A 2014 CrossFit Journal article by Maureen O’Hagan examined why there are so few female coaches who coach Regional and CrossFit Games-level athletes.
In this same article, CJ Martin, arguably the most recognized elite male CrossFit coach today, voiced his opinion that the imbalance of the sexes at the high-level of the sport would simply iron out as the sport developed.
But is it possible it won’t iron itself out over time? is it possible that there are fundamental differences in women and men that will generally prevent women and encourage men to become elite-level CrossFit coaches, such as the stereotypical dominance of the male ego and the relationship-driven needs of the female?
Is it even possible that these differences are the reason women simply aren’t interested in coaching competitive CrossFit athletes, and that (gasp) the top-level female CrossFit athletes prefer to be coached by men?
And finally, (bigger gasp), should we even consider the lack of women coaches roaming the warm-up areas of Regionals and the Games a problem in the first place?
Just not that into it
Christa Giordano, who competed in the 2014 and 2015 CrossFit Games with her 12 Labours CrossFit team, has been coaching CrossFit for years. Giordano said coaching competitive CrossFit athletes just doesn’t interest her. Period.
Giordano might be a Games athlete herself, but like many female coaches, she prefers working with the general population at her gym.
“I prefer coaching the lifestyle athlete,” Giardano said.
Perennial CrossFit Games athlete Elisabeth Akinwale agrees: “At this stage in my coaching career I’m more drawn to working with lifestyle CrossFit athletes,” Akinwale said.
One of the few female coaches who does coach high-level CrossFit athletes is Diane Fu of San Francisco CrossFit. The owner of Fu Barbell, Fu specializes in weightlifting and has worked with elite CrossFit athletes, such as the NorCal CrossFit team made up of big-named athletes like Jason Khalipa, Pat Barber and Miranda Oldroyd.
Diane Fu has worked with other elite coaches, Carl Paoli, in the picture above and coached some of the best, like Miranda Oldroyd from CrossFit NorCal Games team, but she still finds great joy and value in coaching recreational athletes.
Despite Fu’s connection to high-level CrossFit athletes, even she said she actually enjoys the recreational side of coaching more as it allows her to make a bigger difference in her athletes’ lives.
“Lifestyle athletes present more opportunity to grow as a coach,” Fu said. “They usually face more challenges in terms of movement and mobility, and I enjoy helping them solve those challenges.” High-level athletes, on the other hand, are just good for the ego, she explained.
“It [Coaching high-level athletes] makes you feel like a fantastic coach,” Fu added.
Although she acknowledges it’s an obvious stereotype, Akinwale said she suspects women are more interested in generating relationships than in developing a potential Games athlete.
As a five-time CrossFit Games athlete, Elisabeth Akinwale knows the amount of dedication and focus it takes to coach an elite athlete, and she admits she'd rather develop, meaningful, long-term relationships with the many athletes she sees daily.
“In general, I think women are more relationship-oriented and may find it more rewarding to focus on building relationships and improving lives versus the hard push, results-driven atmosphere that may be more common on the high-level competitive side,” said Akinwale, who has recently made the shift from coaching one-day seminars to a gym setting, where she’ll have the chance to develop long-term connections with her clients.
“I’m really looking forward to developing longer relationships than a one day seminar format allows,” she said.
Maddy Myers, who competed at her first CrossFit Games in 2015, also thinks there might be something to the stereotype.
“Generally, albeit stereotypically, women are more patient and understanding, and that works better for recreational CrossFit. Women are stereotyped as emotional creatures, who might not push you as hard as a male coach,” Myers said.
The Power of the Male Ego
The male equivalent to the female desire to develop relationships is the male need to have their ego stroked. Akinwale thinks there might also be something to this.
“Boys basically think they know everything,” Akinwale said, adding, “I believe there may be some personality traits that are more common in males, whether innately or due to socialization, that make them more likely to aspire to coach high-level CrossFit competitors.”
Giardano mimicked Akinwale’s perspective: “I do think coaching high-level athletes is innate in men. … I think it takes a certain personality (to coach elite athletes).”
Even Women Prefer Male Coaches
Blonyx athlete Taryn Romanowich, a perennial powerhouse CrossFit athlete in the Canada West region, admitted she prefers male coaches. She went through a coaching change this year, and when she was examining her list of prospective coaches, “a female didn’t even cross my mind,” Romanowich said.
“I think that if I had a female as a coach, I might struggle as an athlete, and I might not perform to my potential,” she said. “For me personally, I need to be told like it is. I don’t like being sugar-coated. It may be stereotypically speaking, but we as females generally don’t dish it like that.”
Giardano, too, prefers to be coached by men.
“I think there is a different connection females have with men. It’s funny but when I am training with a male coach, it seems they see the potential and when they say you can do a lift, it resonates…and I usually hit the lift,” she said.
The Exception to the Rule
Olympic weightlifting coach Carlee Fuller, who competed at the 2013 SoCal Regional competition, is one female coach with a tell-it-like-it-is, attitude. Fuller prefers to work with competitive athletes over lifestyle athletes because she can relate to them, she said.
“Competitive athletes have a different mindset. It’s the only mindset I know and I respect their work ethic. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around someone who isn’t trying to be the absolute best that they can be,” Fuller said.
She added: “Men actually respect me more, and think it may be because women are intimidated by my blunt, no excuse attitude.”
One of Carlee Fuller's athletes is her son, Jaden (13) who has qualified for USA youth weightlifting nationals for the third time this year. His future goals include training at the Olympic training center and to make the world team. He must get that work ethic and no-nonsense attitude from his mom.
Is this really a problem?
While Fuller might be in the vast minority, is it really a problem that there aren’t many women like her out there? Is it really a problem that women tend to prefer coaching lifestyle athletes? And that elite female CrossFit athletes like male coaches?
Is it less important or prestigious to have a desire to help the general public go from the 30th percentile to the 50th than it is to aspire to help one athlete jump from the 97th percentile to the 98th? I would argue the former is actually more noble than the latter.
If 95 percent of the population of CrossFit athletes consider themselves lifestyle athletes, isn’t it a good thing that most women are naturally drawn to them? If everyone wanted to work with the minuscule percentage of athletes looking to qualify to Regionals or the Games, wouldn’t that be a bigger problem for the CrossFit community? Who would be excited to coach the majority of our community?
Instead, maybe we should start seeing women’s apparent desire to coach recreational CrossFit over competitive CrossFit as a blessing or, as Fuller pointed out, perhaps even the more schrewed business business decision.
“Coaching competitive athletes doesn’t usually lead to the big bucks,” Fuller said. “Lifestyle (athletes) is where you make your money.”
Perhaps women ARE the smarter sex?