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CoPlays makes practice perfect

The CoPlays app has received kudos for its user-friendliness and accessibility.CoPlays

Technology? Rational. Sports? Passionate. So how do you combine the two? Finnish company CoPlays’ coaching platform could be the answer for both top professional clubs and grass-roots volunteers doing it just for the love of the sport.

In junior sports, the club usually runs on volunteer work with limited resources. It’s not unusual for the coach to arrive at the facility after their day job 10 minutes before the practice and attempt to brief the assistant coaches and players on the day’s practice. This was exactly the problem CoPlays set out to solve a little over 24 months ago.

The CoPlays crew developed a coaching platform that enables the planning and sharing of practice drills, team communication and individual feedback in ice hockey, football, floorball and basketball.

“The idea was to help coaches to make better drills and give individual feedback to players,” says CEO Markus Kauppinen. “The players and coaching staff would communicate better and make the most of the expensive ice time and practice in general.”

Markus Kauppinen is basically Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill from Moneyball put into one – a former professional athlete and IT expert. Image: CoPlays

However, as often happens in sports, the game plan couldn’t be channelled into gameplay without challenges. Kauppinen’s team hit a hurdle when hoping to get digital input from coaches.

“We quickly realised that when you’re building a platform for grass-roots clubs, it should be made as easy as possible in terms of both content and the user interface,” explains Kauppinen. “Otherwise it just means more work for the already time-deprived volunteers running the clubs.”

Moving to the big leagues

When it all looked grim, Kauppinen and his team kept working on their platform with the initial idea, or game plan, in mind. What was beginning to look like an insurmountable hurdle turned into an unanticipated new opportunity.

Fast forward to Smash – the Slush side-event for sports technology – in rainy Helsinki in the spring of 2018. Kauppinen was hosting CoPlays’ stand at the event that brought together the biggest sports tech companies from the Nordics and even Europe.

He was about to throw in the towel after two uneventful days but thought he should give it one more shot. Kauppinen went up to the keynote speaker and asked the speaker to give his two cents on their solution.

“He ended up getting really excited about the solution and, after one thing had led to another, we signed a deal with his organisation in the autumn,” Kauppinen tells.

The keynote speaker was Albert Mundet, the head of knowledge and innovation at FC Barcelona’s Barca Innovation Hub. Suddenly, Kauppinen was working with one of the biggest and most renowned football academies in the world.

Today, CoPlays is integrating FC Barcelona’s methodology into its platform. “Of course, with an organisation of this size, everything takes time and there’s a lot to take into consideration,” says Kauppinen.

CoPlays stumbled into an opportunity of a lifetime at the sports technology event Smash in 2018. Image: CoPlays

“What we’re essentially doing is building Barca’s coaching model into our platform – deciding what to measure and which kinds of features to include. You know, the club’s game philosophy.”

2019 is set to be a crucial year for the CoPlays crew.

“We should be up and running when the season starts in July and the first trials are set for March and April, when we’ll get together with the coaches, test out the platform and gather feedback.”

CoPlays and FC Barcelona have agreed that they will sell the finished platform, along with the club’s methodology, in the future to interested parties.

“Barca is one of the pioneers in sports technology,” says Kauppinen. “They’re fully involved with IoT and data-gathering in the whole academy. They have this beautiful idea of technology, where they’re willing to let people around the world use their methodology in coaching.”

From bottom-up to top-down

Although a very important chapter in CoPlays’ young story, FC Barcelona isn’t everything. The platform is currently being used in 20 countries by over 1 750 teams.

“We’ve kind of changed our tactic along the way. Starting from the bottom-up and facing the challenges we did, we’re taking the top-down approach now.”

Kauppinen says his team has never lost sight of why they got into the business: to help small clubs and offer a coaching tool that is beneficial to coaches and players alike.

“Once we get scaled up and build more content into the platform, we’ll be able to help out grass-roots clubs with world-class practice templates and information.”

According to Kauppinen, building world-class coaching content into the platform with Barcelona is the next step for his team. CoPlays is also looking for other professional clubs to collaborate with.

“Remember the coach that arrives to practice 10 minutes before it starts? In the future, we can offer him ready-made drills from the best coaches in the world in a digital tool that is easy to use.”

It turns out all you need to combine technology and sports is passion on both sides, and, well, someone who can merge them into a working tool.

“If you’re not willing to create the future, you’re bound to follow it,” concludes Kauppinen.

By: Samuli Ojala