Unbullyable™ – Are You a Jock Blocker? Maybe You Should Be – The Brand X Method

Unbullyable™ – Are You a Jock Blocker? Maybe You Should Be


Unbullyable™ – Are You a Jock Blocker? Maybe You Should Be

We are no longer associated with CrossFit Inc. although it’s possible that members of Gold’s Gym are.

Recently, I heard about a Kansas high school junior who threw 157 pitches in a 10-inning outing. It was a must-win situation and win they did, earning a berth in the state tournament. The head coach and the pitcher were consequently suspended for one game for violating the Kansas State High School Activities Association rule regarding innings limits.* In case it’s hard to grasp the volume, here are MLB stats on pitches per game.

The coach had this to say about the incident: “I know I have to look out and save a kid from himself…. His velocity was the same as it was in the third inning. Everything was good. He felt fine.… [The pitcher] said, ‘if you asked me at the start of the year if I would sacrifice myself for a chance to go to state for a game, then I would have said yes. I stand by that.’ ”

I wonder if this is what the kid envisioned as far as sacrifice.

Hey Fitter, Fitter—Schwing!
Then there’s the story about two CrossFitters who threw shade at a Gold’s Gym by crushing the facility’s month-long challenge in one night. Specifically, they partnered up and completed 2,500 kettlebell swings in less than two hours. That’s an astounding feat—talk about lulz. But more stunning than that was what their coach said when they asked if he thought it was worth doing: “I love it, awesome.” In the story setup, among other clichés, the author boasted that he and his partner probably followed better programming than anyone else at that globo-gym. Presumably this coach provides that programming. I’m trying to figure out where 2,500 kettlebell swings in a single workout fits in a legit program.

The high school baseball coach admitted to knowing his responsibility for his pitcher’s well-being, but he let an adolescent make a decision based on a desire to “sacrifice myself for a chance to go to state.” Here, admirably, the pitcher defended his coach: “He would never do anything to put me in harm’s way…. It was my choice. It wasn’t his.” Hmm, having trouble reconciling how an adult whose job entails a profound obligation to protect his charges’ welfare would put that critical job in the hands of a teen, who, let’s face it, doesn’t know fuck all about nothing for the simple reason that he’s a goddamned teenager.

Jeff Passan has been reporting on the wreckage of pro pitching arms for years. He speaks pretty clearly about the Kansas incident: “In amateur baseball, the onus falls on parents and coaches—and the ultimate decision is almost always the coach’s, which presents grave cases of moral hazard. It is 2016, and any coach at any level who allows a pitcher to throw 157 competitive pitches in a game does not deserve to coach. And those like Hoover, who either understand what they’re doing and ignore it or don’t understand and aren’t willing to educate themselves—both of which, frankly, are unacceptable—must understand the damage they’re doing.”

I think this sentiment applies to CrossFit and any other activity that involves teaching, coaching, or other forms of leadership. Clearly the high school player trusts his coach to know what he’s doing, and I’d venture to say that the two CrossFitters believed their coach would offer appropriate guidance, particularly in light of the quasi-religious trappings that so many CrossFitters wrap around the program and its founder. That this coach green-lighted such an inane stunt, putting two eager CrossFitters at risk of serious injury, and that CrossFit Inc. gave its thumbs up by sharing the post on social media should really raise some eyebrows. It is, as Passan says, 2016, haven’t CrossFit Inc. and its adherents grown just a little bored of sticking it to the globo-establishment? And to be fair, with 14,000+ affiliates internationally, isn’t CrossFit Inc. the ultimate globo-gym?

Jock Block Much?Stop_Jock Block-3
Much energy is spent on how great coaches empower their athletes. However, competitive teens (and overzealous CrossFitters) possess an inflated sense of their own invincibility. Couple that arrogance with a reverent trust in their coaches, to say nothing about a coach’s ego, and the need for tempering becomes crucial to their longevity. Sometimes a coach has an ethical responsibility to disempower an athlete.

Sometimes the best cue is, “No.”

