Consider the tick of a clock. Now divide that click into a hundred pieces.

Take a few of those pieces and put them in the palm of your hand.

Look them over carefully, because they are going to mean the difference between success and failure, between winning and losing, between winning Olympic gold -- and gaining all the life changes that come with the medal -- or falling back into obscurity.

And know that there are people out there who want to take those little fragments of time from you and make them their own.

For years, this was the world that track and field sprinter Michael Johnson inhabited.

To a sprinter, every detail matters; feet placed in the starter’s blocks with precision, each finger carefully aligned to a fraction of a millimeter to the starting line. Each movement practiced to keep a tight grip on those tiny bits of a second.

Johnson held them tightly away from the competition, winning four Olympic gold medals and eight World Championship gold medals.

And years later, Johnson looks little different from when he set the record. Tall and lean, he has the presence and demeanor of the no-nonsense athlete. We’re here to talk about the Michael Johnson Performance Center, an athletic training facility that’s a paradigm shift in the approach to sports performance.

Building Better Athletes

Do an Internet search and you’ll be inundated with websites, books, DVDs and camps, all promising significant performance improvements. Virtually all of these are technique based, focusing on the mechanics of that particular endeavor. And while mechanics might matter, if you lack strength, speed, or coordination they will only take you so far, if anywhere at all.

Johnson’s answer to this is simple: “We build better athletes.”

It’s written out: Strength, Power, Agility, Reaction, Quickness. SPARQ is the acronym that Nike, which partnered in the center with Johnson, uses to describe the program.

Johnson had an idea. The idea grew into a plan. To bring it to fruition, Johnson earned his Baylor business degree and began looking for locations.

“We wanted a location in the Dallas Metroplex that was close to good airports and accessible," Johnson says. "With the Cooper Center around the corner, the ball and soccer fields surrounding us, McKinney was a perfect fit both for infrastructure and demographics.”

Several years ago, the facility opened its doors on Alma Drive. The timing, on paper, couldn’t have been worse. Johnson laughs: “We opened in the middle of the economic crises.”

But good ideas often overcome temporary setbacks.

Growing Client Base

The concept resonated; the Michael Johnson Performance Center became the training facility of the Dallas Stars and FC Dallas and developed a partnership with the Dallas Cowboys.

Professional athletes from around the country began showing up in the offseason, as well as collegiate athletes looking to improve their draft status into the pro ranks. Five NFL first round draft picks in 2009 used the center to prepare for the combines.

And the clientele grew; doing our interview a professional ballet dancer was on-site rehabbing a back injury.

To provide for the out-of-town clients relationships, partnerhships were formed with several local hotels and apartments across the street were leased. And Nike set up one of two Sensory Sports Training centers in the United States at Johnson’s facility.

Athletes from around the world come to the center to become better athletes.

A tour of the facility reflects the man whose name is on the sign. It’s complete and well thought out, addressing  all aspects of athletic training from warm up to recovery to rehabbing the inevitable injuries that come from athletics. Pick a detail and it’s covered.

“We didn’t put a target number on what we wanted for the center in terms of income or client amounts, because it would have been arbitrary and meaningless in how we went forward," Johnson says. "Instead we concentrated on building our brand and getting the message about our focus out there. If we did that I felt we’d be successful. We’ve been pleased with steady growth since we opened.”

The client demographic is another puzzle piece where the facility is fairly unique. While providing services to the pros and neo pros, 60 to 70 percent of the facility's clientele are local youth athletes, with hundreds enrolled for summer programs, providing a solid regional base for the business.

Recent News Coverage

The facility was featured in the April 13-19 issue of the Dallas Business Journal, which detailed how the speed and performance training center is attracting National Football League players in the offseason.

About 40 NFL players are practicing short-interval sprints at the facility. Other clients include players from Manchester United in England and the Chinese Olympics table tennis team, the article says.

To read the Business Journal story, click on the following link (subscription required):

To read the full story in McKinney Magazine, go to:

About the author: Kurt Bickel is a freelance writer and avid cyclist.