What makes an athlete?

What makes an athlete?

 Go to any CrossFit video on Youtube and check out the comments and the detractors of crossfit tend to have a few things in common: kipping pullups are garbage, crossfitters have terrible form and they are, emphatically, NOT athletes.  Should we pay much attention to the cries of the uninformed trolls that grace the interwebs? Emphatically, no.  Do their questions and concerns raise points that ought to be addressed – CrossFit is, after all, the new kid on the block and we would do well to understand our place and our position in this wild world of fitness.

So, back to it, the last complaint strikes me as odd, because the notion of athlete is very relative.  The verbiage that accompanies this snort is something to the effect of “athletes are very good at a sport, activity or movement, not JUST working out.”  This is all well and good – training as the focal activity seems somewhat empty and losing the trees in the forest.  “What are you training for?” Seems to be the question behind the question.

When we put it in this perspective, it seems rather arbitrary that one would single out crossfit (and crossfitters) as those with misappropriated ambition.  Are those that play basketball on the weekends necessarily training for the NBA?  Obviously not.  Without completely beating this example to death, clearly the large majority of those that partake in physical activity are not actively training towards some end goal – the activity is means and the end.  It is fun.  CrossFit is no different, you are working out in a fun way and a competitive element has arisen from that.

Then, there is the issue taken with calling CrossFitters “athletes.”  This, too, seems rather arbitrary as what, specifically, constitutes an athlete?  It is easy enough to find those who will not concede that golfers, race car drivers and baseball pitchers lack the qualities ordinarily associated with “athletic’ people and “athletes.”  They are often pudgy, slow and seem to have the quality about them that “well, outside of that one thing that they do particularly well in this particular environment, they wouldn’t be able to do anything else.”  What this seems to imply is that if you are not a baseball/football/basketball tri-sport varsity athlete, you are not an athlete at all.

So, are crossfitters athletes?  Well, are ALL basketball players athletes?  Certainly not.  I think one could argue that Minut Bol is not an athlete or particularly athletic, but his physical prowess in blocking a basketball make him an asset in the NBA.  Likewise, there are probably average Joes on the couch that can perform various balance, coordination and agility drills better than some MLB pitchers, race car drivers or golfers…but is this the point?

The Jason Khalipas, Rich Fronings, Annie Thorisdottirs and Kristin Clevers of the world are THE best at what they do.  CrossFit has declared itself a sport (it seems the criteria is rather low as Poker has graced the airwaves of ESPN – another topic for another time) and anyone who competes in a sport is an athlete.  That is the designation for the competitor.  Am I, Eric Williams, an athlete?  No…not really.  I AM, however, somewhat athletic, but do not actively compete in any type of event that might designate me as a competitor and/or athlete.  BUT, the kicker with CrossFit is that many of us do, in fact, compete in the Open Games.  So, we are all athletes – albeit some of us possess the requisite skills in greater proportion than others.

Sooooo….all this being said.  I do not believe that athlete is merely a 0 or 1 distinction, it falls onto a curve.  To what level do you compete?  Are 5 year old T-ballers athletes and a Regionals competitors NOT athletes…well, that seems to be a rather odd contrast.

We started the sport, we make the rules, we are athletes.  That is all there is to it.  Anyone who wishes to kick dirt on another’s fun isn’t paying attention.  We are not doing this for your approval, we are doing it because we are unable to stop.  You might as well get used to us swaggering around abusing the nomenclature…;)

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