More Than a Gym – How to Make Your Box a ‘Community’

Courtesy of Shutterstock.comIt’s not a new concept and it’s talked about so often in our CrossFit world that it’s almost cliché — community. The high-fives and the cheers during a WOD; the sense of accountability that working out with the same group of people creates; the friendships that start in the Box and transfer to our everyday lives. At what point does a CrossFit Affiliate become more than a gym? How important is “community” in making a successful Box?

Not Your Box – Our Box

As an owner who watched my Box accelerate from affiliation to 150-plus members in less than a year, my experience indicates that creating a strong community is the most important factor in creating a successful Box. There are many factors, of course — coaching, facility, equipment, marketing, social media, membership cost — and they are all important. But I would argue not one is as important as community.

Building a community was not my first priority when I affiliated. We started out offering quality coaching in a welcoming, non-intimidating environment. Our fundamentals course has always stressed the importance of supporting fellow athletes during a WOD. Like all good Affiliates, we cheer the last to finish harder than the first. Word spread and our membership grew. Friendships developed and conversations before and after a WOD became more than just talk of the latest PR. Laughs over beers, girls’ nights out and playdates with kids ensued. We had become a social community.

The CrossFit Community – Our Third Place

Other writers have written far more eloquently about the Third Place than I ever could.* Sociologist Ray Oldenburg introduced the concept in the late 80s, arguing that everyone has two main places in life — home and work — but we are happiest when we have a Third Place we can call our own.

For centuries, this Third Place was the neighborhood café, tavern, bookstore or barbershop. In our busy, fragmented, social media-saturated world, those places aren’t what they used to be. But the unique culture of a CrossFit gym can foster that feeling of fellowship — that sense of uniting around a common interest or goal — that is the foundation of community.

The development of the community at our Box has felt natural and easy in many ways, but there are a number of things I’ve learned that we, as Box owners, can and should be doing to foster a strong sense of community and to give our athletes a Third Place.

Connect all your Athletes

No athlete goes to every scheduled WOD. As your membership grows, the likelihood that every athlete knows one another goes way down. Early on, we set up a members-only Facebook group to share news, post successes, ask questions and seek support. Our member group has taken on a life of its own — an online forum for our family to share good and bad, to laugh, cry and be triumphant. We also host regular special events — team WODs, charity WODs and competitions. Not only do these events draw attention and occasionally press, but they also bring our CrossFit family together as a large group to work hard, cheer hard, have fun and be proud of who we’ve become. Just like any healthy family.

From Social to Socially Conscious

Just like any healthy, successful and grateful family, we realized that our success and our energy should be in part directed to helping others. We started small — groups of athletes volunteering at local charity races. One of our members started coordinating athletes to make and serve meals at Salvation Army. We gathered supplies and donations for the Humane Society and a Back-to-School charity. We now have a dedicated website and volunteer coordinator who keeps up with local charities and events. We have learned, and I have learned, how giving back enriches our life both inside and outside the Box. Giving back together strengthens our sense of community.

Seneca said “He that does good to another man does also good to himself.” As an independent business owner, I know that the health and success of my business is directly related to the health and success of my CrossFit community and my greater community. On a personal level, a professional level and a community level, I’ve learned that if you take care of your athlete community then your athlete community takes care of you. It’s that simple.

*most notably Eleanor Brown in her article “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” in the January 2014 issue of CrossFit Journal.

Scott Keyser moved to Stevens Point, Wisconsin in 2011 and got his Level One certification and Affiliation in 2013. After time at two temporary locations, he left his ‘day job’ and took CrossFit Stevens Point on full-time at its current location. Scott, his wife Kristin and their son James reside in Stevens Point, and they all CrossFit.