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Training Camp

<b><I>More adults are joining high school and college athletes at sports-specific training facilities. </b></I>

Click on the hockey acceleration video at the Chelsea Piers BlueStreak Sports Training Web site, and prepare for a wild ride. After actor Liam Neeson asks, “Are you ready to begin?” the video shows a series of quick highlights of young hockey players in intense training, doing drills on a giant skating treadmill. It looks like a Russian hockey training video, but these athletes are definitely all American.

Nestled on the west side of Manhattan in New York City — with the Statue of Liberty in the distance — Chelsea Piers BlueStreak, a sports-specific training facility, opened on May 7. Director Jarrod Jordan says that business for the month of May exceeded Chelsea Piers' original projection by 75 percent.

It's that type of response that has made sports-specific training popular and profitable at clubs and organizations around the country. Although sports-specific training at most places is aimed at high school and college athletes, a growing number of fitness facilities are working with adults, too. Sports-specific training clients often are former high school and college athletes who play in adult leagues for sports such as hockey, basketball or soccer. Some simply want to improve their golf game.

“You would think the people signing up for the class are high-end athletes, so it was an intimidation for most people,” says Tony Swain, the director of fitness at East Bank Club in Chicago. However, he has found that the majority of adult clients are at a beginner or intermediate skill level, and they are training to play a sport recreationally.

“The adults love this type of training,” says Mike Linn, the vice president of products and programming for Velocity Sports Performance, a Roswell, GA-based company that has almost 80 training centers across the country. “Most successful adults out there are Type A personalities. They're very highly competitive people, but they also like the social atmosphere of being in a group. It's certainly a different mindset. They're going to have to want to get better to be able to go through a class like this.”

Some sports-specific training athletes are not training for any sport at all. Tina Denham is not only the office manager at Sports Specific Training (SST) in Rocklin, CA, but she's also a client. When Denham's 13- and 11-year-old daughters started training at SST, Steve Kenyon, one of SST's owners, encouraged her to try it as well. Kenyon joked that he was going to make her “40-something butt an 18-year-old butt again.”

“And sure enough, he did,” says Denham, who has been training for the last seven months. “I have a lot more energy throughout the day. I used to have a burning back pain. I don't have that anymore. I have a 3-year-old grandson that I can keep up with quite nicely now.”

Denham works out in the mornings with other mothers and career women at the club. They perform the same workout as the high school athletes who train at the facility after school.

“We're just not trying to keep up with the 16-year-old studs — even though we can,” she says.

Women also form a bond through sports-specific training at the Chico Sports Club in Chico, CA. The club offered a 16-week winter running group for women last winter. Most of the women had never taken part in organized sports before, says Chico Sports Club senior staff member Preben Nielsen.

“We kind of have this joke that the closest they ever came to doing sports was cheerleading in high school,” Nielsen says. “Over the years, some people are really good, and some people just want to do it because they want to train with other women.”

Revenue Sharing

Regardless of their reasons for participating in sports-specific training, the middle- to upper-class adults who make up the majority of clients are willing to pay to improve their skills.

The Chico Sports Club charges between $80 and $100 for the winter running group, between $140 and $150 for a 16-week triathlon group in the spring, and between $100 and $110 for a summer/fall triathlon group. Nielsen says the cost of operating the program is about 10 percent to 15 percent of revenue, and the club gets about 35 percent to 40 percent of the revenue as non-dues profit.

“It makes good money, it doesn't cost a whole lot to put it on, and I keep the costs down,” Nielsen says.

For each of the three main sports that Chelsea Piers BlueStreak offers — hockey, basketball and soccer — the charge for 20 two-hour sessions is $1,200. The sessions are scheduled over six to eight weeks. For acceleration programs geared for football players and track and field athletes, the charge is $1,000 over the same time span. Chelsea Piers BlueStreak offers two-day-a-week programs for adults compared to three days a week for kids. Currently, the ratio of adults to kids is 50/50, but Jordan thinks more kids than adults will go there for summer training as the school sports seasons near.

At East Bank Club, a 450,000-square-foot facility with more than 10,000 members, sports-specific training brings in less than 1 percent of the club's revenue, Swain says. But that doesn't mean sports-specific training, which was introduced at East Bank Club with triathlon performance training about two years ago, is not successful there. The 8- to 10-week triathlon program costs East Bank Club members $450, which equates to $15 a class for 30 classes over a two-month period. Offering sports-specific training at East Bank allows members to get the benefits of the program at their club without paying extra at a specialized training clinic, Swain says.

“It's really a nice perk for the members,” Swain says. “They don't have to pay a huge, additional amount on top of their membership. It's just another affordable service that we can provide.”

Phil Pfeifer was formerly the director of fitness at East Bank Club. Now he's the director of fitness and performance for Athletico Rehabilitation, Fitness and Performance in Oak Brook, IL. Although Athletico is primarily a sports medicine company, it has six health club facilities and a golf performance center.

