How to Boost Profit and Retention With the 2023 Intramural Open

How to Boost Profit and Retention With the 2023 Intramural Open

Chris Cooper (00:15):
Hey everybody, I’m Chris Cooper, and this is my favorite time of the year. It’s Intramural Open season. This is the time when you get to bring your gym together, celebrate everybody’s progress, throw up a few fun challenges, give people the opportunity to do PRs, let everybody feel like they’re part of a team, and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate. It doesn’t hurt that it generates a ton of media, and, done right, it can actually make you a little bit of money without burning you out. This is the Intramural Open, and the idea came to me because at my high school, you start out by getting drafted into one of four houses. I know it’s a little bit Hogwart’s. I was drafted into the Panthers. My future wife was drafted into the Panthers. Decades later, my daughter was drafted into the Panthers, and now my son actually plays for the Panthers at this same high school. We were all in the same house.

Chris Cooper (01:03):
This can have intergenerational impact even at your gym if you do it right. And today I’m gonna walk you step by step through the Intramural Open: what it is, what the purpose is, how you can use it with the CrossFit Open if you want to or just use it as your own event. Here we go. By the way, if you want this guide, just click below and I will make sure that you get a copy of it for free. We’ve been publishing this thing now for almost a decade for free. Thousands of gyms around the world use this on its own or in conjunction with the CrossFit Games Open in some cases. First off, why we do this: it is our mission to make gym owners successful. Because if you’re successful, then you can change the lifespan and healthspan of the people in your community. And my ultimate mission is to help a million people find fitness, just like I did back in high school, through events and challenges like the intramural program that we had back then.

Chris Cooper (01:55):
That’s why this is such a great passion of mine to give this to you every single year. So the Intramural Open guide is free, again, if you just click the link below. Okay, so first, what is it? The Intramural Open is a four-to-six-week competition that you can do at your gym. You’re gonna put as many of your clients as you possibly can onto four teams. You’re gonna give them some random tests of fitness that you make up or you get from somewhere else, and you’re going to elect team captains. You’re gonna let them go wild. You’re gonna reward spirit. You’re gonna let them make up their team T-shirts. You’re gonna hang a banner on the wall of the gym after it’s all done. The way that you do it is really all about hype.

Chris Cooper (02:39):
This is your chance to celebrate your athlete’s progress, to celebrate your community, and to celebrate your brand. It’s gonna generate a ton of amazing stories for you, memories in the future, social-media blog posts. It’s gonna get clients to wanna do goal reviews, to want to think about their progress and how to speed that progress up, because it’s also a great measuring stick. So here we go. I’ve got the backstory here, but I don’t need to read it all to you. Let’s get into the basics. So first off, what you wanna do is you wanna select captains. I’m gonna be saying “four teams” because that’s how many teams we’ve always had at Catalyst. But if you wanna do three bigger teams or six smaller teams, that’s totally up to you. So the first thing that we always do is select captains. We want other people to be in charge of recruiting your members to do this.

Chris Cooper (03:28):
Every member who participates is a great addition to the program, and it makes the whole Intramural Open season better. Ideally, you’d get all of your clients to do this, even if it’s their first competition ever or their first event since high school. That’s totally fine, but you don’t wanna be the one recruiting it. What you wanna do is select captains. Now, in the past I’ve selected the top athletes to be captains, but what you really want are the mavens, the people who have the most spirit, who are the most connected in your gym, who have the most energy. Think about your best clients, like the people who show up with batteries included and feed everybody else with their energy. Those are your captains because it’s very, very hard to say “no thanks” to Betty Lou from Noon Group. But it’s easy to say “no” to Coach Chris, right?

