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The Rise of Hybrid Sports Medicine and Performance Centers

HOK’s Paul Whitson and Micheal Day discuss the emergence of hybrid buildings that combine sports performance, healthcare and research space into a single footprint.

“Go where the players go” is the slogan of Emory Healthcare, the official team healthcare provider for the Atlanta Hawks, Falcons, Braves, Dream and local college, high school and youth teams.

Those five words appear on the wall outside the clinic area in the Emory Sports Medicine Complex outside of Atlanta. This 90,000-sq.-ft. structure houses the official practice facility of the NBA’s Hawks in the same building as Emory Healthcare’s Sports Medicine Center. Peak Performance Project (P3), which applies sports science and data analytics to optimize the performance of elite athletes, also operates a training space here.

“Our collective goal was to design a facility that could fully service the top athletes in the world, provide the absolute best environment for comprehensive player development and also serve as a sports science and research mecca,” said Dr. Scott Boden, MD, director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, when the facility opened.

“Our design prioritizes transparency and adjacencies between the program components,” said Micheal Day, a Kansas City-based principal in HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment group. “People entering Emory Healthcare’s lobby have views of the Hawks’ practice courts. Tinted shades give the team privacy when there’s an official practice.”

Four hundred miles to the south, AdventHealth teamed with the NBA’s Orlando Magic to build the new AdventHealth Training Center in downtown Orlando. This 130,000-sq.-ft. high-performance training center accommodates all the needs of the Magic players. In addition to the basketball courts and locker rooms, there are indoor-outdoor training spaces, health and wellness amenities, sophisticated recovery equipment including cryotherapy and an altitude chamber, and high-end dining and lounge areas. On the west side of the building, AdventHealth runs an integrated 33,000-sq.-ft. orthopedic and sports medicine clinic open to the public.

“I’m excited for this new opportunity to expand our philosophy of whole-person care to whole-athlete care,” said Randy Haffner, AdventHealth Central Florida division president and CEO, when the Center opened earlier this year. “Whether you’re working to get back to playing in the yard with your grandkids, completing your first 5k or dreaming of going pro, our sports medicine experts are ready to support your personal health and athletic goals.”

These new partnerships between teams and healthcare providers are giving birth to a new type of facility that blends whole-person medicine, preventive care, science and research to boost sports performance. Healthcare providers can apply what they’ve learned from working with elite athletes to promote wellness across the community. Weekend warriors, first responders, military veterans and others can all benefit from advanced performance science and training approaches similar to those of NBA players.

The onset of these new hybrid facilities is a lagging indicator of the healthcare sector’s ongoing transition from treatment to prevention. “The industry has been shifting away from episodic-based care toward a model that tries to keep people healthy so they can stay out of the system,” said Paul Whitson, St. Louis-based regional leader of HOK’s Healthcare group. “It’s no surprise that we can learn much about preventive care from the world’s best-conditioned athletes. And it’s so important to demonstrate the link between physical activity and good health.”

The idea of working out or being treated at a facility where their favorite team’s players train appeals to many people. “For healthcare providers, associating their brand with these pro teams elevates their status with fans in an increasingly competitive market,” Whitson added. “Consider all the naming-rights deals and advertising healthcare providers do in sports venues. These facilities allow for a deeper and more meaningful partnership with sports teams. On the flip side, the teams are eager to establish an image of being community-focused and supportive of wellness. It’s a natural fit.”

The NBA’s Chicago Bulls were an early adopter of this strategy. The Bulls partnered with Advocate Health Care for a naming-rights deal for their Advocate Center training facility, which opened across the street from the United Center in 2014. The two organizations came together around a shared vision for promoting health and wellness in the community. Advocate’s branding is visible on the building’s exterior and within the facility, which includes the latest exercise nutrition and therapeutic equipment. The project included a partnership with physical therapy provider Athletico, which has a small space next to the training facility.

Advocate Center took an intentional approach to the players’ path of travel. HOK’s team mapped out the journey for athletes from the time they arrived at the building until the time they left. We then were able to plan strategic adjacencies and amenities that would improve the athletes’ experience.

One shared goal across these projects is to encourage players to spend as much time as possible at these training facilities to help them stay healthy. “The financial stakes on both sides are so high that it makes sense for the players to be here, where they can focus on nutrition and preventive care,” said Day. “If players tweak something in practice, they can simply walk across the hall to consult an orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist.”

There’s also the opportunity for ‘prehab,’ noted Whitson. “Teams can employ 3-D motion capture technology to detect imbalances in players and help them work to avoid future injuries. They may notice, for example, that an athlete is favoring one leg and can prescribe exercises to help prevent future issues. Physical therapists can also help athletes and other patients prepare for upcoming surgeries.”

The teams’ investments in providing these innovative, amenity-filled training facilities for their players to practice, work out, rehabilitate and spend time gives them a competitive advantage while also assisting in recruiting new players—and motivating current ones.

In expanding and renovating Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois, the Chicago Bears added sports medicine space that is four times larger than their previous space. It includes two hydrotherapy pools, two plunge pools, a float pod, a sauna and a steam room.

“It just lifts you up when you walk into a place like this and see all the things and everything they invest into us as players and for us to go out there and perform well,” said Bears player Eddie Jackson. “I feel like we owe that in return to them, to come out here and practice hard and on game days go hard.”

The William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is an example of a new type of higher-ed sports-medicine hybrid facility that supports education, research, training and treatment.

This facility emerged from a unique partnership between the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS), Centura Health and the Colorado Economic Development Commission’s City for Champions project. “Without the needs and financial contributions of all three entities, the project would not have been possible,” said Whitson. “It’s an example of the synergies that can occur when the needs of a university, healthcare provider and a community intersect.”

The Center advocates for “exercise as medicine.” Performance data gathered here helps research teams and clinicians develop protocols that prevent injuries and strategies for healthy living. Spaces include:

  • Altitude and environmental chambers
  • A nutrition lab and kitchen
  • A biomechanics lab
  • Specialized training equipment for athletes with physical limitations, firefighters and police officers
  • A sports medicine clinic
  • A sports performance clinic

Crossover spaces between these programmed areas inspire innovation and instill a sense of community. UCCS and Centura benefit from the real-time connections between researchers, medical professionals, trainers, athletes and faculty members. In the meantime, students are learning how to use sophisticated training tools and resources.

So, what comes next? Whitson envisions the creation of enormous, one-stop healthcare, wellness and sports campuses. “We’re already seeing it at Emory, where they have been building a wellness campus around the Sports Medicine Complex,” he said.

Let’s Connect

Specialists from HOK’s Healthcare, Sports + Recreation + Entertainment, Science + Technology and WorkPlace groups collaborate to design these hybrid sports medicine and performance centers. Because our teams begin with an understanding of what each of the numerous stakeholders needs in these hybrid facilities, we can develop a viable space program and design that satisfies all the diverse uses.

For more information or to inquire about working together, please get in touch with:

Paul Whitson, regional leader of Healthcare, at

Micheal Day, principal for Sports + Recreation + Entertainment, at

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