3 Lessons I Learned from the NPGL

1. Prioritize Your Time, Build a Team, Change Your Habits

You don’t have a lot of time, that’s a given. On a continuum stretching from “All the time in the world” to “Gordon Gecko,” you’re probably somewhere in the middle. You’ve got discretionary time, but none to waste. Your time is scarce, and you generally only have somewhere between 14-16 waking hours a day to parcel out that time to all of your obligations and priorities. Certain obligations, like work and family, are non-negotiable – and rightfully so. So the variable amount of time you’re left with on any given day, and what you do with it, says a lot about your priorities.

When I was younger, they weren’t always in the right place. Sometimes a night out drinking took precedent over training the next day. That’s understandable, that’s forgivable, but in the long-term, it’s not reasonable; especially if you have big goals. Big goals require actual time-commitment, not just lip service. Big goals require a team, not a rotating cast of characters you share gym space with. Seek out people with similar goals and similar priorities; make a schedule, and stick to it. If you’ve got work or class early, it’s helpful to have a training partner who doesn’t balk at 6:00 AM track sessions. It’s not fun, but it’s what’s required (especially, if given your schedule, you know won’t have a chance to get it done later). It’s what’s demanded, even on the days where you won’t demand it of yourself. And on those days, if you won’t show up for yourself, you’ll damn sure show up for someone else. That’s a team. In San Francisco I was surrounded by people who understood that, who appreciated it, because they know how rare it is to find that type of commitment. Consequently, I started demanding more of myself, seeing how much my teammates demanded of themselves. “Excellence,” as my man Aristotle pointed out, “is not an act, but a habit.” So I altered my usual habits to better emulate the habits of my teammates, especially those that had already been where I was looking to go. Success, more or less, is a learned behavior. Surround yourself with successful people, and act accordingly.

2. Rest…no, seriously. Rest.

It’s hard, I know. If you’re anything like me you spend all week looking forward to a scheduled rest day, you tell your friends and training partners how badly you need one, and then when the day arrives you find some way to do something other than rest. If you’re the type to call a few dozen laps of swimming, 90 minutes of hot yoga, and light barbell cycling an “active rest day”, you’re missing the point and cannibalizing your gains. If rest is scheduled as part of your weekly programming, then it is part of your training plan, not an arbitrary time-out. Start looking at rest as integral to, not an interruption of, your training. There’s a popular adage: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I’ve found, in my case and many others, that rest is something that makes a lot of athletes uncomfortable. It’s time to get comfortable with the idea that sometimes not training is the best way to improve the quality of your actual training. Again, I look to my Fire teammates as examples. In practice, they worked hard, but within their limits. They tried new skills, and didn’t mind looking dumb when their first few attempts were unsuccessful. Outside of practice, they stayed active. They swam, played tennis and golf, and rode bikes (not for time or distance or score, but rather for pure enjoyment). When they watched TV, they watched TV and mobilized. They economized their time better than most, and certainly better than me, prior to moving there. I realized I had been going about balancing my training and life the wrong way: I had been trying to separate my training from my life, with the impossible task of applying equal amounts of time and energy to both. Instead, I’ve begun to let my life inform my training, with the understanding that the better I manage my life outside the gym, the more attention I pay to the physical, mental, and emotional effects of training (both good and bad), the more productive my training becomes.

3. Remember the Golden Rule

It’s a truism that great athletes don’t necessarily make great coaches. But among the great athletes I competed with, they shared a common attribute: they genuinely cared about people, and took every opportunity to learn as much from other people as those people hoped to learn from them. What’s my point? My point, without delving into touchy-feely territory or delivering some hortatory message on karma, is that the best athletes routinely put the considerations of others ahead of their own. This type of selflessness, I’ve found, has a way of paying dividends. Fans cheer the loudest, coaches work the hardest, and companies invest the most in athletes that are also exemplary people. Paul Southern, the GM of the Fire, said the team’s draft strategy was to “draft exceptional people, who also happen to be exceptional athletes.” The team created a culture that attracted those types of athletes, and the strategy paid off with an appearance in the inaugural Grid Championship. If you want to make it far in Crossfit, Grid, or life in general, you’re going to need help at some point. And people are usually more willing to help those they can trust to return the favor. I’ll end by quoting Abraham Lincoln, who famously said in his address to San Dimas High School, “Be excellent to each other, and . . . party on dudes!”