Chris Cooper (04:16):
So here we go. What you’re gonna do is select your four captains, and then you’re gonna host a draft party. Okay? Now I’ve got all the timelines here and stuff starting early, like starting right now, and I’m gonna come back to this in a moment, but I really want to talk to you about draft night. What we do is try to make this an event in itself. All of us have this irrational fear of being the last one picked—maybe not so irrational in my case. It’s happened so many times that I just kind of got used to it, but most of us don’t ever wanna be the last one picked. And so what you wanna do is make the draft a big event where people are either pulling names out of hats or they’re set up to go out and recruit members from your gym.

Chris Cooper (04:59):
So, for example, what we would typically do is we would get as many people to sign up in advance as we can. We’d bring the captains together. Usually we would go out for wings and we would like have a private draft, okay? And we wouldn’t announce who got picked first or second or anything like that. Then it’s up to the captains to go out and recruit everybody who didn’t sign up. So in our gym, it would look something like 20% of our members would sign up in advance. I would take the captains out for some wings, we would do a private draft. We would take some pictures of us doing the draft but not release who got picked first. And then as soon as the draft was done, the captains would all pick up their phones. I would say “go” and they would just go out and start recruiting as many people as they possibly could for their teams.

Chris Cooper (05:41):
Because part of the points here is for participation, okay? I’m gonna get to the whole points breakdown here in a moment. But this is exciting because everybody knows when draft night is. Everybody’s anticipating. “Hey, There’s going to be somebody DMing me, maybe two and maybe four people who want me to be on their team.” So you wanna make sure that you bring a list of your clients to the draft party so that the captains are doing it. Now, other people have done this live. One year we did it at Mary’s café next to the gym, where we had random picks and drafts and the captains saw the list. The only problem with that is you always wind up having somebody pick last, okay? So you have to be wary of that. And if you don’t want to create that scenario, that’s fine.

Chris Cooper (06:23):
It turned out fine in our case, but you never know, right? So let’s start with before the season even opens. Now to help out the CrossFit affiliates who are watching or listening to this, we’ve made this overlap with the CrossFit Games Open season. We’ve done that every year. In fact, the reason I think that the Intramural Open became so popular with all of the CrossFit gyms so early was because, done just the traditional way where you sign people up and they pay HQ and they do the events, it really didn’t make any money for the gym, but it really burned the coaches out. People were doing a lot of extra volunteer work and, yeah, it was exciting. It was amazing to see people getting PRs. The coaches were participating in stuff. But after five weeks, man, people were tired, you know? And so we wanted to do this in a way that would actually help the gym owner profit, because that’s our mission, right?

Chris Cooper (07:13):
We work for the gym owners. So you’re gonna start now, and what you’re gonna do is run what we would call a “pre-open program” or an “open prep course.” And so people who really wanna fine-tune their fitness, boost themselves up another 5%, maybe acquire a skill that they haven’t done before, can have a chance to do that in the five or six weeks leading up to the Open. So for example, double-unders, if somebody’s not got double-unders or toes-to-bars ,if they have the fitness but lack the skill, this program is for them. You and I have seen it a hundred times. It lights us up every time somebody gets their first muscle-up, bar muscle-up—fill in the blanks. I got my first bar muscle-up because of the Open one year, and it was incredible.

Chris Cooper (07:55):
Like there were 60 people cheering for me, and I couldn’t not get it. But you really increase people’s chances of experiencing that thrill and that joy by having an Open prep course. Now, of course, you’re gonna charge something for it because not everybody is gonna want it. So you’re not just gonna change your regular programming because not everybody wants to focus on competition or get prepped for the Open. You’re gonna make this an option, and that means you’re going to charge for it just for the people who want it so that not everybody else has to do it. Okay? Then you’re gonna start promoting the Intramural Open. You’re gonna start building the hype. Remember, you are giving people this experience that they are never going to get anywhere else. Your gym is full of adults whose athletic career is over or never even started.