* Innings limits are bullshit. Almost half a lifetime ago, the Squid was pitching against one of those thunderous-hitting South Bay all-star teams. The coach’s son was behind the plate and having a rough go of it. But that didn’t deter his dad. No matter how many passed balls or dropped third strikes, dad was gonna keep him in there and coach him into the next Yadi Molina. By coaching I mean verbally abusing. His son spent most of that inning sobbing behind his face mask; my son spent the entire inning getting shelled, as a pitcher and as a kid. Ultimately, the Squid struck out seven batters to get out of that inning. It was even more impressive to witness than it sounds, but the point is that seven Ks is a minimum of 21 pitches. Throwing that many pitches in a single inning is mediocre at best, and my kid threw at least twice that many in that inning, meaning pretty close to a two-day limit for an 8-year-old. But the rule says he threw only a single inning, leaving it up to the coach to determine his pitcher’s fitness. How many fucks do you think that sports-dad coach had to spare for my kid?

4 Responses

  1. Dan, I really don’t want to sound like a troll, and I would hope from the limited background you know about me and my gym would eliminate me from that category and maybe give me a little bit of credibility. But I disagree with a majority of this post.

    The overall message – you have to say “no” sometimes, even when you don’t want to – is something I support 100 percent. It sucks, and I hate doing it, and I lose gym members over it. But I’m with you. I just don’t think the two examples you listed are times to say no. I’ll speak on the kb thing first.

    We’ve all been there, dude. It’s a stage in the CrossFit natural progression:
    1. This sounds easy, I’ll try it out
    2. No way it could’ve been that hard
    3. This is amazing, I am officially addicted
    4. I am above every other expression of fitness because I do CrossFit
    5. I am above every other expression of CrossFit
    6. These workout keep humbling me
    7. These coaches keep humbling me
    8. I am forever a student.

    This is literally the same thing as rowing a boat for two hours, or running a half marathon (or close to marathon for professionals.) Not a great idea if you don’t have a fitness background. Not horrible if you do. Kinda pointless but doable if you’re very fit. If they want to do it then go at it. I wouldn’t because I don’t care enough. But they do. It was pretty impressive if you ask me.

    Now for the baseball thing. There are a lot of unknowns. We don’t know the pitcher’s fitness level. We don’t know the coach or pitcher personally. We don’t know their practice habits, or their pitch-counts going into that game (I’m with you, inning count seems pointless.) We do know that 1) the team sucked for years, 2) this was a HUGE game for the school, coach, and the kid, and 3) the kid kept saying he wanted to keep pitching.

    My point, Dan, is you can’t judge unless you understand. And there is a lot for both categories neither of us understand yet. In fact, from an outside perspective I can support both cases (as I mentioned above.) I did a Baconator Diane (Diane with a Triple, Double, and Single Baconator at the start of each round). A few years earlier I slammed my head from a high fall in a high school summer league basketball game (not even a regular season game, let alone playoffs.) My coach had a sub come get me and I waived him back to the bench, twice. It was a close game and there was no way I was coming out. Neither scenario was necessarily a smart choice (especially considering my concussion history) but I can sympathize with the examples you listed. Therefore, I think it’s best to reserve judgement. More importantly, THESE ARE THE PEOPLE WE ARE TRYING TO REACH. And I can tell you, from experience, the tone of this article does not usually lead to reaching them.

    Do you think we’ll reach the over-zealous coaches and parents by saying “when the game is on the line, pull your kid?” or the over-zealous CrossFitter by saying, “don’t accept a challenge if it’s too insane?” I know that was not the exact message you were saying, and so do all of the Brand X followers. But we don’t need to be convinced! From the outside perspective, that is the way this comes off.

    I don’t know about all of your daily activities and all the behind the scenes coaching stuff, but from my perspective I think you would benefit greatly by trying to better understand and embrace that culture. Once you do that, then you’ll have a better angle and more credibility to create the change we want.

  2. Dan Edelman

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for taking the time to put together a response. I disagree, as I suspect you knew I would.

    Baseball first. Right, I don’t know the pitcher or coach personally. Doesn’t matter to me. No pitcher, no matter what level we’re talking about, needs to throw 157 pitches in a single game. You reject my position, but I wonder how many experts would support you on this.

    So let’s look at what you say we do know about the situation:

    (1) The team sucked for years.

