While you might have dreams of putting on the biggest and baddest strongman competition the world has ever seen, with thousands of dollars in price money and making an absolute mint from it, the reality is this is far from what is likely to actually happen. I’ve ran quite a few competitions now, some big and some small, some great and some terrible, and I thought I’d share a few hints and tricks that I’ve learned over the years to help you not make the same mistakes I did.
While the idea of running a huge competition in a stadium with 20000 screaming fans is a great idea for your first competition, the reality is that it’s probably not going to happen. Venue hire can be incredibly expensive, and create a whole bunch of other issues that you might not consider. What if you get a huge stadium a few cities away which you blow your entire budget on, and then you have almost no spectators? Not only have you thrown away any profit you might make, you’ve spent hours moving equipment back and forth.
Make sure it’s suitable to the events you’ve chosen. Doing yoke on uneven grass is a shortcut to injury, and something like a keg toss on concrete is a bad time. You want as much flat, solid ground as you can get, which isn’t going to be irrepairably damaged if somebody drops implements.
Speaking from personal experience, nothing is worse for a competitor than having one bathroom a few hundred metres away from the competition. Not only is it inconvenient having to walk so far to bathrooms which will quickly become absolutely filthy, but there’s a good chance some competitors will miss event notifications and briefings. Ideally your location will have multiple bathrooms in close proximity to the competition area.
Being able to set up PA systems, laptops for scoring, charging phones/cameras, etc are definitely things which can greatly improve the ease at which you can run a competition. Power availability is the first thing I consider when setting up a competition on the grounds.
There’s a lot of other things to consider like whether there’s shade/indoors area to sit between events to cool down, parking availability, spectator seating, ability to easily move equipment to and from the venue (including generous bump in/out times), etc but these should be more obvious once you start looking at a specific venue. As you think of things, note them in a spreadsheet that you can use as a checklist for future events.
My advice would be to pick somewhere small, convenient to move everything to and cheap/free. Hosting competitions at the carpark of your gym, providing you can cut them off from automotive traffic, is a great way to start building a following for your events, then when you get to the stage where you’re too big for the location you can scout elsewhere.
It took 5 years of running competitions to be able to afford a 2000sqm, undercover competition venue with spectator seating and food trucks – we started in the gym carpark with an average of 10 competitors per competition.
While the idea of putting on utterly unique events with bespoke equipment is great, the reality is the sort of events you see in big shows like the Arnold/WSM aren’t going to happen at your first meet.
Start with the basics; usually a carry/load, a press or two, a pull, some sort of grip event and a deadlift will keep most people happy. You can run great events with a couple of axles, a couple of sandbags, some farmers, a sled and some rocks you find in somebody’s garden if you’re inventive, especially if you put together events into a medley in an unexpected way. Make sure whatever you have can be loaded to the minimum you’re going to need for the lightest female division, and heavy enough for the open men. This is the reason it’s so much easier getting huge, unique equipment for single class shows; loading and minimums/maximums isn’t usually much of a concern. Also consider how long equipment is going to take to load/reset between each competitors – if you’re taking twice as long to reset as an attempt is going to take, then you’re in for a very, very long day.
A comp run solely with max attempts is going to be pretty boring to watch. I always try to include point-scoring which takes into consideration a broad range of skills that it takes to be a successful strongman; a maximal strength event, one or two rep events, one timed race and something which is testing static strength. Don’t make the mistake of max time/distance/rep events unless you KNOW what the furthest anybody is likely to do – a couple of years ago we had a head to head tyre flip which a new competitor took out to over 90 unbroken reps because she literally wanted to go to failure, and this 10-minute attempt blew out our time for the rest of the day.
Event Run Sheet
Where possible, competitors being head to head within a class is always your best bet to put on a show. Whether it’s some slight equipment differences, not enough room that every surface is exactly the same or not having enough equipment, this isn’t always possible. Don’t be afraid to run competitors head to head in different classes; just make sure all competitors within a class use the same equipment in the same lane if it’s slightly different.
The Gallows – a back to back Hercules Hold which was the centerpiece of the 2018 Australian Strongman Alliance Nationals. Something like this certainly isn’t required to run a competition – but having a local fabricator you can trust to build huge, flashy equipment can be a great advantage!
There’s a lot to consider once you’ve got a location and events nailed. Here’s just some of the stuff you’ll need in order of importance.
The absolute #1 thing you’ll need before anything else is insurance. If you’re lucky and the competition is being run as part of a gym, you should be able to have the competition added to the gym insurance policy for a small cost. If you’re a separate organisation, good luck. Call around sports insurance brokers and see who has an idea what you’re after – standalone insurance for one off events is going to vary, but I’d expect it to be in the $500 range (at least in Australia). Being a sanctioned competition should give you insurance cover, however if it’s your first couple of competitions you usually don’t want the additional pressure of meeting their requirements on top of everything else you have to do. As a note, most insurers will require you to do a risk/hazard analysis as well as control measures you’re taking. Given the entire sport would be a OHSA nightmare in any other industry, the best you can usually do is making sure the equipment is solid, the ground is flat/solid, and there’s nothing for people to trip over – if you explain this to any decent broker, they should accept that.
You’re going to get asked questions.
Lots of questions.
The only thing you can do to counter this is to put all the information you have into an easily accessible place, and whenever you get asked questions just direct them there. For smaller competitions, I usually just set up a Facebook event with all the relevant information in the description/pinned post, but for bigger events I set up a dedicated website with information (such as one of mine). If anything changes, make sure you change the information as well as notify competitors that there has been changes as soon as possible.
It can help to create a mailing list of all signed up competitors, and send them an update email 4 weeks out and 1 week out to cover any updates. While Facebook Events is a good choice to post about an event, often updates can be missed; especially if competitors aren’t big social media users.
