One of the most exciting parts of the fitness industry are the live events, expos, and conferences held across the globe. Bringing together owners, industry experts, athletes, coaches, trainers, and fitness consumers all into one big room to learn, collaborate, network and share their innovations and knowledge, that type of energy you can't find anywhere else. Although the pandemic halted the ability to host live fitness events, 2022 is a big year for the revival of some of the most popular conferences and congresses in the industry, including the Coaches Congress in Sweden coming this April.
We sat down with Henrik Almers, co-host of the Coaches Congress and owner of You. Just Stronger gym in Javea Spain, to learn about the event, get his take on the importance of live fitness events and what we as an industry can expect to see from them this year, and what other fitness businesses can do to help revive this very special piece of fitness. Henrik shares his advice, knowledge, and why it is more important than ever to be transparent with your customers, event attendees, and communities to provide the safest environments at any live event. Read our full interview with Henrik below.
What is the Coaches Congress and its history?
I co-run the Coaches Congress with Per Mattsson who is also an owner of two CrossFit gyms in the Stockholm area. He started the Coaches Congress seven years ago. We were there as an exhibitor partner of the event with another company.
About five years ago I asked him if he needed help and we became partners and made the event international. Prior to that, it was a Swedish event. All of the presentations were in Swedish and now they've gained popularity and we have had up to 15 different nationalities attending.
This is the seventh year we are hosting the Coaches Congress and it will take place the last weekend on April 29 - May 1, 2022, in Stockholm, Sweden. We managed to host one in January 2020 before lockdown happened.
What is the purpose of the Coaches Congress fitness event?
The reason why the fitness event is being run is to help gym owners to become better at running their gyms. Our event is very much focused on business development and the business side of things.
And also for the coaches, it's also to become better coaches. The purpose is to develop skills within business and coaching. I would say that at least 60, 70% of our speakers are North Americans. We started with OPEX Fitness and CrossFit Inc.
Who typically attends the Coaches Congress?
We focus on micro gym owners. A lot of them are CrossFit affiliate owners, functional fitness gyms, and smaller gyms. Either the owners attend or they send their coaches. We have two different tracks, one for the gym owners and one for the fitness coaches.
I believe so far we have seven or eight nationalities booked for January, or maybe more but it's become at least an all the European event. We have people attending from the Nordic region, Germany, the Baltic states, a few from Ireland, the UK, so forth.
Typically about 300 people attend and we host it at CrossFit 162 West which is massive with a lot of space. I think with all three floors, we have around 3000 square meters, 30,000 square feet. We have normally at least two stages, sometimes two stages for presentations and the gym floor for the workshop at the same time.
How has COVID affected organising your event?
In general, COVID has made it a little bit harder to get attendees to confirm. We have so many people who say they will sign up, but that they want to make sure it's safe to keep running fitness events. Sweden is wide open and you can travel to Sweden. There haven't been any problems there in terms of organising the event, but that is one thing, getting people to confirm.
The other thing that we have seen is that some of the speakers especially those coming from North America are a little bit nervous and are a bit afraid rather than embrace the opportunity. We respect that everyone has their different beliefs and opinions about what is safe and what is healthy, and we are doing everything we can to make the event safe.
Those are the two obstacles, later bookings and a few speakers that will not be able to come unless they change their minds.
Keep reading to see how Henrik navigated the pandemic
Did you consider hosting the Coaches Congress online in January 2021?
We decided that it's such a big thing for people to actually meet and have fun together and meet in real life. We decided that we couldn't deliver anything that would be good enough or meet our standards, so we decided to leave it for a year.
What kinds of policies and safety protocols do you think will be mandatory for future live events?
Without being any type of expert in the area, from what we see I think vaccinations will be mandatory. Our policy will be either a proof of vaccination or a very recent test with a maximum of 48 hours prior. We 100% have to do whatever we can in order to make people feel safe.
What are some of the tools and mechanics that helped you revive the Coaches Congress?
We have good systems in place from before (our previous events) and we are well-organised. We are a small organization with a good checklist for everything, basically what we need from year to year. This is our seventh year running fitness conferences and we know what to do in terms of step by step. In general, that helps for running any type of business or event, but in this case, it has helped us get started again quickly. Those IT systems combined with software become a part of a playbook we can easily follow and put into action.
Find out Henrik's advice about running a fitness event in 2022
What is your advice for fitness businesses whose clients still feel uncertain about in-person attendance?
What is extremely important for people like us or similar people in the industry is to be very clear about what we do to keep people safe. In terms of the mandatory vaccination pass and or a very recent test, and also other measures that we can take to make people feel safe. That type of communication is very important. As soon as we come out with more clear information we notice that people are more open to booking.
When Sweden and many other countries changed their travel policies we saw a big difference as well. Communication and to make sure that we take the measures that we can.
Do you think the re-opening of live fitness events is a motivation factor for people?
It's a motivating factor and people really are looking to get back to normal, to do need to get and so on. I don't think it makes people nervous. I just hope that what we see now is that it's more of a delay of people booking later and with that to be able to provide people with as much information as possible when they're actually booking.
On November 8th, the US will open for incoming travel and that will obviously change the situation there as well over time. And it will most likely change the view of the speakers coming from the US to Europe because it would be safe to get back in. I think we'll see things changing over time and month by month and I think that is what people are waiting for, to actually confirm to book. I think we will see 300 people plus again.
What can in-person events in the fitness industry offer than online cannot?
The human touch and in-person connection are so important. When you can have a meal together, a drink together, actually meet other people and mingle. We have events outside of the congress, such as dinner parties where people can meet and get to know each other. It's much better than doing that over online meetings.
What can people attending the Coaches Congress look forward to?
When it comes to what people can look forward to I would say that we have the best lineup we've ever had in terms of speakers and workshop directors. We have a lot of people travelling from far and wide to present at the Coaches Congress. Some of the highlights would be that we have a few of the top dogs from both the US and Europe in terms of CrossFit LLC, the headquarters of CrossFit, coming to the even with a full team. We also have another title sponsor coming called Two-Brain Business, which is a mentorship company that help micro gyms and gyms, in general, become more profitable and better at business in general.
On top of the workshops and speakers as the seminars, we have doubled the number of companies coming to exhibit and to showcase their products and services. We have about 20 high-level businesses coming to both set up a stand as well as do everything from running seminars and talking to clients and having business meetings. We are very excited about that. The congress has become a place to do business as well as learn. The owners have so much to look forward to in terms of learning. On everything from how to run a business to how to become better at marketing to how to use tools both systems like TeamUp.
What recommendations do you have for fitness businesses running live events in 2022?
Communicating with people is very important always, but even more so now because people are nervous. We have keynote speakers that are nervous about travelling from North America to Europe. We have people coming from other countries where they had to wear masks indoors to Sweden. Whether they need a PCR test or a COVID certificate requirement. They have questions because they are unsure and the rules are different everywhere. What do those things entail? When it comes to running any type of live event, having all of the information effectively communicated is crucial.
Thank you very much for sharing with us Henrik. You can learn more about the Coaches Congress on their website and book your spot to attend, here.