    Apparently, but it doesn’t suck now. Trip to state or not, it seems that the team has improved immensely under the coach’s guidance. The question is this: Why is that improvement insufficient to view as success? Because the culture says winning now is everything.

    (2) This was a HUGE game for the school, coach, and kid.

    I understand that a kid would see the game as important. I also get that, in the heat of battle, the coach wants to win and advance to state. However, baseball is a team sport. Don’t you think that the game was important to the rest of the players? Don’t you think there were pitchers on the bench just itching to get on the mound and be part of that big game? I imagine too that every game during the state tournament would be a HUGE game. But the team was eliminated quickly, and so now what? Already the cheers for that big win have echoed off into silence and it’s on to the next season—where there will, no doubt, be another must-win game or maybe multiple must-win games. Shouldn’t the coach have the vision to see that there will always be these big games for the team, these big moments for his players throughout their lives, and that his job is to teach the players about the bigger picture? I say the coach’s decision in this case was a symptom of the culture that says winning now is everything.

    (3) The kid wanted to keep pitching.

    Of course he did. He’s clearly a competitor and this was an important game to him. As a coach, I would want my players to have that kind of fire. But many teens are self-involved and have an inflated sense of their own abilities. Again, the coach has to see the bigger picture. We all know how these scenarios can play out. The coach made a decision and it paid off with a win. So everyone basking in the victory see it as the right decision, as great coaching. But what if the team lost? What then? Wow, he kept that kid in too long. Way too long. He should’ve gone to the bullpen. He blew it. Terrible coaching.

    You use the example of how you slammed your head from a high fall during a summer league basketball game to support your argument. You said you refused to come out because it was a close game. You also said that it was an essentially meaningless game, but it was close, so of course you wanted to stay in as a young competitor. You also said it was not necessarily a smart choice given your concussion history. How is this example supposed to convince me that I’m off base? Your coach should’ve dragged you off the court, chastised you for defying his authority, and then taught you to look at the bigger picture.

    Here’s my example: We were running a Gauntlet at Brand X. A young lady—a fiercely competitive volleyball player—showed up to participate. Because she’s a fierce competitor she didn’t tell us that she had hurt her back the week prior. Well, by the time she got to the medicine ball throw the pain was such that she was in tears. I had to decide in front of everybody—parents, athletes, coaches, and my bosses and colleagues—whether to let her continue even as she was sobbing and insisting that she could go on. Clearly this was important to her. Clearly this was an opportunity for one of those wonderful social media moments, to allow this tenacious athlete to triumph in the face of great pain—people love that stuff, and all eyes were on me. I shut her down. She was pretty damn angry. But you know what? She got over it. She realized what I already knew: in fact, her continued participation that day wasn’t that important in the grand scheme. She didn’t need to win now. Adults have to see the bigger picture.

    Now CrossFit. I’m well aware of the sometimes embarrassing stages of CrossFit for the participant. But that’s precisely my point. I’m not talking about the exuberant participant, I’m talking about the coach, who ought to be aware of those stages too, ought to be aware of the risks involved in this particular endeavor. There is a documented rhabdo risk for far less kettlebell swings than this. You say that 2,500 kettlebell swings in two hours is literally the same as rowing or running for two hours. I wonder how many experts would agree with that.

    The coach telling his clients that their antic was “awesome” speaks to CrossFit’s identity—what is it trying to be? What is this coach trying to accomplish by green-lighting such an escapade? How does it fit into his gym’s mission? What is the mission? Is it to create athletes capable of performing risky tricks for the sole purpose of making others feel inferior? In other words, according to your list of stages, is the mission to train clients to excel at stage 4? And before you tell me that it’s just a stage, there’s nothing admirable about that stage and there’s no training value in a coach to encourage his clients to embrace that stage. Frankly, stage 4 seems quite a bit like adolescence. Also, what’s next for these two CrossFitters? Or for others inspired by their feat? It’s human nature to keep pushing the envelope.

    You then close your comment by telling me that I would “benefit greatly by trying to better understand and embrace that culture.” And that once I do I’ll have a “better angle and more credibility to create the change we want.” I took this to mean that you think I don’t really know what I’m talking about and therefore am not in a position to comment or judge.

