Meet David Donatucci, Director The Florida Institute of Performance | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

Meet David Donatucci, Director The Florida Institute of Performance

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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  • The introduction and popularization of strength training and conditioning in the NBA and PGA
  • How to balance training athletes and running a business
  • Effects on email and social media on your passions
  • Difference between training amateur and professional athletes

Mathew Sims: My name’s Mathew Sims, I’m the editor-in-chief at And today we’re talking with David Donatucci, owner of Florida Institute of Performance.

He’s worked with athletes from the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, LPGA, and the PGA and is an expert when it comes to sport’s performance. So he’s going to be our guest today.

Daniel Wiess: I’m Daniel, I’m a writer with I played golf competitively throughout high school. I played in the high school state tournament twice, and the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in California.

The Evolution of Training Professional Athletes

Mathew Sims: Awesome. Well, we’ll jump right into it. So, David, can you tell us about your passion for golf. Where did it come from? How has it changed or developed as you got a chance to work with athletes and put some of that into practice with your business?

David: I guess the passion or the start in golf started back many years ago in about say, 1995, 97. I was working with a sports agent up in Cleveland, Ohio, and he had a couple of players that he represented, one of them being Greg Norman.

And we just started talking about how there’s really nothing in the game of golf from a fitness perspective that’s controlled because I was paralleling that to my experience in basketball.

The teams were just then, surprisingly just then getting transitioning [fitness] coaches into the teams and everything. And most of the teams that we worked with, there were very few that actually had a transitioning coach in basketball.

From there, in 1999, I went down to IMG Academy to take a position in their international performance institute. And I basically said, “Let me run the golf division.” And they’re like, “Please do.” Nobody wanted that. At the time, most of the individuals really didn’t see a need to work out.

They just thought it would be, “I’m going to go hit balls. I need to spend more time hitting balls on the range and that’s going to help me get better.” So that’s really how it started for me was working with a lot of the kids in the academy.

And I had the opportunity to work with a number of younger players who were just developing and created their own separate program for them.

Kids came in that were at the academy at 7:00 in the morning and started working out before they went to school. And I was able to really create and develop some programs that I felt some of the kids needed at that time from more of a developmental standpoint and also for golf.

Mathew Sims: So basketball is more of my passion, but it’s interesting you say that. Over that last 20 years, you see players playing way longer than ever. And I don’t think it’s any mistake that that corresponds with what you’re saying. Having the strength and conditioning coach focusing on better sleep and all those sorts of things.

David: Yeah, again I’ll go back to 90, I want to say 91, 92, 93. I was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the time when they had Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance and Craig Elho and Mark Price and all those guys. And they were a really good team, but again, fitness and training were like, “Yeah I really don’t want to do that.”

It was tough getting the guys to do anything, to go through a lot of stuff, and it was the old school thinking, “Well, it’s going to ruin my shot. If I work out too much, I’m going to get big and bulky, and I’m not going to be able to play that well and go through a lot of those things.”

And some guy named Jordan, I’m really not sure if he amounted to anything, but he kind of changed the rules of that game.

And [they] went through a lot of different types of situations. People realized that you know what, you still can be a great level player and still work out and do the things necessary to do all that.

Mathew Sims: LeBron’s kind of even taken that to the next level. I’ve heard he spends just millions of dollars on his body, I mean he’s still going strong and to what year, 17 now.

David: Yeah, exactly.

The Day to Day

Mathew Sims: Yeah, that’s really interesting how that’s aligned, and then even transferred into golf. And I don’t know if this is even the case, but what’s a normal workday look like for you as you’re working with athletes and doing other things with your business?

David: I’m getting here probably 5:30 in the morning. And that’s just for the first hour before people start getting here. I will get caught up on preparing for my day and figuring a lot of things out and looking at the facility and cleaning that up a little bit and organizing that.

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Today, I had a really dedicated lady, she was about 76 years old, plays golf, [and] she gets here every day at 6:30 in the morning. She walks on the treadmill for half an hour, we work out for an hour, she walks on the treadmill for another half an hour, [and] she goes and gets a lesson.

She goes and plays golf, and then she finds some other time to eat and do everything else she needs to do with the rest of her day. So that’s one of the people that come in here.

