CrossFit Competition Planning Handbook

Introduction to CrossFit Competition Planning

The goal of this handbook is to provide a helpful reference for CrossFit affiliate owners and coaches throughout the competition planning process. Whether this is your first competition or you’ve already successfully planned many events, we hope that there’s something in here that will help. Something that most CrossFitters understand is that no matter how long you’ve been training, whether it’s been a day or a decade, there is always space to improve.

We believe that event planners of all level will find something herein that helps you run the best competition possible. Our goal is to help you save time in the event planning process by giving you a roadmap with most helpful tips and tricks. Using this handbook will allow you to increase impact with your audience (athletes and spectators alike) — you want to leave your best impression from start to finish. This helps you to build reputation within your community, not just as a professional competition, but as a CrossFit affiliate.

We welcome your feedback so that we can improve this document to better serve organizers and athletes around the world! Email us with your suggestions or questions about what you’d like to see on this page.

Purpose & Success Criteria

Perhaps the most important aspect of any complex and time-consuming task such as organizing a CrossFit competition is determining its purpose and defining what ultimate success looks like to you. If you think running a competition would be fun but haven’t considered these things, spend some time thinking about them before you jump in. You’ll be devoting a significant amount of time and energy to ensure a successful event, and having a well-defined purpose will help you to stay motivated and focused on achieving your goals.

There are many reasons to consider hosting a competition, and some common motivators often include:

  • Raising funds to support a charity
  • Generating additional income for your affiliate
  • Enhancing your brand and raising awareness of your affiliate
  • Providing a venue for your own athletes to compete in a familiar setting
  • Strengthening your local community with a fun competitive event

Your motivation can be any cocktail blend of the above motivators, and these factors certainly aren’t mutually exclusive.

Having a clearly articulated purpose for your event has a strong bearing on the entire planning and execution of the event. For example, let’s suppose that you want to throw a competition with a portion of the proceeds benefitting injured veterans such as Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Your might consider any of the following:

  • Having a monetary goal to hit and publicizing progress towards that goal throughout the entire competition lifespan
  • Providing an option to donate extra funds WWP as part of registration
  • Naming workouts after specific veterans, or including a modified Hero workouts
  • Inviting the WWP to have a booth (perhaps with a few veterans present)
  • Asking your vendors to offer a percent of their proceeds from your event to benefit WWP
  • Offering named donations to WWP in lieu of traditional swag bags, or having the swag bags include a camouflage print or red, white and blue competition shirts

These are just a few examples and should hopefully get you thinking about how you might frame a full competition day to fit your primary purpose for the event.

Next, consider what success means for your competition. What kind of experience do you want your athletes (and spectators) to walk away with? This focus will help to guide the rest of your event planning process and can give you an edge to make your competition stand out from others. Note that “success” is a different concept than simply meeting a goal. Your goal for your event could be to earn some extra revenue for your affiliate; success, on the other hand, could mean that your competition becomes an annual event that your community looks forward to each year.

Defining success gives you a “big picture” framework that you can build your competition around. Think of your success criteria as the ultimate principle that guides all the decisions you make in your planning process.  

Revenue & Expenses

Ensuring a top-notch experience for athletes and spectators should be top priority, so it’s critical to ensure that you have a clear budget in mind that scales up with the capacity of your event. Throwing a competitive fitness event is a great way to raise funds for a specific cause, group of boxes, or specific box. However, hosting a competition that generates high gross profit margins should not be the sole measure of success. For example, if you don’t invest back into making your competition great, it could hurt your reputation and branding for future events.

As just an example, let’s consider a competition involving 100 athletes that have signed up for $50 per registration, which translates to $5,000 in gross revenue from athlete registration. (Competitions almost always cost more than $50 to participate, and you’ll likely be able to raise additional funds from sponsors and vendors, but let’s put that extra revenue to the side for the moment.)

