Feature Article - March 2006
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Command Performance

Sports performance training offers fitness facilities some room for improvement

By Margaret Ahrweiler

"Every person has the potential to achieve their own level of greatness," Durkin explains.

"A lot of people aren't born with athletic skill, but athletic skill is a very small part of the pyramid," says Kelley, who is developing sports performance programs in three Gold's Gyms in the Long Island area, bringing a 10,000-square-foot Parisi Speed School to the facilities.

Feeding the frenzy?

Is this taking the oft-criticized youth sports machine to a whole new level of competition, with those who can afford performance training leaving behind those who can't?

Not really, says David Walmsley, CEO of Velocity Sports Performance in Alpharetta, Ga.

"Our market isn't just kids who are A-level athletes who are going on to college scholarships," he says. "It's all kids who participate in sports, from first-stringers to third-stringers."

Many facilities tout their work with professional athletes, including those from the National Football League, but youth sports, is their "bread and butter," Durkin notes.

While training NFL athletes can give a facility a cachet of glamour, he says that working with young athletes who are not necessarily gifted with natural talent can be most rewarding for everyone involved.

"With a pro athlete I can refine their technique, get specific and in-depth about one or two things, but with a young athlete it's much more comprehensive," he says.

In youth sports, Durkin says, the fastest kids are often the best athletes and the ones who play the most, but frequently, the kids who lag were never taught how to run. Working with those kids gives trainers the greatest satisfaction because the results can be so huge, he adds.

In fact, performance training offers less-than-stellar youth athletes a chance to even the playing field, explains Tony Soika, owner of Sports Performance Advancement in Appleton, Wis. He frequently sees young athletes whose only goal is to make their varsity team, not necessarily as a starter. It's these kids who benefit most, he says: the ones whose drive may outweigh their abilities before they begin performance training.

"We're working on quality-of-life issues here," Walmsley says. The kids who gain the biggest boost through performance training often see benefits in other parts of their lives as their self-confidence and self-image grows. (Walmsley tells of one parent conveying with wonder that his son's handwriting even improved.) "We're not trying to create hypercompetitive athletic machines," he says.

In fact, Velocity and facilities like it spend a great deal of time trying to undo the damage wrought by that environment. Many gyms see boys coming in with arm injuries and other problems from overtraining as pitchers. Coaches work to develop the rest of their muscles to better support the mechanics needed for pitching.

With an emphasis on just one sport earlier in life, kids aren't getting the cross-training they once received by playing many different sports. Clete McLeod, assistant sports performance director at the Warrenville Velocity, recalls that as a child, he played baseball and basketball, among others, which made him a better football player.

McLeod also acknowledged that without the explosion of competitive youth sports, Velocity "probably wouldn't be here," but adds that sports performance facilities are in a position to do greater good, to teach children how their bodies work in an age where 49 of 50 states don't require daily physical education in schools.

"Before we're sports performance coaches we're physical educators," he says.