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Michael Johnson: an Olympic champ turned teacher and motivator

Updated: 2007-07-10 15:18

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.

Michael Johnson 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?"