speedskills hockey academy

Back to the basics: How SpeedSkills Hockey overcame growing pains and regained 5-10 hours per week with Upper Hand

SpeedSkills Hockey is a skating and skill development academy based in Ithaca, New York. In 2020, SpeedSkills implemented Upper Hand as a solution to streamline their growing admin tasks. Since then, they have regained 5-10 hours per week that they've reinvested into new programs and better curriculum to enhance their athletes' development.

speedskills hockey training

The Challenge

As SpeedSkills grew, so did the time Mike Radja was spending on admin tasks - taking away from his time on the ice. He wanted a way to seamlessly collect waivers and keep track of client information.

The Solution

SpeedSkills Hockey found Upper Hand, and began using the platform as an all-in-one tool to collect waivers, manage client credits, and stay on top of busy schedules in real-time.

The Result

SpeedSkills Hockey saves an average of 5-10 hours per week using Upper Hand. This has allowed their business to explore additional programming and training opportunities for its athletes.

SpeedSkills Hockey regains time to focus on the fundamentals

Sports, like business ownership, are all about the fundamentals. Having the right tools in your toolbox will help you accelerate growth and reach new levels of success, and no one understands this better than Mike Radja, founder and owner of SpeedSkills Hockey.

SpeedSkills Hockey is a hockey skating and skill development academy located in Ithaca, New York. Owner Mike Radja leverages his experiences as a professional hockey player to develop the skills of young hockey athletes. This starts with building confidence in your skating abilities.

“Our focus is working with athletes and their families to help them have more positive experiences through hockey,” said Radja. “I’m all about developing kids and helping them get better. If you can’t skate, you’re going to have a really hard time progressing through the sport. The game is a lot more fun the better you get at it, and the ability to skate well is a really big part of that.”

After a storied professional hockey playing career, Radja was ready to start a new chapter, leading him to found SpeedSkills Hockey in 2018.

“Hockey has been a huge part of my life. I started skating when I was 3 and played hockey for nearly 30 years. I always knew I wanted to stay involved with the sport after my playing career. I first started coaching private lessons with one kid. That soon grew into small groups. In the spring of 2018, I started incorporating clinics and really started growing SpeedSkills Hockey.”

"I would say Upper Hand saves me anywhere from 5 to 10 hours every week. It may not seem like a lot, but for the limited time I do have, it's huge."

As they grew, managing the administrative work became inefficient

SpeedSkills Hockey was rapidly gaining popularity with athletes from the youth through professional level. Athletes from all over Central New York were coming to train with and learn from Radja. But, Radja soon felt the energy spent on managing the administrative side of his business was outweighing his time spent training his athletes.

When Radja first started coaching, he relied on basic communication tools to schedule his lessons. His athletes would email or text to organize everything. He would then keep track of his schedule in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

Once he began hosting clinics, Radja built an e-commerce website and started selling his programs as products in a store. When someone purchased one of these “products” from his store front, Radja would update his Excel file, and chase them down for waivers.

“It was a lot of different steps that I was doing myself that took a lot of time. A lot of due diligence was needed there as well.”

As his programming continued to grow, so did the time he was spending inside spreadsheets. While taking a personalized communication approach with his athletes has always been of the utmost importance, Radja found that this effort was interfering with his time on the ice.

“Every free minute I had was spent making changes and managing spreadsheets. I knew it was time to start really focusing on what I’m doing on the ice and what else I can potentially provide to my athletes that was missing.”

"Since implementing Upper Hand, I have added a couple extra sessions to existing programs and I have also added two brand new programs, one of which is going to be a significant part of my business. It really comes down to how simple it is to get programs into the system and push them live for people to purchase. And, once everything is in the system, the management of everything is the real time saver."

SpeedSkills searches for a solution and turns to Upper Hand

Like almost every business in March of 2020, SpeedSkills Hockey was affected by the closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Radja ultimately made the tough decision to cancel an upcoming program. But, this decision did not come without its challenges.

“This program was going to be the largest program I’ve hosted to date. When I cancelled it, I had to restructure things, and handle all of the logistics that came with that, including managing refunds or credits for all of those athletes. I couldn’t have done it myself.”

Radja enlisted the help of his sister, Tammy, to help manage all of these tasks and spreadsheets. Knowing that there had to be a better way to organize the business, they began exploring software solutions and found Upper Hand.

“We had a call with Upper Hand and knew this was going to solve everything. The business was doing well, but there was a lot that we weren’t ready to handle correctly.”

At first, Upper Hand seemed to be the solution to a rather simple problem: collecting waivers and organizing registrations. But, Radja found Upper Hand to be an all-in-one tool to add to his toolbox — one that would allow him to return to the fundamentals and refocus on his mission at SpeedSkills Hockey.

“I would say Upper Hand saves me anywhere from five to ten hours every week. It may not seem like much, but for the limited time I do have, it’s huge.”

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"I use it for... pretty much everything. Everything I do runs through Upper Hand... and it's been honestly the single best thing we've done because changes are easy to make, all of your customer information is managed, I know who has what credits... it's just been unbelievable to be honest."

Mike Radja
Owner, SpeedSkills Hockey

Mike regains 5-10 hours of ice time per week

Business owners, trainers and athletes alike all understand the importance of time management. Upper Hand has helped Radja regain control of his time to devote to his mission — developing the skating skills of his athletes.

“Upper Hand has allowed me to spend more time creatively thinking. By being able to spend more time on my program design, I have really tightened up what I do on the ice. This allows me to provide a better, more thought-out skate or camp rather than just throwing some drills together.”

In years past, Radja devoted all of his free time to tedious administrative tasks, including tracking down waivers for all of his athletes and making changes as people sign up or cancel for clinics or camps. With Upper Hand, these aspects are seamlessly integrated into the registration process.

“Tracking down waivers was by far the worst part. To be able to plug that in right upfront when they go through the process of registering with Upper Hand has been a huge time saver.”

The extra 5 to 10 hours Radja saves each week translates to upwards of 250-500 hours every year. With that time, Radja has been able to grow his business in more ways than one. Not only is he able to expand his current offerings, but he is also able to explore other revenue driving opportunities.

“Since implementing Upper Hand, I have added a couple extra sessions to existing programs and I have also added two brand new programs, one of which is going to be a significant part of my business. It really comes down to how simple it is to get programs into the system and push them live for people to purchase. And, once everything is in the system, the management of everything is the real time saver.”

“I’ll have someone that might want to pay via check, and with the mobile app, I’m able to add them to a clinic right there. Also, a lot of my offerings tend to fill up, so to be able to make last minute changes in real time without having to make a note or send an email makes a big difference.”

Mobile app helps Mike manage SpeedSkills on the go

The ability to move and remain agile also led SpeedSkills Hockey to Upper Hand. Using Upper Hand’s mobile app and quick schedule capabilities, Radja is able to use his time more efficiently, eliminating the back and forth communications.

“The mobile app was the cherry on top. With my sister being remote in another state, and me never really at my computer, the mobile app was a big selling point. It’s the only way that we would really be able to stay on top of things and get things done.”

Not only does the mobile app help facilitate coordination between Radja and his sister, but it also provides an easy way to make last minute registration changes.

“I’ll have someone that might want to pay via check, and with the mobile app, I’m able to add them to a clinic right there. Also, a lot of my offerings tend to fill up, so to be able to make last minute changes in real time without having to make a note or send an email makes a big difference.”

Making these last minute changes has helped Radja maximize opportunity for as many athletes as possible, while consequently driving more revenue to his business.

“The biggest thing I use the reports for is to look at our revenue and what programs that revenue is coming from. It helps me to figure out what programs are really working, what programs we should continue, and which ones we need to tweak or eliminate.”

Seamless registration and client support means less communication with parents

While Radja likes talking to his athletes and their parents, the “business talk” was awkward, time consuming and avoidable. With Upper Hand, he has eliminated the need for back and forth communications regarding his camps and clinics.

“The registration process should almost run itself. If no one has to contact me or anyone from my team to talk about any of that process, then it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Rarely will a parent reach out to me regarding the Upper Hand software. And, if they do contact support, it gets handled for them.”

Related: How Upper Hand Treats Every Customer like a Legend

Looking towards the future

Having a better understanding of his revenue streams has empowered Radja to make business decisions such as where to add clinics or what type of offerings are most sought after. It’s also allowed him to think about what’s next for SpeedSkills Hockey. Without Upper Hand, Radja would not have easy access to these insights to be able to monitor over time.

“The biggest thing I use the reports for is to look at our revenue and what programs that revenue is coming from. It helps me to figure out what programs are really working, what programs we should continue, and which ones we need to tweak or eliminate.”

In the future, Radja has his eye on extending the SpeedSkills Hockey brand to continue to create opportunities for athletes in central New York.

“I’m always looking to grow, and I’m definitely starting to wrap my head around the digital space and some digital training. I added some tournament teams this past spring, which was a really big step for us, so I want to keep growing there, and keep growing a staff.”

As he looks to the future, Radja feels confident that SpeedSkills Hockey will continue to grow alongside Upper Hand.

Hear Mike's thoughts on using Upper Hand:

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