Michael Johnson Centre

Ex-Olympian sees business, athletic potential in training center

AP Business Writer

McKINNEY, Texas — Before the Olympics, the five gold medals and the world records, Michael Johnson was a skinny kid whose high school track coach was also the defensive coordinator for the football team.

Workouts were informal. “We practiced, but we never trained,” he recalls.

Johnson, who almost quit track because he didn’t think he was good enough, says he can turn high schoolers into better athletes with equipment and coaching that wasn’t around when he went to Dallas Skyline High.

Last month, he opened the Michael Johnson Performance Center, among the latest in a growing number of facilities around the country that tap into the athletic dreams of young athletes and their parents. He will also train college football players for the NFL draft.

Johnson’s center in this affluent Dallas suburb covers 24,000 square feet and includes a 60-yard indoor sprint track, a synthetic turf field, a basketball court and weight room. Johnson plans a 4,000-seat outdoor stadium that could hold elite track events, even Olympic trials.

Johnson charges $979 for 18 sessions, which last 90 minutes each. Participants get a physical assessment, a pair of Nike shoes and a vision and coordination test developed by Nike.

One of Johnson’s first customers was Haley Pruitt, who was good enough to make the all-district softball team this spring as a freshman at McKinney High School but still worries about being too slow.

Pruitt credits a few weeks of workouts with increasing her strength and said trainers “totally changed my running technique.”

“I can be so much better,” Pruitt said. “This will help running the bases, and I’ll be able to move quicker in centerfield.”

Pruitt attended a conditioning program last year at McKinney High. But she said Johnson’s facility has better equipment, more individual attention and a staff that includes a former assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

There are several other sports facilities in the Dallas area, including three franchises of Velocity Sports Performance, a Georgia-based company with 73 locations. For elite youngsters, there is the grandaddy of the industry, IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., which started as a tennis school and boasts alumni including Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Venus and Serena Williams.

Training young athletes is a growth industry.

American families spent an estimated $4.1 billion last year on sports instruction and private coaching, according to a sporting goods trade group. And the number is expected to rise as kids and their parents compete harder for college scholarships and pro dreams.

Johnson’s entry will help the business, says a competitor.

“Somebody with the stature of Michael Johnson helps build the category,” said Mark deGorter, Velocity’s chief operating officer. “There is plenty of business in Dallas and everywhere else for all of us.”

That’s not necessarily a good thing, according to some experts who have studied the boom — and increasing competitiveness — in youth sports.

Dr. Ronald Kamm, director of Sport Psychiatry Associates in Oakhurst, N.J., said high-level sports programs are good for many kids by fostering enjoyment of sports, improving skills and building confidence. But things can go wrong, he said, if parents push kids to attend out of an unrealistic belief that their child can earn a college scholarship.

“Some kids don’t win scholarships,” Kamm said. “Are the parents going to think it was a waste of money and communicate to the kid that he’s a failure?”

Dr. Richard Ginsburg, co-author of a book about youth sports, “Whose Game Is It, Anyway?” said the proliferation of pricey workout programs and select teams is unhealthy. He said the trend pushes kids to train harder at ever-younger ages, which he said can lead to injuries and burnout.

Ginsburg said the programs can be good if it’s the kid who wants to play, but often the sign-up decision is made by parents eager to give their child every advantage in life.

Johnson’s parents didn’t push him into track — he only tried out for the high school team at a friend’s insistence.

Johnson blossomed at Baylor University, then won gold medals in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He still holds world records at 200 and 400 meters. Since retiring, Johnson has done television commentary and trained college players for the NFL draft — his star pupil was LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001.

Johnson has also trained Chinese runners and expects other top athletes such as Olympic 400-meter champion Jeremy Wariner, who trains in nearby Waco, to drop by his new center. But mostly, he said, he’ll work with kids from 12 to 18, and many of them have no chance to become stars.

“We’re not necessarily looking for the next great athlete. We’re helping them to be better at whatever level they are,” Johnson said. “How fast can you make him? Well, it depends on how bad he is when you get him. I can’t promise anyone we can make them great, but we can make them greater.”

If the Dallas center is a success, Johnson hopes to build others around the country. But that would be getting ahead of the game. The indoor facility can handle 36 athletes at a time, but only 22 had signed up in the first month.

Johnson expects things to pick up in the fall and next summer, when he plans to offer weeklong camps for football and other sports. He declined to say how many customers he needs to stay in business.

“My focus is on building a great brand built on quality, and everything else will take care of itself,” he said. “They’re going to come.”

The line where they young girl said she attended her high school program last year, but now feels this is better made me sick. As a in house strength and conditioning coach, it’s this kid of stuff that we have to deal with every day. I will put my training against any of these facilites, any day. Yet parents and kids always think the grass is greener on the other side, and if it costs more it must be better.

I’d rather have people like Johnson being a consultant for high school coaches. This way we can keep the kids learning with their team. Outsourcing kills team chemistry and school programs.

Yes, Kaz, but for every one coach like you, there’s 99 who are just meat-head football coaches. Don’t let your perspective throw off the entire field. I don’t know 1 qualified strength coach in San Antonio at the high school level outside of the private training facilities in the area.

Then the goal should be to do consultations and educate the high school coaches. I really believe that outsourcing causes a lot of internal problems, (team chemistry, lack of belief in the inside training program, etc.)

I also feel that most people who work on the outside see athletes as dollar signs. They don’t really have a long-term plan for them. If they can’t pay, they can’t play.

I know you do see it the right way, but for every good trainer like you, there is 99 crappy ones also who are trying to get parents money.

I think we both see it from the correct perspective, we just both think the other side is largely unproductive. :smiley: , in general.

Gag. The latest batch of child psychologists telling us to construct an alternate universe for young people where there is no competition and no chance of failure. Of course there is no chance for success either, nor the character growth that comes through dealing with defeat.


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I agree 100%. I wish I was consulting back and forth with a coach like you. The truth of the matter is that I don’t. You’re a bunch of dipshits to me :smiley:

Right back at ya! :stuck_out_tongue: