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Successful Project Management

Discover how to organize - and run - excellent events through meticulous planning.

Part of being an exceptional leader and personal trainer is having the ability to organize and manage events throughout the year. Unfortunately, very few personal trainers have actually been taught how to manage projects, and most neglect the fine details. They wind up dealing with chaos, handling crises, feeling stressed and ending up with an event that is not as high quality as it could have been.

In this column, we are going to use one of our annual events, the client Decathlon Challenge (described in the sidebar “What Is the Decathlon Challenge?”), to help you create a template for all the events you host at your facility or business.

Timeline and Action Steps

What’s the most important step in conducting a successful event? Before you do anything for it, you first sit down and brainstorm your needs and determine exactly what the end picture should look like. Try to see the event in your mind, and picture the very best scenario. What will make this occasion a huge success? Determine all facets of the event and establish all the necessary action steps and deadlines. Be sure to account for promotion, staff instruction, pre-event organization, event organization and facilitation, and postevent follow-up.

Here are the guidelines we’ve come up with for our Decathlon Challenge. Review our project management timeline to get ideas you can adapt for your own events. Happy planning!

Planning Prior to the Event

To ensure a successful Decathlon Challenge, we take the following steps at least 45 days before the event:

  • Complete and post promotional fliers throughout the facility and on the website.
  • Print and post Decathlon Challenge guidelines for staff and clients.
  • Prepare and print athlete scorecards. Keep these in an accordion file at the front desk.
  • Tell staff to keep athlete scorecards in this accordion file (not in individual client files). This point needs to be emphasized and re-emphasized to save time and frustration.
  • Instruct customer service representatives (CSRs) that if they find an athlete scorecard in a client file, they should first pull it and put it in the proper accordion file and then remind the client’s trainer to put scorecards in the accordion file in the future.
  • Conduct a team meeting and one-on-one meetings with trainers, instructors and CSRs to ensure they completely understand the event protocol.
  • Partner staff members and ask them to complete the event and post their scores before the challenge begins.
  • Contact past event participants to encourage them to enroll again this year.
  • Tell each trainer he or she needs to recruit 10 clients to complete event.
  • Inform CSRs that they should ask registering participants for their age, T-shirt size, e-mail address and trainer name. Then CSRs should fill out the top section of the athlete scorecards, including this information.
  • Instruct CSRs that all athlete scorecards given out must be entered into the Aphelion event registration as either “enrolled” or “standby,” so we have a record of all registered and potential participants.
  • Give previous results to trainers so their clients can try to beat their individual scores from the last event.
  • Create a decathlon e-mail database to make correspondence easy throughout the event.
  • Create scripts for club announcements regarding the event.

Daily, During the Event

  • Staff encourages everyone to complete the daily challenge.
  • Post best scores for the day (male/female).
  • E-mail decathletes to encourage and motivate them.

One Week Into the Event

  • Contact all clients who have scorecards and/or who have registered, and remind them which events they still have to complete by the end of the challenge. Also, remind them to officially register if they haven’t done so yet. 
  • Tally an accurate T-shirt size count once the staff has made all calls and confirmed the registrations.
  • Create a list of all the officially registered decathletes, noting their genders and T-shirt sizes. Include staff who completed the event as well. For example:

Size Small, Female

Sally Smith

Suzy Jones

Trish McDonald, etc.

Size Small, Male

Joe Smith

John Jones

Greg McDonald, etc.

  • Check and balance the T-shirt order with the number of people who are officially registered, so no one is missed.

A Few Days Before the Event Ends

  • Contact all clients who have unfinished scorecards, and remind them which events they still have to complete. Plus, remind them to officially register if they haven’t done so.
  • Send out a memo to the entire team to ensure that all client and staff athlete cards are in the accordion file.
  • Speak to each trainer and CSR directly, to ensure that all scorecards (staff’s and clients’) are in the accordion file. Explain that when the challenge ends, if a scorecard is missing because a trainer did not put it where it was supposed to be, that person will be responsible for the mistake. Remind staff how disappointing it would be for clients to pay, compete and finish all the events and then not have their results included because their trainer did not file the scorecard correctly.

