In the first part of our two-part conversation we talked to Treiner’s co-founder James Muir, we talk about how his company’s football coaching platform helps bridge the gap between players wanting to improve their football skills and connecting them with a large pipeline of coaches wanting to positively impact football in Australia.
Tell me about the problems you’re solving with a centralised platform for coaches?
James Muir: “There’s two things. On the coaches side, there’s not too many full-time coaching positions in Australia at club level, even at the professional level. At the A-League level, there tends to be more strength and conditioning coaches and sport scientists than coaches.
“Secondly, at the National Premier League (NPL) level there’s not that many full-time positions, apart from Queensland and New South Wales where a few of the larger clubs have full-time coaches, general managers and technical directors. In Victoria, and most of the other states they don’t have that. Some have started appointing full-time staff but in general the majority of clubs don’t have full-time coaches.
“There’s a large demand coming from players and people who have a passion for the game who have studied and earned qualifications in sports coaching, sports science and have developed knowledge. There’s not really a clear pathway for a coach in Australia. If you compare the number of coaching positions in Australia and New Zealand to the UK or Europe the differences are huge. There are limitations for coaches to go full-time here.
“The problem with a lot of coaches is that they are not great at promoting themselves, they’re not great from a technology perspective and there’s also a conservative attitude within the industry in regards to self-promotion. We can help promote coaches through our platform.”
Then on the player side?
JM: “On the player side, most clubs focus on the team environment very few have individual programs for players to improve on their strengths and weaknesses. It’s generally luck of a draw if you live close to a really good club that has good coaches otherwise players have to travel large distances which can be an issue.
“On our platform players can access high-quality coaches wherever they live. At the moment sessions are conducted one-on-one or virtually, but generally we do school holiday camps and larger training programs. It switches the focus from the club to the individual which gives that player-centred approach. On the team, club and schools side they generally have a very small network of coaches, there’s no real vetting of coaches apart from a basic working with children check and quite often the coaching qualifications aren’t checked or they’re overstating the qualifications they have.”
How do you vet the coaches for the platform? How do you verify what badges, licences and qualifications coaches have, as well as the health and safety and working with children checks.
JM: “Whenever a coach applies they input their coaching background, clubs they played and coaches at, their qualifications and we do our due diligence and make appropriate background checks in each state, and we can do this for coaches from both home and abroad.
“Regarding coaching qualifications, we cross-check the licence number with the appropriate federation.
“We have built relationships with football associations and state and national bodies to double check that licences exist and are valid.”
Can you co-exist with the NPL and Australia’s state football league structure?
JM: “With our platform last year we released a ‘Camps’ version of the platform where clubs, schools, academies and different providers could list all of their programs they run. That allowed them to make a listing on the platform and manage all of the participants through that, organise uniforms, backgrounds and even manage the hiring of coaches. The percentage we take is much lower than a comparative platform like a GoFootball. They can charge up to as much as 30 per cent for a listing on their platform. Ours is between five and 10 per cent for those camps.
“In terms of clubs and schools being able to find coaches, again their networks are quite low and we’ve built up a network on our relaunched platform. Previously it had 3,000 coaches on the platform, we’ve now had to onboard them all again because we’ve switched from having a WordPress platform to one built on the Laravel framework, so it’s not an easy migration. What we’ve just done is focussed on the high-profile coaches and onboarded new coaches as per demand. Once it picks up again we’ll onboard every coach very quickly.”
Tell me about the virtual coaching lessons. The move to at-home solutions has been thrust upon everyone.
JM: “What we’ve done is integrated Zoom into the platform and we’ve got a specially designed background for privacy reasons.
“The benefit of a virtual session is that feedback is immediate in comparison to those recorded sessions or sessions with multiple players.
“We’ve seen people just basically deliver a session but it’s not really that engaging, if the players are motivated then that’s fine but all you really want is to give that specific feedback to the players from that virtual session – so very similar to a one-on-one session in person.”
When you’re thinking about your roadmap you’ve been able to do virtual sessions rather quickly given the circumstances. What are the plans to make this an even more digital experience?
JM: “We’ve got a large product roadmap and we’re looking to integrate various features primarily on the coaching side, and some on the player side.
“On the coaching side we’re working with different providers to integrate, via API’s, session planning software, being able to manage social media and any analysis they need to do on the backend. Over time we want it to become an all-in-one suite for coaches who want to manage their whole coaching business from.
“For the players we’re focussing on being able to provide a solution where they’re able to manage themselves and their training as an individual. If you see the majority of sports science, sports analytics software and GPS trackers, even athlete management software, the majority of them are focussed on the team environment and that’s great for a monetisation aspect because the volume is higher but who has access to the data if a player moves between clubs? How is it shared generally from the coach to the athlete? An athlete doesn’t really engage with that data unless they’re a professional and even then in my experience with international athletes some don’t engage with it on a regular basis unless they’ve had significant experience in seeing the benefits.
“Putting data back into the players hands will enable them to track their training load, their personal training sessions and to see their spikes and peaks, as well as tracking their general health, sleep and hydration patterns.
“We’re working on these things in our product roadmap which we think will add that stickiness to the platform. We can help produce data down the track that we think can potentially improve the training space. Our goal as a company is to improve the footballing ecosystem. So we think if we track player data, how they’re improving, which coaches they’re working we can start to see some data over a longer period of time to see which coaches have had impacts on players in each age groups. We’re building a more objective training space.”
Treiner recently signed a deal with the PFA of Malaysia, do you look at South-East Asian football as a great region to target?
JM: “Absolutely. We’re already in discussions with other parties in the region as well. There’s a lot of other South-East Asian countries that is of interest, because the populations are huge, football is the number one sport and the investment into it is really substantial. There’s a burgeoning middle class, tech is readily used especially mobile-based technologies.
“The problem is a number of these countries don’t have particularly strong youth set-ups, there isn’t a strong youth club structure because it primarily goes through schools. Only now are professional clubs are setting up academies but it’s a bit nascent.”
I’m going to ask the question to many other startups and emerging companies because we will lift-off from this when we talk next. It’s a tricky time for emerging companies, but do you have a vision of what you hope to achieve over the coming 12 months given the situation we’re in with the pandemic?
JM: “We’re definitely keen to work closer with the state federations and A-League clubs. We’ve had discussions and we’re already working with a lot of their players and coaches in the last few weeks as many of them have been stood down and have been looking for extra opportunities.
“Once they do go back to their clubs we’d love to continue the relationship, make that a little bit formal and see where we can support the clubs and the game. Our end goal is to try and improve the pathways and options for players. We want to change subjective aspects coaching into something objective where you can properly compare different coaches and with good data see which ones coaches are the better ones based on the training sessions they conduct.”