Coach’s Corner: Coaching The “Older” Athlete

While the “ripe” coaches among us can certainly gain something from the following paragraphs, this one is aimed at those freshly picked coaches who’ve yet to experience approaching CrossFit from a more “mature” perspective. While the movements in CrossFit are universally important, scalable, and accessible, it can be beneficial to approach older athletes with a slightly different mindset. That doesn’t mean wrapping them in bubble tape and sitting them in the corner- read on, and see why!

Project Inclusiveness

This could probably be an entire article that speaks to multiple groups of humans- we’re not that different. Suffice it to say you should be showing potential members that you and your space are approachable and open to anyone. Work on providing appropriate levels of entry for as large and varied of a population as you can. The broader your membership base, the richer a community you’ll have, guaranteed. It’s one thing to say that anyone can do CrossFit (it’s infinitely scalable, after all) but it’s another thing entirely to work actively toward that goal. I want everyone, or at least every type of person, in my classes. I especially love to show people who are intimidated by CrossFit that it’s safe, and that they’ll be okay if they just keep showing up and trying. Lots of people think this stuff isn’t for them, and older people definitely fall hard into that category. What does your website look like? Is everyone young & fit, and of a limited demographic? Think about what you’re projecting. Let older people know that your classes are for them, that they will be welcomed, and that it will be hard but they’ll be okay. Then, be a great coach and do everything in your power to take care of them.

Your Youthful Exuberance

CrossFit gyms worldwide are chock full of eager, mostly young coaches who earnestly want to make the world a fitter, better place. This is most certainly an asset we’re lucky to have. Just like diversified investments are good for your finances, and having friends from different backgrounds helps you learn and grow as a person, the simple act of being around young people helps older people stay young(er). Your fresh ideas, hopefulness, and overall positivity about fitness (and life in general) are a plus for all of your members, but they can be especially important for those who are in or approaching their golden years.

It’s easy, expected even, for people middle aged and beyond to be settled into their life.
“It’s all downhill from here” is the common refrain. Bullshit. Disruption to this status quo is a good thing. We stagnate with complacency, and we only grow from challenges. Emphasize improvement in areas that matter to the individual. Your excitement about life and how much is still possible can be a real boost to someone for whom it’s all too easy to think their best days are in the past. Feeling young is the antidote to feeling old. Feeling young involves thinking young, and you’re the booster shot for a more youthful mind. For all the griping about social media, the changes in how we listen to music, and the fact that the youth of today will never learn to drive a stick shift, it makes one feel relevant when they can keep a bit more current with the times. Teach them how to find a podcast while also coaching their squat. Invite them out to your post-workout brunch. Joke with them as you would your contemporaries. Treating someone like an old person will only serve to increase their perception of the generation gap. You’re already awesome, just be yourself and let them do the same.

Please Don’t Baby the Adults

What I mean is, don’t put a preconceived limit on an older athlete’s performance or ability. This is a bit of an uphill battle for both of you, as society expects us to be less and less able as we age. You build members from the ground up, right? Then treat them just as you would any other new athlete coming into your classes. Sure, if someone has acquired decades of poor posture then they may have some trouble getting a barbell overhead. Let them prove it to you though. Don’t just assume that Grampa Joe will need to use dumbbells. Believe he can do just a bit more than you’re inclined to think he can (and probably more than he thinks she can) and modify as needed.

You don’t have women do knee push-ups to start out (I hope), likewise don’t have your older athletes immediately over-scale movements. Introduce members to the concept of scaling and modifying movements right off the bat, and the fact that EVERYONE, including you, has used scaling and modifications before as a matter of process. Then it won’t feel like failure when you decide that giving old Joe dumbbells for today’s shoulder-to-overhead work is the best course of action. Instead he’ll feel looked out for and taken care of.

Expect Great Things

The more you expect coaching older athletes to go well, the better it will go. Let them know you would love to have them, be stoked to get them into classes, and engage them as you would any other athlete. Be open to the process and you might just learn a few things along the way. Whippersnapper.

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