#125: Producing CrossFit Games and Lessons From a Student Athlete – Director of Sport Operations Heather Lawrence

Saturday October 21, 2023

Six days. Hundreds of events. Thousands of volunteers. One mission. Crown the Fittest on Earth. CrossFit Games is a production like none other in fitness, requiring a coordinated effort down to the minute and leadership with an unwavering commitment to winning. 

CrossFit’s Sport Operations team is charged with making the games happen. They’re also responsible for programming the individual workouts we see in the games, across boxes and on the daily website. Heather Lawrence, CrossFit’s Director of Sport Operations, joined Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from the US Army Fitness Truck at 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games just after the community 5k to break down just how the games are planned, produced, and executed; and how programming workouts is the key to success in CrossFit as an athlete and a coach.

Heather began her athletic career as an Olympic-level diver building an elite career in sport business post competition. She is the author of 20 Secrets for NCAA Student-Athletes & the Event Management Blueprint, as well as a professor of sports administration at Ohio University. As three former collegiate athletes, Heather, Jessie and Fran go deep on what we learn about life from college sports, setting the example for others to follow, and how character is built in micro moments of discipline. 

Learn more and read the transcript on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube

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Producing CrossFit Games and Lessons From a Student Athlete – Director of Sport Operations Heather Lawrence

Heather, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

I’m excited to sit down with you because when we talk about CrossFit, Jesse and I have gone through our CrossFit journey this year. Thanks to you, CrossFit, Don, and everybody. We’re appreciative of all the support that you guys have given us and the opportunity to go to the Level 1 course in February. It was eye-opening for someone like me who’s been in and around CrossFit. I never thought of competing, but I did it recreationally as my workouts but never got trained. I never sat in a seminar, “This is how you don’t hurt yourself when you’re doing some of these things. This is how you progress, train, and nutrition, and bring it all together. Also, being able to expose to Jesse was an awesome experience.

The Level 1 is such an incredible weekend. I’ve done both the online version of Level 1 and the in-person twice over the years here. There’s nothing like it. As much as you want to try to explain it to someone, you want to grab their hand and say, “Register. Go do it. I can’t explain it.” I’ve never met anyone who regretted their Level 1 experience.

The instructors were what blew me away because I come from a background of thirteen years in the army and a Green Beret. What do we do? We’re teachers and instructors. We teach foreign armies and militaries to be the best they can be in addition to our own soldiers. The level of professionalism that they displayed at every moment of the course was unbelievable to watch. It’s a testament to the coaching program that you’ve developed. I’m going to have you define CrossFit, but talk for a second about why the coaches are important to the program and the investment that goes into that development.

The coaches are at the heart of everything we do. Those who own affiliates are the coaches. Those who are coaching the athletes on the floor every day are those coaches from our Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4. Some of those folks have been within the ecosystem for fifteen-plus years. Others may have just taken their Level 1. There is this mutual respect about going through the process that is part of it. Whether somebody has a Level 4 or Level 1 patch, they can speak the same language and learn from each other.

One thing about the trainers that you encounter, not only on seminar staff but also in our gyms, is that expectation of feedback. It permeates CrossFit HQ as well. We are held accountable for what those seminar staffs go through to get to the point where they’re on the floor or maybe they’re even a Flowmaster. They are constantly receiving that feedback and giving feedback. It’s not personal. Something that is important when you’re coaching athletes is taking that separation from somebody’s ability to squat to death, separate from who they are.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

People can take that personally. Our trainers and our coaches have that as part of who they are. It’s drilled into them. They’re excellent not only in helping other people develop as coaches but also taking that concept of movement versus developing a relationship with a person, and using that within how they interact with people in the gym.

I enjoyed the coaching we got on different ways to cue people because I know when I’m expressing to someone how to make a ninja move, I have a certain way of expressing it that I think is so clear and doesn’t necessarily click for everyone, but having a whole bunch of examples of, “Here are different ways that you can cue someone.”

