Wednesday August 24th, 2016

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CoachUp, the 2012 startup designed to connect young athletes with personal trainers and coaches through their app, recently offered me the opportunity to talk to CEO John Kelley about the future of the company and even try out the platform myself.

Basketball is my favorite sport, and I chose to practice it with the app, but that’s not all CoachUp has to offer. While the majority of the company’s business comes from the parents of youth athletes in middle school and early high school practicing team sports like baseball, basketball and football, CoachUp provides coaches and trainers in sports ranging from the major team sports to yoga, martial arts and even ultimate frisbee.

Team sports are certainly their bread and butter, but Kelley sees beyond just that. “The opportunity moving forward is to really expand into the much broader, 30 billion dollar sports and fitness market,” he said.

Expanding and offering the CoachUp service to different markets across the U.S. has been one of their biggest focuses since Kelley joined the team at the start of 2015. “I think this is a bit of a cultural shift in the company since I’ve come aboard,” he said. “Early on the brand itself—the look and the feel—was really geared towards a male demographic—macho, hard-core athlete. That’s not surprising because . . . if you look at the work force that we have here, it’s a lot of 20-year-old athletes.”

Aiming to refocus his young team, Kelley recalibrated, “I said to them ‘Look, you guys are not actually our clients today. Our client is your moms.’” With this in mind, he adjusted the priorities of the CoachUp marketing strategy, veering away from the macho-man persona of the past and new demographics and markets.

In its first three years after launching, CoachUp was able to connect more than 13,000 trainers with more than 100,000 young athletes nationwide. In making these connections, CoachUp vets each coach when they register and continuously monitors their performance and reviews from athletes.

Kelley and the CoachUp team have detected a growing market within their client base. More and more adults—like me—have been using the app to schedule private lessons geared towards personal fitness.

I arrived to the gym at around 8:30, where I met Tobe and braced myself for the workout of a lifetime. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not only grossly out of shape, but also completely incapable of even the most basic fundamentals.

We started with simple ball-handling drills, and I would estimate that it took a little under five minutes before I was in a relentless sweat. By the end of the drill I was gasping for air and was genuinely concerned that I might require medical attention by the end of the session.

It was at this point that I desperately started racking my brain for topics of conversation that might distract Tobe long enough for me to catch my breath between drills. We talked about his playing career in the NBA D-League and overseas, the changing landscape of the NBA, Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors and his aspirations to one day open a facility with the help of CoachUp.

While it may seem like a pipe dream at first, Kelley also toyed with the idea of CoachUp opening facilities of their own one day. The company is testing the waters with a new initiative called CoachUp Play, where kids are given the opportunity to participate in group lessons on a week-by-week basis in a variety of different sports. “This isn’t about the hard-core, getting them to specialize in the sport,” Kelley said. “This is really tapping into what we’ve heard from some of our parents—that they just want to expose their kids to sports at a younger age and have it be fun.”

At this stage of the game, starting up major sporting facilities with gyms, equipment, coaches and the like, is a large goal for a young company. But starting major group sessions like CoachUp Play may be a step in the right direction.

Eventually, our conversation came to a close and my lesson with Tobe continued. I gritted my teeth and battled on. We started finishing drills, standing on the block and putting up shots. Like every fat kid growing up, I’ve always loved offense—less running and bending of the knees and more glory. This part of the session wasn’t difficult for me. But once Tobe moved me to half court and challenged me to finish off the dribble with my right and left hand at full speed, I began to breath heavily again.

This is part of why CoachUp is such a revolutionary platform. Growing up, I was never offered the luxury of a private lesson. Choking in front of friends can be social suicide. With Tobe, all I had to worry about was getting better. Everyone in the gym was there with one purpose: to help me improve.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry heads the CoachUp Athlete Advisory Council alongside 76ers big man Nerlens Noel and Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. Curry publically credits his meteoric rise to the pinnacle of professional basketball to hard work, rigorous training and personalized coaching. As undersized and underestimated as they come, he stands as the perfect example of how far dedication can take athletes.

CoachUp has combined their passion for sports with today’s technology to provide a service to not just kids, but all people. Whether they’re training for tryouts or just trying to get fit, CoachUp gives people an opportunity to give everything they have in a work out without ever having to worry about the fear of failure.

With CoachUp, it’s possible for anyone to find that coach, get that private lesson and maximize what they’re capable of. When you strip away everything else—all of the business, marketing, research, etc.—CoachUp is about you and a coach, and how badly you want to improve.

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