Friday, February 01, 2013

CrossFit Kids: Creating a Class Culture

I am slowly getting back into a regular blogging routine, hooray!

One thing I really want to do is develop a series of posts about my newest venture as a CrossFit Kids coach and program developer. I have so many thoughts and ideas swirling around in my head, and I know it will help to get it out there somehow. I'm also hopeful it will help the parents of the kids in my program (current and future) get to know me a bit better, and of course, it gives me a focus for blogging.

So fair warning to any readers (if you're still out there) of my blog -- this blog is going to be extra-full of CrossFit talk for the time being. :) But there will also be Positive Discipline talk, and parenting talk, and business development talk, too.

The CrossFit Kids post I wrote last week was mostly just a Yay! Look what I've been up to! kind of post. Today and in the future I want to get more specific and write just about one aspect of the program. The first topic is about creating a the kind of class atmosphere I want us to have, or class culture, as I think of it.

Just as our Kids classes are run in a similar way to the adult classes (with a warmup and a WOD, though we get to play games in CF Kids!), I really want our Kids classes to have the same general atmosphere as the adult classes.

A big part of what kept me going back to CrossFit, especially at the beginning, was the support and encouragement of the coaches and other gym members. Personally, this has done wonders for my mental health and my attitude about what I am capable of accomplishing. To feel like everyone around you is truly rooting for you, truly on your side and wants you to succeed . . . it's such a wonderful, empowering feeling.

In our adult classes, we cheer for each other, commiserate over struggles (aka "goats"), and swap ideas for improving ourselves. We don't denigrate each other and we don't allow people to denigrate themselves either. We share our excitement for this CrossFit thing we all love (well, maybe except for burpees), and we celebrate our achievements. Lisbeth Darsh describes this so well:

Here [at our CrossFit gym], we know that even if we finish last in the workout, there will still be folks cheering for us. In fact, they’ll probably cheer harder than they did for the first-place finisher. Because CrossFit is about effort, as well as achievement.

(Go read the whole post. It's awesome. Especially go read it if you think it all sounds like some kind of made up marketing BS. Because it's not.)

This isn't unique to our box, as you can see, but I happen to think our box does this very well. It's part of the general CrossFit culture, and in fact, I will tell anyone reading this that if you go to a CF box and you DON'T experience this feeling, find another box, and quickly.

It's very important to me that our Kids classes to have the same atmosphere, and I think we are off to a good start. Below are a few strategies I'm taking to foster the type of class culture I want us to have.

The WODs

I learned early on in our practice classes that sometimes games and WODs can backfire if the kids are set up to compete against each other. Some kids are super competitive, and others aren't, by nature. But everyone can get their feelings hurt if they "lose" a WOD or get tagged too many times in Freeze Tag.

To that end, I generally set up the WODs to be AMRAP (As Many Rounds/Reps As Possible in a given amount of time). That means each kid works for the same amount of time, and there isn't an opportunity for someone to "win" the WOD by finishing first. AMRAPs also mean that nobody is just sitting around doing nothing and getting bored while the other kids are still working. Kids are free to track their rounds or reps during an AMRAP if they want to, but that is completely optional.

However, I don't want to exclusively run AMRAP WODs either, because that means the kids won't have a chance to experience CrossFit's culture of cheering for everyone, and maybe even cheering harder for the person finishing last, as Lisbeth mentioned.

Here's a picture of this very phenomenon taken at last year's CrossFit Games (thanks to this lovely blog):

Having been the last person finished with a WOD on more than one occasion, I can personally attest to how great it is to have your own personal cheering section full of people who want you to do your very best.

So, on days when the WOD is not an AMRAP, I remind the kids that we are a team and we cheer each other on. The minute the first kid finishes the WOD, I encourage him/her to clap and cheer on their teammates (because I really want them to view each other as teammates, not competitors). As the others finish, they join in on the cheering, until all of the kids are done.

