When his son TJ wanted to learn how to be a quarterback, Travis Smith, a former University of Miami defensive back, looked into his personal network to find for his son a private sports coach who had played quarterback in college or professional sports.
But most parents don’t know coaches, and many coaches don’t have an easy, efficient way to market themselves. For them, there will soon be AthleticSelect.
AthleticSelect, founded by Travis Smith and two partners, will offer a socially engaged platform that connects aspiring athletes ages 7 to 17 and their parents with experienced private sports coaches in their areas while offering tools to help coaches market and monetize their businesses. The plan won third place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge Community Track. “Travis has all the key factors – a strong and experienced team and a great concept targeted toward a large market,” said Challenge judge Rob Strandberg, CEO of the Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida.
AthleticSelect differentiates itself from competitor sites, such as CoachUp, because it allows only coaches who have played college or professional sports. While not all athletes make great coaches, the community will provide ratings on who is right and who is not, Smith said. “Our target market is very aspirational. They want to play at the highest level, and they want to connect with coaches who have been there, done that.”
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It also will offer group sessions, as well as one-on-one coaching. Groups of up to 15 will foster a team training session atmosphere and healthy competition among athletes.
The market is ripe. Smith said 2013 saw almost $6 billion spent on private coaching services, and that number is expected to grow along with America’s obsession with sports. More than 45 million youths play competitive sports in the United States, according to the National Council of Youth Sports, and there are an estimated 5 million potential coaches. In South Florida alone, there are more than 175,000 aspiring athletes and 25,000 private coaches ready to serve them, Smith said.
Business Plan Challenge judges lauded the experience of the team, most of whom have been both college athletes and private coaches, and all have technology experience.
Smith brings years of experience in software development, sales and finance, and also launched the Real Deal Football Recruiting Service in 1997. Joining Smith in AthleticSelect is Eric Dooling, a former NCAA basketball All-American who ran the No. 6 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball program in the country and is the brother of Keyon Dooling; and Leroy Collins, a technology veteran in product development and software quality assurance.
“This is a site for athletes by athletes. We understand the needs of both athletes and private sports coaches because we are the product,” Smith said.
AthleticSelect makes money three ways: through premium subscriptions from both athletes and coaches, and a small commission every time an athlete books a training session through its platform. Users can sign up for free to take advantage of its basic offering.
Eric Kresser, a private sports coach in Palm Beach County who quarterbacked for the University of Florida, the Cincinnati Bengals and other teams, believes there is a big need in the market for AthleticSelect, particularly with the tools it will provide for marketing and managing a coaching office. He said most private coaching businesses are one-man shows — without assistants.
“What AthleticSelect will do for me is take care of all the things I don’t want to do, so I can focus on coaching. That’s the beautiful thing — most coaches don’t want to be in the office, that is why we are coaches.”
Kresser, who has been offering private coaching since 2008 and now coaches about about 20 quarterbacks in any given week, also said AthleticSelect will help those new in the field. “I started with one kid. I met his father in the gym and he ended up asking me if I could coach his son. It’s going to be so much easier for the new coaches with this,” he said.
The team is getting ready to launch this fall from South Florida, and will specialize initially in five sports: football, basketball, baseball, soccer and lacrosse. “If it works in South Florida with the diversity we have … we know our model will work and resonate across the country,” Smith said.
It is also seeking capital — a challenge, say Smith and Dooling. “We’ve raised friends-and-family money, but we need more,” Dooling said.
They said they have spent about a year and a half testing and evaluating services, running programs with three private coaches, including Kresser, in two sports. In the tests, they learned about optimal pricing, the effect of weather on the business model and the importance of a mobile strategy to handle waivers, walk-ins and last-minute changes.
Safety is key, and AthleticSelect will provide liability insurance for every training session booked on its site.
“We are very passionate about what we do. We want to help kids not just by shaping their athletic skills but by mentoring them. We want to make a real difference,” Dooling said. “And we are just getting started.”