The bases were loaded and the Riverhawks already had two outs at the bottom of the ninth in the final game of an elimination tournament. The batter at the plate had never hit a home run. The bat cracked, the ball sailed into left field; and as she sprinted past her coach at second base, the incredulous young athlete said, “Is this really happening?”
In 14 years of coaching high school softball, Michael Anderson never saw a team show so much injury resilience, performance improvement, and overall strength as his 2019 Ridgeline High Riverhawks softball team in Millville, Utah.
Anderson doesn’t hesitate to credit the 30 weeks of spring training with Athletic Republic in Nibley, just south of Logan.
“These kids are playing multiple tournaments, 10 months of the year,” he said. “Without a conditioning program, injuries go up because the body will just wear out. I can’t statistically prove it, but I haven’t had a single girl miss any significant time this year. That’s very unusual.”
For owner and lead trainer Ryan Rockhill, high performance is the primary sign of success. After four years as a trainer at the franchise’s headquarters in Park City, Rockhill, a Summit County native and three-sport athlete, decided to open Athletic Republic Logan in October 2018.
Athletic Republic focuses on “overtraining” and athletic conditioning, using methods influenced by Russian Soviet-era Olympic training programs. Plyometrics and strength training paired with custom-engineered equipment assists athletes to push limits and improve mechanics tailored to specific athletic performance.
This style of training has been growing in popularity in places such as Salt Lake City. Coaches have seen teams gain a significant competitive edge with off-season strength training and conditioning.
“People think speed is all natural athleticism—you’re just born with it,” Rockhill explained. “But you can teach speed. You can teach kids to be more efficient, and adults to be more efficient. You really can teach speed by improving mechanics and the way an athlete moves, and the way their body moves. For the people who aren’t born with it—yeah, it makes a big difference.”
Friends & Mentors
Rockhill and his co-trainer, Maja Armajo, are genuinely devoted to their work and their athletes’ success. Their personal approach has left a strong impression on the young athletes they work with, many of whom have come to look to Rockhill and Armajo as friends and mentors.
Riverhawks outfielder Tyler Thornton will start her freshman year this fall on a full softball scholarship at Utah State University. She is planning to intern with Athletic Republic while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
Thornton’s gains and enthusiasm for Athletic Republic were the evidence that persuaded Coach Anderson to encourage his team’s parents to sign their girls up to train with Rockhill and Armajo.
Word of mouth has been the primary driver of growth for the business. In less than a year of operation, Rockhill and his team have brought on dozens of individual youth and adult athletes; in addition to youth volleyball teams, football teams and baseball teams from around the valley, some of whom train as often as 5 days a week.
“I feel we’re sometimes more like psychologists,” Rockhill adds. “I’m with those kids sometimes more than their dads are. You get to where you’re coaching more than just football.”
At a time when youth sports are more competitive and demanding than ever, and injuries and burnout becoming almost routine, Rockhill and Armajo hope they’re helping kids in Cache Valley learn how to be athletes for a lifetime.
Thornton thinks that’s just the message she and her teammates needed as they head into adulthood. “The stuff we’re doing is what’s going to help me in the long run,” she said. “It keeps me strong and healthy, so I can keep playing for as long as I want to play.”
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