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Tuesday, Dec 6, 2022
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Performance U

At a time when extraordinary sports talent can give a student the extra edge to get into a top college, a business focused on enhancing sports skills could score a home run with teens and parents. That’s exactly what entrepreneur Chad Faulkner is banking on with Sports Academy, a gymnasium/training facility/medical clinic in Thousand Oaks which opened its doors in September to provide specialized sports training. Faulkner, himself a former Kansas State University football player and team captain, has pulled together a community of high-end coaches, doctors and state-of-the-art technology with the purpose of transforming competitive middle and high-school student athletes into success stories. Parents often hear confusing and mixed messages between doctors, coaches and trainers, Faulkner said, who has experienced it himself when his own children have been injured playing competitive sports. Putting all these advisors under one roof should mitigate that, he added. And with those professionals operating together in Sports Academy’s vast facility, parents can spend less time shuttling kids between games, practices, events, and doctors’ appointments. “(Sports) is a very fragmented market,” Faulkner said. “I see integrated services as an opportunity to create value for people.” Practice space Operating in a former warehouse for Thousand Oaks biotech firm, Amgen Inc., Sports Academy’s 96,000 square feet may be big enough to house and deliver Faulkner’s vision. It took 10 months and $10 million of his own money to outfit the facility. That funding came from founding and succeeding with several businesses, the entrepreneur said. He co-founded a company buying and leasing seats in sports stadiums, a health care services business and Curo Financial Technologies Corp., a short-term loan provider based in Wichita, Kan. that has 400 stores across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, according to its website. The gymnasium area contains four indoor basketball courts, two sand volleyball courts, a short running track, a pitching mound and a workout room jam-packed with stationary bikes, weights and fitness equipment. Wrapped around them are medical offices and rooms with everything from X-ray scanners to cryotherapy chambers for freezing injured areas of the body. There are classrooms for students to study and get tutored, a retail shop, a coffee and smoothie bar and several lounge areas with cushy leather couches and décor resembling a trendy sports bar. To staff the business, Faulkner has attracted trainers from top university sports programs locally and around the country, focusing heavily on basketball, football, beach volleyball, soccer, track and futsal, an indoor version of soccer. He also has recruited medical doctors and sports psychologists, some with celebrity status. Chiropractor Beau Daniels is the official chiropractor for the Los Angeles Rams and heads up sports medicine at Sports Academy, operating a practice on its campus. Casey Patterson, who directs the beach volleyball program, has competed in the Olympics. Faulkner’s director of football is a former National Football League player agent. Other directors include a former Ladies Professional Golf Association tour player, a World Cup team player, and coaches from nearby schools including Oaks Christian School in Thousand Oaks, well-known for grooming star athletes and professional sports players. Tim Ward, head women’s soccer coach at Pepperdine University in Malibu and collegiate coach for 20-plus years, said Faulkner’s top-notch coaching staff will provide parents and college-bound students with knowledge and experience of the college-level recruiting process. “There’s a lot of misinformation and myths about what it takes to be recruited by schools,” Ward said. “Someone who’s worked at that level can open parents’ eyes to seeing the reality of receiving athletic scholarships. It’s much more difficult to receive them than parents realize.” There’s also a market now for the specialized and focused training that Sports Academy provides, Ward said, because it can help boost students’ chances of getting accepted into top colleges. Coaches are under increasing pressure to win games within the time limits of their contracts, so they are recruiting student athletes already developed in a specific sport who can immediately help win games. All things being equal, coaches prefer prepared specialists over generalist athletes who need time to develop, he added. “Coaches are looking for kids who are refined, and parents, understanding that, are pushing the envelope for kids, and looking for more specialized training in their athletic development,” Ward said. “It’s athletic capitalism – the free market in athletics – if parents want their sons and daughters to receive athletic scholarships, the kids have to be the best of the best.” To tackle the mental side of sports training, Sports Academy provides psychologists who use high-tech tools that test and train for mental endurance, visual prioritization and spatial recognition. Lastly, Sports Academy will help students create a brand for themselves and promote it. That includes shooting and producing highlight reels that the athletes can send to colleges, and educating students on what to post – and what to avoid – on social media so they don’t hurt their chances of acceptance, Faulkner said. “Coaches are 100 percent looking for all the info they can because they’re trying to understand the character of a person they’re going to spend the next four to five years with,” Faulkner said. “This goes beyond athletics.” Prime market Conejo Valley’s high personal wealth coupled with parents’ intense focus on education and drive to get their children into top universities have created a market for private schools such as Oaks Christian with its $31,000 annual tuition. It’s the same market that could spell success for Sports Academy, experts say. “It’s a smart place to put a business,” Ward said. “I do believe that a lot of people there come from areas where they’ve excelled – in terms of schooling. There are some really bright minds.” Sports Academy doesn’t charge like traditional gyms with memberships; for the most part, its services are itemized. For example, a one-on-one, half-hour session with a sports trainer costs $65; one-hour sessions cost $100. There are also longer sessions, semi-private sessions, small group sessions and team sessions. A 50-minute appointment with the sports psychologist costs $120; 30 minutes with the nutritionist costs $100. A private work-out or performance session with a trainer costs $50 per half-hour. There is tutoring, personal defense skills training and massage with varying costs. Also, parents can also drop off younger children for three-hour day camps for $30. David Carter, an associate professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business and executive director of the Sports Business Group for sports consulting and marketing, said opportunities are increasing for once-niche businesses such as Sports Academy among an audience looking more for ways to distinguish themselves. “Many parents hope to leverage sports achievement for college access, and these types of business opportunities arise to meet this demand,” Carter said. That has been a growing trend over the past 10 or so years. Opportunities within the industry are increasing for businesses because the money flowing into and out of sports has sharply increased, he added, “and there is no reason to believe this growth will slow any time soon.” Sports Academy is not profitable yet, Faulkner said, but he’s finding new ideas to expand it. The facility now hosts a regional fencing tournament – a sport he didn’t include in his original plan for the business. “There is far more opportunity than in what I originally envisioned.” he said.

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