Some of the things that you probably saw on your Level 1 and become more prominent in Level 2 is that triaging of the movement, takes an athlete wherever they are in their journey. This is what any teacher will do with any topic they are teaching. Taking the most egregious thing that needs to be fixed, whether it’s a safety issue or a major movement pattern deficiency. It’s working on that first. Having our trainers be able to take a look at someone and instantly identify the order in which you’ll help somebody move better is something that more reps. You need more reps. Practice coaching, watching people, and being in the gym is how they’re going to get that.

It takes a lot of practice.

You throw it out there and I am 99% sure I’ll get it right. I’m going to leave a little room there for error. I want to talk about each of these components, but functional movements constantly vary and are executed at high intensity. Let’s break those down because, in your role as Director of Operations, this is where it all comes together. How do we put these workouts together for the masses and the elite athletes, and why? When we talk about functional movement, what are we talking about?

We’re talking about the movement that helps you live a longer life in which you’re able to do the things you want to do. It’s simply from, “I didn’t know I was going to run a 5K today. It’s a little bit of stretching and my fitness base is solid enough that I could go out and do that.” What I’m doing in the gym is getting there. It’s making sure that I can get my groceries in from the car later in life. It’s making sure that I can reach that plant that I need off the very top of my kitchen cabinet deadlifting. It is training those core movement patterns that you replicate in real life, playing with your children or grandchildren, and doing it safely. We’re using fitness in a way that enables you to live your best life. It’s an overused term, but it’s what CrossFit does.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

I don’t think it’s an overused term because the Army went back to “Be all you can be.” They do that because somebody woke up one day and said, “Let’s go back to ‘Be all you can be’ because that’s where we are as a society.” We need to build people who, in their own way, are tough, strong, and willing to take on today’s challenges because they are so numerous. That starts with not necessarily thinking about having to be the best ever but, “Can I be the best version of myself? What’s the journey by which I can put myself on the path that I can go on in order to do that?” That’s going to be different for every single one of us. You’re creating a program that allows people to do that.

It’s not just about that physical expression of it, but it’s the health marker. It’s everything that comes together from the work you put in the gym and it’s the grit. It’s being okay with some challenges. One of the other words you mentioned earlier in the definition is the idea of intensity. That’s one of the things that separates CrossFit from many other fitness methodologies.

We will have recovery days. We will come in and have days where maybe you’re not going to work quite as hard. For the most part, the majority of your days in the gym are going to be a little bit uncomfortable. That’s something that’s celebrated at CrossFit because that’s where the magic happens. That’s where you see transformation and change not only physically but also mentally. It’s something special. When you add that community aspect to it, both in the gym and what we saw with 1,000 people running a 5K, it’s nothing like it.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

You hit the first and the last part. What about constantly varied? Why is that so important to the programming?

People confused that concept of constantly varied with totally random chaos. That’s not what it is. There’s this methodology behind it. Those are the companies that hone in on programming for us all day long. They’re creating work out to the day on our main site in a very structured and methodical way. The 5K is the most programmed workout on the CrossFit main site. CrossFit’s main site still has a free workout every single day.

We want people to be an affiliate. Affiliates in that coaching are incredible. For those who don’t choose that path, there is still a free opportunity every single day to dive in. It has multiple versions of the workout. You can come along as CrossFitter and see the benefits of it, not necessarily having to be an affiliate, but just even through that workout of the day. Constantly varied overall means short workouts, long workouts, gymnastics movements, monostructural movements, run, jump rope, pull-ups, and gymnastics, and then we have things that are strengths components.

We have our traditional deadlift and bench press. We all have Olympic lifts, like snatch and clean and jerk. Taking all those components and making sure that you’re touching the different aspects of the fitness paradigm from start to finish throughout a long view of the program is what might constantly vary.

When they do the programming on the site or for all the affiliates, is that designed with the assumption that someone is coming in every day, or if there’s someone who only comes in 1 or 2 days a week, are they still going to get a balanced distribution?

