“A journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a Single Step…”

Much like the title of this post, the story itself will need some steps to be done justice. But instead of forward, these steps will go backwards as we revisit key points until we come to the end of this journey that I’m happy to announce.

Let’s start at the 2016 CrossFit West Regionals. One event had each team performing a Snatch ladder with increasing weights at each bar. To reach the final bar, you had to have completed lighter snatches at higher reps inside a time restriction. The girls representing our Club on the floor had done work on that ladder. And as the clock was winding down we still had one of them on the floor.

Her name is Adrianna, but we all know her by her nickname, AJ. She had finished all the other bars and with VERY little time left on the clock looked at the last bar weighing 175#. She wasn’t only looking at the bar, she was looking at a 1st place finish in that workout for the team if she hit that lift. She had enough time to maybe attempt the lift twice if she missed the first one. She was the youngest person on the team and it was her first time taking the floor with us at that level to add to this story.

My brother Nickay, who is our coach when I compete, was with me in the stands hanging over the rail cheering. When she stepped forward towards the next bar, Nickay grabbed my arm and looked at me.

“She’s gotta go RIGHT NOW.”

Usually I’d agree with him 100%, it would be best to give yourself a second chance at the lift. But for the first time, what made sense wasn’t what made sense.

I put my hand up in calming manner while a clocked clicked down that left very little to be calm about and said one thing.

“AJ’s got this…”

The young Canadian on our Team was also an intern Coach at my gym. And while still young and finding her confidence in many areas, on that day I knew that those words were truer then anything, “AJ’s got this.”

She walked up to the bar, set and cleared the ladder. Not saying I wasn’t nervous as all hell, don’t get me wrong, anything can happen in competition. I just knew she was only going to need one shot at that bar, and sometimes that’s all someone needs. And that’s where our story is going to back track even further.

Three years ago, for the first time ever, our home gym had an open call for in-house interns. Traditionally, we only take coaching interns from athletes that have been training with us. This differs from the open application satellite coaching program we run. At the time, we only took in-house candidates that already had previous knowledge of our system and had put in time with the Club and our Program and that was that.

Then that year we had a number of interested parties get ahold of us about in-house internships that had yet to actually train at the gym. And for the first time, we decided to hold an open application process to anyone interested. The Iron Club has five charters, our home gym is one. We also have three in Germany and one in Miami. But this doesn’t account for the long list of cities, states and countries we have had other interns in.

The satellite internship was designed to provide guidance in the style of training we use and mentorship for coaches looking to implement that and other styles of training into their facilities. The in-house program differed in that you were in the home gym daily, and being watched and corrected contstantly. When we had our open call, we received applications from all over the place. Most of the email response were, “you understand this differs from our satellite program, correct? You actually have to be here.”

It was an easy mistake to be made, and we had a good laugh with folks over it, some of which then applied for the satellite program. And that was the same response I sent to the girl in Canada that had applied. “You know this means you have to be in Seattle, right?”

AJ’s response was a bit of a shocker. “Yes, if I’m selected I plan to move to Seattle for the internship.”

My next response, “You know there isn’t any money in this internship, right?”

I’ll spare you the awkward details of the skype interview process. And the back story on AJ’s first weekend shadowing in the States. I’ll even keep embarrassing stories from the start of her internship out of this current post. From the beginning of this post, you’re already aware that she was intern at my gym, so it’s no surprise AJ did in fact move to down to Seattle to intern. All visa issues aside, she’s been able to be a rather constant presence at my gym since that time. But when she first came down it was for zero money and the high likelihood that I would let her go from the program and she may have to head back to Canada with little more than a story of the whole ordeal.

But to her, the chance to learn and grow in a different coaching system seemed worth the risk. Because at the end of the day, that’s what comes from the internship: the chance to grow and become a better coach. Now you may also earn the right to have your own Iron Club Charter by being part of this process. But there has also always been a brass ring above that which the program was originally design to end result in.

Master Level Iron Club Coach, or simply Iron Club Head Coach as those that have been in the program know it.

The title is signified by a single Black Bar. It’s nothing fancy and can be worn as a pin, on a bracelet or even a necklace. The thing is, no one has ever actually seen one. And that’s because I’ve never awarded it. That is, until this weekend when Adrianna became the first recipient of this final promotion inside our program. It was probably as special for me as it was for her. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to give one, I just set the mark so high that it takes more time and energy than most can actually give, and here’s why.

Our program has had amazing coaches come through our intern process. Many of them own gyms now, are head coaches or have other fields they’ve moved into past the program. The program doesn’t only prepare you to be a coach, it prepares you for accountability. Being accountable is one of the heaviest burdens you can carry. And learning that accountability is a large part of the Master Level Iron Club Coach title. It takes years, and it takes a great deal of examination. It can be accomplished through satellite, but the time and video review involved in that only adds to how long it takes.

This is why we have Charter Coaches; these are coaches that have earned the right to have their own Iron Club. But the Master’s Level is the highest mark I can personally give out. And to have an idea of just what went into this, here are a number of reasons why this title was awarded to this candidate over the weekend.

Mastery of Program Understanding:

We have two designations that can be earned in this department. The first is Program Design Specialist. A Program Design Specialist undertakes a three week test working with an athlete that is usually in recovery from an injury or setback of some kind. During the three weeks, I correspond with the Test subject as to how their Program Specialist is treating them and if they’re happy with the communication level. But most importantly, the program must work for the athlete and produce some kind of end goal. There’s much more to it, but AJ passed her first go at that test so we won’t get into it.