But really people start to roll in here about 7:00 am. I always say with golfers it’s good news that they’re here, it’s bad news that they’re here. If they’re here, they’re not playing in their tournaments; if they are here, they’re working out. So it’s kind of a good news, bad news scenario for a lot of them.

So we got a lot of guys that are out playing right now, which is the benefit. You just hope that they’re continuing a lot of stuff that they do on the road to go through a lot of that. So a lot of my activity is, really I would say, managing programs, implementing training programs that are going on.

I got a staff of about two and we’re bringing in a couple of interns in a couple of weeks to go through a  summer internship program that we’re developing. I’ve got an open house coming up this weekend that I’m preparing for and getting all the necessary things going.

So it’s a split. I like to say it’s evenly split but in terms of the business and the actual training. But I think I spend more time training than I do business-wise. Because that’s what I enjoy doing more than running that business part of it.

But the main thing is we get ebbs and flows of waves of people coming in and out. So the after-school crowd hits in here about 3:30 and will go to about 7:00.

Building and Managing the Business

Mathew Sims: Any tips or anything that’s really been helpful to try to engage the athletes while they’re in their tournaments and keep them focused on, like you said, keeping with the things that they’ve learned and the techniques that you’ve taught them while they’re working out and training with you?

David: Yeah, I really think the biggest change for me is utilizing the platform. I’ve been able to really keep tabs on my athletes a whole lot better and making sure that they’re doing some things. So the online platform that we have created and have developed was the necessary portion to have for my athletes that travel a lot.

I have one that’s here now for two weeks; he’s going away to China for nine. So, I have to basically be able to keep tabs on him and make sure that he’s going through some things.

And there’s a lot of times throughout the day that we may create a new exercise. You know, “Hey, this might be good for him. Oh well, he’s on the road. Okay well, let’s videotape it.” We load it in there and say, “Okay, hey try this workout for you.”

So it’s been great for us to really make sure that when the athletes come back, I don’t want to say as fresh as they were, but we’re not starting all over again. We have a pretty good foundation that’s still there, that we can keep with them and keep that moving forward and keep progressing them along the way.

So really for me, that’s been a game-changer and managing that portion throughout the day, that’s the … I don’t want to say challenge, but it’s time-consuming, and that’s part of the business of operating and implementing the programs that we have to make sure that we’re on top of. Or if we fall behind, then athletes aren’t too happy when they miss their workouts.

Daniel Wiess: So what about your workouts and your approach at the Florida Institute of Performance is unique?

David: A lot of it is more the attention to detail. Every athlete that comes through here, they have their own book. They have their own set of workouts that they’re going to go through. We might have 8-10 people in here at one time.

But there might be 8-10 different workouts going on at one time because everybody has a little unique approach that we need to put in there. Even though they all might be high school kids, we might have a kid that’s got a bad shoulder or he’s got bad knee, or it’s a lower back that we’ve got to be conscientious of.

So there are all things based on the evaluation that we have taken them through or tested them on that we need to make sure that we’re covering those bases. That we need to make sure that we have all those things taken care of.

We might have a pitcher. We might have a volleyball player. We might have a basketball player. We might have a figure skater all in here at one time. There are all different, unique tendencies within the sport that we have to cover, to go through a lot of that.

A basketball player, they need more vertical. The baseball pitcher needs more rotational power that we have to cover on there.

The main concept that we do is try and make them a better athlete, but we want to make sure we get to their uniqueness or their—I don’t want to say imperfections—but the areas that we found within the evaluation that’s necessary for them to keep improving.

Team Sports vs Individual Athletes

Daniel Wiess: Right so, you mentioned a lot of team sports there, maybe minus figure skating. So how is training golf different from training those team sports? Because in a lot of those team sports there are the coaching staffs that can look at what athletes need to do differently. But sometimes with golf, it’s a little bit more of a self-evaluation game.

David: Yeah, I think with today’s game as we mentioned earlier, I think a lot of it is the coaches have a lot of input in terms of what’s happening. So what’s going on, the instruction, or what the coach wants to have them do is also creating that foundation within there.

