As soon as CrossFit added a clock and a score to its workouts it was inevitable that it would become a sport. This is human nature. If there is a score then that means I can be better than someone else and therefore I can win. This is one of the fun parts of CrossFit. Fitness had never been this much of a competition before. It is one of the two biggest reasons people are attracted to and stick with CrossFit over other workout protocols. Most of us are competitive at some level, and at a higher level than some of us might want to admit.
This appeal to our competitive nature is an incredibly valuable tool that as coaches we can use to push people to new levels of fitness they would not attain otherwise. It is also a double edged sword and when not kept in check eventually leads to one of two outcomes, burnout or injury.
There is a popular fitness apparel company called "Compete Every Day". I am going to respectfully disagree with this sentiment and instead say it a different way. The better way to become the most fit individual you can be would be to "train every day" or said another way, "Do the work the right way".
So what is the difference between competing and training?
When you compete in CrossFit you are trying to complete the work that needs to get done as fast as possible while meeting the minimum movement requirements. This is your number one priority. Not quality of movement, not complete range of motion, not to strengthen a weakness. You are trying to complete the work required while expending AS LITTLE energy as possible. This means on a pull up you are trying to get your chin over the bar as little as possible and still be over the bar. On a set of burpees you are trying to get up and down as fast as possible while still meeting the minimum movement standard. You are trying to snatch a weight overhead really in whatever way you can and still meet the requirements to make it a snatch (often very hard to tell that is was a snatch). You are NOT trying to get better at pull ups or strengthen your lats. You are NOT trying to do the best quality burpees you can in order to increase your work capacity. You are NOT trying to get better at snatching.
You do not become better when you compete. You do not improve. Competing is a test to see how fit you are. It shows your fitness level and overall skill at that particular point in time.
You DO become more fit when you TRAIN.
You increase your physical ability and become a better CrossFitter when you practice. This is when the primary goal is the quality of the movement, when full range of motion and control take precedence over speed. When you train you win the workout not when you get the fastest time (either against others or yourself), but when you do the movements better than you have done them before; when you push as hard as you can while still maintaining the highest quality of movement possible.
When you train you may not get as many pull ups as fast, but every pull up you do is all the way down and all the way up. A really good pull up is pretty close to a chest to bar pull up; the chin and neck are completely over the bar. This will make you better at pull ups. This will strengthen your lats and arms and make you look better with a t shirt on or without one on.
When you train you will go as light as you need to on a snatch in order to be able to complete the movement with perfect form. This is when you will get better at snatching and it will enable you to lift more in the future without putting your shoulder joint through a meat grinder.
Now, I am not saying you should only train. Training can be very intense but there is an intensity that comes only with competing, which can be very useful. However, you should train more than you compete.
As a general rule you would train 75% of the time and compete 25% of the time.
This is a mindset shift, I know. Only you can control this. This means when you have your favorite nemesis in class who you love to beat and you are both neck and neck on a set of push ups, you still make sure you keep your body as straight as possible and complete a solid lock out a the top of every one. They may be higher than you on the whiteboard that day, but in the game of life you just won that day for yourself.
EMOMs are one way a programmer can try to force someone to train rather than compete. But even then if you want to cut corners on whatever movement you are doing to finish faster, you have to ask yourself what your goal is. Is your goal to become more fit? To become healthier and/or more capable? Or, is it to fortify your fragile ego by proving to yourself and everyone else in your afternoon CrossFit class that you are the biggest badass at 5:30pm because you can half-ass your way through a bunch of shitty sit ups or be the cool kid who can do a handstand push up while using your head and neck as a shock absorber that you bounce off the concrete with?
That last part may have been a little harsh but I wanted to make a point. It took me years (and many surgeries) to have this epiphany about the difference between competing and training. In my head if I didn't give it everything I had to win the WOD then I felt like I'd been a p*ssy that day. I still fight that battle in my head all the time and often get caught up in the moment when I get fed up with Jason beating me and decide I'm gonna win this one today or die trying. However, I am also often able to put my sensitive masculinity in check and worry about just becoming better and stronger.
This is a concept most of us need to roll around in our head for a little while to get a good grasp on. And next time you beat me in a WOD, remember that most likely I was only training and if I'd wanted to really try, I would have beaten you.