To meet minimum athlete and spectator expectations, there are a few minimal expenses involving cleanliness, safety, and communication that you’ll have to consider:

  • Insurance – a one day policy for a CrossFit competition typically costs anywhere from $300 up.
  • Portable toilets – you’ll want to have ample toilets for your athletes and spectators, and you’ll be looking at at least $200 here.
  • Emergency medical services – this is a key safety element you can’t afford to neglect. Contact your city to arrange professional medical personnel on-site for your competition.
  • Registration/scoring solution – you’ll need a seamless registration solution to get your event off of the ground, and the leaderboards are one of the primary ways that you’ll communicate with athletes and spectators throughout the entire event. Throwdowns.com offers fully-integrated registration and scoring for a price point that starts as low as $199.
  • Competition t-shirts for competitors ($1,000 for 100) and event staff ($400 for 40) are customary but can be minimal.
  • Prizes for the winners may include a cash purse or goods that have been purchased at a discount. Let’s ben generous and set aside $1,000 for this.

All of the above comes to around $3,100 of your $5,000 in gross receipts from registration. An approximate profit margin of 40% from registration alone is a great starting point! Even if you do not charge vendors a dime to set up shop or pursue any sponsors whatsoever, you will still bring home nearly $2,000.

To put this in perspective, if your box charges $150 monthly per member, that’s like having an additional thirteen members for that month. Money that you bring in from vendors and sponsors will only increase that profit, and it’s likely you can raise at least several thousand additional dollars for sponsorships if you hustle!

If you opt not to invest in a few extras that make your competition great for participants, you will bring home more. However, participants may be less likely to compete at your box again, and you may end up damaging your reputation in the community. There’s no need to splurge on luxuries, but ensure that the minimum expectations involving cleanliness, safety, and communication are met.

Scheduling & Time Management

Have you ever attended a competition with poor time management? Perhaps there were too many workouts squished into a day, and the result was inadequate recovery time for athletes, ragged volunteers running rampant and frustrated vendors at lack of booth traffic due to quick event turnaround time. Frustrations can quickly run high for all involved if the time is not managed appropriately.

Time is the most important variable of your competition, and it’s essential that you have a plan in place to successfully manage the clock. A poorly managed schedule will almost certainly frustrate your athletes, spectators, and event staff because it is almost always accompanied by additional stress and violates their basic expectations and planning for the day.

When you’re deciding how long your live event should be, one of the fundamental decisions is deciding between having a one-day event versus a two-day event. An event that runs longer than ten hours would be a very long day for all involved, even if it were at the peak of summer when there’s plenty of daylight available.

If your event is going to run longer than ten hours with appropriate rest time (or be ten hours but have negligible transition time between heats), you may want to consider hosting a two-day event. Two day events can also be great for boxes that want to hold a large competition but don’t have the space capacity for all divisions to be on the same day. However, bear in mind that the overall turnout for two-day events is sometimes less than for single day events because of the additional time commitments and travel logistics for out-of-town athletes.

Having determined the purpose and duration for your event,  you can start to sketch out the schedule. To be clear, we recommend that you sketch out the schedule before you even consider how many participants you have capacity for or what workouts you’d prefer to include, because it’s the one variable that’s fixed and beyond your control.

A sample timeline below for a ten-hour event is below and provides a starting point for your own event with the following assumptions in mind:

  • You have ample space for five workout stations
  • Your competition has three divisions with four heats per division
  • All workouts have a maximum duration of 12 minutes so that there’s a generous 3 minute transition window between heats.
  • One workout station will be kept open at each time slot to provide your event staff with opportunity to take a break.
7:00am 7:30am Volunteer/Vendor Check-in/Setup
7:30am 7:45am Volunteer Briefing
7:45am 8:15am Athlete Check-in
8:15am 8:30am Athlete Briefing
8:30am 9:30am Each division completes one event (four stations full, one empty)
9:30am 9:45am Transition
9:45am 10:45am Each division completes one event (four stations full, one empty)
10:45am 11:00am Transition
11:00am 12:00pm Each division completes one event (four stations full, one empty)
12:00pm 1:00pm Lunch/Catch-up on anything running late
1:00pm 2:00pm Each division completes one event (four stations full, one empty)
2:00pm 2:15pm Transition
2:15pm 3:15pm Each division completes one event (four stations full, one empty)
3:15pm 3:30pm Transition (Clean-up of anything not needed for the Final Event)
3:30pm 4:30pm Final Event
4:30pm 5:00pm Awards ceremony and Wrap-up

This configuration is an example of how you can make the most of your space and time by holding more than one workout at the same time, rather than proceeding one-by-one through the events one division at a time.

