Bringing a new approach to coaching golf, Skillest partners coaches from around the world with athletes to analyze their games from a digital perspective. Now, the company has moved to swimming and is taking the same approach. Skillest is an app-based teaching tool that pairs coaches and athletes from around the world.
“As an 8-year-old, I was a swimmer, and I still swim a couple times a week. I loved cricket and switched to golf and am now a golf pro. But my obsession with all of these sports has been technique,” founder Baden Schaff told Swimming World. “From a young age, I wondered if I got really good information, could I become really good at something. I always found that fascinating.”
He isn’t alone.
Some of the top swimmers in the world like Kyle Chalmers, Ryan Murphy, Abbey Weitzeil and Brent Hayden have joined Skillest and have already started providing lessons to swimmers of all ages, and through a digital approach.
For Murphy, it started with his position at Cal.
“I met Skillest co-founders in Berkeley a few months ago. Skillest is a portfolio company for The House Fund, where I am an advisor. I really was impressed after seeing a demo of their product that already had significant golf users. They expressed their interest in opening a swimming lessons channel. Immediately, I was excited about the idea,” Murphy said. “I believe this can be the future of lessons because of the convenience for both the athletes and the coaches. I study my own race videos on a phone or computer, and am often filmed using a phone’s camera. In Skillest, I can clearly watch someone’s technique or race strategy and give feedback. I can create an ongoing relationship with some athletes and positively impact their career. It feels personal and impactful.”
It led to a discussion with Weitzeil.
“I was talking to Ryan about apps and he showed me Skillest. I had a Zoom call with Baden and I was in right away. Everything about it was awesome. I see this getting really big. Now-a-days, it is tough to find pool time, and this is a cool idea,” Weitzeil said.
Any swim coach can sign up and use the software to coach their in-person swimmers and swimmers all around the world and swimmers can find coaches there, too, Schaff said.
Previous generations did not have this kind of an opportunity because the technology didn’t exist. Schaff said he was inspired by a golf coach he worked with.
“I have been working at understanding how to get people better. I was working with a golf coach that was working with several of the top U.S. players. He was doing 5-6-7 online sessions where people would clip videos and email him. But I saw this was clearly the future. You can have access to the best coaches in the world,” Schaff said. “It is a labor of love and we started building this team. You are using video and Zoom, constantly able to contact your coaches. COVID made this kind of interaction more normal.”
Hayden has been tinkering with something similar for years and joined up with Skillest.
“I’ve been doing online video analysis for thousands of swimmers over the last few years on my own through my website swimmingsecrets.com as an optional added bonus for my 14 Day Freestyle Mastery course,” Hayden said. “The workflow however was extremely tedious and inefficient. Baden Schaff from Skillest reached out to me to see if I was interested, and after a quick look at the app, the analytics available, and all the features including workflow, I knew this was the future of online swim coaching so it was an easy ‘yes’ for me.”
For Chalmers, it was about the passion of passing on knowledge.
“I love being able to pass on the knowledge that I’ve worked so hard to gain throughout my swimming career,” Chalmers said. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with fantastic coaches and learn from the best swimmers in the world throughout my career, so being able to pass on some of that information to people that haven’t had the same opportunities as I have is very rewarding for me. I also love the idea of helping people improve their swimming and watching the progress and results knowing I played a part in it. I’ve I’m able to inspire some more people to swim and share the same passion for swimming as I have. Then I feel I leave my sport in a better place when I’m finished with it.”
Because of the digital aspect of the lessons, coaches can see different things than they would if they were watching on deck.
“It is a free reign app and it is very individual based and is like a one-on-one lesson. But in a one-on-one lesson in person, you don’t see all of the things that you will see on this videos,” Weitzeil said. “I did my first lesson. It is just a detailed app. Someone can send me videos of themselves swimming, or asking a question. I can respond with videos. It is very interactive. I can slow motion the video as I voice over and I can draw arrows and things on it. They can watch me do all of that and learn a lot about it. I also can send back feedback and videos of myself doing drills.”
Athletes can pay by the lesson or have a subscription – or anything in between.
“Each young swimmer gets to pick their coach, someone they look up to or who they want. I would have loved to ask an Olympian about my stroke when I was younger. Other things like advice on things outside the water,” Weitzeil said. “The fact that people have access to something like this is awesome.”
It is awesome for the coaches, too, who get to supplement their income and endorsements as they train, helping the financial burden of being a professional swimmer. Perhaps this helps some people remain in the sport longer – either as an athlete or a coach.
“No matter where in the world you are, or what level of swimmer you are, you now can have an expert right at your fingertips,” Hayden said.
The Skillest golf app has nearly 35,000 students and the swimming app is starting to pick up steam.
“It is a great opportunity for the sport as well as the professional athletes. Swimming is not one of the sports that offers the greatest financial offerings. Skillest provides us an opportunity to market our skill set and how much we have to offer,” Weitzeil said. “Hopefully this can help us grow our name and help us give back to the community. We get to mentor and give back to the younger generation of swimmers. Hopefully this helps the sport grow.”