The second is Program Architect, this isn’t as simple. An Intern can apply to take Program Specialist. But Program Architect is a test that is issued to a candidate that has already passed Program Design Specialist. It not given at request, and the test itself last 6 weeks. Each candidate is presented with a new challenge. It can be working with an athlete solo for 6 weeks, or a group of athletes. To this date, only 3 people have passed this test. Those three are Adrian Strain, Lincoln Smith and AJ. Of those three, AJ was the only one to pass the entire test without hitting any fails which have to be justified in defense of your program at the end of the test. There was no need for that as she managed to show a complete understanding and sidestep any land mines along the way. She also did this with the least amount of exposure to Club programming out of any candidate to ever take the test. Which means she studied hard for a test she didn’t know was coming.

Mastery of Movement:

There is one promotion in this department and it is the most difficult. Movement Specialist is comprised of what we considered cornerstone movement patterns. When I explain movement in lectures I defer to 4 categories: Push, Pull, Hinge, Carry.

Movement Specialist is not as easy as that though. And candidates must demonstrate teaching patterns for a large number of movements and lifts. These can be submitted via video, or watched by me personally. They are HIGHLY scrutinized and usually take multiple attempts per movement to pass. This is where being in-house is a benefit, and AJ took the time to cross her t’s and dot her i’s and found herself passing the hardest structured test we have. But tests alone don’t grant you your Master’s level Coaching credential.

Mastery of Movement Application:

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” – Bruce Lee

An intern that has completed the above tests becomes eligible to earn a “Head Coach” title as we call it. Knowing things is one thing, but actually applying them can be different. And while you don’t have to have the best athletes in the world or be one yourself, demonstration of understanding can be shown through these channels. Here is what helped me come to the conclusion of AJ’s promotion.

1: As mentioned earlier, Adrianna had confidence in herself on a large stage in 2016. She gave me confidence in her that day on the snatch ladder as well. It was a very enjoyable thing to watch as a coach, not just a teammate. As her coach it showed me the young intern that had come to my gym to learn was coming into her own confidence physically.

2: Adrianna worked with an athlete this past year one on one that qualified for the WheelWOD Championships. This outstanding athlete had the tools when he came to our gym, but it was AJ who coached him, not me. She worked out with him, worked on his mobility and made sure he made it to class on time to train (or close to “on time”).

It wasn’t the athlete’s accomplishment that showed me AJ’s coaching abilities. It was the bond of coach and athlete I saw between the two of them. Friend when friend was needed, but still coach when coach was needed. It’s a hard line to establish but when you see the bond between athlete and coach like that and a goal reached as well, you can’t turn your eyes from it.

3: In her time, AJ has shown mastery over her physical movement through confidence in her arena. She likes to snatch and when the situation called on her she delivered. She also showed her understanding of movement application with an athlete that gave them confidence in her as their coach. This was done through proper explanation and again confidence, this time in herself as a coach in a coaching role.

Those two thing set her up for my final choice. This was one she had no idea was the tipping point for her. She was going to be under enough pressure as it was, I did not need to add to it. But I settled on what would be her final test and left it up to her to see if she was going to finally achieve what she moved to Seattle for.

This past Saturday, AJ competed in her first KettleBell Sport Meet. She would be walking onto the platform for her first meet ever, and she was doing so in the 20kg Single Arm Long Cycle (clean and Jerk, one hand switch). Her training numbers had her set up to deliver quite a result if she relied on what she taught and preached everyday. And she didn’t know the result of the set also would lock her final promotion in her internship.

IKFF has recently made some changes to their ranking table. The rank of “Master of Sport” no longer exists in this category as it did for many years. But as I have been coaching athletes in Kettlebell sport for a number of years now, I knew that 120 reps would result in a MS in her category under the old rules. But AJ didn’t show up to hit 120 reps, she had a higher rep count in mind. As a coach, I was again nervous for AJ this past Saturday. I knew she could physically and mentally accomplish what she wanted if she could apply her technique correctly. But sometimes competition doesn’t go how you planned and there is nothing you can do about that.

But on Saturday nothing was going to stop AJ physically or Mentally from demonstrating her understanding of movement. She hit 133 reps in 10 minutes without ever setting the bell down. This was 13 reps above what she would need to hit, and would give her the highest score in this event nationally I’d be able to find, and 9 reps off the highest score I’ve found for this event in the world in competition.

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The number is impressive, it really is. But when I said “the number she needed” I wasn’t talking about the former MS rank. I told myself if she could hit 120 reps along with all her other listed accomplishment then she had completed her training with me.

A good coach will say “you’re never done learning.”

And I’m sure AJ will say that when she reads this. And I know she still believes she has a ton to learn from me. But at a certain point the testing stops, and the learning is just growth. I have countless amazing coaches and athletes I’ve worked with. And while I’m proud of every single thing they have all accomplished, Adrianna is the first to hit all marks under the structured tests. And if she knew was being tested or not, she was always ready and she passed.

So I’m proud to say on Saturday 9/23/2017 in front of her family and friends, AJ was presented her Black Bar and the rank of Master Level Iron Club Coach, or Head Coach as all of us in the Program call it and she earned it.

Testing is over, but never stop learning AJ, growth can be more difficult then standardized testing. But it’s that growth that makes you who you are. I wish someone had told me “AJ’s got this,” when you first came down. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so hard on you, but you have turned out to be a damn fine coach and I’m proud to share a rank with you.

Posted by: Z

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