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Melissa Byers takes us behind the scenes and into the mind of a judge at the Northeast Regional Qualifier...

I went to Albany as a volunteer, as I have no interest in ever competing. Ever. At all. (Just to be clear, for all the people who asked, "So maybe next year?") But I wanted to participate and represent the 603, so I volunteered to judge the events. I had no idea what that entailed, or how much work it involved, or how serious that task would turn out to be. I just though it sounded fun, and a way to be right in the middle of the fray without actually competing.

The first element of judging was understanding the workouts, and the movement standards. As a trainer, I'm used to evaluating the way someone moves - range of motion, body mechanics, flexibility, limitations. But for an event such as this, the movement standards mean everything. An inch makes the difference between a rep that counts and a rep that does not - and one rep can mean the difference between first place and second place. The movement standards were serious business, and we (as judges) spent a lot of time reviewing, observing, questioning and practicing our evaluations.

During each heat, after I introduced myself to my athletes, the next words out of my mouth were exactly the same for every single competitor. "When it comes to the movement standards, do not make me guess. You will not like it if I have to guess." We looked at one rep of every movement before each heat, to make sure everyone was on the same page with what "full extension" looks like and what "behind the ears" means. I told my athletes that I would cue them with the standards if they were getting close to a foul, but that there would be no free passes. And then (since I only judged the men), I put on my most charming, most persuasive girl persona and told my boys that I would feel truly awful making them do even one rep over, and please don't do that to me. I got a few very earnest, very cute boys shaking their heads and reassuring me, "Oh no, I won't, really" to that one.

The second element of judging - and equally as important - was counting. Yep, just counting. Not even counting to high numbers - we never got above ten. But damn if that pre-school skill wasn't one of the toughest parts of the job. I am not a good counter. In a met-con, anything higher than the number 6 poses a problem. I lose track all the time in my own workouts, and you know when in doubt about the numbers, you do the extra rep. Except this weekend, losing count was not an option. Clearly. My athletes needed me to keep track of where they were in the workout. How many burpees, how many cleans, how many rounds. So that was my job. I counted, out loud. If they fouled, I called it and told them why, and then re-counted the rep when they did it right. I told them how many they had done, how many they had left and how many rounds they had completed. I counted like it was my full time job, because this weekend, it was.

The third aspect of my job was to treat my athletes as if they were a famous celebrity - like Paris Hilton, who you know damn well expects someone else to do pretty much everything but breathe and pee for her. When athletes showed up at my station, that is how I wanted to take care of them - like they were Paris Hilton, only shirtless, sweaty and picking up heavy shit. So I asked all of them what they needed from me. If they wanted me to, I yelled at them, encouraged them, coached them. I gave them round updates and time updates. I told them what they were doing, how many they had left, and where to go next. I cued them on the movement standards and reminded them to jump or get their ass down or hit the bar. For those 12 - 15 minutes, I literally ran their lives, and I seriously hope that approach helped them to focus on what they needed to do - move the weight.

The judges had more responsibility than just those 12-15 minute heats, but those workouts were the bulk of how I spent my weekend. It was surprisingly physically exhausting - there was little time to sit, and we spent hours rounding up rolling barbells, adjusting plates and swapping out weights. I must have deadlifted 155# more than I would in a month's worth of WODs, making sure competitors' barbells were where they needed them to be for the next round. And I worked most every heat in a squat or a crouch or a lunge, watching for chest to deck or hips below parallel or chest hitting the bar. I spent a very uncomfortable half hour on the foam roller on Saturday night, just to get my shoulders, hips and hamstrings functional again.

But aside from the physical demands, the mental demands were perhaps the most taxing. I had to be "on" for every single second that I spent in that event area. There was no relaxing, no drifting off for a moment, no allowing yourself to be distracted by the crowd or another competitor or the barbell bouncing hard in your direction. And that was hard to do - there was SO much going on all at once, and it's natural to want to take a step back and see what else was happening. But the job demanded that I give my entire focus and all my energy to my athletes, one at a time. And after two full days, I found that was the most exhausting component of the weekend.

My athletes were all amazing competitors. They worked so hard, and dug deep to pull off one more round, one more lift. They were all exceedingly polite, and the epitome of good sportsmanship. A few of them even came around after their heats to thank me for the coaching or counting or general support, which was unnecessary, but made me feel really good. So to all the men I yelled at, cued, counted for and stole reps from... I am impressed with your gentlemanly conduct, your mental toughness and your strong work. Thank you for making my job that much easier.

12 comments on this entry.

