By: Amari Dryden, @Amari_Dryden
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Ryan Van Alst, Owner and Founder of Sports Tutoring. Ryan decided to create Sports Tutoring as an affordable way for children and adults to succeed in sports. His sports-minded persona has helped him create a network of coaches and trainers all around the nation so accessibility is not a barrier. He was gracious enough to offer up his wisdom on how to create a sports business and the unexpected challenges associated with it.
What has your journey been like going from a graduate of Anderson University to owner and founder of Sports Tutoring?
I started out at Anderson University as a P.E. major; then I taught one year and then I ventured out to the state of Washington where I worked for a CBA basketball team called the Yakima Sun Kings and did sports marketing out there. I came back here to Illinois where I got a teaching job back in 2005.
Fast forward to Sports Tutoring, about fifteen months ago I started to think of different ideas to do. I’ve always been sports-minded so I created Sports Tutoring. I wanted it to be a place where individuals could find an instructor or take lessons at an affordable price. That’s why I created Sports Tutoring. At Sports Tutoring, we do camps, clinics, private lessons, and semi-private lessons. We started last year in May 2014.
Recently, we’ve created a network on our website with individuals all over the U.S. where customers can book directly with the coaches and do lessons, either private or semi-private, but we continue to do the local lessons here in the Orland Park area, a suburb of Chicago. We have other coaches that branch out as well as private volleyball lessons and that sort of thing. We are trying to find coaches in the area for any sport you can think of.
The other day we had someone inquire about a softball lesson in Milwaukee; so our job is to research it and find a coach that fits in their budget because we ask the individual what their budget is. Sometimes we’ll find a coach that doesn’t work for their budget so there’s always something going on with everyday operations, marketing, and getting the word out more.
We’re trying to make a bigger network now with coaches and trainers. We do the everyday sports but also personal training. We have 33 different sports and activities on our list!
We have an individual now who’s based in San Diego; she does online health lessons and personal training lessons locally and worldwide as well. Now she is currently working with us so that we can help coaches and trainers and at the same time get her more business.
What was the inspiration behind Sports Tutoring and where do you see it going in the future?
I have always been sports-minded. I’m a runner as well so I am motivated to achieve goals. I just wanted to create something that would help others. My goal is to get something done with Sports Tutoring every day. My wife inspires me a lot to create it, to make it a good business out there, to help others. I’m easily motivated so I like to go up further on the bar so to speak to get to the highest point to make it a great, well-known company. We want Sports Tutoring to be a house hold name in 3 years! I am inspired by people in my life and around me and to make it a good business.
What were some of the challenges you faced creating your own business?
The challenges have been just getting the word out. Here it is thirteen months later and we’re still in the development stages, but it’s getting better by the day, by the week. The challenges at first were getting the word out so we’re doing local advertising and making a network with coaches and trainers around the country. Hopefully that will spread the word. We’re going to local businesses around here in the Chicago area letting them know about it and offering employees family discounts.
If we see somebody who needs a lesson and posts about it online, we reply back to them; unfortunately, a lot of times they will see that we’re from the Orland Park area and they assume we can’t get them a coach somewhere else so we have to educate our customers. A lot of people just assume we’re in Chicago so we can’t help them but our goal is to find an instructor or trainer around the U.S.
I told someone the other day that we eventually want to be kind of like Expedia where someone can just go to our website and they can find the right person in their area that they’re looking for, such as surf lessons in San Diego. Ideally, they would be able to filter it by location, price range, or travel distance so they can find the best instructor out there that fits their needs.
What is a key lesson you learned during the process of starting Sports Tutoring?
There were a lot of little things you have to go through, like sports insurance. There are a lot of loopholes I guess you could say. Just getting it started, letting people know. I tell everybody I connect with; for example, my son and I went to St. Louis last week for a baseball game and right before we left we were handing out flyers outside of Busch Stadium. The key process is just getting everything started.
A key lesson would be keeping everything organized. A lot of people don’t realize what we do and also they don’t see what I do behind closed doors either. I say that to my wife sometimes. She just thinks it’s advertising a basketball lesson we’re gonna do and people sign up for it but it’s not just that. I’m doing a lot for this whether it’s taking care of a lot of decisions, doing all the logistics.
For example, we have a golf lesson today and I had to confirm with the coach if that was a good time at 2 o’clock at the golf course and then I had to confirm with the customer if that was a good time, playing phone tag, texting back and forth. It’s a lot of in-between things.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Seeing people improve is one thing I like about my job. Last week, we had someone sign up for a private volleyball lesson. She’s going into high school and she’s never played volleyball before so our volleyball instructor got her going and hopefully gets her setting goals for herself, helping her become a good volleyball player at the high school level. I like to see people improve, children and adults, during lessons.
Another one of my favorite aspects of the job is working with other people, meeting, talking and networking with a lot of different people. We just got a soccer coach from New York. He lives in Manhattan. I was telling my wife he speaks four different languages so meeting all kinds of people is one of my favorite aspects of my job.
What advice do you have for anyone trying to start a sports business?
You have to have patience. You have to be motivated. Don’t be greedy. Think of others. I talk to a lot of coaches who are just in it for the money. My whole philosophy with Sports Tutoring is that I have four young kids of my own that are eight, six, two and one so with my wife and I saying with my two oldest kids that have been in little league and gymnastics and that sort of thing. I want to make it overall affordable for customers.
I talk to a lot of coaches who want x amount of dollars for one private lesson then they aren’t that much of a team player so we pass them up sometimes because are they in it for just themselves. I know everyone needs to make their money but our philosophy here at Sports Tutoring is you have to be a team player as well as an employee.
You have to be patient because here it is thirteen, fourteen months later and it’s still in the development stage but every day it grows. Every day when I wake up, I check emails to see what’s going on and to see what I have to do for that day. I always have stuff planned for the day but I check to see if other things have developed such as needing to get a hold of a coach or someone to do something for the business.
I’ve learned a lot working in the youth sports and sports marketing world but like I said earlier you have to be patient if you want to do well. I learned years ago with sports marketing that you have to be willing to relocate. I was able to relocate at the time because I wasn’t married and didn’t have a family.
You have to be patient and work your way up whether it’s a company like Sports Tutoring or if you’re working for a Triple A baseball team; you have to be willing to do all aspects of the job. Then you’ll get your experience and then you’ll be able to choose your destination.
We would like to thank Ryan for his time and insight and we wish him the best in all his future endeavors!
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here!