The way Lakeville resident Scott Stafford sees it, a little fatherly instinct, knowledge gained through experience, and a perceived need in his community all played a role in helping him to find his professional calling.
Stafford and his wife, Tara, have three children, including a middle school-aged son devoted to soccer. We all know someone just like him, be it with soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball or any other of the youth sports that has become all-consuming for so many young people.
For the Staffords it’s a bit of “Like father, like son.” Scott, a former professional rugby player both in his native New Zealand and in the United States, knows what it’s like to fall in love with a sport. But as his son began reaching the age of traveling teams and elite leagues, the comparisons didn’t stand out as much as the differences.
When did a sport become a year-round proposition, he wondered, and at such a young age. And when did training become so sport-specific, which in his son’s case meant that for the majority of his free time a soccer ball was either on his foot, on his knee or on its way to an unmanned goal.
Those questions tore at Stafford enough that he decided to try to change the narrative. His son deserved better training, he concluded, which meant he felt a lot of young people needed better training. As a result, Nexus Sports Performance was born.
The 5,500-square-foot training facility, focused on working with youths, opened in March in the building that used to be occupied by Schneiderman’s furniture store. Along with being a co-owner, Stafford, who has a degree is exercise physiology, serves as the athletic performance director.
He and his business partner, Dan Van House, a physical therapist, first opened a facility in Golden Valley, Nexus Human Performance, which offers group training, physical therapy, personal training, yoga and massage. It is an offshoot of the work Stafford had been doing with patients going through physical rehab while recovering from surgery or injury.
While all ages are welcome at the Lakeville location, the primary focus is on helping young people learn to have better control of their bodies, add core strength and improve agility.
“Too often when it comes to training kids we are skipping the foundational stuff so we can get to the flashy stuff,” Stafford said. “They’re just not ready for it.
“I’ve seen horrific videos of kids lifting too much weight, with horrific form, and people are cheering it on. What we’re doing is filling in the gap; teaching those fundamentals. We’re providing things they aren’t getting elsewhere.”
Group classes are held for three age groups — 6-9, 10-13 and 14-18 — and offered in 12-week blocks. Classes are limited to eight participants, with two trainers working with each group. About 30 youths are currently signed up, Stafford said, adding that he wants to cap that number at 50 to ensure that the athletes are getting the proper amount of individual attention.
“We teach them good warm-up habits,” Stafford said, “and then we take them through speed, agility and quickness drills. We try to give them a good base and then take them through some more technical drills.
“One thing we are really proud of is that we teach kids how to land on their feet after jumping or making an athletic move. A lot of places teach kids how to jump, but they don’t teach them how to land. We’re seeing a huge increase in (knee) injuries among young athletes.We see it at our Golden Valley facility when they come in for treatment. We want to reduce the number of injuries, and the byproduct of that is they become stronger and more powerful.”
Members include those simply looking for a physical outlet, to the young athlete trying to improve strength and flexibility to advanced athletes looking to take their talents to the next level.
“If we can help an athlete get a college scholarship, that’s great,” Stafford said. “But that’s not why we do what we do. The greatest thing is seeing kids who aren’t great athletes conquer things they never thought they would be able to do.
“To see their confidence grow, it’s just great. Giving that average kid hope means everything to me.”
Stafford moved to Minnesota in 2003 to play on a club rugby team after professional stints in New Zealand and in Dallas. He met his wife here (she’s from St. Paul) and said he has adjusted well to the extreme winters.
After two-and-a-half years in Lakeville he feels he is where he is supposed to be, and doing what he is supposed to be doing.
Dean Spiros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.