Part 3: How to Run a Quality Throwdown: Learning From the Best

By: Emily Beers

Nutts Cup 2014

When it comes to hosting a throwdown, overlooking seemingly small details can have dire consequences—consequences for athletes and fans alike.

It sure did for me—and the spectator I kicked in the face mid-workout—at a competition a couple years ago.

Here’s how it the unfortunate scene unfolded: The organizers programmed a giant chipper event that ended with a handstand walk. They thought they made the workout so difficult that not a single athlete would make it to the final portion of the event.

So when athletes exceeded expectations and completed the chipper, chaos broke. There wasn’t enough space for us to even kick up to handstand, let alone walk. Athletes and judges grew frantic and confused, immediately looking to the organizers for guidance. Nobody seemed to have an answer.

I knew the space in my lane was tight, but my competitive side took over. Damnit, I wanted to finish the event.

So I kicked up to handstand at the edge of the competition floor and smoked someone in the front row of the bleachers.

I realized then it was best to cartwheel up sideways to avoid any more altercations with spectators. It worked well and I started to traverse on my hands. Just as I thought I was in the clear, I hand-walked my way right into another competitor, who had spilled into my narrow lane after failing and tumbling out of a ring-handstand push-up.

From lane spacing, to programming appropriately for the competition, to fielding a strong group of judges and volunteers, to accommodating athletes and fans with adequate restrooms: Seasoned organizers agree no detail is too small when planning an event for CrossFit athletes.

Why do people run throwdowns anyway?

If running an event for CrossFit athletes is so challenging and time-consuming, why does every other affiliate run an annual competition these days?

In an online survey that included 25 organizers of different throwdowns, organizers were asked why they do it. 35% of respondents said they host a throwdown as a form of community-building, while another 26% said they use it to generate revenue for their affiliate or for a charity.

Challenges

The biggest challenge in hosting a throwdown—according to 47% of organizers—is dealing with logistics—things like equipment, set-up, spacing on the floor and scheduling heats. Meanwhile, another 30% said finding judges and volunteers is their biggest obstacle.

Other common challenges organizers revealed were: Figuring out how to program appropriately for the field, and the sheer amount of time it takes to plan, organize and execute a great event.

Financials

If you’ve ever hosted a throwdown, you’ve probably quickly learned the financial costs of running a great event sometime sneak up on you. From hiring a DJ or an announcer, to renting bleachers, sometimes it’s hard to break even, let alone profit financially.

But those who run the best events say they’ve found ways to churn a profit.

In fact, 85% of respondents said they profit financially from their throwdown. Much of the time, affiliate owners say they immediately re-invest the money back into their business to purchase things like new equipment for their athletes.

The survey also revealed organizers, who are profiting from their throwdown, say the easiest way to generate a profit is through sponsorships and donations.

Learning from the best throwdowns

In a survey of 250 athletes, athletes were asked which local events they like the most. Two throwdowns that received many votes were Battle of the Border (BOTB) in Lloydminster, Alberta and the West Coast Triple Crown events in Vancouver and Squamish, B.C.—namely the Winter Challenge.

Curtis Johnson, owner of CuJo Conditioning, is the organizer of BOTB, while Chris Schaalo of CrossFit North Vancouver is one of three organizers—along with Jesse Bifano of CrossFit Squamish and Dave Kitchen of CrossFit North Vancouver—of the Triple Crown events. Both Johnson and Schaalo elaborated on how they have created such successful annual events.

Schaalo explained the biggest challenge as an organizer is gathering enough quality volunteers. He has learned one way to generate committed volunteers is is to treat them well well; this makes them feel valued and gives them a reason to keep coming out to help out year after year.

Johnson agrees. He provides his volunteers with a coupe of t-shirts, meals and drinks all weekend, and throws a thank-you party for them after the competition. Last year, the party involved a casino night with gambling and free food and drinks.

“It’s the least we can do to say thank you to everyone,” Johnson said, adding that treating his volunteers like this makes more people want to be part of the BOTB team.

Also, getting to know your volunteers allows you to place them in the right roles, Schaalo said.

“Make sure you have all the volunteer capacities figured out to make the event actually work,” he said.

Johnson added the biggest lessons he has learned when it comes to properly utilizing volunteers is to delegate roles to others, especially as your event grows.

“In 2014, we moved BOTB out of our gym and off-site to a bigger facility, increased athletes from 120 to 300, (and) went from two days to three days. This changes everything, and was like planning a completely different event than the previous year,” he said.

Roles he has created to reflect the scope of the event were “MC,” “Weight/Event Change Manager,” “Athlete Liaison,” “Roll Call Manager,” as well as “Volunteer Manager.” When people know exactly what their job is, the event will run more smoothly, he explained.

Final Tips

1. Keep it simple and stay on schedule:

Schaalo believes one of the biggest mistakes organizers make is not keeping things simple.

“Too many event organizers try to do too much, incorporate too much, ask too much of the athletes, and overall bite off more than they can chew,” Schaalo said. One of the reasons he believes the Triple Crown events are so popular is because they keep things simple.

“Heats change minimally, workouts are designed to test but not crush athletes. Anyone can program a hard weekend, and most do, but very few can methodically test an athlete in their overall abilities,” he added. “Don’t kill the athletes. Test them.”

Finally, Schaalo emphasized the importance of staying on time. One way to do this is to schedule a couple extra minutes between heats in case unexpected hiccups arise.

“We actually get totally pissed off when we are running two minutes behind schedule,” he said. “(So) stay on schedule. It says a lot about how much you care.”

2. Learn from others and dont do it for the money:

Johnson’s advice is to attend other competitions, as both an athlete and spectator, and take notes about what you like and don’t like about the event.

He also warns not to host an event for the first time expecting to make money. As successful as BOTB is, it isn’t yet turning a big profit yet, especially when you consider the amount of time Johnson and his organizing crew puts into it.

But what Johnson is doing is building a top-notch competition that will grow bigger and better each year, and will eventually be able to reap financial benefits. But for now, profiting financially isn’t his goal.

“Each year we plan to make it look better, be bigger and give athletes more bang for their buck,” Johnson said.

Stay tuned for Part 4: How SweatWorks Can Improve Your Throwdown