This has been, unquestionably, the toughest post I’ve ever a time putting together. Most folks think, “Man – you’re writing about Jay going to the CrossFit Games…for a SECOND YEAR IN A ROW!!! How hard can it be?”
Almost as tough, but not quite, as him making it again this year. Yes, by the time many of you read this, a bunch of us will be on our way to Madison, WI to cheer on Jay at the 2017 CrossFit Games. His second straight trip!
People often ask if I’m stressed or nervous, with regards to him going to the Games. Even our other coaches and staff members. They know what a big deal this is. It’s like asking Belichick if he’s nervous going to the Super Bowl. Ok, not quite – I know I’m not on that level! But you get the point.
To be honest, yes, I’m definitely a bit stressed out and nervous. And any coach, or athlete for that matter, who tells you they don’t ever get stressed or nervous before stepping onto the big stage is either lying or not in touch with how these emotions feel.
But I relish in these opportunities.
When I was an Assistant Strength and Conditioning coach with the Yankees, I often spoke with the stars about nerves. The best pitchers in the game all told me the same thing: “Its good to be nervous. It means you care. You can use it to your advantage.”
I think about that every day.
Being stressed or nervous doesn’t mean you give in to negative self talk or doubt your training or ability. I think the opposite is true. This is the time where we get to show all the training we’ve done throughout the years (yes, years PLURAL).
It is a time to shine.
With that being said, I want to share with you a post that I’ve had in my queue since last October. I’ve been waiting for the right time to share it, as its very raw, very vulnerable, and right after reading it got Mandy to say:
“It’s great. Tell Jay ‘thanks…I wasn’t planning on crying today.'”
Jay, before you take the stage on Thursday morning, remember these words.
And remember, Heroes Do.
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
It doesn’t matter if you attribute those words to an old Chinese proverb, Mahatma Gandhi, or Margaret Thatcher, they ring true.
It starts with your thoughts. You think you can. You say you can. Then you do it. And you do it again. And then you achieve.
That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway. The reality is that much of the time those thoughts- the words ricocheting in your head- aren’t the same ones bouncing around outside of it – the ones you would hear if you would only pay attention. We have an extremely supportive community at CFG and worldwide. Our sport is one of the few that competitors will actually help another competitor out, even if it means they’ll lose. Words of encouragement are literally shouted at boxes around the world. Someone is being encouraged right now- and they are accomplishing things they had no idea that they could. It’s freakin’ awesome!
“You can’t do this; you’ve never done this.”
“It’s too heavy.”
“What are you doing here?”
“You’re too weak… too small … too slow.”
“You shouldn’t even be here.”
“Phony, now everyone knows.”
“Give it up! You’re just not good enough.”
Sound familiar? Yeah, me, too. I said all of those. You may have been watching me as I did: CrossFit Games 2016, Day 3. Yup, even Games athletes hear them. Every athlete has faced those thoughts at some point. The issue isn’t hearing them; that’s normal. We are often much harsher to ourselves than we are to others. The issue becomes what you do when you do.
It’s no secret that I am a smaller athlete. I can’t train for hours a day. For years as I tried to get to the Games I have struggled with self-doubt about how that affects me.
Once I got to Carson and the events started, my initial fears about my capability, my size, training volume disappeared. I found myself competitive. I couldn’t believe what was going on.
But the morning of Day 3, a great big container of D-Balls, basically 150 pound sandbags, was rolled into the warm up area. I had never touched one before. But I have cleaned 100 pounds above my bodyweight, so how hard can a 150 pound ball be? Well, as it turns out, really hard! I couldn’t pick it up. I was faced with a WOD where I had to do 3 cleans over the shoulder, for 3 rounds, with a ball I couldn’t even get off the ground once.
“This is for the big guys. You’re screwed, Jay.”
Those thoughts started.
Fortunately, our community stepped up. Josh found Rob Orlando, THE CrossFit Strongman, and he showed me how to pick up the D-ball. I think I did like 6-10 good reps during the warmup. Now go back and read the top quote… ten reps doesn’t make a habit. I certainly didn’t reinforce the right thoughts to get there.
Flash forward to about 30 minutes later. Standing in the middle of a soccer field staring at a ball at my feet, I heard most of those comments again.
“You’re just too small.
“You’re too weak.”
“You can’t do it.”
I threw my sunglasses in frustration when the timer sounded. I didn’t react to my internal critic the way we should. That WOD reinforced all of those negative thoughts I struggle with. I let it happen. The WOD didn’t beat me; I beat myself. But I made the final, which made me feel a little better.
Until…. that damn axel bar.
The weight seemed manageable, nothing spectacular. The WOD didn’t appear that difficult. But I soon learned that my tiny hands, torn and sweaty, weren’t going to be able to grip that bar for a clean.
“You’re just too small, Jay. This is going to suck.” (Seeing two guys tear their biceps tendon in the minutes before we began certainly didn’t help.)
I tried to banish them. They wouldn’t go away, even as I walked in, even as I crushed the chest to bar pullups. Those negative thoughts nobody but me could hear were louder than that whole stadium. Standing in the middle of a packed soccer stadium, on TV, dead last, was a lonely place.
“What are you even doing out here?”
“See? You’re just not good enough.”
“You’re a joke.”
If you watch the video (I can’t), you can just about see those thought bubbles appearing over my head as I stood there. I wanted to walk away, but this time I didn’t succumb to the negativity. I chose differently. After a few frustrating moments each time I heard one, I replaced it with what I would tell someone else. Sometimes I did this out loud – I had to shout them down. It happened more than once. You may be able to see that, too.
“Try again.” I got a clean.
“Do another.” I got one more.
“Just get under it, Jay. Light weight.”
“Now push-jerk it. Stay on the bar!
We work on our weaknesses. Addressing individual and group weaknesses is programmed throughout the year. But our weaknesses aren’t limited to physical movements or actions. Get your thoughts and words moving the right way first. Actions are third. All of us have to face our internal critics and negativity, usually at the worst time. That’s normal and just a part of trying to achieve. The issue is what you do when they come up. That’s when your character is revealed. With the D-balls, I let it get into my head and beat me. Later on that day, knowing what I faced internally, I fought through them. All of us can do that. Changing our thoughts will change what we are actually able to accomplish. Believe in yourself. After all, we believe in you. Just listen.