May 9, 2016 4:02 pm

– Chad McDonald, Founder of Solace New York

We all need a little inspiration to push us through the tough workouts, to get us moving on the mornings we don’t want to get up, and to motivate the athlete that needs some inspiration themselves.  I find as I get older, I need more and more inspiration and my search has brought me back to a familiar place.

After leaving the Army in 2009 after 5 years of service as an Infantry Sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division, and two year-long deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it took me a long time to realize what made a 240 year old institution tick.  It wasn’t any one soldier’s extraordinary act of courage or one inspiring leader’s way of putting things that make the Army work but the values that its leaders instilled in the community from the first day you put on your combat boots and they unceremoniously shave your head.  It was relentless and it became a part of us.  Values need to be trained like a clean and jerk.

CrossFit and the military have a long history together.  My first exposure to CrossFit was in 2007 when a fellow soldier told me to “try one of these work-outs on this crazy website, it will smoke the hell out of you.”  He was right.  CrossFit was, in part, designed to meet the needs of Soldiers, Marines, fire-fighters, police officers, and any job in which you need to be “generally prepared” for the unknown.  Maybe the military rubbed off on CrossFit or maybe it’s a universal human experience to feel close to those who you endure trials with. CrossFit has tapped into the power of community in many of the same ways the Army has been for over two centuries.

What can we, as CrossFit coaches, learn from the lessons soldiers are taught from Day One?  Everything. It isn’t how well you can shoot, how fast you can run, or how far you march that makes you a good soldier.  Being a good soldier means adopting a set of values that will allow you to take any unknown and unknownable challenge on with the confidence that you will rise to the occasion with the support and cohesion of your unit.

Enter the Army values. There are seven of them.  They are everywhere in basic training and you are forced to memorize and recite them from Day One.  I’ve always found that they are sneaky little things and the more you surround yourself with their concepts, the more they become innate, a part of the way you operate.  Reminding ourselves of a standard regularly helps us adhere to it.

Let’s take a look at the Army values and how we can apply them to our journey as a CrossFit Coaches.

1.    Loyalty

For the Soldier – “Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers. Bearing true faith and allegiance is a matter of believing in and devoting yourself to something or someone. A loyal Soldier is one who supports the leadership and stands up for fellow Soldiers. By wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army you are expressing your loyalty. And by doing your share, you show your loyalty to your unit.”

For the CrossFit Coach – Committing to making someone’s fitness, and ultimately their lives, better is not to be taken lightly.  A CrossFit Coach who is proud of their box, supports the goals of its members, coaches, and managers, and does his or her part to make that box the best it can be is a Coach that shows true loyalty.  It starts with the commitment you’ve made to the staff and management at your box by earning the title ‘Coach.’  If you aren’t loyal to the community at your box, you aren’t part of the community.  Without a foundation of loyalty, the rest of these values aren’t acheiveable.

2.    Duty

For the Soldier – “Fulfill your obligations. Doing your duty means more than carrying out your assigned tasks. Duty means being able to accomplish tasks as part of a team. The work of the U.S. Army is a complex combination of missions, tasks and responsibilities — all in constant motion. Our work entails building one assignment onto another. You fulfill your obligations as a part of your unit every time you resist the temptation to take “shortcuts” that might undermine the integrity of the final product.”

For the CrossFit Coach – It’s more than just being on time. It’s about being present as a coach.  You can’t expect excellence to come from cutting a corner, “just this one time.”  Drills, warm-ups, cues, corrections, should all be executed relentlessly.  It’s our duty to help our fellow coaches and colleagues with whatever may further the mission of the box even if it “isn’t my job.”  These tasks don’t always carry praise and sometimes no one will you see you do them. But at the end of the day, instilling this sense of duty will improve our final product which is the training we provide.

3.    Respect

For the Soldier – Treat people as they should be treated. In the Soldier’s Code, we pledge to “treat others with dignity and respect while expecting others to do the same.” Respect is what allows us to appreciate the best in other people. Respect is trusting that all people have done their jobs and fulfilled their duty. And self-respect is a vital ingredient with the Army value of respect, which results from knowing you have put forth your best effort. The Army is one team and each of us has something to contribute.