The main site workouts are designed exactly as Greg Glassman intended, which is three days on and a rest day. We program three days on and one day off. There’s a lot of conversation in the community as to whether or not that rest day is a true rest day or active rest. CrossFit is our challenge in their ability to arrest. The value of rest cannot be overstated enough. Your body needs that, especially since some of us are getting a little bit up there in age, recognizing the value of a little bit of recovery so you can hit it hard. That first day back, you’re super fresh. The second day still felt pretty good. On the third day, you’re going to hit it hard because you have a rest day coming up. It does settle in that over the long haul.

I had to switch around the idea of a rest day in my head and I call it intense discipline. I have to remind myself that, “Not everyone has the discipline to take a recovery day when that’s the healthiest thing to do.” When I phrase it that way, then it sounds like a more elite way to go that takes discipline and effort. That makes me more inspired to do it because it is so challenging when you want it so badly and when you want to be your best.

[bctt tweet=”Not everyone has the discipline to take a recovery day when that’s the healthiest thing to do.” username=”talentwargroup”]

There’s nothing like a little bit of yoga and stretching.

That takes those things.

CrossFitters have trouble shutting the old brain down and relaxing a little bit. It’s important.

There’s such a strong reward of endorphins when you’re pushing to your limit. Something like yoga is still very hard but doesn’t necessarily have the adrenaline with it. It can be even more challenging because you’re not getting as much of that chemical boost while you’re doing it. In a way, it takes way more discipline to do less intense exercise.Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

I force myself to take that time. When it is the rest day, I have to get a little bit of recovery in with stretching or yoga.

Three days hard and one day off is the cycle.

That’s how it is programmed.

It’s not even a weekly structure as much as a four-day cycle.

With over 13,000 affiliates around the world, everybody has a little bit different take on that. Some gyms program a little bit easier days, knowing that members have trouble not coming in. They sell three-day week punched cards. People’s lives are busy. Everybody is in different stages of life. If you hit it hard every day for too long, you’ll learn the hard way. There has to be something worked it. We’ve been there.

Let’s talk about sports and the department within CrossFit. You told me when we spoke that when it’s going, nobody knows it exists. When it’s not it all, it becomes all your fault.

I’m the Director of Sports Operations. Within Sport at CrossFit, our group does everything from the open, all the way through the games and then many special events. We also have broadcasts, partnerships, sponsorships, running these live and virtual events, and things of that nature. Those are all within sport. Sport Operations help facilitate all of those things. When you think about coming up with the open, like we have a marketing department within CrossFit, Sport will work with marketing to elevate the open, come up with marketing plans and things of that nature.

We’re heavy in that season. There’s everything from the competition team working on video review, all the way through qualifying athletes to the next stage. All year long, we are working with some of our top athletes and agents, making sure that we’re elevating them to the best of our ability. It should be smooth. Hopefully, from the outside, it looks like that. Sometimes it feels like you’re running hard underwater trying to make things go, but that’s the idea.

It looks incredibly smooth. This is day four for us, even though the individuals and the team started yesterday, so two more days to go. I’ve been blown away by the complexity of the operation. Not only the magnitude and massive venues, there’s a tremendous amount of people. We’ve seen the influx of more and more people every day as we progress, but the support staff. Don said in the press conference on the first day that there are 1,000 people working on the support staff. There are many different jobs and pieces. All the events are precisely timed. Talk about what goes into putting that together because, from the outside, it does look very seamless and very flawless. The events go on, the crew comes out, they change it over, and new athletes come in and compete in the event.

We go back there and sprinkle a little pixie dust on everybody and off we go. We run this event to the minute in every aspect of the competition. That’s how we can get this to be completely coordinated with the broadcast. Everything else we wanted to do to make the athlete experience the best it can be. If the competition runs off schedule and athletes are either stuck in corrals after warm-up before they hit a heavy lift on the floor or don’t have enough time to warm up, that impacts their ability to show us their best performance. Everything we do is with the athletes’ performance in mind. We have over 600 volunteers here from all over the world. They’re not just from local Madison. It’s incredible. We have 2,000 applications.