Keep in mind that for scheduling your heats, each division does not need to be doing the workouts in the same order. In fact, if you are running separate workouts simultaneously (provided they have movements requiring different pieces of equipment), you are actually able to increase your athlete capacity and therefore generate more revenue.

Managing Resources & Heats

After you have determined your basic schedule for each day of the competition and handled the fixed time variable, you should itemize your available floor space, equipment (barbells, rig space, rowers, etc.), judges, timekeepers/emcees, etc.  With your available resources itemized, it’s much easier to determine your maximum athlete capacity, and the best place to start is with your scarcest resource. For most boxes, the scarcest resource is the space involving the pull-up rig.

As an example, let’s assume you are able to comfortably fit six people on your rig at one time, and you want to include a workout with a gymnastics movement  where one athlete is working at a time such toes-to-bar, pull-ups, bar muscle-ups, etc. In this scenario, you could only run six athletes at a time, so your maximum heat size for this workout would be six athletes.

With a maximum heat size of 6 athletes in mind for this workout, you can double check that the number of heats you’ll need to run can fit within the time constraints available for a working. Recall that our sample schedule assumes an hour is allotted for each division to perform a workout, and a maximum of 4 heats could run per hour if the workout involves a 12 minute time cap.

With a schedule that allows a maximum of 4 heats per division and a pull-up rig that accommodates a maximum of 6 people at a time, we can multiple the two numbers to determine that a maximum of 24 athletes per division would work within the schedule. Furthermore, this would mean that the maximum capacity for your event would involve 72 total athletes (or teams) since the schedule is built around the assumption of 3 divisions.

In terms of scheduling heats, it’s easiest to assign static heats in which you keep athletes in the same heat throughout the entire competition, because it ensures that the amount of rest time is always consistent and eliminates a significant amount of communication with athletes about heat assignment during the pressure of the live event. With static heats, athletes know that they are assigned to the same heat and know their schedule for the day up front. As with all aspects of a competition, however, more complex operations such as dynamic heat assignments are ultimately up to the competition planner. (If you are interested in scheduling dynamic heats, our software can help relieve much of that burden.)

Don’t forget about volunteers! For our sample competition, we would need at least twenty-four judges (six per workout; four events going on at once), four timekeepers/emcees, and at least one coordinator to mediate between the different groups. That makes a minimum twenty-nine volunteers and assumes you only need one judge per individual or team in a heat. You should definitely plan to have a little cushioning here, as volunteers’ schedules may change last minute.

You may also wish to have a few additional volunteers for First Aid, check-in, and/or scoring input. (If you’re using our fully-integrated registration and scoring, you will only need one part-time volunteer to collect scorecards and enter scores.) We don’t think you can ever have too many volunteers, especially for your first competition!

Finally, you need space for all these people! To run multiple workouts at the same time, you need distinct space for each – including competitor space, spectator space and judging space. Ultimately, how much space you require will depend on the elements in your workouts. If you don’t have the space to hold multiple workouts simultaneously, you will need to either adjust the schedule or the space/equipment for the workouts.

Finally, don’t forget to consider non-competitive space that you’ll need for your event: parking space, vendor space, and space for spectators. If you had seventy-two competitors, twenty-nine volunteers, ten vendors, and 100 spectators, all drive separately, you would require a minimum of 211 parking spaces in the worst case!

You can likely manage the expected turnout for parking with clear communication that encourages carpooling, but it’s worthwhile to run the numbers and know what the worst case could be so that there are no unfortunate surprises for anyone involved in your event.

