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What I learned by introducing 100 athletes to remote coaches

Over a few weeks in Summer 2019 I ran a low-tech (and low-budget $0) test to see if I could help athletes, users of WODwell, who were looking for remote coaching.” 30 coaches signed up. 100 athletes asked us to match them with a coach. What we learned excited us about the way remote coaching can make fitness available to anyone, anywhere — and how we can help.

UPDATE: In September, 2020 we launched our “Find a Coach” tool to help athletes find the right remote coach for them.

Athletes Want Remote Coaches

I responded to each of these requests myself and referred most of them to where they could “find a local CrossFit gym.” I’d tell them I hoped they’d find a coach they liked.

But lots of athletes replied that a local gym wasn’t an option for them. Some preferred to (or had to) work out at home; some traveled too much; some weren’t comfortable in a gym setting; some didn’t have a gym nearby at all.

Half of the requests were for coaches with specific expertise (cardio, strength, Olympic lifting, gymnastics, nutrition, weight loss, sport-specific, etc.) because the athlete didn’t know any local specialists.

I wanted to help but WODwell is a workout database, I thought. Not a coach referral service. These requests were “out of scope.”

Then, in early 2019, my wife Lisa, who coaches at CrossFit SOMA in San Francisco, started offering remote coaching to friends. I decided to refer the next few athletes’ inquiries to her. And…some of them hired her.

Later we learned through surveys that ~25% of WODwell’s users are coaches, and 1/3 of them have at least one remote client. Lightbulb. Maybe we should expand our scope!

Coaches Want Remote Clients

Over the next couple of weeks I interviewed, screened, and on-boarded nearly 30 coaches on 5 continents — independent coaches as well as a few from The Juice Compound, Training Think Tank, Modern Strength, The Forge Method, and JKs Masters. I noted each coach’s certifications, specialties, preferences, cost, languages, offerings, etc. And I told them if I found an athlete who looked like a fit, I’d send them their way. No cost, no catch.

Matching Athletes & Coaches: The Prototype

The first landing page (not high-design)
The first landing page (not high-design)
The offer page for our “Coach Match” prototype — August 2019

Each time an athlete filled out that form, I reviewed the request and forwarded the athlete’s inquiry to 1–3 coaches who I thought could be a fit.

If a coach replied with interest, I introduced them to the athlete via email and asked the coach to take it from there.

Within 6 weeks I had processed 101 athletes’ requests.

All it took to spin up this prototype was a contact form on a WordPress site, a couple of Google Docs, and Gmail.

What I Learned

But there was a lot of room for improvement. I sent an email to the coaches I had on-boarded to tell them what “key learnings” we had and how I thought we could improve — and asked for their feedback.

(1) First of all, some athletes were hiring the coaches we introduced them to. This was great!

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I sent these “key learnings” to coaches 2 weeks into our test

(2) Athletes didn’t always respond after an introduction

Introductions were taking too long. I manually reviewed each inquiry; manually requested coaches let me know they were interested; manually introduced coach(es) to each athlete — across multiple timezones. Depending on the time of day, the whole process could take 1–12 hours.

I committed to streamlining the process as much as I could and recommended some best practices to coaches who weren’t used to following up with leads by email (such as automating replies to help improve response rates).

(3) Athletes didn’t know what kinds of cost to expect

Some athletes were surprised coaching wasn’t free (!?). Each coach set their own rates so WODwell wasn’t involved in pricing or billing, but we were able to post a rough guide on our site to help set athletes’ expectations.

(4) Importantly, all of the issues were solvable with better processes and technology.

So, What Next?

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We’re designing a way for remote coaches to showcase their craft and expertise through their original workouts —so they can get discovered (and potentially hired) by WODwell’s millions of users.

This next version won’t be perfect or fully polished on day-1, but it will improve on the biggest issues we found in the prototype. And we’ll continue to use feedback from coaches and athletes to make it better.

Join us

UPDATE: In September, 2020 we launched our “Find a Coach” tool to help athletes find the right remote coach for them.

Remote coaching will play a meaningful role in the future of fitness and we want to help develop and accelerate this trend.

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Functional fitness workouts & coaching from some of the best coaches in the world. For CrossFitters by CrossFitters.

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