–By Ottawa Sportspage, for The Sports Training Academy
Still very early in a rapidly rising journey, the Sports Training Academy has quickly gained recognition within the Ottawa sports community as the #1 place to go for high-performance athlete development.
The story behind STA’s creation mirrors the inspiring atmosphere bubbling within its walls.
The STA vision to challenge the status quo and offer world-class training in Ottawa has been in place for some time, but co-founders Sean Sweeney and Rayyaan Jameel were forced to accelerate their facility development plans when Sweeney’s tennis academy lost its home base upon the sale of the Rideau Tennis Centre in late 2017.
Within months, they’d secured warehouse space in the Sheffield Industrial Park and built an indoor sports centre with 3 full-size tennis courts, a sprint track and large workout area.
Since opening this past winter, the STA warehouse has become a hotbed for local athletic talent – this hidden space where young athletes go to unlock the secrets to be the best they can be.
“Everyone who comes here I think kind of falls in love with the story,” indicates Sweeney, a Carleton Ravens football captain in the late ’80s. “When we tell them who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish, they’re in. Right away. That’s awesome.”
STA quickly blossomed. Alongside Sweeney and the CANI Athletics pair of Jameel and Lyndon George, top local figures joined on to lead programs in several other sports – former NFL player Christo Bilukidi for football, NLL player JP Kealey for lacrosse, and past pro player Hantal Jacques for basketball.
“What I love about everybody here is the mindset,” underlines Sweeney, who left behind his software career to create STA and help his son pursue his tennis aspirations. “We’re constantly looking for new information and new ways to do things, to be innovative, to be creative, and get the best information into the hands of our athletes.
“We’re working with NFL football players, Olympic runners, pro lacrosse and basketball players as coaches here. There is a reason why they reached the top of their field: they’re constantly looking at how we can be better.
“I’m not sure if that sets us apart from others, but it’s definitely what we do, and I love it.”
STA’s collaborative and ambitious approach is refreshing for many supporters in the local sports community – drawn in by the wave of top quality people coming together in pursuit of a common goal.
“Sometimes the cultures within clubs aren’t so great,” notes Sylvain Souligny, who was the president of a tennis club in Gatineau before he brought his daughter Ariane over to STA. “With Sean, I always noticed when I’d look at his group at tournaments that they would all hang out together, and they’d laugh together. There was a real team spirit to it.
“It’s a really positive vibe at STA. There is a lot of encouragement. They really, really care for all of the kids.”
Another attraction for Souligny was the “complete package” STA offers – top sport technology and analysis, mental toughness coaching, chiro, physio and athletic therapy services, all onsite.
“The people Sean’s surrounded himself with are just phenomenal,” Souligny adds. “Their credentials are just off the charts.”
STA partners and mentors include Atlanta-based John Williams of Axon Sport Performance (an expert on how to analyze athletes and identify any weak links in their foundation) and ATP/WTA registered tour coach Heath Waters.
Waters taught Sweeney the innovative system that’s allowed him to go from someone with limited tennis background into a coach who’s developed 10 national-level players, champions on the ITF women’s doubles circuit, and had every player who graduated from his academy’s full-time program receive NCAA scholarship offers.
Though it’s not the paramount objective in development, Sweeney believes top results like that are undoubtedly a reason people have flocked to STA. This year alone, the accolades include a 17-year-old running Canada’s fastest under-20 100-metre time (10.58), and several other national medals from the CANI crew – also experts in speed and performance training for many sports. STA is home to an RBC Training Ground winner and Team Canada lacrosse members.
They’re playing a pioneering role to introduce 7-on-7 football and elite off-season football training to Ottawa. The installation of basketball courts is coming next this fall at the STA warehouse, though the group has much bigger construction plans beyond that.
Working alongside Bruce Firestone’s Black Sheep Developments, STA has purchased land in Orleans to build a 3-floor multi-sport complex. A west-end site is also in the works.
The idea is to create several smaller-scale versions of the renowned IMG Academy in Florida.
There is a certain energy and inspirational force that’s evident from the moment you set foot inside STA.
“People tell me I’m crazy for doing what we’re trying to do, but it’s been the most exhilarating, most inspirational and rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” signals Sweeney, whose group maintains a steadfast belief that every child has the right to play.
“I get to be a part of children’s lives every single day and see them grow and change and develop as human beings. There’s no way in the world I’d ever change what we’re doing.”
Visit theSportsTrainingAcademy.com for more information.