OPEX Head Coach Mike Lee has had multiple experiences with different athletes at the CrossFit Games over the past few years, but this year was one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.
With athletes spread over five different divisions over the course of the weekend – Tennil Reed-Beuerlein and Dani Horan competing in the individual women’s category, 12 Labours in Team and Helena Falk and Paul Furman in the two different Master’s Divisions – Mike reflects on his athletes and his takeaway’s from this year’s competition.
Q: What does your mental preparation/mindset look like for any given day during an event like this?
A: First of all, knowing the schedule helps. You don’t necessarily know all the workouts before-hand and your set up time is pretty short. So, what you do in preparation is a lot of looking at the workouts and strategizing on the fly.
It helps to understand your athlete or athletes and what they are capable of. It’s why we do so much training and preparation – what took place in the past months or years has allowed them to have the capacity to go into each workout and figure things out on the fly. Training will also reflect how they will adapt in each situation; it’s not necessarily a strategy or plan that’s put together for one workout.
Q: With limited interactions during events, what kind of things do you talk about during the transition between events when you do have a chance to speak with them?
A: There is a lot of work done over the weekend. There may be times you get caught up in the emotion of when things don’t go your way or something negative happens – a judging call or whatever it may be – and it can change your athlete’s mindset to show some self-doubt.
So, I may come off the floor and say “there’s always one more,” to give them the understanding that it’s a long weekend, there’s a lot of workouts left, and they have the capacity and ability to do better on each one – to learn and develop themselves through the process.
They aren’t necessarily looking for you to give them a big high five or a big hug – they just want to know they did their best. I think that’s the biggest piece – not being the coach that jumps for joy and tells them how great they are, but to reward their effort and the fact that they battled all the way through. That’s what I tell the athlete – as long as they keep fighting, then that’s when they should be rewarded.
Q: So learning on the fly is important. One of your athletes, Tennil Reed-Beurline, did that extremely well on the O-Course event. What were your thoughts prior to that event?
A: All the good athletes, we call them task-adaptive at OPEX, are resilient individuals. They are resilient because they have enough training to recover in between efforts – from workout to workout. The teaching occurs from them having a fresh enough nervous system to allow them to say “okay, I’m going to lean from what I just did, I’m going to do it better.”
For Tennil’s progression, she had the capacity to feel as athletic as possible, and when she feels athletic, she has the ability to do anything, especially when it requires agility. She was able to more efficiently attack the different components of the obstacle course each go. She gradually adapted and got faster. One of the things we talked about was to go out and smash that first one, so the other girls would look at her and say “there’s no way she’s going to get beat,” so that was the expectation and it ended up being a good event for her.
Q : Speaking of Tennil, she was the event winner for the O-Course, wore the white jersey as the top athlete on the leaderboard for one event and was awarded the “Most Improved Athlete” for the course of the CrossFit Games, what does it mean for you as a coach to see one of your athletes realize some of those goals?
A: What I asked her to do was just believe in herself. Once they start to believe, it’s one of the most potent and powerful energy sources out there. She had to believe that she could. Going into the Games with her Regional’s performance and then being confident in her training, we worked on her mindset and supporting her belief in herself. She truly embraced that.
Moving through the weekend, she had ups and downs, but coming back and trying to do more and more comes from Tennil embracing that she deserves to be at the top.
The white jersey, the Fittest American, the Most Improved – all those mean a lot to her, but ultimately she was proudest of her effort during every single workout. She never looked past one workout, she took them one at a time, and that structure allowed her to focus on the on task.
As a coach, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your athlete go into each workout, giving everything they have regardless of standings, and seeing great things come from it over the weekend.
Now that the competition is over, what it the 30,000 ft. view for you as a coach?
A: It’s a big rest afterwards.
A lot of times it goes fast, you forget to just take it in and embrace their accomplishments. That’s super exciting and special to see as a coach. I’ve been to the CrossFit Games with athletes multiple times, and I can definitely say this has been one of the more rewarding trips.
To step back and have a little bit more understanding of what it takes to get here and what these guys go through to sit at the top. It solidified my understanding as a coach of what a champion is and how these individuals are remarkable in everything they do and what they can handle.
You could really see the separation and focus of some of the individuals that committed everything, had everything aligned, and set themselves up to be as successful as they could be over the weekend.