It’s a selection process.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

We have a wonderful woman in Charlotte who does not get enough credit who manages all of our volunteer applications, including the evaluation of volunteers each year because when we go back, people couldn’t work their way up onto our teams based on years of service, and how they do and how they evaluated. We have volunteers who tell us, “This is our family reunion.” They’re using their two weeks of vacation each year to come and see their friends and family because they’ve been on the medical team every year for a decade, and things like that. It is incredible. We’re so fortunate.

I’m calculating how you’re able to say so on schedule. For every event, are you looking at the slowest seed time of athletes, but they’re not standard benchmark workouts? You have to estimate what their times are going to be based on other workouts they’ve done.

We do a lot of testing. Those workouts are run through sometimes in multiple variations as the games are being programmed. Athletes are game-level athletes, but maybe they set out or work and didn’t quite qualify that year. They help support us by meeting us at a location where we run through these workouts many times in different iterations to make sure that not only do we have the weights and loading right, but we also have the distance right. We can set those time caps.

Those time caps on the floor are what allow us to have the gear changes between men’s and women’s or they reset the floor. For anybody that was out here and saw the Alpaca event on North Park at the games, if you looked at all the volunteers, we had dozens of kettlebells on the field. They were moving sleds. Getting equipment reset is what we work into the timing and then making sure the athletes can get on and off the field appropriately. People who are doing this got it down to a science. It all comes together. We adjust as we go. We do make mistakes, but hopefully, we own those and move on to what we do.

One of the crazy things is all the planning, preparation, and coordination that goes into something like the Alpaca there, and then you never do it.

It’s one of the best and worst things about CrossFit as a sport. It’s cool because it’s not only being part of it as an employee. As a fan, it’s always different. There’s always something new, but there’s always a little bit of honoring history too. Whether it’s a repeat workout from a previous game or a benchmark workout that the community can completely relate to, those may pop in, but when you’re talking about all of our master athletes, teenagers, adaptive, and our individuals and teams, every workout and floorplans are different. Every sign that our signage crew is making on every little chess piece that athletes are running around, every detail is thoroughly thought through.Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

We had a chance to go back into where the operations were happening the other day when we were loading in. There was a whole crew back there who was making signs.

That team traveled to the semi-final events for the same thing. Everything that you see on broadcast or here on-site at games, when you see behind the bleachers, a logo, all of that is custom-made each time we come to the games. All of that is to elevate our partners and honor what they do for us to make sure that every athlete’s name is spelled and everything. It’s incredible how they transformed this campus and put on such an amazing show for everybody.

Can we talk a little bit about your background as an athlete and how that led you to this?

I think most CrossFitters have some sort of competitive background in something. There’s just something about it that draws you to CrossFit. I grew up early as a gymnast. I switched to diving. It is a niche sport. Not a lot of people go around and say they were a diverging up, but I do springboard and platform diving as a kiddo all through college and on the US national team. I had a great career. I enjoyed it. I went to the University of Florida as a college student-athlete. My love of sports business began with the opportunities I had there as an athlete to interact with what the staff and the athletics department were doing. I learned from them and fell in love with it.

Can you talk about your book? It’s about transitioning from a student-athlete to a professional at something.

The book says that 99% of student-athletes become professionals in something other than athletics.

In high school and even younger, there is this messaging about some in-game and athletics. There are some outcomes or the finish line. I don’t think that’s the case. In my athletic career, I experienced this after a great career at a college. I was a Southeastern Conference Champion and NCAA All-American many times, a national team member, and competed internationally. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but as soon as it was time to move on and I chose to go to graduate school instead of stay for other Olympic trials, we’re not athletic in that structure that 5:00 AM workout, tutor, and all the things that go along with that, I was pretty lost for a while there.

I was able to get myself out of that situation and refocus in some other areas, but I started to look around and realize how many of my contemporaries were student-athletes in football, baseball, and basketball. When that athletic career ended, they were a little bit lost. That was a long time ago. It’s well over twenty years ago now. It’s something that’s stayed with me. As I went through my career both as a faculty member in sports administration and also working in college athletics, it’s something that stuck with me as a passion to help mentor young athletes. As early as possible, I help them understand that there are other things that you’re learning through sports that are so much more important than an eventual paycheck or gold medal in anything. That’s what I still love to have conversations about today.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

What are some of those things that are the most important that we can gain through sports that are not just for sport?

