How Tribes of Athletes are Changing the World

This is a guest post from Jason Spencer of

Recognize this tribe?

Do you remember when the search for a do-it-yourself exercise, nutrition plan, or health program meant heading to the local bookstore or library?

Way back in … let’s see … oh … 2004!

That was about the time I was looking to get back in shape and figure out what “healthy” looked like for myself again. I was approaching five years married, and my wife had just given birth to our second child. Many of you know this phase of life all too well, and are probably chuckling thinking back to the chaotic state you found yourself in.

Al Gore had already rolled out the internet, but it was still in its infancy. It severely lacked in community and real people gathering to talk about stuff like health and exercise. Most information stemmed out of big news and media sources. The blogosphere had not yet taken shape, and social networks were nonexistent.

Do you remember Body for Life?

I remember being excited when I stumbled upon Bill Phillips’ Body for Life book. I ended up buying the book at the bookstore, and read through it in a matter of days. The idea of transformation, a before and an after, resonated with me.

The competition component of the program seemed fun, and the community of people (through an online forum) cheering each other on to give it their best during the 12 weeks was awesome! The book essentially laid out the entire schedule of meals and exercise, so it was a do-it-yourselfer’s dream.

This was my personal first experience with a tribe of Athletes. I lost about 25 pounds in 12 weeks and carved out some really nice shape. Not bad for a busy, young dad.

Now the Body for Life program seems more corporate, and it’s probably lost a lot of the close-knit feeling it had, but back then there was an authentic part of that community that existed within the real people striving to get healthy together.

Real people. Real connection. Real stories. That’s where the magic happened with that tribe.

The Power of the Tribe

A group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea.
Definition of ‘tribe,’ according to Seth Godin

In order for change in the world to occur, it must start with one person — The Leader.
That person must have some sort of epiphany — The Idea.
In order for that idea to take root in the world, and create positive ripples in people’s lives, a group of people must gather — The Community.

One Leader + One Idea + One Community = TRIBE

This is the single most powerful formula for positive change in the world. And now this formula is exponentially more powerful than its ever been before. Here’s why:

The blog and social environments online have opened up global possibilities and reach that have never existed before in extremely inexpensive ways.

Let’s face it. In 2004, the odds that you would be reading information put out there by Matt Frazier, and connecting with a group of people who were both athletes and vegans or vegetarians, were ridiculously low. Without a big corporate budget for massive TV and offline advertising campaigns, Matt would have had very little shot at getting his information out there to the masses and attracting his tribe of people with common interests.

Fast forward just a few years later to right now … Matt is a leader with an idea to educate, support, and build a community around athletes who don’t eat meat. He started the conversation through a blog and invited people like you that share similar interests to join in. Now No Meat Athlete is a tribe of over 10,000 readers, and growing strong.

Most importantly, every day, someone new is finding help, or inspiration, or encouragement to change their life and their impact on the planet through this tribe. That is beautiful. And meaningful.

Considering where we were just eight years ago, I stand in awe of how far we’ve come as a society. Tribes now have global reach, and global impact. With that comes great responsibility.

How to Change the World Right Now

What do Matt Frazier (No Meat Athlete), Steve Kamb (Nerd Fitness), and Greg Glassman (Crossfit) have in common?

Matt has creatively combined the vegetarian/vegan diet with the running and athletics communities. Now people like yourself who resonate with that combination have a place to connect, be inspired, and participate with other athletes who share your views on health and eco-consciousness.

Steve’s tribe at Nerd Fitness really started to come together and take off when he finally decided to integrate his nerdiness into his writing, attracting all sorts of nerdy people that wanted the same thing Steve did — to be healthy and strong.  Now nerds around the world, including myself, can engage in community exercise plans and experience tribal accountability, all while discussing which Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movie was the best.

Greg’s Crossfit tribe is one of the greatest examples of our time of an organic, grassroots movement in health and fitness that completely changed the way the world thinks about exercise. Combining simple, fundamental, and practical exercises with a competitive games style approach, Crossfit has grown their annual competitions that were once held in a small parking lot into events worthy of stadiums, being televised on ESPN and sponsored by Reebok.

These three examples may sound like a few superstar guys that had everything together. I assure you, they did not. They simply had a spark, an idea inside that they were compelled to respond to. And they did.

They are leveraging the modern tools of the tribe-builder to share real stories with real people for real connection. And it’s changing the world.

You too have a role.

You are a part of some of these tribes, and you have the ability to share your story, connect with like-minded people, and help those who are struggling with issues that maybe you’ve already overcome. Or maybe you are the one struggling. As a members of these tribes you can reach out and ask for help, seek out a mentor or accountability partner, and invite fellow tribe members to challenge you.

I believe that many of you have a spark inside, an idea or dream that’s been tugging at your heart for a while. You have unique strengths and you have a powerful story. Perhaps you are meant to lead a tribe, or play a significant role in an existing one.

Whatever that is, don’t ignore it. You must respond to it and move toward that spark so that you can use it to change the world, one life at a time.

Use your voice. Rise up.

About the Author: Jason Spencer writes at TRIBE.LY, a blog about building tribes that can make positive change in the world. He has a passion for helping people start tribes with ONE leader, ONE idea, and ONE community. Begin to understand your spark by downloading his free new ebook, The Tribe Builder’s Manifesto: Spark a Movement. Change the World.



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  1. Hooray for the Tribe of the Running Carrot!

  2. I love Body for Life! Well, I should say I loved it. Just like for you, it was the program that got me started with fitness. It’s funny how much it comes up in random conversations all the time — I guess more people did it than were willing to admit it back then.

    Great post; I love this kind of stuff.

    • That’s funny Matt that we found fitness in the same way… 🙂 I shudder to think about the chemicals I put into my body during that phase though (with all the Myoplex shakes and creatines and what not). Ah well, our bodies are pretty resiliant and have the ability to cleanse and detox.

  3. Thanks for the reminder that is only starts with one!
    One leader and one idea. Combine that with the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and things that seemed impossible before, now seem doable.

    You’ve given me confidence, Thank you!

    • Definitely Janet, I love that saying! Changing the world always looks like an enourmous feat, but every major change can be traced back to that one moment in time that one courageous leader stepped up and took an action step.

      I’m glad you walked away from the post a bit more confident. Don’t allow fear to stop you from taking that next step in your life!

  4. I enjoyed your article Jason.

    I like the concept of leader, the idea and the community. In today’s hectic schedule of life, the community is our support system to help us achieve our goals while being accountable. How many New Years resolutions, per say, have fallen short because the shelf life was shortened by work or other situations in life coming up. When a “community” of like-minded people worked together to achieve that same News Years resolution together, a higher rate of success in achieving that goal is seen.

    Again, I like the concept and can see how it is so benefiticial to many people wanted to achieve a goal.

    Thanks for the great article.

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