For the CrossFit Coach – It’s the CrossFit coach that has respect for every member and coach that crosses his or her path that will have the quickest path to accomplishing their goals as a coach.  That kind of coach builds trust over time through respect.  A coach has self-respect and knows that he or she is valuable to the team by putting forward the best effort they can while trusting that their fellow coaches are doing the same.  You likely are not the only coach your athletes are exposed to so you must respect other coaches and their abilities even if they are learning.  A good coach has respect for the program and its effective process without thinking he or she can out-smart or re-invent the methodology.

4.    Selfless Service

For the Soldier – “Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. Selfless service is larger than just one person. In serving your country, you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain. The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of each team member to go a little further, endure a little longer, and look a little closer to see how he or she can add to the effort.”

For the CrossFit Coach – We are a part of an increasingly self-centered world so this tenet can be a tough pill to swallow.  What we can learn from Selfless Service is that it isn’t the individual recognition as a great coach we should aspire to but the furthering of the team’s effort from which we derive personal pride.  Great athletes are molded by coaches who won’t ever get recognition but whose achievements would not be great without them.  Harold Brown never received the fame that his athlete, Mohamed Ali received.  I know that because his name wasn’t Harold Brown but Angelo Dundee and you wouldn’t have known that unless I didn’t just tell you.  I should also note that the Army doesn’t use the word “desires” in place of the word “welfare.”  This is an important distinction as quite often they can conflict and it’s our job to recognize the difference.

5.    Honor

For the Soldier – “Live up to Army values. The nation’s highest military award is The Medal of Honor. This award goes to Soldiers who make honor a matter of daily living — Soldiers who develop the habit of being honorable, and solidify that habit with every value choice they make. Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do.”

For the CrossFit Coach – For our purposes we can think of Honor as a commitment to consistency in our values and practices.  Merely living our values on days where it is convenient for us doesn’t lend much to the character of our box but erodes the distinct privilege we have to be trusted with another person’s health.  In the Army, Honor is something you start with and can loose with a single dishonorable action.  It’s ours to lose as coaches as well.

6.    Integrity

For the Soldier – “Do what’s right, legally and morally. Integrity is a quality you develop by adhering to moral principles. It requires that you do and say nothing that deceives others. As your integrity grows, so does the trust others place in you. The more choices you make based on integrity, the more this highly prized value will affect your relationships with family and friends, and, finally, the fundamental acceptance of yourself.”

For the CrossFit Coach – Integrity is more than being honest with those around you but doing so even when it’s difficult and could ruffle some feathers.  What we are often faced with is the choice of omitting the truth which wouldn’t do much harm but could limit the effectiveness of the CrossFit program.  Some of our athletes need to face hard truths about what it takes to progress and we don’t do them any favors by failing to address those truths or failing to push them even when they hate us for it.

7.    Personal Courage

For the Soldier – “Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral). Personal courage has long been associated with our Army. With physical courage, it is a matter of enduring physical duress and at times risking personal safety. Facing moral fear or adversity may be a long, slow process of continuing forward on the right path, especially if taking those actions is not popular with others. You can build your personal courage by daily standing up for and acting upon the things that you know are honorable.”

For the CrossFit Coach – Think back to the first class you coached.  You were nervous, wondering if you were fully prepared, if your athletes would be responsive, or if they would even understand your instruction.  It took personal courage to step in front of those athletes and it takes the same personal courage to improve your skills as a coach, an athlete, and a leader despite set-backs and adversity.  It also takes personal courage to re-commit to the path you’ve set on each year, practice what you preach, and put your athletes through unpopular but necessary drills and skills… think about how many times you remind athletes to hook-grip and their inevitable reactions.  Personal courage for us means setting the example for our athletes despite exposing our own weaknesses and struggles.  Good coaches realize that demonstrating personal courage in our actions inspires personal courage in our athletes.


Chad McDonald served as an Infantry Sergeant in the United States Army from 2004-2009. During his military service he completed two year-long deployments with the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He led and mentored soldiers in military and physical training as well as operations as a combat team leader. Since 2011, he has worked fulltime in investment banking and renewable energy project finance.

Follow Chad: @chadjmcdonald 

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