What It Takes to Start an OCR Team

As humans we need to be social to survive in one aspect or another.  We are wired to need other people regardless of how introverted or extroverted we are.  We need and want some form of companionship. One cannot simply go through life and never be a part of a group, team, or society.  Even the most remote tribes or people in the world still needed someone at some point in their lives.  In the day of social media, this has become even more prevalent than before.  We want to show our latest photos, make friends, and we want that badge of recognition and validity.

Within the sport of OCR many of us are tied to a group or team.  Some folks use that team for information, while others eat, breathe, and sleep dedication for their group or team.  Hell, I have even seen people with tattoos of their team out on the course.  OCR teams are a great way to meet new people, build relationships, push yourself, be held accountable, and overall have a good time.  Most folks understand what it means to be a part of a group, club or team.  However, not many people know what goes into starting one of these especially an OCR team.

I am the founder of the Lehigh Valley Spartans and my name is Justin Scholl.  I was born and raised in the Lehigh Valley area of PA.  The Lehigh Valley is in the eastern part of the state.  It includes Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and the surrounding areas.  This is located roughly 60-90 minutes northwest of Philadelphia.  I really hope you guys know some geography as I know folks will be trying to place in their minds just where the hell this is.

In July of 2015 I ran my very first OCR race, which was a Spartan Race, in Palmerton, PA.  I only live about 7 miles away, so it was an easy drive and something fun to do with my brother and sister in law.  After that experience the race bug bit me and bit me hard.  I have always been an athlete, and this was right in my wheelhouse.  I ran two more races that year and had a blast, but I was missing something.  I was new and had no idea how to train, where races were, or how to get information.  So, in 2016 I decided to start a social media page on Facebook called Lehigh Valley Spartans.  I started this page just to see if anyone else in my area was competing in these events, and, if so, maybe we could help each other out in order to prepare for these races.  Now, I will say this, at first it was just me posting a bunch of random pictures, asking questions, and simply randomness overall and because of that there wasn’t much engagement.  I was getting discouraged but knew I could make this work.

In late November I found out about a local OCR/Ninja Gym in the area.  I went once to check it out and I had a good time.  I talked with the owner to see if we could do a private event and get some OCR folks to the gym to have some fun but also get his business some PR.  So, we set up an event for December 2, 2016.  I posted the event and word spread like fire, I sold out the event in 3 days.  At that moment I knew this was going to become something – I just didn’t know what yet.  The event went well.  Everyone who attended had a lot of fun and was asking when the next one would be, or how they could be a part of this team.  Over the next week this simple page I had gained 100 followers and people were starting to engage.  This was the moment the work really began.  One thing I will say is this, if you don’t have a good work ethic, or are afraid to put yourself out there and do a ton of work for nothing, building a team is not for you.  Over the last two years I have spent hundreds if not over a thousand hours working on growing the team.  You can’t just start a team, make a name, have a social media page, and expect to be successful.   It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, patience, energy, and time to build something.  It’s like the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

As a founder what does this mean for you?  First and foremost, it means expenses, and a lot of them in the beginning.  You will need a website domain name, payment to boost posts on social media in order to reach more people, art fees for merchandise, and also merchandise and swag for giveaways.  One thing I have found to be successful is asking folks for input and going from there.  To this day I ask teammates for input, advice, or thoughts on something.  For example, on our logo I asked for some input on our colors.  Then, I  had a poll put up with the top four color schemes and logo layouts and let people vote on it.  That simply is how we have the logo we do today, it was a majority of the votes.  This also will engage people and bring that sense of a team out a little more.  Once the logo was done, we needed to get a website up and running to be a legitimate team.  That means buying a domain name and building a website.  I was very fortunate that I had someone who handled that for me.  We talked on the phone, text messaged one another, and had in person meetings.  After our first event happened, I was literally coming home from work and putting in 6 hours a day to get things in order and start making this team a legit thing.

Ok, so the logo and website are done, now what?  You need to be able to engage and build the team.  We started holding training runs and small events, this way friendships started to form, and people got to know one another.  There are really two sides of running a team.  The first side is the personal side and the other is the business side of things.  This is a delicate balance of both.  After meeting people and reading people I could start to see some folks were becoming very invested in the team and that sense of pride was there.  I started to ask a few folks I knew who wanted to be active in this team for help.  ASK FOR HELP!!!!!  You hands down will not be able to do this on your own.  Every person on any team has a certain set of skills, you need to utilize those skills.   No one is perfect and can do everything on their own or do everything well.

