It’s almost an overused word when it comes to sports.
Parents and supporters can often be heard telling their athletes before Regionals events, “Just have fun out there. Smile.”
It sounds so simple. So easy. Athletes nod, but then hit the floor anxiously, many of them often not appearing to have much fun at all.
If I had a penny for how many times I’ve heard Regionals-level athletes announce either privately or publicly, “I just want to have fun.” They say these words with a tortured tone of voice that suggests it’s an insurmountable challenge to live by those words.
Competition often looks more stressful than fun. Even for one of the most fit athletes in the world Emily Abbott.
Maybe it is. Many athletes fail at it. I know I have.
Part of the reason I took a year off competing this year after having competed at five of the last six Regional competitions is because—despite announcing my goal last year was “just have fun and enjoy it”—the West Regional competition at the Tacoma Dome was the opposite of fun for me. Instead, I spent most of the weekend feeling fear, anxiety, anger even. Hard to have fun with those emotions circling.
Now, though, after watching Regionals this year, I developed a different perspective of the word “fun.”
Type I and Type II fun
I spent much of my time studying body language at the West Regional this year, and discovered there are a couple different types of fun you can have while competing. I always thought I needed to have “Type I fun” at Regionals and the Games—the type of fun where you love every minute of it and hope it’ll never end. But maybe I should have been embracing “Type II Fun”—the type of fun that pretty much sucks the whole time you’re doing it; it’s difficult and stressful, but you know the enormous satisfaction you’ll feel if you manage to remain emotionally resilient will be worthwhile. These blogs—Three (and a half) Types of Fun and When Fun Isn't: A Guide to Type II Fun—explain the concept of the different kinds of fun better than I could.
I reached out to some competitors who competed at recent CrossFit Games Regional competitions to discover what type of fun—or lack of— they’re having out there.
Type I Fun in Portland
Deanna Fester, co-owner at CrossFit Vernon, is one of the lucky ones—a West Regional competitor whose natural mindset in competition is to be relaxed and enjoy every minute of it.
In fact, she made an effort to be MORE anxious this year, but it didn’t work.
“Last year, when I finished regionals, I felt like I had too much fun. I’m always joking around in the warm-up area, cracking stupid jokes that probably annoy people. but I love to have fun. And I remember leaving Seattle thinking, “I need to be more competitive next year,’” Fester said.
But when Portland arrived, Fester reverted to her natural state.
“Here I am, back in that zone again being proud of myself for being here, working my butt off and having fun,” she said mid-competition.
Being happy and relaxed in competition can give me a 285 lb. front squat? Sign me up! Photo credit: Cheryl Boatman Photography 2016
Another smile that was hard to miss in Portland was Blonyx athlete Carleen Matthews,’ who won the competition. She admitted it hasn’t always been Type I fun for her, but this year she was able to do it.
“Typically in years past, it has been hard to have fun,” Matthews said after Day 2. “But it’s not hard for me to have fun this year...I feel like I’m really prepared for this year and I’m confident in my ability so there isn’t a lot of anxiety.”
Matthews soared so high in Portland, she was even offering up mid-workout smiles
Mitch Wagner from CrossFit Oregon City is another regionals athlete who has experienced Type I fun at regionals. Back in his rookie year in 2014. Wagner had no real expectations that year, so he was able to just enjoy being out there, living in the moment, feeling carefree on the competition floor, he said.
All that changed the following year. No longer a carefree rookie, instead of enjoying the weekend, the pressure and expectations he put on himself made for a very un-fun experience, he admitted.
“I put a ton of stress on myself and if things didn’t go as planned I looked at it like a failure,” said Wagner, who actually placed a lot higher in 2015 than 2014—from 25th in 2014 to 14th overall in 2015—yet still felt a sense of failure. “I had zero fun that year...Every event I was crazy nervous and I was always caring about what the other competitors were doing rather than playing my game and trusting my fitness.”
Many athletes I know have experienced what Wagner has: Year one at regionals is fun from start to finish, but that carefree feeling is lost once the rookie year is over and greater performance expectations are put in place.
“When we start falling short of our expectations, it becomes less fun,” Percevecz said.
Baker added: “It’s pretty hard (to have fun). You have to put aside all the emotions. I think the biggest reason is because you expect so much from yourself, so trying to put that aside and just enjoy the process is hard.”
Marah Baker is known for her weightlifting prowess, yet her face tells a story of type II fun - anxiety and pressure that can only be appreciated after the fact.
Doing this successfully for many athletes means abandoning the dream of having Type I fun and working hard to embrace the achievement of Type II fun.