It’s no different than a baseball manager or something. I think golf instruction is actually even more detailed than what a team sport would be. Because a lot of times the managers go workout. We want to get you stronger and faster for everything within the game of baseball; whereas the golf instructor, they’re more hands-on with that individual.

So they’re going to see a little bit more of the intricacies of whatever it might be. Their right arm’s not externally rotating effectively. They’re not getting a good torso rotation properly, not able to load up in that right hip from the golf. And they put more of that on video.

Within the game of baseball or basketball or soccer, they’re not videotaping every little move that the player goes through or makes. They know in generalization, “Hey, this is what we need to do.” But all the minute details aren’t there, I’m going to say that’s good and bad.

So it works in both directions where I think too often a golfer is so focused on one little thing as opposed to the big picture. And they get some things out there, and the opposite is true with the soccer player that you have where they’re focused on the big picture but they’re not so fine-tuned on the little details.

Business Tips, Hacks, & Productivity

Mathew Sims: You mentioned the business aspect and how your passion is for the training. And we talked a little bit about that. If there’s one tip you could give people about the business side, maybe something that’s made it easier or any kind of tip or hack, what would that be?

David: Don’t answer emails all the time. Save the emails for morning and night if you can. Or if not first thing in the morning, I think to often we get caught up into it: “Hey, we have to do it right now.” We get a text message, we get a phone call, we get an email, something pops up, oh we’ve got to answer that.

You don’t have to, and that’s really from the business standpoint that I’ve learned. You know what, let the emails go a little bit, they can wait. And sometimes I’m guilty of letting them wait too long.

I read something one time, it was the CEO of a top 500 or whatever business. And she says she doesn’t answer any emails, she basically passes … they all get forwarded to her secretary, and she doesn’t answer them.

I don’t have a secretary so it’s one of those things where I just look at the end of the day or the first part of the next day. And that’s when I go back through and answer everything and respond that way. If they really want me, they can call me or they can send me a text message.

I always say with training in my business it’s not brain surgery, it’s not life or death. If it’s something, it usually can wait for a little bit of time. If it’s an urgency, they don’t need me; they need somebody else if it’s an urgent situation.

So that’s probably my biggest thing is I let the emails wait a little bit. And answer them all or delete them all is what usually the case [is] with all the junk stuff that I get at one time.

Mathew Sims: Yeah, our CEO used to be a big proponent of the email box zero. And we just talked about this two weeks ago actually as a team. And that’s his strategy now, he answers them at specific points of the day, and then after that, he’s not touching it. Because you can’t get caught where you’re just checking it every five or 10 minutes and then you’ve got nothing done.

David: Yeah, and it’s the same for me. It’s the same with social media. I think you can get sucked into a black hole as to where you start looking at emails and social media and everything else. And now an hour is gone and you’ve done absolutely nothing but looked at what everybody else is glorifying with their business.

My wife always asks me, “Did you look at social media?” I say, no.

I haven’t looked at it. I mean, I might go two or three days where I don’t even look at it just because it’s more of, again, somebody trying to glorify what they’re doing and it gets me frustrated, it gets me mad.

It’s like why don’t we look like that? But I look back and go, you know we’re doing the same thing. I push a lot of that stuff back to the side and try and take care of what I have in front of me.

Mathew Sims: Yep. That’s good stuff.  What’s been the most rewarding part about owning your own business and the performance center that you’re running?

David: I can control a lot of the things that happen within the day, and looking at staff wise what we need to do. If we need to make a change or an intern wants to come in and say “Hey, I want to volunteer and spend some time with you,” I can say yes or no.

I mean it’s not relied upon somebody else to do that. And I’ve done the corporate world for really 25 plus years and always working for somebody else and having to answer to somebody else and doing a lot of those things. I can answer them myself, well me and my wife, I have to answer to her as well.

But from a standpoint of who makes the decisions or going through a lot of that, yeah that’s up to me. And again it’s both good and bad. If it goes wrong, it’s my fault. But if it goes right, it’s mine as well, and I can take responsibility for it, either way, the pluses or the minuses.

Mathew Sims: Yep. What about the most challenging thing with owning your own business?

