By Jayson Hron
Wrestling was an imprecise sport in my neighborhood; mattresses were dragged into the living room and all the scrappy local kids would arrive ready to perform diving elbow drops off the sofa.
Real wrestling, like the kind displayed during the Rio Olympics, is highly precise and filled with technical point-scoring maneuvers. It can take hours for coaches to evaluate those maneuvers, score matches and track statistics for the team — time better spent teaching and refining athletes’ technique.
Enter MatBoss, an app launched in 2015 that expedites stat-keeping, integrates match video and frees coaches to spend more time, well, coaching. John Peterson, president of MatBoss, estimates that his app saves coaches approximately five minutes per match.
“That doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but after considering that each wrestler on a team competes in three-to-five matches per week, and a typical team has about 35 athletes, suddenly the coach using MatBoss is gaining eight extra hours each week that they didn’t have before,” said Peterson.
“For most coaches, the entire day every Sunday was used for compiling stats and organizing video. With MatBoss, now they have that time to spend on practice plans, prep for an upcoming opponent or even better, spend it with their families.”
Peterson knows of what he speaks. He coached wrestling at Elk River High School for three decades in addition to teaching math and computer science. Not surprisingly, he valued statistics in his coaching, but tracking and melding the data manually with video was painfully inefficient. And even after the work was done, using the output as a coaching tool required a television, a VCR, a notebook and a private film-study session that pulled him away from the rest of his team. There had to be a better way, so Peterson began building software to help.
“I always enjoyed coding, just for fun,” he said. “And later, as the iPad was developing, I realized that a lot of schools have that technology and it would be cool to put something together for wrestling.”
Eventually one of his former star wrestlers, Tyler Hemmesch, returned to Elk River as Peterson’s assistant coach, and the duo brainstormed for a solution.
“The product grew out of 30-plus years of coaching frustration,” said Peterson. “We started playing around with some ideas and came up with MatBoss, which combines video recording, scoring and stats in one product in real time.”
With MatBoss, a coach can record matches on an iPad, score the match using transparent overlays and then package it.
“It becomes one piece that a coach, an athlete or a parent can watch with all the scoring symbols and coach markings automatically linked within the video,” said Peterson. “So, if there’s a takedown or a near-fall, the system knows exactly when it happened. A coach can mark up the video and the athlete can log into their personal account anytime from anywhere and watch it, which gives them a 1-on-1 coaching session without having to be in the same room. It really allows coaches to make video a valuable, efficient part of their coaching regimen.”
In less than two years, MatBoss has grown from self-funded Minneapolis start-up to a staple for many wrestling coaches nationwide. According to Peterson, there are approximately 350 teams using the app across 42 states, including numerous high schools, almost a third of the NCAA Division III colleges, 10 percent of NCAA Division II colleges and a similar percentage of the NCAA Division I schools. Revenue comes from one-year subscriptions that provide unlimited video on an unlimited number of compatible devices.
Peterson’s company has grown to include seven partners, three full-time employees and 15 salespeople nationwide joined this summer to promote MatBoss at the wrestling grassroots.
“At first we didn’t know, with wrestling being a small sport, if it would generate enough revenue to sustain us,” said Peterson. “But we had such a great reaction and we found that it’s working. It’s good for our sport. We’re pretty excited.”
And while Peterson and his partners aim to manage growth carefully, they’re not afraid to explore new horizons.
“We’re going into gymnastics this year and hopefully that garners the same reaction that wrestling has for us,” he said. “We’re trying to find sports that have never had anything like this before. And not just sports. Drama is an option. A theater coach could use this to mark scenes and provide instructions. There’s a lot of possibilities.”