The importance of positive words in CrossFit

Meyken Houppermans
Founder and Head Coach
Positive words by coaches and positive self- talk by athletes can have a significant impact on performance, especially in CrossFit, and on health and wellbeing in general. We plead for a more comprehensive CrossFit definition of health, and a stronger focus of coaches on their core responsibility of motivational coaching.

The impact of words on an athlete’s performance is significant. Research (Roelands, B., Hurst, P., 2020) has shown that words about the effectiveness of an intervention, for example about a specific technique or supplement, significantly affect the outcome on performance. For example, after drinking caffeine athletes run faster if they are told caffeine can improve their running, compared to if they are not told anything. This effect applies to evidence-based interventions with proven effect as well as to placebos. In both cases, positive yet honest words and a positive belief in the effectiveness of an intervention generate more positive outcomes.

This demonstrates that an athlete’s performance is much more than just a physical or physiological matter. The external environment plays a great role such as the social support and positive words from friends, family, fellow athletes, and coaches (Lindstrom, B., Eriksson, M., 2018). Also, the internal environment, the athlete’s mental and emotional state and his self-efficacy, affect performance. With self -efficacy we mean the belief in our own capabilities; feeling confident and in control; and being resilient to the changes in life and considering these changes challenges instead of threats (Bandura,1997).

Especially in CrossFit, positive words by coaches and positive self- talk by athletes are expected to have a significant impact on performance:

CrossFit is a sport with, according to some, a specific image: tough, competitive and not very accessible. (yet the opposite is true!).CrossFit can be challenging, physically and mentally. The high intensity, unpredictability and diversity of the workouts generate optimal training results and fun and excitement. But this can also make you feel nervous, insecure, or out of control. The focus on results on the whiteboard and on performance can stimulate you to develop and grow, but it can also give you anxiety. The setting with heavy weights, shirtless guys and screaming people can give you a boost, but it can also be intimidating.

CrossFit can make you feel like you are on top of the world, the best version of yourself. But it can also trigger negative emotions, feelings, and thoughts such as self-doubt, insecurity, failure, negative self-talk, feelings of angriness, disappointment, shame, jealousness etcetera.

Especially in this type of challenging settings, positive words of coaches and of fellow athletes, as well as positive self-talk and self- efficacy can make a significant difference. Not only on the physical performance of the athlete but also on his mental, emotional, and social well- being also known as health.

We consider health to be more than ‘work capacity across broad times, modal domains and age’ (CrossFit’s definition of health) since health concerns more than just physical health in ten modal domains throughout life. Although CrossFit hugely impacts and concerns other aspects of health, such as mental health, this is not yet incorporated in its definition of health.

* To us, CrossFit is a way of life, a comprehensive evidence-based lifestyle of taking care of yourself and others in several aspects of life. Therefore, we strongly plead for a more comprehensive CrossFit definition of health. A definition that does more justice to what CrossFit is and can be for health and well- being, and that aligns more with CrossFit’s latest focus on well- being.

We also consider health to be more than 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity' (WHO’s definition of health) since a state of complete well- being is a utopia, and striving for it will only lead to frustration, disappointment and never ending medical treatment.

We consider health as Positive Health: the ability to adapt to the physical, emotional and social challenges in life and the ability to self- manage, with health consisting of six dimensions: bodily functions, mental functions and perceptions, spiritual dimension, quality of life, social and societal participation, and daily functioning (Huber, 2013).

Numerou sresearch has shown that people who demonstrate higher levels of self- efficacy and positive self- belief, and who practice positive self-talk have higher levels of physical, mental and social wellbeing and experiencing a higher quality of life (Bandura, 2004; Ryan, R.M., Deci, E.L., 2000).

So not only positive words of a coach and a positive belief in the effectiveness of an intervention such as a specific training technique, generate more positive outcomes on performance, but also positive self-talk and self- belief of the athlete generate more outcome on performance and more health and well- being in general. In both cases a core responsibility of coaches to demonstrate and stimulate by motivational coaching.

Our call to athletes: Next time you enter a WOD, tell yourself you CAN do this and focus on the fact that you are doing it or are trying it! And when you’re done tell yourself you DID it, tell your fellow athletes they did it, and be freaking proud of yourselves! Believe in yourself and your community, for better performance and for well- being!

* At CrossFit Eudokia we focus on our athlete’s well- being by applying motivational coaching and positive reinforcement. We focus on possibilities instead of limitations: what can you do, instead of what can’t you do. For example with special equipment for (temporary) adaptive athletes. We stimulate positive actions. For example, if you forget to show up for a WOD we ask you to donate to charity or do something for our community instead of handing out a penalty of 100 burpees. Because giving benefits our physical, mental and social wellbeing (Lawton, R.N.,Gramatki, J., Watt, W., Fujiwara, D., 2020). We focus on developing resilience (or mental toughness in a positive sense) to tackle our heavy WODs and other challenges in life, by learning to develop and apply positive self- belief and positive self-talk.

Eudokia (Gr.): “well being; what is good and beneficial to someone and is highly regarded.”