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A Critical Eye Without a Critical Spirit

CrossFit changed my life

If you read my last blog post, you know that since we all got off the road in the Spring of 2020, I’ve become more of a gym rat and have fallen in love with our CrossFit gym: UpReach CrossFit in Austin. One of the best things about discovering CrossFit is discovering the amazing coaches that come along with it. Coach Paige is one of those amazing coaches. She leads our twice-a-week Olympic Lifting class for members who want to work on these more technical lifts like dead lifts, power cleans and snatches. And Paige knows her stuff!

Trained as a competitive athlete herself (and supremely knowledgeable about the Olympic Lifts), Paige demonstrates what every good leader needs: she has a sharp eye for correct performance, but she never demeans those of us who aren’t getting it right. In other words, she has “A critical eye without a critical spirit.”

A bit of a backstory: many years ago, I was a high-school teacher and coach. Part of my work included time in the gym helping athletes on their Olympic Lifts. I went through some perfunctory classes myself so I could make sure these young athletes benefited from these lifts without injuring themselves. But I know nothing compared to Paige.

Getting better without getting embarrassed

Each class, I can hear Paige coaching my fellow members – while she would give detailed critiques to each person (and somehow remember everyone’s different tendencies) – she would do it in such a way that the person in question would never feel badly about their movement. She is passionate about you getting it right, but here’s the thing that really separates Paige from other coaches I’ve worked with over the years: Paige never demeans you for the things you need to improve.

This ability to give feedback in a way that feels supportive and kind, while still helping to provide growth and constructive criticism, is a trait that separates good leaders from great ones. I’m reminded of Kim Scott’s model in Radical Candor: Challenge Directly while Caring Personally. Under Paige’s direction, many of us who approach the heavy Olympic Lifts with a bit of trepidation, have grown more aware and confident in our abilities (and, as a result, in our strength and health) because of her crystal-clear-and-yet-still-kind approach to coaching.

Here’s the point

Paige demonstrates for me what great leaders do: they create an environment where people feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, correct themselves and are challenged to grow. They empower their team members to be their best selves and achieve great things.


This blog was first drafted several months ago. Since then, I’m sad to report that Paige has left our gym. And while I’m sad for our loss, I’m not surprised – Paige was recruited to become a strength and conditioning coach at Mater Dei High School in California. If you know high school sports, you know that Mater Dei has one of the most storied athletic programs in the country, including preparing multiple collegiate Heisman Trophy winners and both NFL and NBA all-stars. Paige is now bringing her “critical eye without a critical spirit” to some of the best youth athletes in the country.

Fellow leader: where can you model yourself after Paige and get better at “a critical eye without a critical spirit?”