The Whiteboard – The Bookends of a Great Class

Last week I posted about the importance of a consistent class framework. In the next few blog articles, I’m going to detail the what, why and how of each component of Roots’ group classes. The development of our class structure began eight years ago when we started our affiliate, and it has evolved each year.

First up, we start and end every class at the whiteboard. Every. Class.

It takes up a good five minutes in total of our class WOD Plan, but it’s worth it.

The coaches have practiced their delivery to cover the information succinctly and clearly. The amount of information and culture that is transmitted and reinforced with each daily grouping at the whiteboard is overwhelming to me.

Sometimes, when I’m daydreaming on my drive home, I think of all of the implications that an effective whiteboard delivery has at our gym. Classes run more efficiently, it develops a class cohesion and camaraderie, and helps to solidify our product.

There are many reasons that I believe it’s important to start each class at the whiteboard, including:

  • It establishes the coach as the clear class leader and the type of coach/athlete relationship that is about to take place. No, we aren’t militaristic in our coaching style, but we do expect the athletes in the class to listen to and respect the coach. By starting at the whiteboard, and stating expectations and goals, this is made very clear.
  • We cover the workout and scaling options which eliminates the personal questions such as, “What if I can’t do a muscle-up?!” Athletes know, through consistency, that there will always be a great scaling option and we always cover the scaling options at the whiteboard. We eliminate questions such as these through repetition and consistent delivery of information.
  • We collect scores at the whiteboard at the end of each class where the coach calls out the name of each athlete, and they report their score. This practice forces my athletes to stand next to one another, interact with each other, and hear the names of their classmates on a consistent basis. Asking each athlete to state their score out loud drives honest score reporting. It also reinforces our expectation that athletes know and remember the exact details of how they performed the workout which helps athletes bond with their success and development.
  • As the coach, gathering at the whiteboard allows me to take in who is in my class, evaluate the collective level of the class, and identify any outlier athletes and what their needs might be. This information helps me deliver a better class once we leave the whiteboard.

Because the nature of each class is slightly different depending on what is the workout of the day, awhile back my coaching staff developed a hit list of what is to be covered at the whiteboard. Coaches work from this list to deliver the information in an orderly and helpful way.

So what do we cover at the whiteboard?

My overarching goal at the whiteboard is to communicate any and all information that needs mention to make the class excellent. Specifically, we work off of the list below.

At the start of class:

Call Everyone to the Whiteboard

Each class begins with the coach calling the class to the whiteboard. It usually sounds something like this, “8:30, come to the whiteboard!” The call signals to the athletes that they are no longer on their own time. Whatever stretching, foam rolling, or chit chatting was going on now stops, and athletes gather at the whiteboard. Athletes know, because of this daily routine, that they are about to learn the ins and outs of how we will approach the workout at hand.

I often get asked the question, “What do you do about athletes that just seem to be on their own time?” I have to say; we don’t have this problem. We set an expectation and require everyone to fall in line. We also meet our athletes’ expectations in that we are consistent in our approach. We give them the information they want, and therefore they are bought into listening at the whiteboard.

If the coaching staff fell short on this expectation and delivery at the whiteboard reflected rambling or useless information, I could see how an athlete could become annoyed or frustrated that they had to meet at the whiteboard and cut short their own time. Again, we don’t have this problem because both athlete and coach value and respect the system.

Read the Workout, as Written, Out Loud

After a quick “hello” or “how’s everyone feeling?” the coach reads aloud the workout of the day, straight from the board. Some of you might be thinking, “Can’t your athletes read, why do you need to read it to them?" Yes, they can read, but you would be shocked at how many athletes are verbal, opposed to visual, learners. Or they glanced at the workout notification the night before but didn't actually read the workout. Hearing the workout read aloud yields at least one realization a day from an athlete:

“Oh, 55-lbs for the OHS, I thought it was 75-lbs”
“The handstand push-ups are strict?!”

Those details are important because a proper understanding of the workout will frame an athlete's perception of scaling options or the intent of the workout. In the handstand push-up example, an athlete will digest the scaling options differently if they thought the workout had strict handstand push-ups opposed to kipping.

Time Domain

We cover the intended time domain of the workout. This reflects the desired intensity of the workout and gives athletes more information to make decisions around loading and scaling.