David: The finances, the salaries, the overhead, all those things that I have to look at every day and go, “Okay if we have an empty gym right now,” I know in my head that we’re losing X number of dollars per hour. By going through all this and it’s knowing those numbers or knowing those factors, that are [the] things that drive me crazy.

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And as I said earlier, it’s the actual running of the business. I’m not a business guy. I’ll be the first to admit that. I’m learning as we go, to try and figure all of these little things out and put a lot of that here.

And I’m just trying to figure out how do we get more traffic through the doors, day in and day out. Well okay, how do we match up and get the offseason for these sports and do all that and get the information out and find a way to market all those people and do all that?

I mean that’s truly, to me, the biggest challenge to continually get a revolving door of people coming in. We have college kids that are here in the summertime. They have to go back to school eventually. So can we get enough people in the fall to make up for that loss as well?

Mathew Sims: Okay. And then you talked about training the athletes and knowing where their weakness and being able to tweak some of that stuff.

But even as a business, how has it helped you knowing your strengths and weakness and knowing what your mission and where you guys excel at?  As far as delivering a really great product to the athletes and the other people that you work with that come into the gym?

David: I think the biggest thing is letting people know we care. I got individuals trying to get better, and improving upon that. I think knowing that we have an understanding of the activities and the movement patterns, and we can actually break the exercise down.

My thing is to tell them how the exercise benefits the sport, not the other way around, to help make your performance better. I think that’s more along the lines that people need to understand is that most of the exercises are going to be similar. But how does it benefit you in terms of your particular sport?

To go through that, and I think once we go through a lot of that and really educate the athlete, educate the individual as to why we’re doing something and say “Oh hey, let’s do this for today, let’s go through this. We actually have a plan.”

We have a sheet that we follow. Do we change that sheet when they’re in there? Yes, based on certain situations, but we have a game plan. We understand what’s going on and what we’re going to do today.

As opposed to just the exercise du jour, we’re going to do this one today and just do bands today, and everybody’s going to do the same thing. No, we’re going to follow a pretty good protocol and everything else.

I mean me, I always look at and say do you think Bill Belichick just walked off the field and goes, “Yeah, I feel like just rowing today; we’re just going to play catch today and go through all that?”

No, there’s an actual process that needs to take place and that’s really for all athletes and developing and going through a lot of that process. And that’s a program that we have here at the Florida Institute of Performance.

The Difference Training Pro Athletes

Daniel Wiess: You mentioned earlier about Greg Norman’s and Micheal Jordan’s impacts on the different sports. What’s one thing that most people wouldn’t know when it comes to training professional athletes? And maybe explain to us the main difference between training a pro-caliber athlete and the average person.

David: I think the biggest difference is that somebody that’s going to go through and trying to aspire to be pro cut, they work a little harder than the normal person. And part of that might be the time that they have because they are pro athletes. LeBron has 10 hours a day to spend on doing some training or doing some other types of things.

I think it’s really there’s a mental aspect of that too. And I compare that a lot to corporate people. Very successful corporate individuals, very successful athletes have the same mental drive as one another.

They come in, they’re on a mission, and they know exactly what they want to do, they know exactly what they’re going to do. And they put forth a really great effort to get themselves better along those lines.

A pro athlete, a high-level corporate individual whose worth over millions, they all put their pants on the same way. So you’ve got to treat them the same way, you can’t put them on a pedestal. You can’t raise them up to a high level.

As a coach, I learned this the hard way when I was working with the Cavaliers a long time ago. You treat them with respect, you treat them the same as everybody else, and they’ll respect you for that.

You don’t go in and worship them and do all this stuff. It’s “Hey, this is what we’re going to do today. We’re going to work at it, we’re going to go hard,” and that’s how they want to be treated.

Mathew Sims: Yeah. I was thinking as you were talking about knowing your business and knowing the costs and even though that wasn’t your primary function I always think of a good business owner knows those things even if it’s not their favorite thing.

You talked about that mindset with people who have that drive, and it’s almost like they know that they’re body is their business and they have to know exactly what’s going on. The educational piece you talked to, and be on it, you can’t take a day off.

Especially now where everybody has a trainer, if you’re going to keep up you’ve got to know what you’re doing and really train smartly and treat it like a business almost.