If you want to run a successful show, you’re going to need a solid team around you. Payment, food, merch, etc is a great way to encourage people to consistently help out, and the more experienced they get the better events are going to run. If you find a helper who is on the ball and intuitively knows what they’re doing, do whatever you can to keep them around. The minimum number of helpers you need to run a successful competition is per competitor running at any time, you will need 1 spotter and 1 judge. This is not ideal, but at a bare minimum it can work – the judge also becomes responsible for timing and writing down scores, and relaying them to the table/head scorers between each competitor.
Where possible I will run with 3 spotters (people can take rests for the easier events, as well as jump in to help in other areas as needed), 1 scorer, 1 judge and 1 gopher. This way, judges are only responsible for judging, scorers are responsible for taking down competitor scores and gophers are repsonsible for running the scores to the table. If you set the events up so each event team member only has one responsibility, the event is going to be much smoother.
Make sure you have enough equipment for your events – including plates. Don’t forget that competitors need to warm up too; if you only have one piece of equipment, you don’t want 30 people trying to warm up on the same thing. No matter how good your equipment is, expect the unexpected. Equipment can easily break or get broken by competitors, and if possible you should have a spare or an alternative ready to go.
Running the Competition
Having a competition that runs both quickly and sensibly goes a long way to improving the competitor and spectator experience. Definitely spend some time getting this part sorted out.
Think about how the fatigue from each event is going to impact the following event. Running a max yoke as the first event is usually a recipe for disaster as you’ve just cooked every competitor (as historically, look how many serious injuries have happened at big shows where this happens right off the bat). Usually, deadlifts or stones will be last as these are usually what’s going to wreck competitors the most, but it’s going to depend on all the other events. A simple layout that consistently works is to run a carry, a press, a loading event, a grip event and finally deadlifts last.
Both standard scoring and reverse scoring methods have their benefits and drawbacks. We typically run with reverse scoring because it’s much easier to keep track of – first place in an event gets 1 point, second place gets 2, etc. A zeroed event is equivalent to the total number of competitors in that division.
No matter how careful you are, scoring mistakes do happen. If they do, you have a responsibility to fix them at the first available opportunity. It can help to have a written procedure down for competitors to contest scoring or mistakes – the last thing you want is a competitor yelling at a spotter over whether they placed 9th or 10th in an event two hours ago (you laugh, but it has happened). Designating an experienced member of the judges or event team as having the final say on anything that is contested is a great approach to have, and make sure that competitors know where to direct anything they’ve contested. If you find a mistake in the scoring which a competitor hasn’t picked up, it is a great idea to privately contact the competitor it affects first before publicly correcting the mistake – that sort of transparency and honesty reflects well on your event.
No matter how good and experienced your judges are, there will always be inconsistencies. Having fairly lax judging or strict judging is fine; just make sure they’re consistent! Nothing is going to piss competitors off more than somebody getting away with stuff they’ve been pulled up for, especially if you make no effort to correct the mistake. A sign of a good judge is them being willing to admit when they’re wrong, and going to efforts to fix it.
I’m probably going to have a lot of people disagreeing with me here, but a super well run competition with average prizes or medallions is going to be much better for building a brand than a poorly run competition with great prizes. Sure, as you grow you should do your best to offer the coolest stuff possible, but starting out all your focus should be on making competitions as good as they can be.
After the Competition
After you’ve packed up from the competition, your job isn’t quite over yet.
Aim to get the scoresheets and final results up as soon as possible; no more than 24hrs if possible. Make sure you double check all the scores prior to posting them, as well as formatting them to be presentable while removing irrelevant information.
Make sure you’re thanking competitors, spectators, event team, sponsors and anybody else who helped the competition happen. It takes less than 5 minutes to write a great social media post thanking everybody, and goes a long way to making sure they want to help you again. If you have event sponsors, send them a personalised message or give them a call within the next week to thank them for their time. Forming these long-term relationships with people who want to support you is incredibly important
If you’ve already got a mailing list for competitors, it can help to send out an anonymous survey for feedback on the events, event team, location, etc. Google Forms can knock this up in a couple of minutes, as well as collate all the feedback. Keep in mind that you will NEVER keep everybody happy. You could have the perfect events, the perfect location, the perfect conditions and a perfectly run competition and somebody will find something to complain about. I usually put less stock in the overwhelmingly positive and overwhelmingly negative feedback (as you usually eliminate the super positive/negative competitors), and look for trends – if the positive feedback you get also mentions that there was something wrong with the judging, then that’s something to keep in mind for next time.
Every competition will attract a couple of people who squeeze the joy out of you and make you never want to run competitions again. Don’t make allowances for them – you are better off being consistent with everybody and having one dickhead not do your competition than making exceptions and bringing down the competition for everybody.
If you set an entry close date, stick to and it. If you want to raise the bar on the sport, you need to expect more from competitors – making exceptions for clear deadlines being missed will only make your job harder in the future.
You aren’t going to make a mint from this. Yes, running competitions can be profitable – especially if you have a great event team, minimal additional costs (running it at a gym, owning all the equipment, having an existing insurance policy, etc) – however it doesn’t go anywhere near to covering the dozens of hours you’re going to put into even the most basic of competitions. My most profitable competition I’ve ever run equated to me making about $4/hr for the time I put into it – not exactly the secret to exceptional wealth.
As you start to dip your foot into running competitions, an easy way to get some experience is to first help out with other experienced promoters. Find somebody in your area who is running good competitions, and offer to shadow them and help out for a meet or two. If they’re a good promoter and interested in growing a community that benefits both of you, they’ll welcome the assistance and have no problem sharing knowledge.