Chris Cooper (08:40):
And so we can give them all the bright spots that happen with sport without all the negative stuff. And this is a massive opportunity. It’ll change our life. It’s something that members from 10 years ago at my gym come up to me and say, “I can still remember doing those box jumps at that crazy Open event.” Or “I can still remember counting your burpees on the seven-minute burpee workout.” When you’re doing it, you know, it’s amazing for them. It’s life changing. It’s something they’ll remember the rest of their lives. It is a tremendous gift that you’re giving them, but don’t impoverish yourself to do it. All right? So by the 18th, you’re gonna set up and select your scoring system. I’ve got a couple of options for you right here in the guide. On the 19th, you pick your team captains.

Chris Cooper (09:22):
The 26th is gonna be draft day. Make sure you post all your stuff in social media. You know, tag “Intramural Open,” tag “Two-Brain” if you wanna have a lot of fans looking at it. You know, we love cheering people on. Even if you’re not in Two-Brain yet, that’s okay. Then to the 20th you let people recruit. I’m going to give you some guidelines on this that you can choose to use or not. And then starting February 16th is usually like your workouts. You can pick workouts yourself. You know, be creative. You can use the CrossFit Open workouts if you want to. If you’re using the CrossFit Open workouts, then your clients should register for the CrossFit Games Open and register for your Intramural Open. That way they’ve got the CrossFit scoreboard and they’re participating with the broader CrossFit community, but they’re more focused on your own local community, too, because you are doing more than just the CrossFit stuff, right?

Chris Cooper (10:13):
You’re doing your own big event. So you’ve got all your workouts here. Now, what I like to do is I like to have like a sixth workout that is team based or they only get points for participation. One year we did a biathlon where we had all these Nerf rifles, and they would have to row 500 meters as quickly as they could, jump up, shoot these pie plates that we had suspended across the gym with their Nerf rifles. And then they would have to do burpees for every one they missed or whatever. Another year we just had a big street-hockey game that was incredible, super fun. But you wanna add something like “captain’s gone bad” or whatever. You wanna add a fifth or a sixth event to your event to make it fun, okay? You don’t have to. It does prolong the season, but you can certainly do it if you can.

Chris Cooper (11:00):
And it’s one of my favorite events every year. All right, April 6th, post-Open programs. So right after the Open is done, a lot of people are fired up, like “wow, next year I’m getting that pull-up” or “next year I’m gonna get five.” You know, “I got my first hundred-pound clean this year. It was amazing. Next year I wanna get 135.” Awesome, right? This is the time when you do goal reviews with people, when you talk about their progress, when you say, “I’m so proud of you” and you share that on social media. And, you know, you want to keep doing all that stuff. This event creates so much media for you that you could be set for months, but you also want to make sure that while people are excited and they have momentum, that you’re giving them the opportunity to really hit the gas pedal on their fitness.

Chris Cooper (11:46):
And that means signing up for extra programs. Maybe they need to focus on strength and you’ve got a six-week strongman program going, or you’ve got a six-week gymnastics program coming. You know, that’s always really popular when people are excited. It’s your job as the coach to help them accelerate their fitness. Take advantage of that excitement because they’re not that excited all the time. This is the best way to help your clients. Okay? So set up your pricing. You know, we usually suggest 50 bucks, and that might include a T-shirt or something, but you should be paying your staff for doing this, not just volunteering. And there’s gonna be some extra cleanup, and there might be some snacks, okay? You might actually wanna roll some other things into this, like a supplement taster night or something like that. Okay?

Chris Cooper (12:30):
Step 2 is select your captains, then set up your scoring. We love Echelon. We’ve been partnered with Echelon for years on the Intramural Open. Wodify Arena is now really well set up to do this, too. Either one of those programs will do really well by you, but you wanna set up your scoring there. If you’re doing the CrossFit Open, one of the benefits of paying CrossFit 20 bucks is that they’ve got your scoreboard for you, and they’ve got a really good scoreboard program so you can compare against other gyms worldwide and stuff, okay? So if your focus is on participating in this giant, worldwide CrossFit community, absolutely tie the CrossFit Open in, and have your athletes register on If your focus is really on your gym and you want to just do the Intramural Open, that’s also fine, or you can do both.