We recommend creating a map for your athletes and spectators for easy reference to where everything will be located at your competition venue. A map will eliminate confusion and provide some organization to a very busy and crowded space, which helps your event run smoothly. A good map should include the following:

  • Parking information (including overflow and spaces that are off-limits to your competition, like neighboring businesses)
  • Restroom and/or portable toilet locations (designate any staff-only or athlete-only options, if available)
  • Check-in table
  • Athlete and/or vendor village
  • Designated warm-up/cool down areas

Programming Considerations

With an event schedule sketched out, your available resources itemized, we can finally turn to the details of your programming. Because your programming is ultimately dependent upon a culmination of all of your resources (volunteers, athletes, equipment, space, and time), the best way to program is to do it last so that it can fit within those constraints. We’ve provided programming for the sample five event competition below, along with what resources are needed.

Sample programming for our five event competition (Assuming twenty-four individuals/teams per division; four heats per division):

  • DT for time (Indoor or Outdoor) – 12-minute time cap (6 male and female barbells with 12 each 45# and 10# plates for men’s heats, 35# for women’s heats; 6 stall mats for outside)
  • Cindy (Indoor) – AMRAP. 12 minutes (pull-up rig)
  • 1K row for time followed by thruster AMRAP (Indoor or Outdoor:) – 10-minute time cap (6 barbells with 12 each 25# for men, 15# for women; 6 rowers)
  • 21-15-9 Box Jumps, KB swings (Indoor or Outdoor) – 8-minute time cap (6 boxes, 6 KBs each at 53# and 35#; 6 stall mats for outside)
  • 12-minute AMRAP meters on the rower (Indoor or Outdoor)

Total equipment required:

  • 6 boxes
  • 6 53# KBs
  • 6 35# KBs
  • 12 barbells (6 male, 6 female)
  • 12×45# plates
  • 12×35# plates
  • 12×25# plates
  • 12×15# plates
  • 12×10# plates
  • 6 rowers
  • 6-12 stall mats

Finals can reuse whatever equipment is needed.

As you consider the programming for your competition, keep in mind that the more components your workouts have, the more room there is for variation, and the more there is that can go wrong. A good rule of thumb for competition programming is to keep workouts simple but challenging. Take the 2016 Open as an illustrative example:

The CrossFit Games Open 16.4 would add significant complexity to the planning for most venues, because the resource requirements are significant. For each athlete, you’d need:

  • A barbell
  • As much as 180# of additional weight
  • A wall for wall balls
  • A rower
  • A wall for handstand push-ups

That is a lot of space and a lot of equipment for just one person to workout. Additionally, you have to brief judges and athletes on all four movements; and for Masters or Scaled divisions you will probably modify the handstand push-ups to push press – which requires another bar and another movement to brief on.

16.5 is much simpler, but just as athletically challenging. All you need is:

  • A barbell
  • As much as 50# of additional weight
  • Minimal space for bar-facing-burpees

With less complexity, you often need less space, fewer resources, and you save time on briefing the workout standards. In the end, your judges and athletes will be happy because there is less room for confusion and error, and it will likely be easier for your spectators to understand the action.

A final detail to consider for your programming is how to score the workouts. Although there are a few ways to potentially score any given workout, it all has to boil down to a number that’s almost always a rep count, an amount of weight moved, or a time. For a workout with preference on reps or weight, a higher number will score better, and for a workout with a preference on time, a lower number will score better. Scoring can be complicated, but Throwdowns.com will do the complex calculations for you and take the headache out of scoring altogether.

Registration

Getting CrossFit athletes to sign up for your event is, of course, one of the key tasks you need to accomplish when planning a competition. This process should be simple for everyone involved. Registration needs to collect important information from your participants, including contact details, shirt sizes, and team names (if applicable). This is also the time to have your athletes sign a liability waiver, a photography release, and any other documents related to participation. (For example, we suggest having athletes review and agree to important competition policies during registration, also.)

The most common way to approach registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. With the Throwdowns.com system, you can set a maximum number of registrations per division and wait until they fill up. You can also changes your maximum numbers as needed during the registration process. For example, you have a larger than anticipated number of female athletes who register, so you decide to add more spots to accommodate the demand.

Another method is to have a window of pre-registration for particular athletes. For example, you want to give members of your own box the first chance to register before everyone else. Again, the Throwdowns.com has you covered here. (You also have the ability to provide discount codes that athletes can use to register to save a predetermined amount off the listed registration price at any time.) If you want to encourage early sign-ups, you can also have multiple stages to your registration process, with your registration fees increasing the closer you get to your competition date.

