In the 11th out of 12 chapters in his book Chasing Excellence, Ben Bergeron ties most of the book together into a few examples. The main example used is from the 2016 CrossFit Games, with 2 events to go, Mat Fraser is up 195 points over 2nd place Ben Smith, and essentially cannot lose the Games unless he got LAST place in both events AND Ben Smith got 1st place in BOTH of the remaining events. Mat finishes the workout in 10th place, mathematically clinching his title, but comes off the competition floor steaming hot. His had some miscommunications with his judge on rep counts for his double-unders. Mat has essentially just won the CrossFit Games and he’s mad over a handful of reps of jump rope. That’s Competitive Excellence. At the culmination of the book, Bergeron shows us what it truly means to be excellent in every aspect. Let’s take a look.
“If you can compete with excellence when you’re way ahead, you can do it when you’re way behind. Like everything else, excellence is a habit.” Mat Fraser isn’t the winner of the Games because of talent or his gifts or even his hard work and determination. What sets him apart is his mindset. We’ve spent 11 weeks now discussing the character traits of a champion and how we can use those in our own lives to chase and pursue true excellence. It’s one thing when you’re in 2nd place going into the final event and this event is the difference between winning the Games or being sent off the podium. I would say most people can muster up the enthusiasm to get pumped for a workout like that. They reach into the playbook with more thought and care than any other play in the entire game to try to find that one last play to help win the game. But why wait until then? Why only give 90% effort during the entire game, training session, or quarterly sales period, and wait until the last moment to put forth your highest effort when it “matters the most”? The truth is, when we pursue excellence in everything, every single moment “matters the most.” We may be in tough situations against a deadline, but it’s not because we weren’t putting in our best effort leading up to it. Competitive Excellence is competing with your best effort whether you’re in 1st place by 195 points, 2nd place by 1 point, or dead last by 500 points. How come Mat is so mad over a few seconds at the end of the Games that don’t affect his overall placement? It is in his mindset of Excellence: “I will maximize my minutes by thinking, acting, training, and competing with excellence, regardless of circumstance.” Those last three words are the kicker. Regardless of circumstance. It doesn’t matter if you’re up by 10 runs in the bottom of the 9th, you still have to throw the ball over the plate and get the hitter out. You still must execute. Don’t take a couple miles per hour off your fastball because you don’t care that much. Don’t make an easy throw over to first base, or pick out conservative run plays in the 4th quarter to run down the clock. Compete at the highest level every snap, every pitch, every possession, every race, every workout, every training session, every meeting, business call, or soccer game that you’re coaching for your son. Treat every moment like it’s the most important moment and maximize your effort in that minute.
Train with Excellence. Don’t wait until game-day or the big meeting to put on your best tie and best presentation skills. Practice your presentations in an empty performance hall when no one is watching. Give 100% during your row intervals in the basement of your parent’s house (like Mat). Order fish and vegetables during your celebratory meal after winning the CrossFit Games (like Katrin). Regardless of circumstance. “Mat is able to compete with excellence because he trains with excellence, day in and day out.” “You can’t train on autopilot and compete with purpose.” The two must go hand in hand. If you want to have a better performance, have a better practice. Put in the hours beforehand so you can be prepared for what’s ahead. Mat Fraser is the champion that he is today because of the training he did yesterday. He didn’t just do what coach said for the sake of doing it. He practices Excellence in everything. When coach says, “15 Burpees to a 6 in Target” for a warm up, Mat focuses specifically on his hand placement, foot placement, how his hip hinges up, and how to jump in the most efficient ways. He doesn’t waste time complaining about the burpees we did yesterday, how sore his legs are sore from Open 17.5 retest, or on how it’s unfair that Suzie’s bar only looks 5” above her reach, he focuses on his training in this minute and how to maximize it. That’s why he competes at such a high level. He doesn’t have a “game-day” face. He doesn’t just “turn it on” when he gets to the Games. He competes this way at Regionals, in the Open, and in every single workout, strength, mobility, conditioning, or gymnastics session he does. He even competes with his nutrition. He even competes with the local high school track team that he practices with a couple times per week and gets crushed. That is what makes a champion. Regardless of circumstance.
I like to think back to the chapter on Confidence when Bergeron uses the racehorse analogy. They don’t know whether they’re in a race, training, or warming up for a photo shoot. They don’t know if they’ve lost by a quarter mile or won by a quarter mile. What does a racehorse do after they’ve won a big race? Do they go out and have some drinks and eat a cheat meal, or do they go back to the stable and eat oats and carrots? Do they slow down at the end of a race because they are so far ahead, or do they go 100% the whole time? What about their training? It’s the same story. They are the same regardless of circumstance. Think, act, train, and compete like a racehorse regardless of circumstance. That’s the takeaway from this chapter. When you’re in class and we are training, don’t pull up short on your last 3 steps of a run. Run through the finish line for that 0:01 better time. Don’t stop working out because the clock says 0:03 left in an AMRAP and you don’t think you can do one more rep. Do it anyways. Do not stop until the clock beeps. Don’t stop because the weight feels heavy and it’s requiring effort from you. That’s what we want. We want your maximum effort. One of the competitive programs we follow and listen to podcast’s by is Training Think Tank, home to Travis Mayer, Noah Ohlsen, and countless others. One of their cornerstone sayings is “Effort is a Choice.” That’s it right there. You choose the amount of effort you put in. So regardless of circumstance, maximize your minutes by thinking, acting, training, and competing with excellence. Whether in victory or defeat, chase and pursue excellence.