Coach Chat - Sam Smith Discusses How To Help CrossFit Games Athletes Win

16 Jul

When I jumped on with Big Dawgs Coach, Sam Smith, I knew that we’d discuss some high level athlete concepts, but I was really intrigued by how he described how he works with both his early athletes as well as his Games athletes. In this interview, Sam and I discussed 

  • Building confidence in his athletes and how he individualizes his athlete’s entire program around ensuring they go into big competitions with unshakeable belief in themselves. 

  • Sam’s history as a very high level golfer and how that has helped him coach his other individual athletes even better

  • What Sam expects to challenge his 3 Games athletes competing at the Games this year

  • What Sam is most interested in investigating within the fitness world right now

How Does Sam Help His Athletes Improve?

We broke this into two phases:

  • How does Sam help his high level Games athletes improve and prepare for the Games?
  • How does Sam help his aspiring athletes improve?

How Does Sam help his high level Games athletes improve and prepare for the Games?

Sam immediately discussed that, particularly at this time of the year, he wants to build his athlete’s confidence in all aspects of their fitness. Because there are only a few weeks left until the 2019 CrossFit Games (this article was published in July, 2019), his athletes are not going to become better physical athletes. What they can do, though, is to build and sustain confidence in all of the areas of fitness that will undoubtedly be tested at the Games in Madison (WI). 

I asked him how he thinks about building their confidence, and Sam replied that he actually builds it right into their program. Sam looks at every aspect of their fitness from absolute strength (think Back Squat) to cyclical aerobic work (think run or bike or swim) to grindy “grunt” work (think tough farmer works inside of a big workout) to burn the system down workouts (think 3 minute Assault Bike for max calories) and so on. He programs in when he wants to give his athletes a chance to test and gain confidence from that type of workout. 

Depending on who his athlete is, she/he may need to be “put into a corner” a bit more to overcome the work whereas she/he may need to be nurtured a bit more into seeing that confidence emerge. Sam has learned when and how to really define and build confidence with his athletes, and it’s helping them get the most from themselves in competitions.

How Does Sam Help His Aspiring Athletes Improve?

When I posed this question to Sam, you could really see him smile and think about it. His answer came back to truth. Sam wants to ensure that he helps his athletes understand the truth of where they sit as well as what it takes to reach the level they want to reach. 

The way Sam helps his athletes see how to achieve this is by talking about what other high level athletes are capable of, what they can do and deliver in their training - how much volume, weight, reps they put in - and then Sam allows his athletes to put the picture together of what they can do right now vs how much they will need to be able to do to compete at the level of “the greats.”  When his athlete puts that picture together, they are far more bought in vs if Sam simply injects his wisdom into their mind. 

When his athlete is more able to see what it will take, they become more open to the amount of time it will take in order to achieve their highest level of fitness (which is certainly always a bit of a moving target). Sam wants to continue building trust via the truth here. He never wants to say that somebody will get to their goal outcome faster than he tangible believes they can do so because when it doesn’t happen they will lose trust in their coach to client relationship and it will hurt their further progress.

Once the picture and the timeline are there, Sam and his athlete can really get to work!

Sam’s History As A High-Level Golfer Helped Him Build And Now Helps Him Coach Consistency And Habit

If you didn’t know this, Sam was a pro golfer for awhile and he was a top-level collegiate golfer for University of Southern California (USC). His swing is like a warm knife cutting through butter (but that’s another story haha).

Sam spent countless hours growing up preparing to compete and then competing in golf events around the country. He learned that he needed to learn and execute with supreme consistency of his daily actions and habits because that lead him to the best compounding progress on the golf course He’s taken that understanding into his professional life, and he works daily with his athletes to improve their habitual consistency. 

According to Sam (and other really smart people), if you want to build the best returns on your “money” - energy spent - you must build recurring habits that see you taking 1 step forward at a time. You can’t try to take 8 steps forward because you don’t have the foundation to maintain it. It’s through consistent habits that you find the formula that works the best for you to make progress for decades. As he sees his athletes institute this practice in their daily lives, he knows they are going to enjoy the process more and see better results from it.

What Will Challenge Sam’s Games Athletes This Year?

While Sam discusses some additional stress that may come from his athletes facing eliminations after certain events, what Sam discussed more so as challenges for his athletes were the things that may creep up between their ears.

Sam talked about how most great athletes have a bit of doubt inside of them because it drives them to improve and win. That’s no different here, but what Sam wants to do with his athletes is to make sure that they are at the right level of doubt to be inspired without over thinking it. Sam knows that they will have high and low moments, and he wants to make sure each of his athletes uses the exact right amount of energy (ok there is a little room there haha) for each workout so that they give themselves the best opportunities to capitalize where they have the best chances to.

I also asked Sam the question of whether he has his athletes think about other athletes on the floor or not. Sam said he does not because in his own experience as well as the athlete’s he’s worked with experiences, he’s not ever seen it benefit his athlete. If anything, it takes their meditative-like focus away from what they can control which can be very painful (literally it can allow the pain to enter the mind/body because they lost focus). Sam wants his athletes to focus on what’s in their control:

  • Pace
  • Breath
  • Rhythm
  • Movement
  • Etc…

When they get locked into what they can control after a year - and really numerous years - of quality training, they will be ready!

What Is Sam Really Interested To Investigate In Fitness Right Now?

Sam hedged this question for a moment because he was really trying to answer it well. When he found the 1 answer (I think he would have loved to give multiple things because he loves to learn and dig into many fitness and health topics), he discussed his fascination with peak performance within fitness athletes. There is no current formula that gives “answers’ as to how somebody can get better at weight lifting, aerobic work, muscle endurance, and coordination, for ex, at the same time. Sam has loved digging into this with his athletes as well as with his colleagues. 

I suspect there will be a lot more to come on this subject at another time!

Sam Smith Coaching Colleen Fotsch In the Gym
Sam Smith Coaching Athlete, Colleen Fotsch

Sam Smith IG

Jim Crowell IG

CrossFit® is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. Big Dawgs' uses of the CROSSFIT® mark are not endorsed by nor approved by CrossFit, Inc., and Big Dawgs is in no way affiliated with nor endorsed by CrossFit, Inc.

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