I was delighted when, last week, the kids started cheering for each other all on their own. One by one, they finished their WOD and then just started clapping and shouting the names of the kids who were still working. That made me feel so happy! They really got it!


Usually the games I run in the classes are set up deliberately to promote a team-like atmosphere, so we are doing a lot of tag variations and I've experimented with some explicit team-building types of games such as Cross the Swamp (which wasn't such a hit, really).

I like games set up to allow the kids who get tagged out to get right back into the game by performing a few repetitions of whatever skill we are focusing on. So there's still the aspect of being tagged out, but then you aren't just sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else play. You earn your way back into the game with a few squats or whatever and the fun ensues.

When I do run a game that involves direct competition, with clear winners and losers, I try to set it up so that it's a team against team type of competition. Again this promotes teamwork, and if you are on the losing side, at least you're not alone. The main reason for doing this, though, is because I have learned that it's too hard for me to pay attention to scores and rules infractions and sloppy form brought on by a desire to win. When there are only two teams, I actually can monitor the kids more easily.

I am not anti-competition, by the way. I am not a helicopter parent or coach who thinks that children need to be protected from their feelings of disappointment or struggle. In fact, if you want to learn how to cope with the disappointment of losing (or winning without gloating!), you need to lose sometimes (or win).

The fact of the matter is that I only have the kids for 30 minutes, and the class is primarily meant to be a fun way for them to be physically active. So I am trying to balance this with the competition aspect, give the kids chances to learn to be competitive in such a way that their focus is on trying to do their best and not on trying to beat someone else, and to encourage each one of them to view the others as teammates to root for.

As I wrote this post, I discovered that I have a lot more to say on the subject of competition and kids, but I'll save that for a future blog post.

What's Next

I think it would be great to have something visible hanging up in the gym that states what we are all about, a Declaration of CrossFit Kids, if you will. Here are a couple of the ideas I have for this already:

CrossFit Kids --

  • Work Hard
  • Have Fun
  • Cheer for Each Other
  • Follow the Safety Rules (See what I did there? Heh.)


What I'd really, really like is to spend about 5 minutes with the kids and have us come up with a list together. Some kids come to most of the clases; others I only see once a week or even less often than that. I bet if I went over this with each class for a week I would probably be able to get input from most of the kids.

Because, you know, what if I can't think up everything we should be all by myself? I need their help! Also, why should I do all the work? :D

In all seriousness, if the kids feel like this list is theirs, that it belongs to them because they helped create it, then they will be more likely to stick to whatever we put on there. The creating of this sign is itself a team-building exercise, and of course, we will have some words on there that reinforce the idea that we support each other.

So yeah, I think I'll make this a goal for February. Just gotta find a white board to put our list on.

I think that's all I've got to say for now. At this point in our program, after one official month, I think we are off to a great start in developing and maintaining a supportive class culture. I'm confident that this type of atmosphere will keep the kids feeling welcome, included, motivated to try their best, and willing to cheer each other on. And I will definitely have more to say on this topic as our program continues and changes in the future.


Katie Davis said...

What a positive environment! I wish I lived close to you because I would love my kids to have these kinds of experiences! I'm looking forward to more posts!

steffy said...

Hi Jenn

As a fellow CrossFitter and CF Coach -- I just worked on this partnership to being more awareness of CFKids and help online education families. Hope you will find it useful.

The content they are going to offer is awesome!

CrossFit Kids: Improving Overall Health and Learning Capabilities

steph h

steffy said...

As a fellow Crossfitter and CFKids coach, I hope you will appreciate the information that we are going to start offering to online education families to help inspire and encourage their kiddos to get moving!

CrossFit Kids: Improving Overall Health and Learning Capabilities

steph h

Jenn Casey said...

Stephanie, that's so great!

I will definitely read the series. And I am planning to update my own blog about my CF Kids experience, too. It's going well, but we are super busy getting the program up and going, leaving me little time to write about the experience. Overall, that's a good thing. :D

Thanks for letting me know about this!