What’s your top?

The term student-athlete is used a lot. When you’re in college, there is this emphasis of, “You’re a student-athlete.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking about yourself as an athlete. However, in that student part, there are so many opportunities you’re given. Whether you’re in college or you’re an athlete, you have opportunities to interact with people who are strength and conditioning specialists, leaders in their space, coaches, and older athletes. You have these opportunities that are not afforded to everybody to build relationships and learn from those people.

When you can surround yourself with people who will dive on a sword for you in other areas of your life, that is something that is exceptional within the athletic realm. There is something about a shared mindset of doing hard things within a sport that helps people keep these relationships going well after their time as an athlete. One of the tips is to leverage that experience around your athletic endeavor to build relationships that way outlast your time as an athlete.

[bctt tweet=”There is something about a shared mindset of doing hard things within a sport that helps people keep these relationships going well after their time as an athlete.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Things like reps are just practice. It’s understanding that we have a chance to get to know someone. You’re getting to know them. You’re not just getting to know their athletic performance. Learning that as a 16, 17, 18, or 19-year-old is hard because, in your head, you’ve been told that there is this outcome of some professional contract or whatever that next thing is in your sport. That’s one. It gives you an opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise get to know and develop relationships that are deeper than just surface level.

I want to ask about today’s youth because you also spend time as an administrator for universities and colleges as a professor. What do you see out of today’s youth? We talk about this a lot. There are two conversations that are being had. One is that today’s youth lasts great. They’re not tough. We’ve built a society of complacency and ease, finding the hack, and making it easy. The other one is that every generation was looked on by the previous one as they are lazy, incompetent, and can’t do anything, yet it seems that every generation at some point has its moment where they have to stand up. As Americans, we’ve never failed in that. What do you see as you work with today’s youth in their development and desire to be leaders?

We can lump everybody together and talk about this a little bit. When I see students coming in from high school, they’re coming in a lot of times well ahead academically because of all the opportunities that exist in high school for AP credits and things like that. However, they’re coming in lacking some of the independence and ability to understand the work it takes to truly set themselves apart. There’s an expectation of things being given to them instead of earned, whether you’re talking about grades. I had parents of college students call to complain about their child, like a twenty-year-old.

That doesn’t bother the kids. People are horrified for a parent who made that call. It’s part of it. Doing things on their own and being able to push through when things get hard. That’s where athletics comes in as well. One thing I see with student-athletes is a much better ability when the going gets hard to struggle through it because they have been in a game where they had to come from behind or they flat-out lost and had to deal with it. Many students who have not had that competitive background give up. They turn to the easy way out, which is cheating or doing the absolute bare minimum, instead of taking this sense of ownership and trying to do what it takes to be more than average.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

What can we do as the generation who has the responsibility to develop them? What’s our role in that? We do have a responsibility.

As a parent too, this is no joke. You look around here at the CrossFit games and back to the 5K. Let me see those kids digging deep. There were kids out there who were crushing it. One little girl came across in Crocs. She ran a 5K on a Crocs. She is incredible. We need to lift up those who are willing to do the hard things and the parents who are willing to let their kids fail like, “That’s cool. It’s part of it. Life is uncomfortable.”

Providing opportunities for kids through sports or other avenues to not only accelerate. Not everybody is going to win everything. You will not win everything in your life. That’s what we need to do. The gym is a great place to learn those skills. Whether it’s the football field or CrossFit affiliate, one of the things we do in an affiliate is you’re not putting your barbell away until everybody is done and you’re supporting them. People have different weights.

We’re celebrating that person making progress and not celebrating the poor movement that puts you ahead. That’s what we’re talking about even from an academic setting. If you’re going to approach your life like that, you’re never going to know how to be exceptional at anything. The CrossFit gym shows you how to do that. Do it the right way, get the foundations right, and then add intensity. It’s the same thing.