Chris Cooper (13:16):
Often, my gym does both. Alright? We’re gonna be awarding points for performance, like first, second, and third in different categories, but also for participation and really for spirit—like, Spirit of the Open Awards at our gym are a huge deal and a massive honor. Okay, so set up your divisions. So you’re gonna have like men’s and women’s, and you might have RX or you might have scaled or whatever. You can set it up any way that you want to, right? I’ve given my history and some recommendations here. Again, if you wanna have this guide so that you can peruse it at your own speed, just click the link below. I’ll make sure that you get a copy. So then you’re going to have registration. Here’s draft day. This is where you see some amazing creativity with team names. We’ve seen Draft Dodgers, like a team that was mostly just chickens and people who didn’t wanna do it.

Chris Cooper (14:08):
And of course they were happy they did later. You know, I’m sure you’re gonna come up with a thousand different names. It’s always so awesome to see. Kipping It Real is a returning team at ours. Whatever, okay? And you’re gonna organize them into teams based on that. The winning team is gonna have a banner hung up in your gym. I’ll give you a link to set that up later, but their name is gonna go up on your wall forever. And I’ve got banners back seven or eight years from these different teams when we started putting the banners up. Okay? So here we go. These are all the step-by-step instructions: divide your serious competitors between the teams. So now every team has a chance at actually winning, and it’s really gonna come down to participation and spirit.

Chris Cooper (14:49):
That’s what you want. You don’t really wanna just celebrate the people who win every workout. You really wanna celebrate people who are doing stuff for the first time and bring the spirit. Okay? So here’s a sample blog post that you can use to get people hyped up. There’s also some pre-Open activities here. I mean, come on, look at this stuff. If you belong to a gym, and your gym was posting about team Beasts and Burpees, you know, amazing. You have to tell people how to talk about this stuff, though. So like give them some hashtags to use like “Catalyst Open 2023” or whatever, okay? Like let them feel like they’re part of something by being part of the hype and part of the media, and that’ll slowly snowball and just build this overwhelming excitement. I’ll tell you it, it’s rare to see fans show up for the first or the second workout, but by the fifth or the sixth, people are bringing in spouses, kids and you’ve got kind of this carnival atmosphere at your gym, which is exactly what you want, okay?

Chris Cooper (15:48):
So pre-Open programming, this is up to you. You can build people toward a competitive peak. I just give people the option. I know that what I want is not always what my clients want. And so I just want to give them the choice. If they wanna do an Open prep group, they can. All right, here is how to do Intramural Open competition. So usually we give a point for everybody that completes the workout, three points for every athlete that finishes among the top three women or top three men, and five points if they win the Spirit of the Open Award. Now, in a five-week season, if you’ve got five teams, that’s perfect. You should try and like find a way to divvy them up. If you’ve got four teams, the competition is going to be a little bit intense to get that extra point, okay?

Chris Cooper (16:32):
But like that Spirit of the Open, that’s really what makes this thing—and people showing up in costume and stuff like that, that’s amazing. Theme weeks make it easy for people to get in the spirit. Okay? One thing that people have done over the years when we’re talking about amping it up is doing Friday Night Lights. So what they’ll do when they hear what the workout is, they’ll make their own workout announcement. Maybe the coaches will throw down right away as soon as they hear the announcement or whatever. Like, look to the way that CrossFit has done this and emulate that in your own gym. They’re giving you a model to follow. Alright? Here’s how to coach from Josh Martin, from the Refined Art of Coaching. Make sure that you’re setting people up for success, right?

