Nov 3, 2016
Friendly Competition

This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.

When Strength and Conditioning Coach Jake Zauhar introduced the “Spartan Challenge” at Rocori High School in Cold Springs, Minn., five summers ago, it was a small event where local athletes could face off in a variety of exercises before the school year began. With great results and feedback, it’s grown in both size and scope each year since.

This past July, roughly 250 male and female fall sport athletes from six area high schools participated in the Spartan Challenge. They competed in six events that tested their strength, speed, and quickness: the bench press, squat, power clean, vertical jump, pro-agility test, and 40-yard dash. The top three male and female finishers in each activity won a medal.

Zauhar organizes the Spartan Challenge, which involves inviting the schools from Rocori’s conference, setting up each activity, and recruiting local businesses to serve as sponsors. Rocori sport coaches act as judges for each competition and help direct athletes from one exercise to another. Athletes each pay $35 to participate.

“The Spartan Challenge is a great testing tool for any high school athlete going into a fall sport,” Zauhar says. “It really shows how much they’ve improved during their seven to eight weeks of summer training.”

Despite the competitive atmosphere, Zauhar insists the Spartan Challenge is full of collective encouragement and motivation. “Everybody cheers each other on,” he says. “If an athlete is going for a really heavy weight in a certain lift, the other activities come to a halt, and everyone watches them and gives them the support they need to succeed.”

The Spartan Challenge also serves as a measure for participating strength coaches to evaluate how well they’ve prepared their athletes for the upcoming season. “We e-mail them all of the data from the event so they can use it later during fall testing,” says Zauhar. “Not only does it show their own athletes’ results but it shows how they stack up against athletes from other schools, as well. It’s always good for strength coaches to reflect on how well they’re training their athletes because that’s really why we’re here.”

One of the reasons that the Spartan Challenge has taken off over the past five years is Zauhar’s willingness to incorporate suggestions from everyone involved. “I ask a lot of questions to find out what people think about the event,” he says. “Then, I change, adapt, and improve it from year to year based on their feedback.”

For instance, based on the suggestions of athletes and high school sport coaches, college coaches were invited to attend this year’s challenge to recruit and observe. Coaches from a junior college and two NCAA Division I colleges in Minnesota attended the event, and they each received the data recorded so they could further evaluate the athletes.

Vendors also attended the Spartan Challenge this year, providing samples and other donations to the student-athletes. Every participant left with a T-shirt, a six-inch sub, coupons and discount cards for local businesses, and a variety of samples from companies such as GNC, the Vitamin Shoppe, and Powerade.

Although the Spartan Challenge requires a lot of effort to put together, Zauhar says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s a lot of work,” he explains. “But it’s totally worth it once I see how excited the athletes get when they hit the goals they’ve been striving for.”


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