Why and How to Run the CrossFit Open at Your Gym

As many of you are coming off a bit of holiday downtime, I want to take this time to remind you...The Open is coming (cue Game of Thrones music).

That’s right, in just two weeks registration for The Open begins and in only eight short weeks we’ll learn the first workout of the 2018 CrossFit Open.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Never fear! We’ve got the blog series to end all blog series (until our next blog series) to guide you through why and how to run this annual hallmark of the CrossFit world.

There are many reasons why I believe CrossFit gyms should run a guided Open experience for all of their athletes. By guided, I mean an organized, professional, and inclusive five weeks that supports participation from the newbie CrossFitter just as much as the Regionals athlete hopeful.

2018 will be my 8th year running The Open. I’ve participated as an athlete and coach every year and done an Open workout at 11 different affiliates.

Here are the benefits of running The Open at your affiliate:

Provides a Positive Experience for Your Athletes

When properly supported, The Open provides your members with a positive and competitive experience with the challenge that is CrossFit. It’s not uncommon (or unreasonable) for members to be nervous about signing; however, this shouldn’t become the reason they don’t sign-up. I’ve had athletes tell me they don’t want to be in a situation where other people cheer them on or where they might not be able to do a movement.

Those are legitimate fears and something to be acknowledged; however, I believe the root of member hesitation in signing up is a
lack of communication from the affiliate to members about what they can expect over the five weeks. This causes athlete anxiety, nervousness, and fear and that isn’t productive for anyone! If an affiliate provides a well thought out experience, where athletes know what to expect (other than the workout), they are much more likely to sign-up and participate. Top that off with five organized and on-time Friday Night Lights events, and you've laid the groundwork for something quite special.

At the finish of The Open, you are left with a more empowered, motivated, and confident community of athletes going into the next year. Who doesn’t want that?

For many, The Open provides an experience where athletes can realize that the fears listed above are not what matters. It’s an opportunity for you to show them that they are more capable than they believe. At the finish of The Open, you are left with a more empowered, motivated, and confident community of athletes going into the next year. Who doesn’t want that?

Takes Advantage of the Yearly Wave of Affiliate Attendance

The Open seems to coincide nicely with the peak of affiliate energy and attendance. Every year I see our attendance flatten during the summer as families head out on vacations and people travel more. As fall returns, attendance and membership numbers make a return through to the holidays. Then January comes, and attendance and membership make a significant climb all the way through to the last day of school. The Open rides this wave of affiliate ebb and flow in an almost perfectly timed way. People are motivated after winter, and spring, whether symbolic or not, brings a new wave of energy and excitement back to the gym. This yearly touchpoint of competition and excitement reminds people why they do CrossFit and keeps them coming back through the next year. As our affiliate has grown, so has our Open participation. Last year we had over 170 members registered for The Open.

Brings “The Drive” Back for Your Athletes

It’s unreasonable to expect that your members commit 100 percent effort, attention, and energy to CrossFit throughout the year. There are peaks and valleys of participation. By running The Open, you create an opportunity for your athletes to get their drive back—their passion for CrossFit and their community. I like to use the 5K analogy. What happens after a person runs a 5K? They’re a little, maybe a lot, more motivated to get back into a good routine, perhaps set some goals, and crush the next year. The Open is like running five weeks of 5ks. It produces a ton of motivation and renewed interest in athletes. The Open is CrossFit’s 5k for the everyday athlete.

Establishes What Your Affiliate Stands For

Are you a gym that wants everyone to compete in CrossFit or do you care about meeting every athlete where they’re at, and then coaching them forward? The Open helps define what your affiliate stands for. It’s a time to highlight and celebrate the many different athletic accomplishments and show people that one person’s first 55-lb snatch is just as much to celebrate as a first muscle-up or a Regional win. This is important as it sets the context for who wants to be a member of your gym and the coach relationships that will develop.

Lets Affiliates Give Something Back to Their Members

I’ve heard stories of gyms charging their athletes to participate in the gym’s Friday Night Lights (on top of their Open registration fee). I think this approach misses the mark. Offering The Open at your gym as a free member event fuels your community and the connections that make your gym thrive. While it would be easy to see it as a 5-week hassle, and with associated financial costs, it might help some gyms who are focused on the business side of operations, to view it as retention.