As a side note, we do not utilize workout time caps. It’s one of my biggest coaching pet peeves! Time caps have two downsides. First, I believe they're a coaching cop out. When used, time caps take responsibility and accountability from the coach who no longer has to learn to scale workouts properly or do better class planning. It also allows athletes to avoid the intended stimulus and intensity, and do the workout slower, knowing that they'll just get time capped if they can't do it.

If the workout is a benchmark or a retest, we’ll ask the group, “Who did this workout last time?” and let people look it up in SugarWOD.

Then we will give a few examples of how to change previous scaling options based on their past time. Using Diane as an example, and knowing the intended time domain is sub-7 minutes, we will utilize previous times, deadlift loading, and handstand push-up scaling options to help athletes understand if they should go heavier or do a more challenging handstand push-up option. We might say, “If you did Diane last time and your time was under 7 minutes, and you scaled to something less than 225/155, put 5-10 pounds more on the bar this time.” This gives athletes tools to think about the workout more critically and hammers home our belief that scaling for intensity is FAR more important than wallowing through RX and missing the intended time domain of the workout.

Cover Scaling Options

On any given day, some athletes will need to scale some component of the workout. Introducing all of the scaling options at the whiteboard allows the athlete to constructively think about what scaling options they will choose for the workout and how they relate to the desired time domain. It also affects how each athlete will internally process the workout.

Covering the scaling options in advance has eliminated the “But what if I can’t do…” personal question in front of the entire class. We rarely get that question because athletes know we will always take care of them. We have a planned scaling option for everyone that has been thought out in advance. When athletes come to know and expect this, their fear around not being able to do something decreases and they are more likely to come to class on a day when they have no idea how they will scale or modify the workout.

Also, this establishes the coach as the leader and director of the class. Scaling options are not suggestions at Roots. They are planned and thought out to maintain the stimulus of the workout and driving long-term development.

When scaling options are many, we will often write them on the whiteboard for clarity and reference.

Athletes don’t like to hear that their favorite scaling option is not a choice that day, but it will make them better. I know that to be true because that’s how I feel as class participant. Left to my own devices, I would choose the scaling options that I like, or am good at, over ones that were more challenging to me (yet might make me better). It takes a good coach with a well-developed plan to establish this, and it starts at the whiteboard.

We Don’t Ask for Injuries

At Roots, I have never had my coaches ask for injuries at the onset of class. To me, it sounds like a billboard advertisement that “you might get injured doing this!” Think about it, if every time you start a class, whether you’re new or seasoned, and you hear “does anyone have any injuries?” it sets the tone that this style of fitness will eventually injure you, and as we all know, it will not.

I took a different approach. I wanted my athletes to know our policy, that if something was tweaked, injured, or outside the norm, that they needed to tell their coach. We have made that very clear through blog posts, website language, and interactions with athletes over eight years. Because we scale extensively for all of our athletes, people see modifications for other athletes all the time and are not afraid to tell the coach when something is tweaked and warrants a modification. They have also come to understand that scaling or modification does not equate to “easier” or “less challenging.”

Take Questions

We ask if there are any questions.

There are two categories of whiteboard questions - legitimate workout clarifications and personal or irrelevant questions. It would be cocky not to ask for questions, thus assuming that your whiteboard presentation is always clear and covers all of the needed information. That being said, if you don’t give your coaches tools to address the personal or irrelevant questions, the whiteboard time can become consumed by issues that are unique to one person, and the entire class now thinks a little less of this time at the whiteboard.

It’s important to know from where personal questions arise. People freak out when they see a workout, and they can’t do something as it’s written, or they don't know the movement. The layers of fear involve not having a plan, being left behind, and not getting a good workout, or even looking stupid amongst their peers. This comes down to trust and consistency. If athletes know that you will always have scaling options - that will be taught and coached at the same level of detail as RX movements - then this fear is eliminated.

If an athlete does ask a question that is unique to them, the coaches know to redirect the question to later in class. As an example, if an athlete says, “What if I can’t do the box handstand push-ups?” the coach will smile and say, “No problem, I'll check-in with you during the handstand push-up warm-up.” This answer avoids a one-on-one conversation from developing in front of 20 people.

