themselves.


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