How Two Former College Teammates Grew a Youth Basketball Empire
It was 2009 when Brendan Winters and Logan Kosmalski—physically and mentally drained from grueling professional basketball careers overseas—decided to casually launch a one-week youth basketball summer camp in Charlotte.
Former Davidson teammates, Brendan and Logan had international stints rooted in talent, friendship, and a bit of serendipity. Logan first played in France after sending the team film in which he scored 25 points against Duke. Brendan also had one of his more stellar performances in that game, scoring 24, and the same French team recruited him to play a year later. After a season together in France, Logan moved on to play in Poland while Brendan went on to Germany. The two were soon reunited after Brendan touted Logan to his German coaches. Again they were teammates but more importantly, budding business partners.
Two years after they launched the summer camp and grew it from one week to four weeks, Logan shared an epiphany with Brendan: “Let’s see how this summer goes and if all goes well maybe we’ll just retire and start doing this full-time. ”
The 2011 summer was a success, they retired from professional basketball, and Pro Skills Basketball was officially born. Offering club teams, classes and camps of the highest quality, Pro Skills has grown exponentially since its inception, with locations in 12 U.S. cities and a strong presence in China and England. Scaling Pro Skills has been a wildly successful journey for Brendan and Logan. Here Brendan shares Pro Skills most critical secrets for success and the lessons learned along the way.
Have a clear message.
“Skills for basketball. Skills for life. Skills for success.”
Pro Skills Basketball’s motto is clear, simple, and easy to apply across the company’s offerings. While Pro Skills is proud of the dozens of kids who have gone on to play collegiately, the overwhelming majority are not destined to be the next Steph Curry. “Where we think we can make the most impact is teaching the kids life lessons through youth basketball, like hard work and overcoming obstacles, not in being cutthroat with an emphasis only on winning,” Brendan says. Pro Skills reinforces this in all of their marketing materials and makes sure prospective customers understand and embrace this value system. With so many studies out about the positive correlation between playing youth sports and behavior, Pro Skills’ message truly resonates with parents.
Set expectations early.
Immediate transparency has been crucial to the success of Pro Skills. When new families join, Pro Skills coaches and directors make the program’s philosophy clear. “As long as you do that, everyone should be pretty much on the same page, and if they don’t like what they hear, they can leave early,” Brendan says. Pro Skills is simply attempting to eliminate pitfalls down the road.
Understand customer needs and be ready to pivot.
When Brendan and Logan began to make Pro Skills Basketball a year-round venture, they thought the 200-person email list amassed from camp families in Charlotte would translate into enough regular after-school attendees to get the business off the ground. “We quickly found out that the same kids who attend camp aren’t the same who are coming to 7 p.m. Wednesday night skills training,” Brendan says, noting that the after school regulars are typically eyeing the club level, while the camp kids are more apt to be recreation players.
The first six months were a bit rocky but they soon grew to about 20 sixth-grade boys coming in twice a week, drawn to both the caliber and credibility of the program. Soon parents begged them to start club level teams. Though this was never part of the plan—the business model was rooted in camps and classes—the demand for AAU teams was undeniable. Not only did Pro Skills add the club element, they did so in a highly professional manner that eliminated issues parents had complained about from other club teams.
Pivoting can happen at any stage. Pro Skills Basketball derived its name from the fact that Brendan and Logan and a bevy of the company’s coaches played professionally. When the company began, that differentiator was a crucial component of Pro Skills’ branding. But as it evolved, Brendan and Logan swiftly realized having professional basketball on the resume does not automatically translate into a suitable youth coach. “Now we have coaches in our program who never played professionally and are awesome.”
As Brendan and Logan delved deeper into the youth sports landscape, they found that many parents were fed up with the loosely run nature of so many other club teams. They vowed to make Pro Skills a leader in this department. “We are more focused on doing everything professional. Getting back to people. Good customer service. Being on time. Paying our coaches promptly. We try to bring some sort of professionalism to the youth sports world because I think that’s what is lacking,” Brendan says.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Scaling a business typically involves adding more employees, a terrifying process for most entrepreneurs. Brendan preaches utilizing people you know and their skill sets as much as humanly possible. Brendan and Logan struck gold in this department. Pro Skills’ SEO expert was a teammate at Davidson. Their Denver director grew up with Brendan and also played pro ball overseas. Their Raleigh director was an opponent when Brendan and Logan played in France. Perhaps most notably, Brendan’s wife Jennifer, a marketing and social media guru with a decade of experience, recently joined Pro Skills in an official capacity.
“Knowing the right people is more valuable than knowing the right things. The world works off relationships,” Brendan says.
When there are not obvious connections, the vetting process is crucial, especially since coaches and directors interface with kids. The company spends a lot of money on background checks, personality tests, and once hired, training programs. “We want to make sure people’s values match up with ours,” Brendan says.
Think small before you think big
If Brendan could advise his 2009 self he’d say, “All the hard work will eventually pay off. You may not see it in a week or even a year but it will pay off.” Brendan and Logan have made sure to keep their focus on the present. “When we started our first outfit in Lake Norman, North Carolina (Davidson’s home) we solely focused on being the best basketball organization in Lake Norman,” Brendan says.
To this day Brendan encourages directors not to sweat the beginning. “Focusing on the process rather than the outcome has helped us grow.”