The meetings were maddening.
Even in the age of instant messaging, the cloud and shared documents, youth hockey administrators and coaches from throughout the Northeast were still assembling, board-room style, each preseason to fill out their schedules.
Dan Fontas, president, general manager and director of hockey operations for New England Stars Hockey, has been in charge of scheduling youth games for more than a decade. He uses a grab bag of words to describe the process, none of them complimentary. A headache, tedious, painful – don’t get Fontas started.
“It was brutal,” he said.
Marc Friedfertig and his wife, Jill, were busy raising three boys playing in various New Jersey-based hockey programs when Jill volunteered as a team manager. She was in charge of scheduling, and soon enough she was knee-deep in what Marc saw as a wholly inefficient process.
“My wife would walk into my office and say, ‘Should we play this team one-and-a-half hours away or play this local team for the fifth time.’ I thought, ‘Nobody wants to do either, there has to be a better choice.’ ”
One scheduling “solution,” Friedfertig said, was sending emails to “37 other managers between here and Long Island.” Not a great option.
And, of course, there were the preseason scheduling meetings. He has seen those first hand. He was not impressed.
“Everybody has their own method,” Friedfertig said. “Spreadsheet, notepad . . . they spend all weekend (meeting). When they do it, there are people with pencils and paper, and an eraser.”
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Scheduling is a breeze these days for Fontas. Those long drives for daylong meetings are fast-fading memories. Sending emails upon emails to schedule a single game? That’s a thing of the past, too, thanks to Friedfertig’s YouthHockey.com scheduling software.
A former American Stock Exchange options trader, Friedfertig co-founded Broadway Trading (now part of Light Speed Trading) in 1995. He is the author of “Electronic Day Trader” and “Electronic Day Trader Secrets.” Friedfertig’s experience making high volumes of transactions electronically combined with his passion for hockey (he played the high school and college club levels) made him a natural to found a company devoted to helping hundreds of organizations schedule thousands of games fast and efficiently.
YouthHockey.com’s website lists what it describes as two critical innovations, one of which is a central database that shows every team’s schedule. The other is technology that shows which teams are available for a game on any given day.
Fontas said the technology – it’s free to use the online software -- has allowed him to avoid many of the unwanted matchups his teams’ have had in the past.
“Before, you could be playing in Cape Cod one night, and the next day you are up playing in Biddeford, Maine,” he said. “If you are available by cell phone, laptop, desktop -- whatever your source of technology is, you have the ability to hit accept in 10 seconds to get a a game on your schedule. Or send a proposal.”
Friedfertig said the benefits of using YouthHockey.com go beyond eliminating the need for meetings and phone calls. He said the software is able to significantly reduce the number of scheduling mistakes. In many cases, a single game requires four separate calendars to be updated (the rink calendar, the league calendar and the calendars for both teams).
“It’s only a matter of time before an update doesn’t get made, or people mix up 7s and 1s or AMs and PMs,” he said. “That’s when three teams show up when only two are supposed to be there.”
While using most of the program's features requires an account, the Round Robin Scheduling tool requires only the number of teams and either the number of games each team should play or how many times each team should play each other. Once those fields are filled in, the algorithm automatically creates balanced schedules.
Friedfertig said YouthHockey.com has more than 8,000 users, a number that has steadily been on the rise. He said he hopes to keep the software’s scheduling features free forever but perhaps offer premium services at some point.
“The more people who use it, the more potential there is to schedule games, and that’s why I built it,” Friedfertig said. “I want as many people to use it as possible."
YouthHockey.com connects to Sport Ngin through its application programming interface (API), enabling schedules to be created with mapping codes for an easy upload using Sport Ngin's Schedule Upload Tool.
For scheduling purposes, each Sport Ngin team is assigned a mapping code. Through its API connection with Sport Ngin, YouthHockey.com is able to determine the mapping code for each team before exporting the file. See the screenshot below to see how it works.
Once the schedules have been created and the mapping codes have been updated in YouthHockey.com, events can be downloaded into a CVS file. That file can then be uploaded into a site by using Sport Ngin's Schedule Upload Tool.
Watch the video below to see how to load schedules into Sport Ngin using the import tool.
Find out more about YouthHockey.com's central database and Find-A-Game Technology: http://youthhockey.com/