McKINNEY, Texas _ Before the Olympics, the five gold medals and the
world records, Michael Johnson was a skinny teen who almost quit his high school
athletics team because he didn't think he was good enough.
Now he wants to turn youngsters 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, the latest in a
growing number of facilities around the country that tap into athletic dreams of
young athletes. He also will train college gridiron players for the National
Football League draft.
Johnson's center in this affluent Dallas suburb features a 60-meter 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 athletics
events, even Olympic trials.
Johnson charges $979 (euro718) for 18 sessions, which last 90 minutes each.
Participants get a physical assessment, a vision and coordination test and a
pair of running shoes.
One of Johnson's first customers was Haley Pruitt, who made the all-district
softball team this spring as a freshman at McKinney High School but worries
about being too slow. Pruitt credits a few weeks of workouts with increasing her
strength and improving her running technique.
"This will help running the bases, and I'll be able to move quicker in center
field," Pruitt said.
American families spent an estimated $4.1 billion (euro3 billion) last year
on sports instruction and private coaching, according to a sporting goods trade
group. The number is expected to rise as kids and their parents compete harder
for college scholarships and chase pro dreams.
"Somebody with the stature of Michael Johnson helps build the category," said
Mark deGorter, chief operating officer for Velocity Sports Performance, a
Georgia company with 73 locations. "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, New
Jersey, 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 in the unrealistic belief 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?"