We had Jason Khalipa join us this morning. He’s going to be famous on ESPN.Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

He has done an awesome job for us. He’s a killer.

I was excited when that was announced. Jason has been on Episode 54. He talks about these micro-moments. One of the things that athletics teaches you, even the military and the Army serving and Special Operations, is that these micro-moments train your personality and character to do the right thing at a very high level. When it’s as simple as picking a piece of trash up off the floor or doing a snatch with the bar. Should you do that differently with 135 pounds or the bar? If you train that fundamental bar right, then you’re going to execute the 135 pounds differently. Those micro-moments, we can’t allow them to pass us by.

I give leadership talks and I talked about there was absolutely nothing special about being a Green Beret and Special Forces. The difference is we executed the fundamentals better than everybody else with precision day in and day out. In the new generation, we’re training anybody. They were training athletes or kids overbearing. I’m bringing this up a little bit personally. My daughter has been working hard. I even talked to Jesse about it for a while. She is kind enough to talk to her. She didn’t make the club team that she had been on. I didn’t approach it the right way. How do we train that? How do we get them to understand that it’s going to be hard and it’s supposed to be hard? If you do these little things every single day, it’s going to get you to where you are.

Model it. Find the right coaches and model yourself. As you were talking through that, I recall reading that you can tell everything you need to know about a person, when they put the shopping cart back, or they leave it behind the car or walk it to wherever it’s supposed to be. That’s what we’re talking about. Put your stuff away and pick up after yourself with your kid. Do they put the plate in the dishwasher or leave it? That drives me crazy. That’s what I related to. If you can’t open the dishwasher and put your plate in there, how are you going to demonstrate that you’re going to finish anything? They don’t receive that well either.

Those are the kinds of things. As tempting as it is to let things pile up myself, whether it’s the gym or something around the house, make sure that you are modeling all of those small behaviors in the way the language you use at home, language you use in the gym, all of that matches. I’m not saying that I am even close to perfect, but I am striving for that and realizing that the little eyes are watching and the little ears are listening to everything you’re doing.

In the gym too, it’s not only youth, but we have many young adults and adults in the same situation. Remember that everything you are doing, you’re a leader in the gym. The first person leaves a kettlebell out, the rest aren’t going to put it away. The minute someone else picks two up. Everything gets put away fast. You can change the whole situation around you. You don’t have to go the extra mile. It’s going the extra inch over and over again.

How do you look for that in your training, the micro-moments? So much of what you do in Ninja is about a fraction of an inch.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

I know that knowing how many little girls are watching me and looking up to me made me a better person. I know that when competition doesn’t go my way and I fall in the water and I am heartbroken, thousands of little girls are watching me learning how to behave when you’re heartbroken. I mentally prepare myself for that because I know it’s not always going to go my way. I have to think about what I want to demonstrate to the kids who are looking up to me.

The way I would want my role model to behave is to stand up and say what I’m proud of, “Here’s what I did well. Here’s how I’m learning from my mistake.” I try to do that every time I get up out of the water. I’d say, “Here’s what I did. Here’s why I’m proud of it. Here’s where I made a mistake. Here’s my plan to get better.” I know that if I can do that, then every fall is a win. That’s what I tried to model to the kids that are watching me.

As a mom, thank you. Thanks for your approach and for thinking about it that way. That is because we know as parents, we can say something one million times and it means nothing. Hearing it from somebody else and seeing those actions is awesome. What an inspiration.

It also helps me to know that they’re watching because it’s hard to take those actions because I am heartbroken when I fall in the water, but having people looking up to you almost makes it easier to make healthy choices because you are not just doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for those who are watching.

[bctt tweet=”Having people looking up to you really almost makes it easier to make the healthy choices because you’re not just doing it for yourself.” username=”talentwargroup”]

It’s okay to be upset. You should care deeply about what you’re doing.

Knowing that I learned from the mistake and now I have a plan, and that mistake is ultimately going to make me better in the future makes it hurt a lot less.

