A search on YouTube for “youth sports drills” returns an endless scroll of every type of practice workout you could imagine. All levels of athletic skill and coaching style are on display in a dizzying stream of content aimed at players and parents looking for a better way to kick a soccer ball or pitch a baseball.
A new mobile app backed by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff and others is looking to become a singular, simplified destination for parent coaches and families of young athletes.
MOJO launched Tuesday as a “one-stop, coach-in-a-box” format that blends instructional know-how with technological ease. The goal is to make youth sports appealing for kids and parents, stem the tide of drop outs and build a business that taps into what makes youth sports fun.
The Los Angeles-based startup was founded by Ben Sherwood, former co-chairman of the Disney Media Networks, and Reed Shaffner, a technology veteran who spent more than four years at Microsoft and also worked on the wildly popular “Words With Friends” app at Zynga.
“I’ve been involved for 30 years in telling stories with video, television news and all kinds of different levels. What I can tell you is that when you Google ‘how to kick a soccer ball’ you get 750 million search results,” said Sherwood, onetime president of ABC News. “The quality out there overall is quite low. The storytelling out there is quite low. The people delivering the content are not exactly professionals. What we’ve done is we’ve tried to take on this category and disrupt it with content that is fun to watch, that is well-produced.”
MOJO wants to target coaches who are instructing kids between the ages of 4 and 13, a sweet spot in life when moms and dads are primarily the coaches and before the age when 70% of kids drop out. The app is designed to appeal to two types of parents: those who might be intimidated by the prospect of getting involved and those who have jumped in and now want to get better.
“We get it. We know coaching is stressful. It’s frustrating. It’s aggravating,” said Sherwood, an ex little league baseball coach. “Coaches spend lots and lots of time trying to figure out what to do, trying to find good ideas.”
Navigating MOJO is pretty straightforward. Users input the age of kids they’re coaching, experience as a coach, experience level of the kids, number of kids and more. The app builds out a personalized coaching plan practice by practice, and uses feedback from the coach to to make the process smarter as the season progresses. Content includes original short-form videos, easy to digest graphics, equipment requirements, and more.
MOJO is launching in time for spring soccer with a free version that includes basic content and one practice per week for one team, and a MOJO+ version that’s $19.99 a year and includes premium content, unlimited practices for unlimited teams and more. Other sports like basketball, baseball and softball will follow.
“We have content that really does walk you through every step of that journey of being a youth coach,” Shaffner said.
MOJO is partnering with Mandalay Sports Media, makers of the Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance,” as well as youth sports organizations such as US Youth Soccer and Coaching Corps. An academic and scientific advisory board is made up of experts on youth sports, kinesiology and psychology. U.S. Women’s National Team stars Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain are on MOJO’s athletic advisory board, along with Wilson, a founding partner.
The Super Bowl champion, who also happens to be a little league coach for his son, immediately connected to the idea of MOJO and using an app and technology to bring better coaching to more people. Wilson, a member of the Seattle Sounders FC ownership group, has launched his own companies, including Limitless Minds, a business coaching consultancy that looks bring competitive thinking and mental conditioning into the corporate world.
“I actually think that in addition to being a great coach, he will be an extremely successful entrepreneur,” Sherwood said of Wilson’s long-term trajectory. “When he’s not playing football, he’s very interested in building businesses, and he resonated with our notion that we were trying to build the world’s first family sports brand.”
Sherwood also called Rascoff a “really smart guy” who is a “great investor and super helpful.” Rascoff helped launch Zillow in 2005 and among other things currently leads his own VC firm, 75 & Sunny Ventures; is co-founder and chair of Pacaso, a special purpose acquisition company; and is co-founder and chair of dot.LA, a Los Angeles-based media venture he co-founded.
Rascoff said MOJO aims to solve a real problem that he has experienced.
“I’m excited to back Ben Sherwood and the team at MOJO on their mission to improve the lives of young athletes and their coaches,” Rascoff told GeekWire. “As a former coach to my 8-year-old daughter Katerina’s basketball team, I have firsthand knowledge of how terrifying it is to look at a group of kids at practice and not be able to come up with fun and engaging drills, not to mention the many details required for the successful management of a team.
MOJO was tested in 18 states with hundreds of coaches last fall. The company, which raised $8 million in a Series A funding round last February, employs 12 people split between product and creative.
For Sherwood, it’s about building a successful new brand — and helping more people capture the memories he cherishes.
Sherwood coached little league on one of the same Los Angeles-area fields where “The Bad News Bears” played, where Walter Matthau’s coach Buttermaker showed up for the lovable team’s practices lugging a six-pack of beer, not a smartphone app.
“I can remember all these beautiful moments of my boys on that field — striking out, getting the winning hit, getting hit by a pitch and saying they’re never going to play again,” Sherwood said. “We just think there’s something really magical about youth sports, that if we can put something great into people’s hands, everyone’s going to get more of that magic.”