Mind of a Coach: Mind Games



The Press: First thing’s first. Everybody wants to know, what’s that you do when you enter the box?

Phil Pack: It came from martial arts. I did martial arts for 11 years, and they made you bow when you first entered the dojo, or the studio, just paying homage to the place where you’re about to do that’s what I do; that’s what I think about. Coming in I always think about being better than what I was last time I came in.  It’s something that I do everyday, ever since we moved in to this place, and it’s definitely something I want people to get in the practice of, as far as having a ritual.


TP: Have you ever not done it, even by accident?

PP: There was one day I was rushing in here, and didn’t do it, and i actually ended up hurting myself. It only took me out for a week. But that day I was in a panic; I was running late for a class and didn’t do it. I came in, and jumped right in the class and ended up tweaking my back.

With me being the Oly coach, I can’t stress enough the need to be systematic. To treat every weight like it was heavy. The same way you treat 95#, treat 135#, treat 185#, treat 205#. Just because there’s something different on the bar, doesn’t mean you should do anything differently.

You’ll see me before I go for a lift: I pound my feet to make sure that I’m staying in my heels, I shake my legs out, I reach down and take three quick breaths, then breathe in, hold, and lift. If you see me not do that, my mind is somewhere else and more than likely I’m rushing or doing something that I shouldn’t, but when I’m in the zone, it’s like I almost do it without thinking.


TP: You’re doing this stuff to get your body in the same place, but what’s going on in your mind during those times, either pre-WOD or pre-lift? 

PP: Truthfully, in my mind I’m thinking “calm down. Calm down.”

When you first do a WOD, you feel this sense of accomplishment, but then almost instantly, “OK now I need to base my time off of what somebody else did.” The next time you do that WOD, you should be aware what your last performance was and making sure you’re getting better.

So that’s what I try and do when I’m getting myself mentally ready for a WOD. I’m trying to not get caught in the comparison to other people. I think that’s when people start losing interest and not having fun with crossfit, when you get wrapped up in basing your performance off of somebody else’s.


TP: So how does this all play out when you can’t hit a weight that you know you can hit, or underperform on a WOD you know you should crush?

PP: You think about what it is that you did wrong, “Am I pulling too soon? Am I pulling too late? Am I getting enough power, enough shrug?”

But most of the time if I don’t hit a lift, I accept it’s just not my day. Crossfit is just like anything else; sometimes you go to work and have a bomb day, and other times you go in and it’s just not your day. Same thing at the box. Say you know you can hit 205#, but today it’s just not happening. Maybe its mobility related. Maybe you just sat at your desk too long or you didn’t stretch an extra second. There are so many little things that all have to go together perfectly that it’s easy to take for granted.

So when I go through my ritual and things don’t go as I want them to, I don’t even get down anymore. Now I just accept it. I’ve learned to let it roll off my back.


TP: A significant portion of getting better comes from mental toughness, but you can’t force that on someone, or can you?

PP: The easiest way I’ve found is to have them watch somebody else, not to see how they do, but to watch as the clock winds down.  When they finish they are on the ground gasping for air. If you’re not doing that every time that you get through a WOD, you’re leaving something. The whole point of crossfit is that when you here that “beeeep”, you’re sucking wind. You’re done. Cashed out. Spent. You know that that everything you had was left on the floor. So when you say, “hey Phil, I’m getting frustrated because my time is not improving.” The first thing I’ll do is watch you finish a WOD.

(Also) there is something magical about the numbers “3, 2, 1”. When that is said, the reaction is almost subconscious, you’re brain knows it’s time to nut up. You could be standing there, bent over, gasping for breath, but when you hear someone say “come on 3, 2, 1” there’s something that makes you reach back out for the bar.

In that regard, crossfitters’ minds are crazy. We’re so wired to want to hit a number that even the promise of getting a 2-3 second break is worth hitting a number, even if it means going right back into a set. It’s part of New Species as a tight community. When someone says “come on Phil, I need these 15 reps, give me 15.” I’m thinking “shit, ok, he needs these 15, gotta get 15, gotta get him these 15.”

So it’s easy to be given those targets, and have someone tell you “3, 2, 1, back on” but that is the hardest thing for someone to do on their own. The hardest thing. Anybody who wants to master crossfit, anybody who wants to be Rich Froning, has to be able to do that on their own.