You’re coming full circle. It’s like even CrossFit games. That’s literally how the coaching staff and everything we’re doing out here, this concept overall that we do the workout, once we’re still, every night, post-competition meeting, we were here way too late last night, assessing everything that happened, making notes for next time, “If we have something similar, this is what will change. Let’s look at tomorrow. If it’s a mistake, just admit it. Let’s see what we can learn and move on as a team, and not sugarcoating things.”

It’s like you’re reading my mind because I wanted to go into the team piece because a lot of the concepts in your book tie in with the team because we learned so much from being a part of a team. The CrossFit corporate team staff are very small. You’re doing a tremendous amount with a very small staff. Special Operations Truth number one, People are more important than hardware. Everything comes down to people. There are characteristics that are used by Special Operations Command, nine of them specifically to evaluate and assess talent.

We’ve used them since the Jedburgh teams of the 1940s jumped into Normandy and their occupied lines behind Normandy. They’re used today whether you’re going to be a Green Beret, Army Ranger, or Navy SEAL. That doesn’t matter because we’re always assessing character because character is what predicts behavior, especially when things are not going well.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

New challenges are coming to CrossFit because you have been here in Madison for six years. Now it’s announced that you’ve got to figure out how to do this in a multitude of cities, but it hasn’t been announced yet as you do multiple years in a different city. You’re going to change it every year, but we know that exposure matters. Probably, your duration in certain places will be much less than six years because you can have to figure out how to do it in places. As you look forward, you have to assess your team and what you need from your team over the course to get through the rest of the weekend first, but then make that transition for the organization. What do you look for in your teams?

First of all, we have the best team. It gets me super emotional to watch people at their best here. The team we are built for excellence. We would never stop. Let’s say that we were coming back to Madison. Every year, we try to elevate it here. Six years is a long time. It was never intended to be that long in Madison. It is time for a change. What’s cool is that everybody is in. We’re so down for that challenge.

To be honest with you, it would be easier to come back here. We know exactly where the set of bleachers goes. We know exactly where to park the Army truck. It has been here for the last 4 or 5 years. That’s the truth. We’ve got it all mapped out and good to go. We get a little better every year. We’re going to be blank-slating it and seeing what works. The format may change a little bit. Everybody is excited by that. The team is under Dave’s leadership, and Justin was an amazing leader of the sports team as well. Under Dave’s leadership, everybody will contribute. The team is small enough that everybody gets a voice. When you have a voice in what happens to the biggest event of the year, you’ve got some ownership in it. You’re accountable to it and you better perform.

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

There is a high expectation from the community. What we put on ourselves and what Dave rightfully shows should be put on us as a team to execute everything from the programming to the choice of venue, and where we’re headed in the future. We don’t take that responsibility lightly. There are millions of CrossFitters out there in the world. If we let our attention to detail slip a little bit, that impacts our community, not just that event. It’s a great responsibility. There’s not a better group of people to tackle this next era of CrossFit and what the games are going to be.

What do you think are some of the most important qualities that you can develop as a person through athletics, outside of the physical strength and skills that you’re gaining? What do you what do you focus on learning or find that you do learn?

The gracious losing is part of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a team sport, one team is going to lose or the CrossFit Games with 40 athletes, there’s one winner. That’s the reality of it. The odds are it is not great that you’re going to be the champion all the time. Learning how to do that is incredible. Adjusting to change and being okay with sports with the physical discomfort. Also, humans are creatures of habit. It is a whole lot easier not to make the change. What you develop through sport when a coach brings in a new play or you have to learn in my sport diving, a new dive off the 10 meters, and your body has never gone through that before.

The consequences are high.

You have to say, “Count to three,” heave yourself off the thing, and hope that your training kicks in. Being okay with change and sports events, whether it’s a weather delay. All of those things that are out of your control within a sports event set you up for business situations or whatever career you choose and that last-minute thing you have to redo and do it with grace. You’re not going to stomp off the field because the coach puts you in a different position. The same thing at work. You suck it up, do the thing, and move on. Some of that, being willing to adapt and go all in, all of it comes into play.

