Taking the (admin) pain out of sports tryouts

Chris Knutson, co-founder and CEO of TeamGenius

Sports team tryouts are a time-consuming, error-prone, emotionally driven experience. Traditionally it’s done on paper and spreadsheets. Coaches and organizations spend a lot of time trying to read people’s handwriting and entering data into spreadsheets. Then, naturally, parents question the fairness and accuracy of the process, which in turn creates a lot of stress and pain for the organizations.

TeamGenius, a startup located in Minneapolis, has a better alternative. Fast Future spoke to Chris Knutson, TeamGenius’ co-founder and CEO, about the tech they’ve created.

Tell us about the idea behind your company.

Knutson: My business partner, Todd Larson, witnessed the process firsthand while volunteering at his kid’s soccer tryout. He thought he could write an application to help with this. A few versions [later], the product is basically a web and mobile app that lets organizations set up all of their tryout criteria. They can upload players’ [information] in our web admin tool, and then go right to check-in on the field.

The coaches download our mobile app, where they [access] the list of players, photos and video clips. They can input ratings and comments, and all of that data is aggregated in real time for administrators to start forming teams and sending notifications.

Has the product evolved from there?

Knutson: Yes. Now we support much more than just tryouts. We do a lot of major camps. We support USA softball for their national identification program. We also support the Olympic development program for youth soccer and work with hundreds of organizations across all sports—everything from little leagues and recreational organizations all the way up to semi-professional teams.

In our last funding round, we raised $1.15 million. We’re going to use that to address another problem that we’re in a good position to solve: helping organizations and players understand where they stand; how they compare to other players in their area; which skills they’re good at; and which things they could improve upon. We’ve never had a tool to really help them actually get better at those things.

Practices and game environments are [extremely] important for developing team skills and [for a team] to be able to play as a unit. There’s not a lot of time for individual skill work. The best way for a player to improve in a specific area is through at-home training. Personal coaches are, of course, really expensive. We’re moving in the direction of an at-home training app.

So you’ll have two different products?

Knutson: Exactly, but the idea is that they’re going to be really tightly integrated. A player will receive a feedback report from the coach at the end of the year that says ‘If you want to make a top team next year, here are a couple things you could practice over the summer.’

Give me a practical example of how your flagship product works.

Knutson: Our typical customer has about 300 or 400 athletes that they place on teams at the beginning of the year. The feedback on those players come in a formal report, similar to what a kid would get from school, at least a couple of times each season.

With our app, the organizational administrators would set up the criteria upon which they want to score players. In basketball, it would be passing, shooting, dribbling and rebounding. Maybe they want to measure how many free throws a player can make out of 10. We can build all of that out ahead of time. Then on the field, we move to phase two. Players start showing up right through our mobile app. The organization can have multiple people running check-in, as they’ll have a list of those players who are [present].

The coaches can collect data about players while they’re observing them on the field through our mobile app. Later, the coaches have a dashboard that automatically ranks all of the players based on the weighting structure and the criteria they establish. They can then start comparing players and assigning them to teams. They receive a notification to send out emails to all parents, therefore letting [parents] know which team their kid made while providing a link to register.

Does the process cut down on comments from angry parents?

Knutson: Organizations deal with a lot of really upset parents who feel like their kid didn’t get a fair chance. Now they can tell those parents that they’re using a platform that offers full transparency and visibility.

You’re in Minneapolis. What are the advantages of having a startup company there?

Knutson: I’m a passionate advocate of the startup ecosystem here. There are some key players who are really interested in connecting people and in supporting the ecosystem. Access to capital is improving. Our investor, Great North Ventures, has made a really big effort to create more access to capital at the seed stage.

Also, there are a lot of great events here. There is Twin Cities Startup Week. There are also BETA events, which are like science fairs for startups to showcase their new products. A series of these events really brings the community together. If you start showing up to those, then you see the same people and can get networked and connected. I think it’s a great place for that reason.