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Apps help parents organize youth sports

As the holidays end and parents get back into the routine of shuttling kids from school to winter-sports practice, they’re getting help from mobile applications that are ushering local sports leagues into the digital age.

Consider the Colorado Premier Basketball Club in Littleton, Colo., which is run by former National Basketball Association player Keith Van Horn. To gain an edge over competing clubs, it adopted an app called TeamSnap, which users can check into on their smartphones to mark player availability, look up game locations and who’s bringing snacks.

“It’s like day and night; it’s so much more automated,” said Wendy Dominguez, 45, who has a 12-year-old daughter in the Colorado club and serves as a team administrator.

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TeamSnap is one of many technological tools that Dominguez and others are increasingly using to simplify parenting. Along with software to track the whereabouts of teenagers and apps that turn phones into baby monitors, the apps are part of a growing “parent technology” category that will be in the spotlight this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the world’s largest trade show. At the event, a whole section of exhibition space is being devoted to “Family & Technology,” including connected washing machines from Whirlpool Corp.

Parents are “the fastest, largest and most vocal group of technology adoptees” as they look to keep family members connected and to improve entertainment and organization of kids, said the Consumer Electronics Association, which is holding the show. At the heart of the effort is the smartphone, which moms and dads can check into at any time and use to control everything from clothes dryers to sports schedules.

“The smartphone has become the viewfinder for our digital life,” said Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the association. “It changes the way we interact with kids.”

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The trend is particularly noticeable in kids’ sports, where coordinating with coaches and dozens of other parents can become a full-time job. That has given rise to TeamSnap and rival apps including Sport Ngin and RosterBot. While some of the programs have been available since 2008, user growth has soared this year and the startups have drawn more venture-capital funding as parents and players discover the technology.

TeamSnap Inc., which raised $7.5 million led by venture firm Foundry Group last year, now has 7 million individual subscribers and is adding about 250,000 users a month, the startup said. RosterBot Inc., used by more than 10,000 teams, said subscribers increased fivefold between September and November, while Sport Ngin has 500,000 teams. The apps combined have raised more than $50 million from venture capitalists, according to the companies.

While the basic version of each app is free, TeamSnap charges as much as $18 a month for a professional version with enhanced features such as the ability to collect money online. Sport Ngin takes a cut of payment-processing fees when people pay dues to a sports team through the app. TeamSnap and Sport Ngin declined to disclose revenue figures. RosterBot said it doesn’t have revenue.

The apps are smoothing out what had previously been a complicated process, with coaches often unclear who was showing up until it was game time, or with kids arriving at a field only to see practice had been canceled.

Now we “send a blast out, a quick e-mail as opposed to even probably 10 or five years ago when everyone would have turned up to the field and the game was canceled,” Scott Misfeldt, 44, who coaches his second-grade son’s soccer team in North Vancouver, British Columbia, said by phone. Misfeldt started using RosterBot in September to organize the team after hearing a radio ad for the app.

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TeamSnap was founded by entrepreneur Dave DuPont in 2009 after he attended a meeting for his son’s lacrosse team and found notes were being manually recorded and money was collected with paper checks.

The Boulder, Colorado-based startup now has one of the top 50 sports apps by downloads, according to researcher CB Insights in New York. Users are 35 to 50 years old on average, which suggests the app is mostly downloaded by parents, DuPont said. Some live in places as far flung as Syria and Sudan, and the software is used to manage teams from cricket to chess to cycling.

Sport Ngin, based in Minneapolis and founded in 2008, is run by Justin Kaufenberg. The app registers athletes for teams and lets them pay through the software to join their groups.

Parental Solutions

“Parents these days, they are those that are expecting that technology solution,” Carson Kipfer, a co-founder of Sport Ngin said in an interview. “It gives them more opportunity to focus on the kids themselves.”

RosterBot is still nascent, though it’s taken off among hockey players.

“Originally we built this for beer-league guys,” said Ian Bell, a recreational hockey player who founded RosterBot in 2008, referring to adults who follow games with a round of drinks. “Now we’re trickling down to their kids.”

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The companies are building more features for the apps. With TeamSnap, DuPont said users can now send real-time updates about scores and post photos for people who miss the game.

Given the amount of data on children the apps collect, DuPont said TeamSnap has limited who can view the information, including addresses and pictures of kids. When employed by leagues, TeamSnap only lets the minimum number of eyes look at data about kids.

“We are extremely paranoid about that,” DuPont said.

For many parents, the benefits of the apps outweigh the privacy risks. Crystal Dove of Mountain View, Calif., said she once showed up at the wrong field when trying to take her 12-year-old daughter to a soccer game.

She immediately whipped out her phone and used TeamSnap to figure out the correct location. Dove said she now advocates for technology solutions to organizational problems whenever she can.

“I’ve never had someone who didn’t want to use it,” said Dove. “And when I’m on a new team, I’ll insist on it.”

Bruce Reed, 44, in Corte Madera, Calif., who has coached softball and football teams, among others, said the adoption of sports-management apps has made the playing experience better for kids.

Before “it was a lot of chaos, missed connections, a lot of long group e-mail threads, poor accountability,” he said. An app “removes those common downsides of coaching and parenting.”

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