When I was in the Navy, I stood a lot of late night shifts while we were out to sea. This consisted of navigating the ship, dealing with any ship-wide issues, and avoiding collisions with other ships.
Sometimes I’d be sleep-deprived and unhappy about being awake from 2:00 am to 7:00 am in the morning, but there were times that I loved it, too.
There’s an undeniable romance to being out to sea and feeling the sea breeze on your face as you watch the sun rise. But I loved the operational parts of it, too.
Many nights were uneventful, but the most memorable nights were spent in potentially career-ending moments, having close calls with boats a couple hundred yards away from our ship (for a ship that is 843 feet long, hundreds of yards is nothing). In those moments, I was reminded that it takes someone with the right qualifications and a certain temperament to weather these storms safely (pun intended).
Not everyone can do it.
While there are many things I’m admittedly not good at, the few things I am, I take pride in. One thing I am proud of is that people can rely on me to do what’s needed and do it well.
And as I thought about the competition we’re hosting this December for the second year in a row, where over 300 people will be in attendance, I realized that is exactly the gratification I get from running a successful competition.
If you’re thinking about running a competition, understand why you plan on doing it.
Organizing a large-scale event is nothing to take lightly. Having a half-baked idea to run people through muscle ups until they hit rhabdo might sound like a good idea in theory, but the execution will be painful. Then all you will have is a lot of disappointed people with lighter wallets.
Already committed to running a competition? Currently planning our 4th competition at our gym, I’ll offer some lessons we’ve learned.
Here are the 10 things you need to run a kick ass competition:
If you talk to anyone who has competed in a CrossFit competition, the two deal-breakers always come back to judging and the schedule.
When you host a competition, it’s called a competition for a reason. People are performing at their very best to gain something at the end (public recognition, prizes, or whatever else), and the people who ultimately decide on the competitors’ performance are the judges. The judges determine the scoring and who the winners of the competition are.
At the end of the day, whether participants win or lose the competition, they want to do it fairly.
That being said, don’t skimp when choosing and training your judges! This is not a place to cut corners.
To have good judges for your competition, you must make sure they clearly understand the movement standards and that they uphold all standards equally. Competitors must trust that they are being judged (and scored) fairly, because the second they don’t, they won’t take the event seriously. When that happens, they lose any sense of gratification that comes from winning or losing, believing deep down that they didn’t earn it properly.
2. Schedule & Downtime
Running a competition right is a lot like running a class properly. You wouldn’t want to start class 5 minutes late, spend 10 minutes of class waiting for Carla to pee before the WOD, then run into the following class by 10 minutes.
It’s the same thing here.
Make it your number one priority to follow the schedule and minimize unnecessary downtime. However boring these details are, they are also very important. The minute someone feels like they are wasting their time and behind schedule, they’re thinking of what they could be doing instead while you’re getting your act together.
Ah, programming. I could write an entire post on this alone, but I’m going to condense the big points.
Don’t make it complicated.
Simple is not only easy, but it can also be very effective (hello, Karen).
Simple is easy to communicate to the judges and the athletes.
Simple is easy to judge.
Simple can alleviate chances of injury.
In the heat of the moment, it becomes nearly impossible for us to process complex things, whether as an athlete or an organizer. The second things get overwhelming or unnecessarily complicated, we get frustrated.
Keep it simple. Participants are paying for quality, not complexity.
Your volunteers are the bedrock of a competition that runs smoothly. If the competition sucks, it’s your fault. If it’s great, it’s your volunteers’ faults.
Take care of them accordingly.
Endless coffee, endless food, and a bad ass t-shirt should do the trick. If you have leftover swag, send them home with swag bags.
Another way to take care of your volunteers is by being a good leader and communicating very clearly what their roles are. Don’t make it confusing for them. They’re here for you, and you’ll make their experience more enjoyable the less stressful you can make it.
Confession time. I’d love to say the competition last year went off without a hitch, but that’d be wrong. Although 95% of it went swimmingly, there was one major snafu that still haunts me today.
Scoring by hand.
A mistake I made ultimately swapped the 3rd place and 1st place teams in one of the divisions, and I spent weeks afterward trying to rectify it.
