New gyms focus on extra workouts for potential teenage stars

Thursday, July 10, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Think of it as an SAT prep for the body: Some young athletes are taking private lessons in physical education.

One new fitness chain specializes in workouts for star athletes and would-be stars who hope the extra training will put them ahead of the competition. Other clubs include them as part of their general fitness facilities.

Some skeptics wonder if the extra workouts are worth the money.

The specialist chain is Velocity Sports Performance, headquartered in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Ga. While conventional gyms accept everyone from dedicated athletes to flabby beginners, Velocity focuses on the athletes.

The chain opened its first facility in May 1999 in Marietta, Ga., has one more in Georgia and another in Texas, and expects franchises to open this summer in California, Washington state, North Carolina and New Jersey.

The clientele ranges from professional athletes to children, said Loren Seagrave who, as chief performance officer, is the chain's athletic director and program developer.

"The middle school population seems to be our biggest market right now," Seagrave said. "People want to have their children have the best opportunity."

Prices at Velocity Sports Performance's flagship operations in Georgia range from $5 per athlete for a training session at a youth league site to $1,200 a year for a 12-month program for 12- to 18-year-olds at company facilities. Prices at franchises may vary, officials said.

The next competitive step

These children on the cusp of adolescence stand where America's youth sports shift from everyone-can-play to only-the-best-succeed. The days of training leagues that don't keep score are over. Winning counts and competition for placement on top teams winnows out the field.

Velocity Sports Performance does not teach sport-specific skills -- that's for the coach, Seagrave said. Its trainers work on conditioning.

Although a coach also works on conditioning, Seagrave said experts can do it better.

Like a good coach, however, the trainers start by determining the player's level of fitness and ability, spotting the flaws, developing ways to fix them and measuring the results. The trainers use familiar performance measurements such as the 40-yard dash, standing long jump, vertical jump and side-to-side movements to assess the athletes.

The centers expect to see their trainees two or three times a week, when they warm up and work on movement skills, balance and stability. Besides drills does, the trainer considers the needs of the sport. A pitcher might work on shoulder muscles; a defensive back on backpedaling, changing direction and sprinting, Seagrave said.

It's fine to give an athlete a better opportunity, much as a parent with a gifted piano player might hire a piano teacher, said Fred Engh of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, which promotes training for recreational sports.

But health club programs don't make an athlete a star -- that depends on the individual child, Engh said. "What will weigh out more is desire, intensity, competitive spirit and love of the game, and those are the things that you really can't teach."


On the Net:

Velocity Sports Performance: http://www.velocitysp.com

Michigan Athletic Club: http://www.michiganathleticclub.com

American Youth Soccer Organization: http://www.soccer.org

National Alliance for Youth Sports: http://www.nays.org

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