After the Event Ends

  • Confirm the T-shirt order and sizes, and place the order.
  • Prepare an Excel file with various spreadsheets. First, create a master list of female participants and a master list of male participants. List each participant’s name, age category and studio location (if more than one facility is involved).
  • Then, copy and paste the above lists of participant names into 20 different spreadsheets—one for each of the 10 events for each gender. Label each spreadsheet based on event and gender, such as Push-Ups Female, Push-Ups Male, etc.
  • Input each participant’s scores for each individual event.
  • Once all results are input, sort each event from best to worst score for each gender.
  • Attach points based on placement, e.g., 1st place gets 1 point, 2nd place gets 2 points, etc.
  • Once points have been tallied for each event, add up each individual’s score from each event to determine a total score. (For example, if a client was 3rd in event #1, 10th in event #2, 7th in event #3 and so on, add 3 + 10 + 7 . . . .)
  • Record all total scores in the master lists. Sort so that the lowest score is listed at the top.
  • From this sorting, determine the top three male and top three female decathletes.
  • Next determine the top three male and top three female decathletes for each age category (19 and under, 20–29, 30–39, 40–49, 50–59, 60–69, 70-plus).
  • Include the top three overall winners in their respective age group listings, but reward the next top three people with 1st, 2nd and 3rd places. This strategy ensures that the overall winners don’t walk away with all the awards. For example:

40–49 Female Age Group Winners

Overall 1st Place Winner: Julie Cieloha

1st Place: Sally Smith

2nd Place: Suzie Jones

3rd Place: Sherri Samson

  • Determine the top overall male and female participant for each category; for example, top male push-ups, top female wall squat, etc.
  • Tabulate results in less than 1 week.

Creating a Results Manual

Once you have completed the results, compile a Decathlon Results Manual using prior years’ templates. Completing the following steps in the manual should require no more than 3 weeks.

  • Interview and take photos of each of the top three overall male and female decathletes, top three age-group winners and top three staff decathletes.
  • Interview candidates in person, by phone or by e-mail, asking the questions below. Get as much detail as possible. Schedule a time to take headshots at the studio. Keep a master list of whose interviews and photos have been completed.

1. What is your family status, with details (married, number of kids, their ages, etc.)?

2. What is your occupation?

3. When did you start exercising?

4. What does your exercise program consist of? Do you train with a trainer? If so, who? Do you do group sessions?

5. What results have you achieved?

6. Do you have any inspirational words of wisdom for people who struggle to stick with exercise?

  • Put the answers to the interview questions, along with each person’s name, age and studio location, into a Word document in paragraph format and e-mail them to the individual laying out the manual. Preferably, the person conducting the interviews will have adequate writing skills to compile a well-written paragraph about each winner.
  • E-mail the photos to the layout person, identifying each photo by name.
  • Complete the photos and interview process in no more than 1–2 weeks maximum.
  • Finish the manual formatting within 1 week.
  • Create certificates of completion for all participants, using prior years’ certificates as templates.
  • Create winners’ certificates for the following:

1. top three overall males and females

2. top three male and female winners for each category

3. top male and female for each event category

4. top three male and female staff


Within 1 Month of the Event’s Conclusion

  • When the T-shirts arrive, tape clients’ names to them, ensuring that each person gets the correct size.
  • For each participant, prepare a package that includes the following:

1. results manual

2. T-shirt

3. certificate of completion

4. award certificates

  • Put all this material in bags labeled with the clients’ names, and leave the bags at the front desk.
  • Also leave a list of participants’ names at the front desk. When someone claims a package, that name is crossed off the list.
  • Post the results manual throughout the facility for people to see.
  • E-mail the results manual to the media.
  • E-mail the results manual to clients and post it on the website.

After you have finished, congratulate yourself and your team for a wonderful event that helped inspire your clients to fitness and inspired camaraderie throughout the facility.

What Is the Decathlon Challenge?

The Decathlon Challenge is held for a 2- to 4-week period. It consists of 10 events:

  • 400-meter run/walk (minimum time)
  • 1-mile run/walk (minimum time)
  • assisted chin-ups (maximum number they can do with 50% of body weight for men and 70% of body weight for women)
  • push-ups (maximum number they can do with full form for men and on knees for women)
  • jumping rope (maximum number of revolutions for 1 minute)
  • indoor bike (maximum distance riding for 5 minutes on recumbent bike at level 15 for men and level 12 for women, set on manual)
  • dumbbell bench press (maximum reps with men using 35-pound dumbbells and women using 20-pound dumbbells)
  • wall squat (maximum time using perfect form with a 90-degree angle at knee)
  • hover (maximum time with perfect form on toes)
  • rowing (minimum time for 2,000 meters)

Individual events can be completed anytime during the Decathlon Challenge as part of a private training session or during a solo test as long as participants have a witness, such as a CSR, a trainer, or a friend who has been instructed on correct form. Group fitness instructors also lead events during certain scheduled days.


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Sherri McMillan, MS

Sherri McMillan, MSc, has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for 30 years, and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2010 canfitpro International Fitness Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 1998 canfitpro Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is an international fitness presenter, personal trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, including Go For Fit: The Winning Way to Fat Loss, Fit Over Forty, and The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing, and a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.

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