Make Announcements

If there’s a summer event just around the corner or the food challenge sign-up is now open - we announce that information at the whiteboard. Athletes then ask questions, and other athletes often encourage those on the fence to come to an event for the first time or sign-up for a food challenge. We also use the SugarWOD announcements feature and put those reminders right into their app screen! This means athletes get the reminders in a few different locations. Depending on the day, announcements can happen at the start, or end, of class. We remind our coaches to make the announcements in the nightly WOD Plan so every class hour hears the information.

Introduce Newbies and Drop-ins

We introduce the new folks in the class. Anyone who just finished Foundations or is a drop-in from another gym gets a warm introduction. It’s a signal to the rest of the class that this person might need a little help navigating the hour. The class participants then take on the responsibility to take them under their wing. It’s always nice when a drop-in tells me that the athletes in class made them feel right at home - a little bit of pride runs through my veins and it makes me smile.

Persona

Finally, a note on coach persona and disposition. As a coach, you’re going to have good days, bad days, tired days, emotional days, hungry days - you get the picture. But your athletes don’t need to know that. My expectation is that my coaches deliver a badass, energetic, smiling, not-over-the-top-or-cheesy, whiteboard welcome and workout run through every day.

I don’t want to hear that it's difficult for you to get going at 5:30 am or by 6 pm you’re dragging. Those people came to your class to get in a good workout and have a great experience, and guess what; they have their own lives that provide challenges and struggles of their own. Your struggles are no more important than theirs, and you don’t get to share them just because you’re on a mini stage in front of a whiteboard. For the 60 minutes you’re on the floor - all of your issues need to get bottled up. I want the best version of you out on the floor, and that starts at the whiteboard.

At the end of class:

Collect Scores

We do this every day. During class, the coach writes every name up on the board. After the workout, the class gathers at the whiteboard, and the coach collects a score from each athlete. Scores (time, rounds, or load) are written next to the person’s name. To the right of the score, RX or the particular scaled options are written.

We do this class component as people are putting away their equipment or at the end of class.

I will say a note on reporting tempo of the class. You have to train succinct score reporting. There is no time to dilly dally and let people think of their scores after you have called their name. When a name is called, it needs to be like a well-oiled machine of efficient reporting.

Coach: “Gretchen.”
Athlete: 14:52, 65 pounds, one band on dips
Coach: “Sarah”
Athlete: 13:12, 80 pounds
...and so on such that score reporting for an entire class takes just under one minute

This is another way to drive athlete engagement in their workouts, performance and logging their scores. By holding athletes accountable to report their scores at the end of the workout, they must stay involved in what weights they have on the bar and how they do or scale the workout because they know they will be asked this information at the end of the class. This helps build athletes who are invested in their own success, even when they might not care (or know to care) about those specific details in the beginning. If we ask them, they have to pay attention, and it’s a subtle way to teach them to care. I also believe that this score reporting system drives honesty. When a person must vocally report their score to a coach who then writes it down the integrity of the scores at your gym rises, and then this carries over to your virtual scoreboard, SugarWOD.

One added benefit of writing names up on the board is that coaches have a constant reinforcement to learn and remember each athlete's name. This daily exercise helps our coaches know the names of 500 athletes.

“Log Your Score!”

We remind athletes to log their scores in SugarWOD as the class is wrapping up. It is a simple reminder that reinforces the practice of completing the class and then recording your score. And because athletes have already reported their score to the coach, they know the details which they should record.

 

How can you implement this?

Having a protocol for the whiteboard is relatively straightforward and easy to implement at your gym.

During your coaches meetings or on your own, stand with this checklist and introduce the workout in the mirror. Time how long it takes and do it with a variety of workouts. Aim for 3 minutes or less. In a short period, it will become engrained in your head, and the delivery will become natural!

Just remember to cover the following.

At the beginning of Class:

  • Call everyone to class
  • Read the Workout
  • State the time domain for the workout
  • Cover Scaling Options
  • Take Questions
  • Make Announcements (at the start or end of class)
  • Introduce the Newbies

At the end of class:

  • Collect scores
  • Remind athletes to “Log Your Score!”
  • Make Announcements (at the start or end of class)

What did we leave out? What do you include at your whiteboard introductions?

Download the full "Lessons for the Coaches at the Gym" eBook here.

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