It is character.

We just summarized it. Everything is character.

It’s called VUCA or Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. We develop leaders in organizations, whether it’s athletics, military, or companies, who take action in a VUCA environment. When our companies are making money and everything’s great, we’re not getting shot at and we’re winning every event, everything is great. There’s no problem. Anybody could do that. That’s not reality. It’s never like that or rarely. That’s where we live. That’s what CrossFit is. We go back to the definition of CrossFit. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Are you willing to do the best that you can do and be the best that you can be, but you have no idea what you might be doing?

It sounds like stunts.

The Jedburghs of World War II had to do three things to be successful every day. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did those three things with precision, whether their habits, foundations, fundamentals, and micro-moments, then their energy and focus could be on broader or more complex challenges that came their way throughout the day like training the French resistance to defeat the German army. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?

Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

It’s a great question and honestly not that hard to answer for me because I do live in the space. It’s appreciating the people around me. Whether that is something intentional at home with the family or something intentional here at the event, appreciation for people and respect for the work that they’re putting into this. It could be as simple as a smile to an event volunteer and understanding who they are as a person beyond the event staff shirt that they have on that day. I love hearing people’s stories.

The second is taking responsibility when things don’t go right, and owning it for people who are under me on a technical org chart. That is my job. If I did not communicate it well, it is likely that they will make a mistake. I didn’t set the right expectations. Number three would be asking for input all the time. Our team at HQ is exceptional at cross-pollinating for input outside of our true lanes of responsibility. That’s how we put the finishing touches on everything from operational aspects of the game to the workouts to everything that you see in the community. That’s one I’ve learned as part of this crew.

Those are great answers and one of my favorites. It’s thinking outside the box of actions and habits.

Appreciate the people around me. Take responsibility when things don’t go right, and ask for input. Hands down. From the 140 episodes we have, nobody has ever given, “Take responsibility when things don’t go right.” That is important when we talk about leadership and building effective organizations leading from the front because 9 out of 10 times, nobody gets in their car, drives to work, and says, “I’m going to suck today. I’m going to screw everything up, get yelled at by my boss, and have a terrible day.”

What we often default to as leaders when things don’t go right is, “That person sucks today,” when the first thing we need to do is say, “How could I have prevented what just happened? Did I do something?” Sometimes, the answer is going to be no and that’s okay. We’ve always got to ask ourselves that question first and approach that conversation in that way from the start because that’s what’s going to empower growth and build the team. As leaders, our job is to empower and get those people in that room to work for our mission because they want to, not because we told them.

Our job is to help them get to the next thing they want to do, whether it’s with you or elsewhere. That’s the deal. Making the best they can be.Heather Lawrence, CrossFit Director of Sport Operations joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast.

One of my favorite pieces of advice I ever got from my pole vault coach in college was, “You only have the power to change the things that you take responsibility for.” Even if only 1% of it is your fault or under your control, owning that 1% gives you the power to change that 1%. If I miss a pole vault because there was a headwind, if I blame the headwind, I have no power to change my result in a headwind again.

Whereas if I say, “I didn’t prepare myself well for headwinds,” now I can prepare, train in headwinds, and do better next time. I always try to take responsibility for everything I can even though I don’t like looking like it’s my fault. If I own whatever part of it is mine, then that’s something that I have the power to change. When you are a leader, you need to take control.

That’s a great example from a sports perspective.

We all let you get back to work. I appreciate you taking a good amount of time and spending it with us. What you’re doing in the event is absolutely incredible. What you do in CrossFit is amazing. What you’ve done for collegiate athletes who’ve gone on to perform at the highest levels and those who went on to do everything else but athletics is truly inspirational. I love going through the book. I’m going to start taking and referencing a lot of those twenty lessons in there because they’re all right. We have to apply them. Great teams build great leaders. CrossFit is hard. We started with the definition, but that’s how you build yourself and that’s how you build great teams and leaders. Thank you so much.

Thank you.


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