June 30, 2014

Find a Couch, Find a Coach. The Internet’s Amazing.

Talent alone can only take you so far, and sometimes we all need a little help. With 25 million kids in the U.S. playing competitive sports, that little help can add up to a lot.

Enter basketball whiz Jordan Fliegel. With co-founders Arian Radmand and Gabe Durazo, he created CoachUp, a service that links young athletes with more than 12,000 coaches in upwards of 30 sports, from basketball to yoga. More importantly for Jordan, the company allows athletes to unlock the values of private coaching that go beyond the court or the field, from athletic edge to life skills such as cooperation and hard work. He took some time to tell us about what inspired him to bring private coaching to the forefront and how CoachUp is setting itself — and many young athletes — up to win.

One-on-one mentorship gives young athletes a competitive edge — and confidence in spades.

Zipcar: How did you come up with CoachUp?

Jordan: I grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and was an okay basketball player. When I started to work with a private coach, I really began to improve and was able to move up to varsity, to college ball, and then eventually played professionally in Europe. My ability to learn and the confidence I got from the experience and from my coach also helped me to become a better student and, I think, a better person. I wanted to have the same impact that my private coach had on me, so I became a coach myself in the summers. I knew there was a demand on both the side of young athletes who wanted help and from other coaches like me, but it seemed no one had the ability to do it effectively. I really struggled to build my own website and manage the payments, often from courtside in between sessions. I thought there’s got to be a better way to make this more efficient and that’s where the idea for CoachUp came to me.

Can you explain how it works?

CoachUp connects athletes with private sports coaches for one-on-one and small group training. We’re really focused on team sports and younger athletes where we can really make a difference. Athletes can search, connect, and then rate coaches who help them to reach their athletic and life potential. The coaches who work with CoachUp have access to an advanced platform that helps them find new clients and manage their private coaching business. With CoachUp’s digital marketing, scheduling, payment processing, client review, and profile pages, coaches are able to more effectively make a difference for their athletes. From remembering which Gatorade the athlete likes to drink to how many shots they scored last practice, our service creates a better way to coach.

How does personal coaching make a difference for athletes?

Sports are a positive experience for kids and can reap so many benefits like college scholarships, a support system of friends, and healthy fitness habits. When I was in high school, most people didn’t have a private coach or they didn’t talk about it. Today, more success stories are coming out from athletes like Jeremy Lin and Tom Brady who are open about their athletic improvements thanks to their private coaches. Private coaching is the secret of the pros; they never work out alone. 

In addition to sports related skills, private coaching can help build confidence both on and off the field for youth athletes. That confidence and the values of hard work and cooperation translate to school work, family life, and beyond. Kids can really be reached through their coaches and studies have shown that people are more likely to remember their coaches than their teachers. 

Teamwork helps co-founders Gabe Durazo, Arian Radmand, and Jordan Fliegel on the field and at CoachUp HQ.

Clearly, coaches have made a big impact. How do you select coaches who will continue this tradition?

Our more than 12,000 coaches come from a combination of them reaching out to us and us recruiting. Every coach then goes through a vetting process, including a background check and experience level assessment. We also consistently track our coaches’ reviews to make sure they’re doing a good job. We’ll take them off if they’re not – we’ve done it!

What are the challenges that private coaching faces?

The misconceptions about private coaching are a huge hurdle. Often people think that the athlete’s team coach should be their private coach as well. This would be like expecting a teacher to also be a student’s private tutor — it’s too much. Another dangerous misconception is that parents should be the child’s coach. About 85% of coaches in youth sports are dads coaching their kids. We believe that the parents' role should be to love, support, encourage their child, and that role can get complicated as it overlaps with a coach’s role to really push the athlete.

How has technology made a difference for CoachUp?

About 40% of our website traffic is from mobile. Smartphones are becoming a remote control for your life. Coaches, parents, and athletes often have their phone on them and when they need coaching, it’s easy to flip to the CoachUp channel. The continued advance in technologies and the fact that people are also more used to paying online has made a lot of our business possible.

Do you plan on expanding your services?

We’ll continue to go deeper into what we’re already doing. If it’s something that can help an athlete or a coach, then it’s on our road map. Through data collection we can continue to refine and prioritize the essential pieces.

What’s your favorite part?

The best part is the people who you do it with. It’s a lot of work to build a company, but to go through it with a great group of people is the best thing. We’re extremely fortunate to have employees and investors who truly believe in the mission.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to others? 

The right approach to build a meaningful business is to choose one vertical and become the expert. We’re ruthless about focusing on the problem that we’re trying to solve and it’s made all the difference.