About 5 percent of Athletico's revenue comes from sports-specific training, making it more of a service than a profit center, Pfeifer says. The majority of the company's revenue comes from serving rehabilitation patients, but some rehab patients buy sports-specific training packages to improve their confidence before they get back on the field, Pfeifer says.

“A lot of times those second injuries are caused by that little bit in the back of your mind, letting you think that you're not fully recuperated,” he says.

About one-third of the revenue at The Fitness Edge in Dublin, OH, comes from sports-specific training, with the rest coming from personal training, says owner Brian Schiff. The amount of revenue generated by The Fitness Edge depends on the season. Soccer, which is big in central Ohio, takes place in the fall and spring, so revenue increases during the summer and winter, Schiff says.

SST's revenue and customers have doubled in the last year, which is one of the reasons the club is moving from its 1,800-square-foot facility to a sports complex that includes two soccer fields and two basketball courts, says co-owner Dan Bunz.

Expense Forms

The flip side of the revenue the programs bring in is the expenses incurred by the programs. Chelsea Piers invested$1.5 million into BlueStreak, which also has locations in Stamford, CT, and Hauppauge, NY. Chelsea Piers BlueStreak, a two-level, 9,000-square-foot facility in what formerly was a group of doctor's offices, is budgeted over a five-year plan, Jordan says. Some of its costs include a skating treadmill and two super treadmills that can go up to 30 miles an hour with a 40-degree incline. Each of those have price tags of $100,000 or more.

Staff costs also are part of the expense. The BlueStreak hockey directors must earn three levels of certification from the skating treadmill manufacturer alone, which is why personal trainers' salaries and certification fees make up the facility's largest expenses, Jordan says.

Swain agrees that the majority of the expense at East Bank Club's program comes from payroll for trainers, most of whom were already on staff when the program started.

There are about six trainers on staff at The Fitness Edge, a 6,000-square-foot facility that opened April 16. Plus, the center has a $7,000 functional training machine that Schiff says is one-of-a-kind in his area.

Beyond the dollar cost for the program, facility owners face a “cost” related to the space required for the sports-specific programs, especially if that space goes unused for a large part of the day. The peak period for sports-specific training is usually between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., when most high school and college students are out of school. The key is how to handle the non-peak hours.

That's where the adult clientele comes in. At Velocity Sports Performance, which has been in business for four years, franchise owners are trained to bring in 30 percent of revenue from the adult market, Linn says, often marketing to adults to use the facility in non-peak hours. Male clients come to Velocity Sports Performance before work, and most female clients come after they drop off their kids at school, Linn says.

Specific Hires

At the East Bank Club, personal trainers are encouraged to work with adults who are training for specific sports. They take on these clients by either working a little longer in their day or incorporating sports-specific training into their normal schedule.

“It allows the trainers to dust off their hobbies or interests and regenerate their passion, rather than the daily rut of working with the same people. In the long run, it will generate more money for the department,” Swain says.

Personal trainers can also make more money in a sports-specific training session with six people than in a regular session with one person. A group session also reduces the cost to the client.

“It's win-win-win across the board,” Swain says.

Velocity Sports Performance prides itself on hiring performance coaches rather than personal trainers. Performance coaches have to be Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

It takes about 40 hours to get certification for an SST facility, says Bunz. The SST franchise has other facilities under different names in Sacramento, CA; Reno, NV; and Macon, GA; with one set to open soon in Canada.

The Club@800 Squash and Fitness in Rye Brook, NY, has specific “swing coaches” for baseball, golf and squash players.

“Baseball is a sport with many different demands on the body,” says Brian Jaccoma, director of fitness at The Club@800 Squash and Fitness. “Unlike some sports where endurance, power, leaping ability or explosive speed is the most important component, baseball involves a few motions all with different demands on the body. The baseball swing, for example, involves the core, hips, legs, forearms, wrists, triceps, rear and lateral deltoids, and a few other smaller muscles.”

Get the Ball Rolling

When it first opened about six years ago, SST did not do a lot of advertising and relied on word of mouth, much like Schiff does at The Fitness Edge. Sometimes it takes a little longer for a sports-specific training program to get going.

After some word-of-mouth recruitment, the East Bank Club marathon program went from three or four members to 17. Swain says next year the club could entice more members by paying for marathon entry fees and handing out T-shirts for races as part of the cost of the program.

Jordan says that Chelsea Piers BlueStreak will continue to be profitable for the club and will give the club an edge over other facilities in New York. Judging by the early e-mail responses from Jordan's clients, Chelsea Piers BlueStreak is on the right track.

“They absolutely love it,” Jordan says. “They feel like they're getting better at the sport and also are getting their training in at the same time.”

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