    Well, I’ve been involved in youth baseball for a decade as a parent, coach, and participant-observer, and nearly the same amount of time with CrossFit as a client and coach. I have embraced both cultures. I have seen a mom taunt a 12-year-old from the other baseball team after my son’s team won a close game. I have seen a coach curse his 8-year-old son across the diamond for not hitting the ball hard enough even though the boy made it to first base. I have seen a dad cheat by not starting the clock during a rec league basketball game to give his son’s team extra time to score. I’ve seen CrossFit coaches screaming at an elementary-aged client in some throwdown to pick up the bar when it was clear the child was totally exhausted and any semblance of safe movement had disappeared. I could go on and on and on. Have you seen the documentary series Trophy Kids? How many news reports on fights between parents at youth sporting events have we all seen? Apparently, these were all HUGE moments for these adults.

    You tell me that I will fail to convince the over-zealous coaches and parents because my tone is poor. I have zero interest in trying to reach zealots. By definition, they are fanatical and partisan. They are not interested in granting credibility to someone who doesn’t agree with them. It doesn’t matter how they’re approached. But maybe I can reach the many reasonable adults who are finding themselves caught up in the sports culture. A sports culture that you have acknowledged as problematic yet constantly defend.

    At some point, someone has to judge. Someone has to say this is wrong. And I’m not the only one speaking out. What about the Positive Coaching Alliance, John O’Sullivan, STOP Sports Injuries, and other groups trying to make a change? Do they lack credibility too?

    Thanks again for your comment, Chris.

  3. Good discussion my man. Keep it going. Here is my response (to your responses).

    (Intro) – I saw they mentioned the ESPN guy bashing the coach. And some MLB players. But to say that no player (regardless of level) should ever throw that many pitches is kind of short-sighted. There are a ton of different scenarios where professionals or college guys might have to throw an absurd number of balls. I’m guessing the reason they don’t that often is because there are studs in the bullpen behind them. For a high-schooler, that’s a different story. But again, that number is a special case. I’d be more concerned with year-round throwing than one crazy outing. That may be the case with this kid, but we don’t know.

    1. Fair enough. That’s not always a bad thing, but it usually hurts long-term success. That may not be their goal, though.

    2. The pitchers on the bench were obviously not as good as this kid, otherwise they would have been in. It’s not JV or Middle School. Getting to the tournament is probably a first step (which builds a lot for recruiting.) I’m sure the coach knows his stud throwing 100+ pitches doesn;t bode well for the next game, which is why I think his goal was short-term success – which is not evil. I’m sure he’ll develop kids for next year. If not, then we can judge his “win-now” mentality.

    3. That’s the world of a coach. Coaches get too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. It’s like a quarterback.

    How should the bashing head example help my argument? I’m alive. We won. My coached let me know he was not happy after. I apologized. I understand where the kid and the coach are coming from.

    Your example: Sounds like the right choice. But you have an understanding of WHY you did it, and you explained it to me. I pulled two of our kids out of a competition because the people threw on an extra workout and the kids had lacrosse/track/softball games that week. The adults on their team weren’t happy, obviously. But it’s a different scenario than a high school playoff game.

    If I had a client who was hell-bent on doing 2,500 kb swings in two hours, I would say think again. But if they kept insisting, I would still say no. But if they are going to do it anyway, then you just let them know about the risks and hope your training prepared them to do something stupid.

    I write just like you, dude. If I didn’t think you knew what you were talking about, I would type, “I don’t think you know what you are talking about.” But I did say that you are not in a position to judge (on this specific case) and I stand by that.

    I have seen Trophy Kids as well (the Mark Bell thing, right?)

    If you have zero interest in trying to reach the zealots than I am mistaken on that point about the tone. I figured that was who this was aimed at. That’s my bad. I defend the sports culture – like I defend CrossFit – because there is good stuff in both. Very good stuff.

    I haven’t heard of those organizations so I wouldn’t know.


    Just a side-note of hilarious baseball history, apparently this pitcher on the Brooklyn Dodgers threw 300+ pitches in an 20-inning game in the 20’s. That’s dope!

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