David: Yeah, and I even look at this and I go back to the Bo Jackson situation and I related to this is where he came out and he said, “Look I dislocated my hip,” and they’re like, “No, no you didn’t, no you didn’t.” I mean an athlete knows his body better than anybody.

They can tell you little things that go on there within themselves. I don’t know what’s happening. So it’s like, I got to believe them. And I really look at it and say, “Okay this is what you feel. Your mind and your body are working pretty systematically together. And I have to believe that you’re right on all those situations. I got to double check it to make sure that we go through that.”

You can send an individual out here doing a heavy lift, and I was like, “You know what, do the first set and tell me how you feel.” And then he’s like, “Oh yeah I feel pretty good.”

“Okay well let’s go, now I know we can go.” And he’s like, “Oh I’m a little sluggish, I’m a little tired or whatever.”

Okay, well we got to back it off a little bit, and we got to change the sequence that we’re going through. So it’s really letting them tell you and dictate their levels and their activity because they’re really in tune with what’s happening.

Mathew Sims: Yeah. This kind of goes along with that I think. But what’s one exercise or something that athletes do that you wish they wouldn’t do, or that you recommend they stop?

I just read a study and we shared it around the team, where people were giving advice on Instagram. They looked at that and people that aren’t experts in their field and they’re wrong 80 percent of the time. So are there any kind of misconceptions that you run into?

David: It falls in line with this but I wouldn’t say it’s one thing. I don’t think there’s really one bad exercise. I think there are people that are giving bad advice for one or people performing the exercise incorrectly. I think because there’s a value to every exercise.

I mean one of my biggest pet peeves with the Instagram things is looking at the box jumps. And people say, oh no he’s got a 55-inch box jump. No, he doesn’t. He’s got a 40-inch foot jump and he’s got a 10-inch head jump.

That equals the 55 inches because your hips did not move 55 inches. And that’s where we measure the true vertical displacement of the hips and what’s the height of the box jump. If we measure this correctly it’s not 55 inches.

So why is somebody trying to jump onto a box and saying, oh that’s the power explosion? I mean if you’re looking at hip flexors or bringing your feet up to something as fast as possible, yeah that’s correct. And I always compare it to somebody and say, in basketball how do you block a shot?

Do you bring your feet up as high as you? Are you trying to jump your arms up and your head up as high as you can? And it’s oh, jump my arms up, why? Yeah, then why would you jump on that box that high? So I think it comes back to, again it comes back to bad advice that people are giving you by people who proclaim themselves to be experts.

I think if there’s a purpose and if you can answer as a trainer: “Why are we doing this? What is this for? What’s the purpose of the exercise?” and explain that back to the individual as the educational point of view, that’s the biggest difference between doing something correctly or doing something incorrectly.

Mathew Sims: Yeah, I love your analogy, that makes so much sense again as a basketball fan. You’re not pulling your feet up high to try to jump up further, it makes no difference.

David: Right.

Mathew Sims: All right, so that’s all we had for you. I did want to check, what’s next up for you? Any big plans for the Florida Institute of Performance or new programs or new initiatives?

David: Yeah, we’re looking at trying to create some things with a couple of local baseball teams around here, that we’re trying to get back into a little bit more of the team training aspect. Get connected a little bit more along those lines, that’s probably the big area.

I’m really trying to develop out my online platform a lot more and trying to do more of nationally if not worldwide in a lot of different areas. We’d like to get more of an education platform going from my end. I keep looking back and going, “Jeez I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I have to have something that I can share with somebody out there.”

So trying to get a little bit more along the lines of an educational platform going are probably the three biggest things that we’re really looking to do over the next six months or so here.

Mathew Sims: Awesome, that’s exciting. Yeah, I know it’s always one part daunting, one part exciting to get those new things rolling and see where it goes.

David: This comes back to that business part of me, somebody has to do it and it usually it’s me. Sometimes I got to find the time to run it all out and put the planning together. So that’s the business part of it.

Mathew Sims: Yep. Well, it was great talking with you, David. We really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions and to let people get to know you and to share your story with us. So thank you, and hope you have a great rest of the day.

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