As far as a deadline for registration goes, we recommend checking with the company you’ll be ordering your competition t-shirts from to see when their deadline is for making and shipping your shirts. This will mostly likely be at least 2-3 weeks, to be safe. Of course, you can always allow registrations past this date, with the clear disclaimer that you cannot guarantee a shirt for late sign-ups. In any case, you’ll likely want to order extra shirts for last-minute size exchanges or even to sell at the competition. (One feature of the Throwdowns.com system is the option for your athletes to pre-purchase merchandise during registration, which can bring you some extra revenue.)

Judges & Volunteers

A huge part of your competition depends on the time and effort of your judges, who are usually volunteers from the CrossFit community. The quality of judging can make or break a competition, so a fair amount of effort should go into recruiting and prepping your judges. You should start recruiting judges as soon as possible so you have enough people on hand to help out. The Throwdowns.com registration system allows judges and volunteers to register using the same platform as athletes, which helps you collect contact information and shirt sizes in one easy step.

We recommend that you encourage or require your judges to complete the CrossFit Online Judges Course, which sets a base quality standard for your judging staff. Another thing that can help maintain quality during your competition is to designate a head judge who oversees the rest of your judging pool. This person will have final say over any judging or scoring disputes. It’s an important position and one you should trust to someone with thick skin and cool temper.

Ideally, your judges will become familiar with your head judge during a formal judges meeting held before the competition itself. This meeting is an opportunity to review the workouts, movement standards, rules, and scoring policies, and also give your judges the opportunity to ask questions. The more familiar your judges are with this information, the smoother your competition will run.

As far as volunteers are concerned, you will need lots of help setting up the venue, moving equipment, checking athletes in, organizing paperwork, and inputting scores, to name a few things. The more people you have to help, the easier it will be to make sure everything gets accomplished with minimal stress. At minimum, you will need someone to manage equipment and set-up and someone to deal with score sheets. It’s also a good idea to have at least one person on hand who can deal with anything unexpected that arises, which always does!

It’s considered good practice to provide your judges and volunteers with a competition t-shirt and any other swag you give to the athletes who compete. Arranging to provide lunch or snacks for your staff is also a good way to show your appreciate for their time and effort at your competition. As always, make sure you recognize and thank your judges and volunteers in person and online. You wouldn’t be able to host your competition without them!

Scoring & Leaderboards

This is what competition is all about: seeing where everybody is ranked at the end of the day. There’s a two-part process to making this happen. The first is to provide your judges a simple way of recording scores; the second is inputting and organizing those scores. Luckily, Throwdowns.com offers an easy-to-use system that can take those scores and automatically ranks athletes in a real-time online leaderboard.

To record scores, you’ll need score sheets for your judges. Score sheets should feature the following:

  • Athlete or team name, affiliate name
  • Heat number and time, lane number
  • Judges name
  • Workout/event description
  • Important rules and standards
  • Method of tracking progress
  • Final score with athlete signature

The more information you can pre-populate into your scoring sheets, the better. In the rush of competition, handwriting can become impossible to read. We recommend designing your score sheets to allow your judge to simply cross off numbers as the workout progresses, which allows more of their attention to be on the athlete(s) rather than the clipboard. You can use the CrossFit Open scoring sheets as inspiration for how to design your score sheets.

It’s absolutely imperative that you keep these score sheets organized so you can easily refer back to them in the event of a scoring dispute. We also recommend that you publish an official “dispute policy” that you can refer athletes to that outlines the steps they need to take to address a scoring issue. While the Throwdowns.com system makes it simple and easy to input scores, sometimes mistakes happen and you want to have a smooth way to correct them when they arise.

Along those lines, it’s a good practice to make your workout descriptions and rules available ahead of time for your judges and athletes to learn. What’s better is to prepare detailed and clear standards videos demonstrating how the workouts will run and what specifically is expected of athletes during the movements. The more information you can provide, the better.

Once you have your results, you’ll want to make them available as soon as possible to your athletes. With the Throwdowns.com live leaderboard, you’ll be able to enter competition scores and have scores online almost immediately. It truly does not get any easier.