June 9, 2009 4:22 AM

I had the good fortune of having Melissa being a judge for me that day and she did a really fantastic job for sure. If there was a Most Valuable Judge (MVJ) award, she would certainly have my vote.

2. Melissa Byers wrote...

June 9, 2009 5:43 AM

Steve,

Meeting you in person was one of the highlights of my weekend. Judging you was tough - I felt like a mean, mean person, taking pull-up reps away from Steve's Club. You did a fantastic job out there. Thanks so much for your note.

Melissa

3. Krawlings wrote...

June 9, 2009 6:02 AM

Melissa,

I couldn't agree more with your senetiment. I judged at the NEO Challenge this past weekend, not nearly the intensity of Regionals, but I did compete in Regionals, and I must say...I have a WHOLE new respect for the judges. There's nothing worse than telling someone no. Thanks for sharing

Kate

4. Keith wrote...

June 9, 2009 6:16 AM

Probably the hardest thing to do at any of these competitions or challenges is to judge. It is probably the most inconsistent thing we at crossfit have going for us. When does a failed batch of pull ups become a non Rxed Workout and some one gets disqualified. My hats off to the judges!

5. Mike B. wrote...

June 9, 2009 7:16 AM

Keith, I am not sure I understand what you are saying? Are you commending our judges or asking us why someone could be DQed for failing at CTB Pull ups?

6. Mike B. wrote...

June 9, 2009 7:16 AM

Keith, I am not sure I understand what you are saying? Are you commending our judges or asking us why someone could be DQed for failing at CTB Pull ups?

7. Melissa Byers wrote...

June 9, 2009 11:43 AM

Not to put words in anyone's mouth... but judging is hard. It's not like you get a green light when someone's chest hits the bar, and a red light when it doesn't. You have a split second to make the call, and it's based on what you thought you saw, from that particular angle, in that incredibly brief moment.

Keith is right - our decisions as judges do play a part in the event's outcome. I would hate to think that an erroneously called rep - in either direction - could make or break someone's final standings. But, it could. So we do the very best we can and hope our athletes know how hard we're trying to do the right thing.

Maybe someone could invent that red light/green light thing for next year. That way, I could just focus on the counting. Because THAT was hard too.

8. Anthony Bainbridge wrote...

June 9, 2009 3:14 PM

I think Melissa nailed the mental and physical demands of judging (and coaching) to a tee. Hats off to all the judges across all events who step up to that level of commitment for an entire weekend.

Anyone who complains about the judging in CrossFit has obviously not followed teams in the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, Olympics, etc. Highly trained professional referees still make enough mistakes to fuel debates for entire sport networks ... it would be naive to think that mistakes won't happen at the volunteer level.

9. Kim Malz~FitMom wrote...

June 9, 2009 7:38 PM

Excellent article Melissa! I felt like I was back in Albany again!!

Thank you to all judges~ your time, patience, compassion, and desire to see each of "your" athletes do their best was evident all weekend long.

Best,

Kim Malz

10. Jeremy (Playoff Beard) wrote...

June 9, 2009 8:10 PM

Great article Melissa.

I had the pleasure of judging the row/burpee/jerk wod at the Nor Cal Qualifier and I know exactly what you mean. I was terrified of losing count or letting a bad rep go unchallenged. It was easily the most intense experience of my short Crossfit life.

If you have never judged athletes in competition, you just have no idea just how demanding it can be. I handled it much the way that you did, introducing myself to each athlete and clearly explaining what I expected of them. I had to judge men and women and both were tough in different ways. Unlike you however, I didn't ask how they wanted to be 'coached', I just screamed at everyone! Some of them appreciated it and some of the athletes probably wanted to kill me. After an entire day of judging world class athletes, I was absolutely exhausted and had no voice, but I felt great!

Thanks for sharing your judges perspective with the rest of us, great job.

11. John - CFNE wrote...

June 10, 2009 6:16 AM

My judges at the NEQ really did a fantastic job. I wish I had taken more time to thank them but it was all I could do to peel myself off the pavement after each WOD! I did what I could to make their job easier by motioning to them to not count the rep. when I knew that I did not achieve full ROM.

12. Keith replied to comment from Mike B. ...

June 10, 2009 11:52 AM

I am commending the judges for doing the most difficult part of the event. My comment about the pull ups was a comment about an observation at the qualifier. One of the athletes did all of his first 2 rounds [his 10, 9,] of pull-ups facing the wrong way so you couldn't tell if hit the bar or not. According to the rules of the event these were no good. They should not have counted. All I am saying was that I am glad I was not the one to make those calls. That would have been very difficult. As it turned out they let the pull ups stand and the athlete finished the WOD, and is [in my opinion] deservedly so going to Aromas.