I thought my math skills were untouchable because I’m Asian, but in true fashion, I broke that stereotype too. So from that point on, I vowed to switch to electronic scoring (and electronic leaderboard).
Learn from my mistake. Keeping it simple will keep it fair.
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Onto the fun stuff: vendors. A lot of this will depend on extra space you have available that isn’t already reserved for competitors, spectators, or volunteers. We’re fortunate to have a huge area outside that is on the grounds, which perfect for our Vendor Village.
That being said, if you don’t have that kind of space, don’t stress. Vendors are a nice add-on to a competition but not a requirement. I’ll explain why it’s cool to have vendors, though.
It’s one thing to host a competition, and it’s another to host an event. Vendors can make your competition not just something the competitors look forward to, but the spectators, as well.
What would you like to see if you were cheering your friends on at a competition?
You can never go wrong with coffee, food, or beer. That being said, this is also a great opportunity to expose smaller health and wellness brands to the community. It’s a win for you, and it’s also an advertising win for those brands. We strive to have local companies that have something to offer the CrossFit community.
Have you looked at the expenses involved in running a competition?
From prizes to t-shirts to consumables for your volunteers, it adds up. Where does that money magically come from?
If you’re using an online registration system that doesn’t pay out until after the event (like Eventbrite), it surely isn’t coming from the tickets.
Financing comes from sponsors.
Sponsors are key when running a competition. They help to provide the cash flow you need to put on a bad ass competition without worrying about overdraft fees.
If you’re unfamiliar with sponsors, sponsors support events financially or through providing products, in return for advertisement, exposure, and warm leads.
Our sponsors meet a cash requirement or provide us with equivalent amount of quality products we can give to our competitors (even if it’s just the winners). In return, we offer them a spot on our event t-shirts, advertise for them on an event banner, and hype them up on our social media.
Again, we love to go local for our sponsors. We limit the number of sponsors so they all get the level of attention and exposure they’re expecting, and we try to avoid competition within the same category (i.e. If Nike and Reebok were both your sponsors. And if that’s the case, you should be writing this post – not me.).
Have you ever had an awesome time in your life but no photos commemorating it?
Kinda sucks, doesn’t it? That’s the same feeling you’ll have if you skimp on having a photographer for your competition. Not only do you want the memories of a successful event, but there are a couple other important reasons.
Put on your marketing cap for a minute.
What else do you get when you hire a photographer to shoot your event?
Content. A lot of it. Kiss your social media woes goodbye – you’re going to have some epic moments captured, which you can share with the world for a long time to come.
Also, there’s a good reason why people die from selfies.
Whether at the podium or in the middle of a work out, we all love seeing ourselves in the middle of bad assery. Call it the human condition. Don’t miss this opportunity to provide your athletes with an added perk of reliable coverage.
The importance of business-to-business relationships shines here! What you can provide in swag and prizes points to how many friends you have.
Ok, not really, but if you can make the prizes and swag quality stuff, your competitors will remember it.
By sourcing prizes and other products that people will love, you can provide an overwhelming amount of value to your competitors. Putting our marketing caps on again, this will convince them that they got more than their money’s worth and reaffirm why they’ll be back next year.
10. Outsource Everything
Or damn near.
It took me a solid 3 months after our last competition to recover from it. I was burned out, and it was because I tried to do too much.
Plan your competition to where you play no role in it on the day of except that of Chief Margarita Consumer. Aim to “do nothing” on the day of, having delegated every single detail.
Does this mean you’ll do nothing? Not at all!
It’s still your event, and the fires are ultimately your responsibility. However, you’ll have just enough to do by putting out those fires, while retaining as much of your sanity as possible.
I can’t emphasize this enough: You can’t do everything, and it will only kill you to try.
Remember, this is supposed to be fun. 🙂 Make sure that running this event is just as gratifying for you as it is for those you’re hosting.
Ready to start your competition planning?
Get a print out of the 10 things you need to run a kick ass event. Use it as a checklist, reminding you of all the things you need to button up to host a successful comp! Just leave us your first name and email address.
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