Marketing & Publicity

You might have the greatest, best organized competition with the coolest prizes and most honorable cause – but if no one knows about it or knows how to participate, your event is destined to to unsuccessful.

Come up with a plan to tell the masses! This brings us back full-circle to the purpose of your event. You don’t want to go to the trouble of holding an event if it doesn’t sell out or at least come close. Marketing a local event with more emphasis on first-time competitors will look different than holding a large, for-profit, regional event. In either case, utilizing social media outlets, your box members, sponsors, vendors and the local community are good places to start.

If you utilize an online registration system like the one that we offer, make sure to include the link in your communications. Also be sure to communicate out details like heat times, events and leaderboard locations well in advance of your competition. This will lend to happy athletes who are more likely to participate in another competition under your umbrella. Holding a competition will be beneficial in generating immediate profit (whether for your box or for a noble cause), camaraderie in the CrossFit community, and reputation for your box. Make sure that reputation is a great one by putting on a successful, well-thought out event!

Keep in mind that communication shouldn’t end after the competition does. Be sure to update your social media pages throughout the competition day and after the competition with photos, leaderboards, fundraising goal progress and anything else you can think of. After the competition, you might consider sending out a “Thank you” email to competitors with the opportunity to provide feedback on how you might improve for subsequent events. (If you’re using a registration and scoring product like our solution, you’ll already have an easy way to handle these kinds of communications.)

Sponsors & Vendors

This is the icing on top, from a logistical perspective, but one of the biggest draws for an athlete when signing up for a competition. Sponsors can help with a number of different aspects of your event, from providing prizes and swag, to giving you discounts on equipment, and even monetary contributions. The amount of sponsorship an event can receive is usually due to the established reputation of the competition, which mostly depends on how long it has been running for and how large it is.

For most local competitions, your primary sponsorships will be in-kind, meaning donations in exchange for advertising. As a rule, be grateful for everything you receive and make sure to give ample recognition to everyone who helped to support your event. The better you treat your sponsors, the better they will treat your competition in the future!

Here are some ways to make sure you give credit to your competition sponsors:

  • Sponsor “thank you” page on your competition website with logos and links
  • Social media posts featuring your sponsors
  • Logos on your event schedules, flyers, banners, and t-shirts
  • Naming workouts for particular sponsors
  • Special awards given in the name of a sponsor

On-site vendors can add a new level to your athletes’ and spectators’ experience at your event. First, food vendors are essential for keeping your audience happy. With the rise of food trucks, you should have plenty of options to choose from. This also gives you the added benefit of having your food vendors advertise for you! If you provide your vendors with flyers and other information about your competition, they’ll be able to let their own patrons know that they’re going to be at your event.

You can also have other types of retail vendors on-site at your competition. Reach out to potential vendors early so they have time to plan and budget for supporting your competition. There are so many companies that cater to the CrossFit community and many of them are eager for the opportunity to come face-to-face with potential customers. You can provide them that chance at the same time as providing value to your athletes and spectators. It’s a win-win!

A final suggestion is to plan for kid-friendly activities provided by local businesses (think of any service that’s aimed for children). There are so many opportunities here to create partnerships with your community, which can also benefit your affiliate by getting your name out to different demographics outside the fitness industry.

Event Planning Checklist

Below is a minimal list of things you will need for your competition that perhaps you haven’t thought about already.

⬜  Event sponsors

⬜  Event vendors (apparel, food/drink, chiropractic/massage, cause-related)

⬜  Awards (participation and podium)

⬜  Videography/photography

⬜  Portable toilets

⬜  Insurance

⬜  Food and drink vendors

⬜  Weather contingencies

⬜  Insurance and legal contingencies such as athlete and volunteer waivers

⬜  Trash and clean-up solutions

⬜  Clipboards, pens, and stopwatches

⬜  Fully-Integrated Registration & Scoring (Be sure to consider your friends here at Throwdowns.com!)

Closing Thoughts

Holding a competition can be challenging but very rewarding. We hope you found this handbook useful in planning an outrageously successful competition. We welcome your feedback on ways that we can improve this guide and hope for the opportunity to help your next competition be a smashing success!