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Observations of a Joy Girl: Is your CrossFit gym actually community-centric?

I’ll be honest, sometimes I hate telling people I’m a CrossFit coach because of the immediate stereotypes placed on me. Half the time I’m asked something about flipping tires, how many pull-ups I can do, and how much of the Kool-Aid I drink. But other times? I’m so proud. Because our gym not only serves the Kool-Aid, but we pay special mind to the main ingredient: community. 

At Renew, part of my administrative role is to be a “Joy Girl” for our people. I am the point person for member care, member questions, checking in on our people who are injured or who have not worked out in a while, birthday cards, new baby gifts, among other things. I call and check in on everyone periodically, and in turn, have truly become friends with many of our members. And as part of my checking in, I’ll be sure to specifically ask what they enjoy most about Renew — and without fail if it’s not their number one answer it’s their number two — the people love our community. 

So as someone who gets regular feedback about the state of our community, I want to share three main things I hear from happy members:

"I don't feel like the new kid for very long."

Honestly, If I had a dollar for every time a new person told me how pleased (and shocked) they were with the voluntary hellos, hand shakes, and hugs they received from the other athletes, I wouldn’t have to coach anymore. And that brings me so much joy. #joygirl

As a staff, we work really hard to make this gym a place for anyone and everyone. We put in place a  “welcome system” designed to not only make them feel appreciated for signing up, but to feel included. We’ve found that the inclusion piece is what really makes them feel at home, faster. Here’s what we do: 

  1. Within a few days of signing up with us, I call to introduce myself as their go-to girl for any and everything. This gives them at least one person within the walls of the gym that they know, who will hold them accountable, making it a little easier to actually show up to a new place full of strangers. 
  2. Also within a few days, new members will receive a welcome email with all the regular events and happenings, as well as a welcome box with a swag and a handwritten note from me. The email helps them feel invited into and aware of the things we do on a regular basis, and the welcome box (via snail mail!) sets them up with gym swag, again, helping them feel included, and a welcoming note that has thought and care behind it — not just a cookie cutter piece of clutter.
  3. And in their first class, we encourage coaches to do corny ass ice-breakers if there is a “Renewb”. Not only does it get people out of their comfort zones, but it lets the existing members know that this is a new person — not just a passerby — to bring into the fam. 
"Thanks for adding me to the Renew Crew!"

This could have easily been a number four to the first point, but this little community-within-a-community deserves its own section. Social media can be noisy, we knew this. So while we do have some really killer content across our Facebook and Instagram pages, we wanted to create a corner of the internet that was exclusive to our members. So, we launched the Renew Crew Facebook group that is chock-full of announcements, event reminders, sass, idiocy, things to do, things for sale, puppies, recipes, and so much more. It’s a super easy way to connect and communicate with everyone — whether a coach or a new person. 

One of our weekly traditions within the group is BSFs, or Bright Spot Fridays.  Each week, one of our coaches will initiate a post that highlights something worth shining a bright spot on. Something personal, something professional, something fitness-related, something a member did that blew them away — the goodness is endless. From there, a group-wide thread is born in the comments, with everyone posting their own BSF.  This fosters a really positive atmosphere, even if it’s online. It creates conversation topics to bring up in class, and encourages folks to look out for good things during the week instead of focusing on the hard things.

"I'll be there!"

Events are so important for creating community within your gym. And I’m not just talking about in-house competitions and nutrition challenges. While those are popular and fun, it’s equally as important to create places for your people to bring their people so their worlds can collide. Community WODs, special holiday workouts, workshops — establish “evergreen” events within your gym community that allow your members to bring their friends and family, without the expectation to buy your most expensive membership package. I spend a lot of time personally inviting existing members, friends, and family to our regular events, as well as our special ones! These events are a time when our evening class people meet the morning class people, plus their friends and family and it is my most favorite part. 

All this to say, community within a gym is so important, but it takes real work to foster and create that inviting culture, but I’ll tell ya it’s well worth it. People feel cared for, and it makes the gym a place they want to be, instead of a place they have to go to. 

If you’re a gym owner or a coach, watch how your people interact. Implement a few things at a time to help break up cliques, make new people feel invited and valued, and make your gym a place your athletes want to be. 

Who wrote this post...

Mckenzie Souther

Mckenzie Souther

McKenzie is a North Carolina transplant (go Heels) who’s been coaching and attending Renew since 2016. Her favorite benchmark workout is Isabel, ‘cause quick power snatches are her jam. But as a former gymnast, she’ll also settle for any workout that requires her to be upside down. When she’s not coaching or working out, she just wants to be where her friends are -- preferably somewhere on the greenbelt with lots and lots of dogs!

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