Chris Cooper (17:14):
Like you’re not crowning the king and queen of your gym every year. What you’re doing is giving people a new opportunity with new motivation to be successful at a new level. That’s really what it’s all about. And this collaborative competition is what’s gonna push them that extra 5% to get that first achievement or go a little bit faster or lift a little bit heavier, whatever that is. That’s what it’s about. But use the excuse to talk about game day. Like “how do you eat for 72 hours leading up to your event? How do you approach it? Do you try it once and then go hard the second time? Or is it like always one and done?” You know, most people in your gym have never competed or haven’t done it in decades, and so you need to teach them how to behave like athletes.

Chris Cooper (17:57):
It’s also an amazing time to teach them how to win. So, so, so important. All right? Coaching, it’s all about the celebration. It’s not really about correcting technique, right? Like they’re performing out on the ragged edge, they’re doing stuff they’ve never done. Their technique is not gonna be perfect during this period, though obviously the athletes with the best technique are going to win. So while you do wanna be correcting a little bit, you wanna be mostly celebrating. It should be about 80-20 celebrating and hype. The next thing that you wanna do is tell everybody exactly what’s going to happen: “So you are going to get here at 6:50 if your heat starts at 7:10. There will be a warmup on the board. You will do the warmup on your own. I know that we always lead the warmup, but here you’re going to actually do it on your own. Then you’re gonna write your name under which heat you’re gonna perform in, and as the heats fill, you’ll just put it in the next one. That way we know that we’ve got enough judges for each heat and the judges will go last.” Et cetera. Okay? Next, prizes. I mean, you can choose any prizes you want. We put the banners up. I also pay for lunch for the winning team for a week at Mary’s restaurant. Okay? There’s a link to Forever Fierce to get your banners done. Here’s the step-by-step “how does this actually make you money?” CrossFit charges for this, and they should charge more. It’s a great event. However, CrossFit collecting money doesn’t pay your cost to run this event. Everything that we do is focused on making gym owners more revenue. So whether you’re a CrossFit gym or not, I think you should be charging for this.

Chris Cooper (19:34):
It’s not greed. I mean, the athletes want to get paid more. The gym owners should get paid more, too. So here’s a few options that you can do. Specialty courses and clinics, accessory programs. You could do skill sessions, you could do seminars. A lot of athletes will want to do some one-on-one training, just kind of like build things up. And so there’s a gymnastics Open prep course from Beyond RXD in here, and some other great tips. Another good one is retail. Now, at this time of year, this is when people are saying like, “Okay, I’m feeling good, but how do I take things to the next level?” Some of that’s training, some of that’s nutrition, but it’s also a time when people are gonna be more curious about supplements. They’re also going to wanna rep their team. You know, people feel like they’re part of something for the first time, maybe in their whole lives.

Chris Cooper (20:19):
And so if you can find a way for them to be on a team by buying some swag or whatever, great. Another great one is like a supplement pack or like a supplement taster night, okay? And then there’s a bunch of other things here. Other gyms have had amazing ideas since we launched this way back in 2012, where they did things like you could earn two points by booking your goal review early, or you could earn a point by leaving a review on Google or Facebook. My suggestion is you pick maybe one of these instead of all of these and plug that in. You don’t always want people just doing stuff to help the gym, like the five-star reviews or whatever. That stuff is amazing. But remember, you run a client-centric business, and now more than ever, this event is about them.

Chris Cooper (21:08):
So the testimonial video is a great one. Do that. Or like the five-star review or the goal-review session, but I’m not sure that all of them really fit here. All right? Now it’s also awesome to do a kids heat. So while you’re running this event, let’s say that you’re running it all on Saturday. In the middle of the heat, you wanna put a kids heat. There’s a couple reasons. Number one, their parents will always come in to watch them compete. Okay? Second, it’s just amazing to watch. I mean, it’s really, really common when I go to watch hockey games at like the junior and pro level for the kids to come out at intermission, and everybody stays in their seats cause they love to watch the kids. Third, it’s just incredible to show off how good these kids actually are.