Making the Transition to Type II fun
After 2015, Wagner spent a lot of time finding a way to to transition his mind to being able to handle the pressure and stress, but to keep the enjoyment alive in the process.
“Through the offseason, I worked on going into competitions and training with a change of attitude, almost like my first regional,” he said. “Best way to describe it is a carefree attitude, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the outcome. It’s more about realizing all the work has been done and now it’s time to show off your hard work and just have fun.
“I play my game, stick to my game plan, and not let what others are doing dictate (my) next move,” he said.
The result in Portland was he was able to find more enjoyment this year than last. More enjoyment meant he competed well and found himself in contention for a CrossFit Games berth up until the final event.
Success must be measured by more than a CrossFit Games berth. Mitch Wagner, competing in Portland Oregon.
Percevecz also successfully embraced Type II fun at this year’s East Regional Competition.
“I did have a great time at Regionals, (but) it wasn’t all fun,” said Percevecz, who like Wagner, admitted last year she struggled to find enjoyment at all. Heading into this season, she knew finding a way to enjoy the weekend this year would be her best chance to achieve her goal of qualifying to the CrossFit Games.
This season, she devoted much time to preparing her mind ready for the massively stressful, difficult, emotional rollercoaster she knew she would experience at Regionals.
“I totally imploded on Event 3 at Regionals. In practice, I had completed that workout…multiple times. But game day, something happened and I couldn’t hit the target on the wall ball. Then Event 4 went almost as bad,” she said.
Percevecz' emotional roller coaster of a weekend
Instead of letting things unravel because she didn’t meet her expectations on two events like she may have in the past—instead of focusing on how she failed to have Type I fun on Event’s 3 and 4—she reminded herself of the satisfaction she would feel after if she found a way to remain mentally resilient—Type II fun.
“I kept my head up and reminded myself of the reasons I love CrossFit. I put a smile on my face and then crushed the next workout,” Percevecz said.
The outcome was relief, a revived self confidence and after the fact type II enjoyment. The result for Percevecz: Her first CrossFit Games berth.
Type II fun is difficult to appreciate in the moment
CrossFit 604's Alex Cox was a rookie at the recent Portland Regional. He went into the weekend with his usual carefree attitude.
“I love to joke around and have fun while training and competing. I definitely don’t take myself too seriously,” Cox said. But when the competition started, he was caught by surprise.
“Unfortunately, none of the other athletes were receptive to my jovial nature…(probably) because of their focus or nerves, so being forced to be more settled than I usually would be (made me nervous and stressed).
Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, Cox admitted he lived most of the weekend at about a 5.
He attributes the stress mostly to the grandeur of the environment.
“The seriousness of the event, the year lead-up, the cameras, the announcers, the lining up, the timing chips. It’s a lot different to a team environment where you can continue to laugh with your team, or a local comp, where you can be joking with the judge because you know them from the last comp or a nearby gym,” he said.
Today, though, a few weeks have passed, he’s had time to reflect, and now Cox is able to look back at the event and remember it fondly - Type II fondly.
“Even if I did have the nerves trying to murder me,” he said.
Refusing to give up on type I fun
Three-time CrossFit Games athlete Regan Huckaby had every right to throw in the towel in in her quest to have fun in Portland this year. Huckaby qualified and competed at the CrossFit Games in both 2014 and 2015, but by Day 3 this year, another trip to Carson looked unrealistic for the two-time Games athlete - who was struggling with a forearm injury.
She admitted it was a challenge to live by her “have fun” motto.
“Let’s be honest. This weekend didn’t go according to plan. It wasn’t the weekend I was hoping for,” Huckaby said after Day 2 of competition.
However the experienced competitor in her also knows part of the journey sometimes means finding a way to continue to enjoy the weekend even when the outcome you wanted is no longer possible.
“I’m still trying to enjoy it. And I’m enjoying everyone around me—my support system, Karen (McCadam, her training partner), CJ (Martin, her coach), my family, my kids. They help me put it into perspective that this is about me having fun. That hasn’t changed even though I haven’t executed as I had hoped.”
So instead of sulking in her hotel room, Huckaby could be seen between events in Portland hanging out in the stands watching the men’s heats, laughing with McCadam and packing her children around the venue on her shoulders. And despite what the leaderboard said, she chose to stick to her game plan going into Day 3.
“I love legless rope climbs. I want to finish the weekend knowing I did my best today. That will make it more fun," she said. Huckaby knew there was type I fun to be had and jumped on it—a rare quality in an athlete, and one that comes with experience, class and an impenetrable character.