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Can a Bulgarian App Create the Next Serena Williams?

Mindset Design
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“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them,” says a famous quote by Serena Williams.  In today’s competitive sports landscape, young athletes not only need to excel physically but also possess mental toughness and resilience. Recognizing the importance of mental training for young athletes, Karina Karagaeva and Radinela Dimitrakova founded Mindset Design, an app that fosters mental toughness in athletes in individual sports, with a primary segment – the junior tennis players. 

Karina and Radinela share a common vision of empowering young athletes to realize their full potential and become mentally resilient. The founders bring a nice blend of expertise to the table – Karina’s background in business development spans major tech companies, such as Apple, while Radinela has firsthand experience working with top tennis players including the former number one tennis player in the world Daniil Medvedev and Ons Jabeur. Operating in a $22B market, the Mindset Design team strives to become a digital partner for hundreds of junior athletes around the globe.

“We believe that mindset is not something set in stone but rather something changeable and capable of being designed. Our product could help many athlete-children in realizing their full potential and being mentally resilient and healthy. We are a startup with this strong cause ingrained in our DNA,” Karina tells me.

The startup, which is currently in a pre-revenue phase working with beta users, is currently raising a €550K round to speed up its product development and develop its sales channels in the Western European markets with a focus on France, Spain, and the UK. The team has already secured a commitment of €375K from local and international investors, while the rest €175K it is raising through a SeedBlink campaign. The first users of Mindset Design are junior tennis players, but the app plans to expand its solution to athletes in padel, table tennis, pickleball, badminton, swimming, winter sports

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Read on to find out whether technology can help create the next Serena Williams. 

What locks the champion potential of young athletes?

Despite the wealth of knowledge available on mental toughness, young athletes often struggle to find practical solutions tailored to their specific game-related challenges. With most sports clubs lacking designated mental coaches or psychologists, the responsibility falls on sports coaches who may not feel confident enough to provide adequate mental guidance. 

Even when mental coaches are available, their expertise may be more suited to working with adults, leaving a gap in healthy mental training approaches for young athletes. As a result, many talented young athletes lack mental toughness, leading to mediocre results and unfulfilled dreams.

“It is easy to forget that mindset shapes many of the positive achievements one can attain, as well as the negatives. We believe that these outcomes occur by presumption, but in reality, they are designed at a subconscious level. It is precisely these limitations that we aim to eliminate with Mindset Design. Through my experience working with Daniil Medvedev and Ons Jabeur, I came to understand the true meaning of a strong mindset and how it can transform an athlete from being good to being extraordinary and a champion,” Radinela points out. 

Mindset Design offers a comprehensive solution that benefits coaches, players, and parents alike. The app acts as a portable mental coach, delivering intuitive and personalized mental skills training exercises that seamlessly fit into the training routines of individual sports. With a rich content library and step-by-step guidance for coaches, the app ensures maximum value and competency development for players. 

The SaaS startup operates in the sports tech market which is estimated at $20B and has been growing 15% YoY for the last 3 years. According to the founders, only 10% of the European sports clubs and academies for youngsters have a designated mental coach or a psychologist. In the other 90% of the clubs, sports coaches try to perform some sort of mental guidance but often skip it. 

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The structured program of Mindset Design

“Tennis coaching dynamics involve having an annual schedule with competitive periods when young athletes participate in tournaments and with training periods when they actively train. Different training methods are employed during these two periods. Due to the nature of their work, most tennis coaches need to follow specific procedures,” Radinela explains. 

Understanding the dynamic nature of tennis coaching, the founders recognize the importance of following specific procedures during competitive and training periods.

By delicately adapting to the coaches’ training processes and customizing the program to individual needs, Mindset Design provides a comprehensive framework for developing mental toughness. The app covers the full spectrum of mental skills required to become a champion, categorizing them into fundamental, advanced, and mastery skills. 

This approach allows users to progress from the core skills outward, ensuring a structured and progressive training journey. As users engage with the app and make progress, the content becomes increasingly personalized, adapting to their needs and preferences over time.

The components of mental toughness

Radinela emphasizes that mental toughness is not an abstract concept but consists of specific components. Mindset Design encompasses these components within modules, including concentration, motivation, focus, emotion management, and more. By actively training these components in a focused manner, following a specific procedure and progression, young athletes can achieve the desired effect of sports mental toughness.

Mindset Design stands out by combining physical training with mental training, eliminating the need for coaches to make additional efforts to incorporate mental exercises into regular training sessions. By integrating mental skills with physical routines, the app enhances engagement, saves time in preparation, and ensures a holistic training approach. Additionally, the app offers a 3D model of a tennis court, providing a game-like exploration of exercises for coaches and young athletes.

Building upon a strong foundation

Tennis comprises four key elements: mental, physical, technique, and tactic, with the mental aspect often receiving less attention. Recognizing that the mental aspect of tennis is often the least developed, the founders aim to bridge this gap by integrating mental training into the existing routines. 

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The coaching philosophy at Mindset Design is rooted in building upon the existing foundation rather than fixing something that is already broken. 

 “Traditionally, it has been challenging to objectively determine the development of mental skills. However, we believe that certain parameters can measure these skills. That is why we developed a data-driven approach that enables athletes to input their performance data during tournaments. Tennis, with its high-pressure and stressful situations, serves as an ideal environment for honing mental toughness,” Karina concludes.

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Elena is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive, an online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. She is keen on sharing the innovation stories that shape the regional ecosystem and has a great interest in fintech, IoT, and biotech startups. Elena is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Political Science at the American University in Bulgaria.