Good for Your Community and Business

The Open brings people together from all different group class hours who might not meet each other otherwise. Layer on the opportunity to high five an athlete after a workout and it’s an organic way for athletes to meet and connect.

Over the years I have seen The Open bond our community in new ways. At the start of our Open efforts, we have roughly 50 members sign-up. Last year, we had over 170 athletes sign-up and compete in The Open. This number is not merely reflective of the growth of our business but rather an increased percentage of all members each year who sign-up to participate. The reason for this is the positive reaction at the end of the five weeks and the stories that members share with others when it comes time to sign-up the following year.

How to Run The Open at Your Affiliate

With the above reasons as background, the question then becomes, how to make this happen. In the next 5-part blog post series, we’re going to tell you exactly how. We’ll cover:

  • How to Encourage Your Members to Sign Up for The Open
  • How to Run the Five Weeks (and what to do between now and February 11th)
  • Why to Build a Team of Certified Judges
  • A SugarWOD Feature to Support Your Efforts! (that’s right, a CrossFit Open-specific SugarWOD feature is coming your way!)
  • Your Daily Checklist for Each Week of The Open

To give you some context of what it looks like to bring The Open to life, below is a brief overview of how I run The Open at my affiliate. It has evolved into a well-oiled machine with the help of coaches, staff, and volunteers. It’s one of my most favorite times of the year. I get chills just thinking about it.

What Does The Open Look Like at Roots?

At CrossFit Roots, we run The Open as a celebration of fitness. We encourage everyone at the gym to participate. We support sign-ups through:

  • Education around what is The Open (see HERE)
  • How it goes down at Roots (see HERE)
  • Blog posts highlighting athletes who have participated in the previous year (see HERE)
  • A large whiteboard area where athletes who have signed up add their name (see HERE)
  • A healthy dose of relentless nagging in class, via email, on social, etc.
  • Making the workout accessible to most everyone’s schedule by making The Open workout the programmed class workout for every Friday

Pair education on The Open with a healthy dose of relentless nagging in class and on email and social media, and your members will know you're serious about your efforts to get everyone to participate.

As a quick aside, the nagging comes from a healthy place as one of the coaches’ biggest fears is that an athlete will miss out on this life-enhancing opportunity. After running this event for eight years, we’ve seen the transformation that participation in The Open drives for athletes of all ability levels. We want everyone to have this opportunity.

While we’re encouraging sign-ups from our community, in the back office we’re planning out the support needed to run the five Fridays including:

  • Putting together and scheduling a staff of Volunteer Judges (who have ALL passed the Judges Test)
  • Scheduling (and paying) additional staff and coaches for Friday evenings
  • Organizing sponsors and food for each Friday evening event
  • Solidifying our flow of work for score collection and validation
  • Scheduling The Open make-up workout for Monday AMs

Then, once The Open starts, we post heats for sign-up on Thursday night after the workout is announced. Athletes can choose to come to the workout during group class in the morning or lunch hour or sign up for a heat during Friday Night Lights. Friday then becomes an all-day festival of fitness and is one of the most wonderful times of the year for our community as a whole.

While this is a brief overview, the next five blog posts will give you everything you need to know, do, and consider to run something like this at your affiliate.

Do you have specific questions about how to run The Open at your affiliate? Post to comments, and I’ll get back to you!

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3 Comments on "Why and How to Run the CrossFit Open at Your Gym"

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Mason
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Mason
Great Blog! Very resourceful! Looking forward to reading the next 5 blogs. Will these be out soon? Also I am interested to know the following: For 170 athletes, how many volunteer certified judges did you have? How long did they judge? Where they able to complete their Open workout during that time as well? Did you pay for their judges course? How did you select this group? Do you do what seems to be popular right now which is “FNL”/ Intramural style Open where athletes are put onto teams and points are awarded throughout the 5 weeks? If so, what… Read more »
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