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Leading Marines—or Athletes by Jeff Barnett - CrossFit Journal

In Coaching, LEO/Mil

November 01, 2010

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Jeff Barnett finds some similarities between being an officer in the U.S. Marines and being a leader at a CrossFit affiliate.

In my life before becoming a co-owner and trainer at CrossFit Impulse, I was an officer in the United States Marine Corps. The role of the junior military officer is that of small-unit leader. The proverbial quarterback in the huddle, he is responsible for devising a plan, communicating its execution and supervising it to completion. Not surprisingly, I have found many similarities between military small-unit leadership and conducting group classes at my affiliate.

An effective trainer plans the workout, communicates his intent to his athletes, supervises the conduct of the workout and solves unexpected problems. Just like the junior officer, a trainer will lead athletes of immensely varying levels of skill and experience. A lieutenant or captain must effectively utilize and earn the trust of both fresh recruits with little training and senior enlisted personnel with experience far surpassing his own. Similarly, trainers must provide a rewarding and effective experience for both rank novices with little CrossFit experience as well as the quintessential firebreather.

I’m not about to suggest you run your classes like a platoon, but I do contend that many leadership techniques are just as applicable to putting 16 athletes through Jackie as they are to constructing a fortified defensive position.

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14 Comments on “Leading Marines—or Athletes”


wrote …

Great article, sir. Keep up the good work.


wrote …

Great insight to your leadership knowledge. I appreciate your articles. Thanks for sharing.


wrote …

"Crossfit Leadership Cert" anyone?

I love the subject of leadership, as I come from a similar background as the author. It's hard to reduce all that experience and knowledge down into an easily digestible and relevant article such as this one.
Well done.


Jeff Barnett wrote …

Thanks for all the kind words, everyone. I'm glad the article is beneficial. I'm always looking for ways to do things better, so if you have different opinions or methods, I'd love to hear about them.


wrote …

what happened with that exorcism?


wrote …

Next time I'm in Bama I'll look you up!


Jeff Barnett wrote …

Erich, short story is that what one Marine considered "sharing his faith" with a fellow Marine, the another Marine considered "pulling a demon out of him." It made the allegedly exorcised Marine uncomfortable around the Marine who allegedly performed the exorcism, and I had to address a lot of sticky concerns about religion, fraternization, small teams, and a combat environment. Truly a shit sandwich, but nothing that can't be overcome.


Kelley Rakow wrote …


Great article! There's a lot others can learn from our Marine training. BAMCIS, METT-TSL, ORM, and a few others come to mind quickly. No plan survives first contact, so we have to be ready to adapt and overcome. Granted we're only talking about training in this context, but the fundamentals are the same as those for small unit leaders. Being a good leader in the military translates very well to running an effective affiliate. It's easy to be just a trainer, it's a whole different ballgame to be a good coach AND run the affiliate so that the entire operation is successful.

Semper Fi,
Steve Rakow
CrossFit Ocean City


Jeff Barnett wrote …

Steve, thanks for testing my memory with those acronyms! Although when I learned it at OCS/TBS it was still just METT-T. Interestingly, the civilian world embraces ORM pretty consistently. One of the few concepts I've seen applied almost exactly as I learned it in the Corps.


wrote …

Jeff - thanks for the reply. Truth is always stranger than fiction hey? Good article. I'd like to get my cert eventually and teach so this was a good read.


Tammi Byxbee wrote …

excellent article-having been a former Marine and now a coach, this helped to reinforce what I need to be focusing on, especially with athletes with different skill levels-not always easy to addess when working with larger groups and limited equipment


Jeff Barnett wrote …

Different skill levels, large groups, and limited equipment are probably the perfect storm to challenge a trainer. The thing I've found that's most important is not being emotionally attached to every detail of your plan. As you know, your plan never survives first contact with the enemy. :) Semper Fi.


wrote …

Jeff - very strong article, glad this made the cut.

Semper Fidelis,
Brian Wilson
Potomac Crossfit


wrote …

Great article, thanks for taking the time.

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