Chris Cooper (21:53):
And fourth, it gives the judges a little break, too. So it’s a super-smart move to do a kids heat to showcase your youth program. All right? After the event, you want people doing a goal review. And then finally, if you’ve been doing this for several years, like I have, there’s some tweaks in here to keep it fresh. My gym still gets excited. We still do it the same way that we did a decade ago. Other gyms might wanna make these tweaks or make these slight improvements. Like this year I will add the five-star reviews, for example. We haven’t done that before, and we’ll get some points outta that. The last couple years, especially if you’ve been in lockdown, you couldn’t really do the Open, right? So I would suggest just doing it as prescribed here is gonna make you money, save you time and really improve your retention.

Chris Cooper (22:42):
You’ll get the benefit of the competition that you want your gym to get. Okay? Draft everybody involved, the kids. And then finally, the biggest thing to come outta this is not just that the client has the PR. It’s that you can make them famous. Look, nobody in their life is saying, “You are so good or amazing.” That’s just not happening. And so part of our opportunity and responsibility is to actually put them on a podium, to make them famous, to shine the spotlight on them, to brag them up on social media, to feature them in your blog, to tell the story of their triumph on your email list. That’s what it’s all about here. And if you can’t handle recording and producing media to stretch out the excitement and the benefit of this for your clients, hire somebody to do it. You know, even if you gotta bring a teenager in with a cell phone to just take pictures and record and just build up your bank of content.

Chris Cooper (23:36):
I mean, if you can extend this five-week feeling into three or four months, your clients will just love you that much more for it. Okay? Like two weeks after the Open is done, the memories are starting to fade. People aren’t talking about it to one another as much anymore. Then their story comes up on your blog and it’s. “remember That time” all over again. I mean, that’s incredible retention. All right? So here’s exactly the kind of media that you want from Mike Warkentin, who was editor at CrossFit while the CrossFit Games was building up. He tells you exactly what to do. Now finally, this is a lot of work. No matter how you do it, if you just do the CrossFit Games Open or if you do the Intramural Open or both, it’s gonna be a lot of work.

Chris Cooper (24:19):
So I’ve got some tips here, too. Okay? Like in the first few years we asked our coaches to volunteer. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t think that’s fair. They were all fine with it. But coming out of the Open season six weeks later with an exhausted team, boy that is tough. And you’re exhausted, too. It’s tough to take the load. So here’s what I do, and I’ve got eight really big tips in there for you. Okay? And then finally I’ve got a little bit of advice. I’ve done this now for a decade. There’s a reason that we put this out, and it’s because we wanna make gym owners successful so that they can make their clients successful so their clients can live longer and happier lives. Competition done sparingly can encourage that, but competition done at the gym owner’s cost, at a cost of finance, energy, time, that doesn’t help anybody long term because the reality is if you put on a great show for your clients for five weeks and then you’re burnt out, it’s gonna show, and you’re gonna lose all of the gains that you’ve made in retention and excitement. So I want you to be profitable at this. I mean, nobody deserves to make money more than a gym owner does. You’re out there to serve. Nobody’s going to make a million dollars on the Intramural Open, but you should make enough. Remember that you and your coaches want to be able to do your best work. And that means having the best clients. It means running a profitable gym. It means getting sleep, getting food, and getting exercise yourself. There’s a way to do this that doesn’t grind you into the ground. That’s why we produce these guides.

Chris Cooper (25:57):
Hope you find it helpful. And I’d love to see your pictures. Tag me. Tag “Two-Brain,” tag “Intramural Open,” and I will be your biggest fan outside of your own clients. We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group to help you run a profitable gym. Thousands of gym owners, just like you have already joined in the group. We share sound advice about the business of fitness every day. I answer questions, I run free webinars, and I give away all kinds of great resources to help you grow your gym. I’d love to have you in the group. It’s Gym Owners United on Facebook, or go to to join. Do it today!

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