Building Community: Friday Night Lights

by Kristy Parrish | March 21, 2016 2:00 am

Driving through the frozen winter landscape of Minnesota, on the way home from a long road trip, a song came on the radio. It wasn’t a great song, but the chanting chorus caught Matt Winchar[1]’s ear: We’re all in this together.

This would become the motto for his gym, Undefeated CrossFit[2].

When it came to planning for the 2016 Open[3], Winchar and his leadership team at Undefeated wanted to build something that encouraged mass participation, rallied team spirit, and inspired a competitive drive amongst all of its athletes.

It was the genesis of Friday Night Lights.

Uniting the Gym

Uniting the Gym[4]

Friday Night Lights would unite the gym, bridge the disconnect, and exemplify that motto — We’re All in This Together.
Winchar says he noticed a disconnect beginning to happen between the serious CrossFit athletes and the average Joe. A campaign was launched to get as many members as possible to sign up for the Open.

“We needed the Rx, the scaled, the masters, the teens, everyone. We heard excuses like ‘I’m too old’ or ‘I need to get in better shape first,’ but a funny thing happens when everyone else starts doing the thing you’re avoiding,” Winchar explains. “Those excuses disappear. Then the magic of the Open happens.”

55% of the membership is women, so Undefeated organized a ladies night designed to break down the Open and encourage women to get involved in the competition.

Coach Jessika Element[5], who co-planned the evening with competitive team coach Leonie Coulson[6], explains, “Participating in my first Open filled me with a deep sense of empowerment. I pushed myself further than ever before and came out feeling so accomplished. That not only led to a newfound confidence in the gym, but more so outside of the gym. Daily tasks all seemed like a dream after seven minutes of burpees[7]. I wanted to share that with the other women at our box.”

Friday Night Lights would unite the gym, bridge the disconnect, and exemplify that motto — We’re All in This Together. Over 70 athletes registered, and many more have been swept up into the energy of the Open and have signed on to volunteer.

If members were going to show up to the party, the coaches were going to make it worth their while.

A Creative Sense of Competition

A Creative Sense of Competition[8]

Undefeated implemented an imaginative way to create a sense of competition amongst its athletes during Friday Night Lights, regardless of what type of athlete they are.

The formation of diverse teams strengthened the community.[9]..and created a palpable and energetic buzz around the gym.
Competition has always been a driving force at this gym. Undefeated runs a competitive program, Unleashed[10], that trains very hard most days of the week. The gym has sent a team to Regionals for the past three years. This is a box that takes its training, its performance, and its competition very seriously.

But Undefeated doesn’t believe that competing should be reserved for the elite athletes. “Competition is life’s blood. It’s what makes us better. We don’t need to see you in an actual competition. It means you compete against who you used to be and leave them behind,” Winchar says.

Assistant Head Coach Daniel Peri[11] explains they wanted to draw every single Open athlete into the competitive spirit of the gym and bond a diverse array of athletes. They created a roster of eight teams that united the elite athletes with the newbies, members from the 6 am crew with evening attendees, teens with masters.

The formation of diverse teams strengthened the community[12], built relationships among athletes who normally don’t workout with one another, and created a palpable and energetic buzz around the gym.

Teams earn points not only with their performance on the leaderboard, but also through challenges like taking creative team photos, monitoring nutrition for a week, active recovery tasks and taking the classic “CrossFit in public” photo. All progress is tracked and athletes must use the hashtag #undefeatedFNL2016 to be awarded points for their efforts.

The top team will be awarded an inaugural Undefeated Intramural Team Competition trophy. “Every member has the chance to earn their team points, despite what kind of athlete they are. This is the shit I live for,” Element muses.

The gym also celebrates and highlights the successes and triumphs of individual athletes. Each week, one outstanding member is identified as The Athlete of the Week for their contribution to FNL. The winner is determined based on a combination of performance, effort and all-around team spirit; the athlete is awarded a weekly prize pack from Lululemon[13] and bragging rights.

“I hope that athletes leave these five weeks with a strong sense of accomplishment, with some clarity of where they are at as an individual, and with a whole new set of goals to work on.”
Additional athletes are singled out and lauded for their efforts in a weekly Open review that is posted on the box’s blog.

Mason Gobert is celebrated for his place on the leaderboard; currently he’s 1st in Canada West, 11th in the world – Teen Boys 16 & 17. But 15 year-old Aboriginal athlete Denae Petti’s efforts are also applauded: she started CrossFit a little over a month ago and she was a heartbreaking one rep away from completing the 16.2 Scaled Teens workout. (She was hoping to get through the second round.)

39-year-old Chris Maclean is 25th in Canada West. He’s been singled out for a work ethic and drive that defies age. Mel Phaneuf just got chest to bars a week before the Open began and she blew through 7 rounds of 16.1.

“We are all in this together.”

"We are all in this together."[14]

So, what is the impact of all this?

Element, who handles the daunting task of coordinating the almost 100 athletes, volunteers and spectators who show up for Friday Night Lights, hopes for so many things from the Open. “I hope that athletes leave these five weeks with a strong sense of accomplishment, with some clarity of where they are at as an individual, and with a whole new set of goals to work on. I hope that our community gets closer. I hope that they get out of the Open what I did: a confidence and pride and a motivation to be the best they can be.”

Coach Quinn Taylor[15], who assists Element with Open operations explains,

“When someone new walks into our gym for the first time to support their friend or family member doing the Open and witnesses the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the passion, the fight, the grit, the ‘never quit,’ I’m just proud to be part of something this big, this significant, this life changing.”
Coulson points out that the community has so many strengths, but it’s when we come together that it creates magic.

Matt Winchar wants to put people in a place they’ve never been before. Whether it’s finding the dark place in a workout, or performing a movement they didn’t think they could do, or even just making new friends — which for some can be scary.

After four years of CrossFitting, athlete Jaimie Swailee finally signed up for his first Open. “I love the atmosphere and seeing others do so well. I love pushing my body to what I think is the limits. I just fucking love it all!”

The smiles, the social media posts, and the PRs speak for themselves.

They will continue to throw down every Friday night at Undefeated CrossFit throughout the Open. It has united the box. Friendships have been forged, the spirit of competition has been embraced, and teamwork prevails. But you get the distinct feeling that the magic will continue long after the last 16.5 scores have been posted. They really are all in this together.

Tags: Contributor Network[16], Daria Salamon[17], Undefeated CrossFit[2], Matt Winchar[1], Jessika Element[5], Leonie Coulson[6], Daniel Peri[11], Quinn Taylor[15], burpees[7], community[12]
  1. Matt Winchar:
  2. Undefeated CrossFit:
  3. 2016 Open:
  4. [Image]:
  5. Jessika Element:
  6. Leonie Coulson:
  7. burpees:
  8. [Image]:
  9. community.:
  10. Unleashed:
  11. Daniel Peri:
  12. community:
  13. Lululemon:
  14. [Image]:
  15. Quinn Taylor:
  16. Contributor Network:
  17. Daria Salamon:

Source URL: