Written by Andrew Seale
Toronto is a playground. You’re never more than a few blocks from a soccer pitch, baseball diamond, or basketball court. Out there, on these courts and pitches and diamonds, thousands of Torontonians gather, some by accident others by organization, and for a moment the game is all that matters.
But there are just as many on the sidelines, newcomers looking for a pick-up game to remind them of home, past pros or amateurs just looking to have some fun flexing their muscle memory.
These people are Justin Ford’s people.
“Sports was a big part of my life growing up,” says the co-founder of Javelin Sports, an app for finding local sports leagues and pick-up games. “When I was younger, I didn't have much confidence or many friends.” It was through competition and recreational leagues, Ford built his identity.
Naturally, his relationship with sports changed as he got older. It became harder to find the time, people to play with, and leagues to join. Recognizing this, in his final year at Western University, he and his soon-to-be co-founder Coleman Chan, came up with the concept of Javelin.
Today, the app connects users with hundreds of local leagues and pick-up games. But it’s more than that. Ford calls it a “sports marketplace.”
“There are over 500 sports leagues in Toronto and all of them are looking to grow their player base, yet 75 per cent of people claim they wanna play more sports,” he says. Javelin looks to bridge that divide, creating a yellow pages-type space for leagues to list their information. On the league side, it allows them to track games, team rosters and communicate directly with players. And players can use the platform to chat with teammates, post games, and view their league’s schedule.
“There's a lot of social fear or anxiety around joining a new group or playing with people you've never met before,” says Ford. “By facilitating that social connection, we've been seeing a lot more people get comfortable coming out and trying something.”
Especially for newcomers. Ford says cricket is the most-played sport on the app right now, which, for a city that only has a few cricket pitches, is telling of the international draw the app has. “It's hard to form good long-term relationships in this day and age (so) providing ways for people to actually meet other people is a big part of (the app’s success).”
Since launching in 2017, Javelin Sports has tapped into support from both Communitech in Waterloo and York University’s YSpace community innovation hub. “We were working out of a Starbucks for the first year and a half before we came across YSpace,” says Ford. “So we decided to join and actually have an office space now to build the team – we're now up to five full-time employees and continuing to grow.”
As for those sidelined players, well, they’re coming around. “We're expecting to hit about 5,000 players in mid-November and then 10,000 by the end of the year,” says Ford. “I play in a lot of games, I get to meet them and hear what they think of the app and it's really cool to hear we’re actually helping people and (that) they’re coming out and playing.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)