CrossFit teen programs are not uncommon in the 10,000-plus Affiliates around the world, but a group of teens at CrossFit Kivnon in La Mesa, California, stand out.
“I will have a consistent group of committed athletes who are making remarkable progress, and then one Monday they come to class and half of them got arrested over the weekend and a few are in rehab,” said Coach Russella Allison of her crew, a group of teens who are in the correctional system.
CrossFit Kivnon and Reflections Central, the day treatment program attended by the students, merge twice a week for the teens to go through traditional CrossFit workouts. Here, the program’s Coach details how the partnership came about, how other Boxes can play similar roles in their own communities and more:
Box Pro: How did the partnership between CrossFit Kivnon and Reflections Central come about?
Russella Allison: When Mike Rolan, an officer at Reflections, approached me in 2015 he was searching for a physical outlet for the teens at Reflections. He had asked many gyms in La Mesa and San Diego for assistance with the teens but without a lot of success. It was at this time that he came to CrossFit Kivnon. He was interested in our kids fitness program. There are volumes of research on the benefits of physical activity and behavioral challenges. Once we talked, I knew that CrossFit could really help these kids and he knew that I had what they needed. This group of teens had the challenge of public perception and limited funds. After long talks with the owners of CrossFit Kivnon, they agreed to allow the Reflections students use of their facility and its equipment free of charge, and I agreed to accept their small budget as payment in full for coaching. This was extremely generous on their part.
BP: How can other Coaches and Box owners look to get more involved with their communities?
RA: There are so many ways to reach out and get involved. As facilitators of fitness we spend countless hours fostering community within our Box walls. The power of collective spirit goes beyond the strength of an individual. Let that power, that spirit, bubble forth and expand your sphere of influence. The CrossFit community has so much reach. Look for ways to embrace it. Be aware. Be conscious. Be loving. Ask the shy new member what is their hobby, ask the mom if there is a need at the neighborhood school. Ask your police officers where your neighborhood could be better served. During my CrossFit training someone said, “If you are doing this to get rich, then it’s not for you.” Be open to the idea that the next person who walks through your doors needs your help to make things better, not pay your bills. Coaching has taught me so much, but I am ever humbled by the efforts in generosity.
BP: What kinds of concerns or liabilities had to be addressed in order to make the program possible?
RA: As you can imagine, our questions were about the kids themselves. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work out. We had to think of the safety of the kids, our equipment and the other gym members. We also had some apprehension about logistics. We had to make sure our insurance was adequate. Liability waivers had to be signed by the court appointed guardians. What time of day would they train? What about transportation to and from the Box? Who would be the supervising adults? Reflections had to make time in the school day for them to leave campus to come to Kivnon. These were real concerns and food for thought. However, as it turned out, the kids have thrived at our Box. There is a sense of community that has embraced them with open arms. Most of our members have never met these kids, yet they are invested in their progress. As with most Boxes, we have members of law enforcement, military, educators, attorneys and advocates. These people have sponsored and mentored the Reflections students toward their personal and fitness goals. The students acknowledge the gym as a place of strength and respect its facility.
BP: How do you conduct each class?
RA: I love what I do. I am a kids’ Coach. I am passionate about strength and conditioning for kids. It is who I am. This class is based upon the same modalities of a regular CrossFit Teens class, but I am stricter. No sitting down. No putting your hands in your pockets. Don’t lean on the walls. The emotional challenges that are present at every class can be difficult. For example, I will have a consistent group of committed athletes who are making remarkable progress, and then one Monday they come to class and half of them got arrested over the weekend and a few are in rehab. It is hard to leave your frustration at the door and train the individual that is there in front of you right then. We have to meet each other halfway. They give me all that they are capable of on that day, and I show them how to apply what they are bringing.
I am the only Coach for the students, but for each class there is at least one officer and one teacher present. I think this is one of the special attributes of this program. The adults and kids gain a mutual respect for each other during the struggle of a WOD. Both sides are cheering for the other and there is a good dose of rivalry included.