I knew I had to get the team name out there into the community.  I started to reach out to companies to take a chance on me, and allow our team to become ambassadors for them, or tie themselves to our team.  I was very fortunate and lucky that some companies did take a chance on us.  We partnered with OCR Buddy, Saucony Creek Brewing Company, and Elite Ops Energy Strips.  This made for some engaging social media posts which is another grind.  You need to be posting on social media and engaging folks.  Not only to build the team, but build those relationships.  Anyone who knows anything about our team will tell you this.  We are all close, very close.  We love to have fun, bust each other’s chops (all in good fun); however, we will stand beside our teammates and support them every time.  The dynamic of our team has evolved from being a team to truly becoming a family.  As the founder many people will look at you as a leader and someone who has all the answers regarding any and all team matters.  I am constantly asked questions about things from a ton of team members.  You need to be there to answer those questions and to be a true leader.

Our team has grown leaps and bounds.  One thing that is important to remember is that folks all have different agendas and they will all utilize the team in different ways.  Some people will be very active and love everything about the team.  Some folks will utilize the team simply for advice or information.  Others may just give you a simple like on social media and follow you.  It is important to focus on your core members as they are what really drives the team.  We have close to 600 likes on Facebook, but with that being said our team is really made of 100-150 folks who are engaged and active.  In the grand scheme of things, from an active member side, we are a small team.  Don’t let the size of the team discourage you either.  I always tell my teammates – I would rather have quality over quantity.  I don’t ever want people to use our team name just for the perks.

We finally got hooked up with LegendBorne and ordered some jerseys from them, and I’m not going to lie – they are one of coolest jersey’s out there, of any team.  (I’m a little biased here.)  As we went to races people started commenting on the jerseys or asking us about our team and what we are all about.  We started growing even bigger.  Now folks in the sport know our team name and some of our teammates.  We do very well in team standings in races and our teammates do very well in individual standings. Another thing that as the founder you need to do when building a team is always try and help to grow your team members.  I look at this team as my baby, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for our team or my teammates.  If I see an area where someone can get better or where they are struggling, be the person to offer some advice.  It goes a long way and truly means a lot.

I would say 80% of folks who belong to a team think they know what is needed in order to keep a team running; however, they honestly don’t have a clue.  There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that folks will never even think about.  The 9pm phone calls with companies or designers.  The 50 emails a day that I exchange with companies and folks in the community.  Another thing I did, and still do, is research other OCR teams, find out who their founders are, and reach out to them.  PA has several main teams.  In order of size it is Steel City Spartans, Philly Spartans, and Lehigh Valley Spartans.  I talk with folks from both of those other teams daily and we work together on things.  I feel it has helped team members on all three teams because we work together and are willing to offer help to each other.

I know I am getting long winded here, so I will end it with this paragraph.  Being a founder is one thing but being a leader is a different thing.  Some of my teammates call me their “Fearless Leader” since they know I hate that title.  I don’t want to be known by any title.  Did I found the team?  Absolutely, I did.  However, I’m just a team member. Be humble, be a leader, and don’t expect anything in return.  Do it because you love it and you are driven.  Do I do a ton of work?  HELL YES, I do; however, I wouldn’t want it any other way.  What makes me want to keep going?  It’s that text or message from a teammate thanking you for advice because they finally figured out an obstacle and were able to get it.  It’s watching a teammate put in a crap ton of work and then go out there and podium and see the excitement on their face, all while wearing our team jersey.

Trying to start a team isn’t for everyone.  Hell, it probably isn’t for most people.  Each team is run differently, I am explaining what worked for me and our team.  Be patient, enjoy the ride, and remember not everything you do will be a success.  Things will fail and that is okay; adapt, change and move on.  The overall goal is to help to better other people not yourself.  I am very fortunate for the team and teammates I have, and I can see growth in all of them often.That’s why you start a team!!!!

by: Ambassador Justin Scholl
@LehighValleySpartans