February 6, 2014

Locally Based Business Matches Coaches With Athletes and Parents

Working in New York’s financial district as an information technology recruiter, Matthew Barrett spent his off-hours coaching a small youth baseball team on the city’s Upper East Side. A simple idea occurred to him: What if there was a company that connected coaches of different sports with budding athletes and their parents? Better yet, what if he started this company?

So the Mercer County native started asking around. He found two other businesses that fill this type of need, but none in the local area. Within a few months, he had quit his job and begun to actively pursue his idea. Premiersports.com was launched this past December, and so far about 100 coaches have been signed up.

“It’s really exciting,” Mr. Barrett, 28, said last week. “We have 3,000 searches underway. There’s definitely a need. It’s a cottage industry.”

The budding company is currently operating out of Mr. Barrett’s father’s office in Princeton, but he hopes to close out some seed funding this month and move into his own space soon.

Here’s how it works: A coach signs up for premiersports’s on-line platform, adding his or her credentials and availability. The information goes live, and a young athlete or parent can begin searching for a coach of a particular sport, with a specific background. “People can compare, and in a matter of minutes they can book a coach,” Mr. Barrett said. “It’s quick. A lot of coaches do private lessons in the summer, and academies are always looking to do private lessons, typically found by word-of-mouth. So this is a new way of making the right kind of match.”

A coach himself, Mr. Barrett has been involved with baseball since his youth in Hopewell Township. He played at Hopewell Valley High School, and was ranked 228th in the nation in his senior year. After attending George Mason University in Virginia and playing on the Division One team for three years, he realized that he probably wasn’t going to make it as a professional ball player.

“Reality struck,” he recalled. “But on the academic side, I was doing well. I had the opportunity to transfer back to The College of New Jersey. It was funny, because one of the first coaches I ever had as a kid turned out to be my TCNJ coach — Rick Dell. He trained me as a little guy, and then again when I was finishing up in college. He’s currently in China, director of Asian baseball for major league baseball. He was a really good mentor.”

What Mr. Barrett values most about his coaching from Mr. Dell is the balance he struck between athletics and academics. “While I was there we won a conference tournament. I also was being taught to be an independent thinker,” he said. “The academics were rigorous and there was always a challenge to be creating projects.”

One of the first projects Mr. Barrett and some friends came up with was a national survey that allowed clients to provide feedback on their experiences with coaches they had used. “It turned into ratethecoach.com, a business venture that is still up and running,” he said. “We sold the company eventually. It taught me some good business sense.”

After graduating from TCNJ, Mr. Barrett went to a town near Vienna, Austria to coach a baseball organization of close to 100 members. He stayed nine months. “It was a phenomenal experience,” he said. “It had been a losing organization, with dwindling membership. I went in with a positive outlook, examined the strengths and weaknesses, and was able to increase membership and put us back in place to be a top team in the league. They’ve since moved up a couple of levels.”

Next was a job with Morgan Stanley. “I learned a lot about businesses, dealing with acquisitions in large companies. I decided I wanted another challenge,” Mr. Barrett said. “I was also coaching at PDS then, and my brother was a senior there. We won the state title which was a big achievement. That year, they had a great balance of academics and athletics. That has really become a theme of mine. I’ve seen that organizations that can really balance are the stronger, more determined, and more powerful ones.”

Mr. Barrett had moved to New York for his job in the financial district when he got the idea for PremierSports. He quit his job to develop it full-time at the end of 2012. “I realized there was no platform that simply connected a coach with an athlete,” he said. “I did some research, and everybody was positive. I bounced it off a couple of friends, and we all became owners and co-founders.”

The service is free for coaches. “They get whatever they list,” Mr. Barrett said. “We charge a small mark-up to the parent and athlete, and that covers the cost of the transaction. After a lesson, the coach provides feedback to help the athlete see how they’ve improved over the year.”

Mr. Barrett feels Princeton is the ideal spot to launch his business. “I’m a Mercer County, Jersey guy,” he said. “This is the heart of premiersports. Sports have given me so many opportunities and I’m fortunate to be able to give back to the organizations that have given me such joy.”