When you know who you are, and what you are trying to accomplish, your intrinsic desire to overcome and succeed will outlast the thoughts of fear in those moments.
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reid Priddy.
Reid Priddy is a four-time Olympian for the USA men’s indoor volleyball team, winning a gold medal in 2008 and bronze in 2016. He played 16 years professionally indoors with seasons in Greece, Russia, Turkey and Italy.
Now retired from the indoor game, he is competing professionally in beach volleyball. In 2019, he won the prestigious Manhattan Beach Open on the AVP Tour with Trevor Crabb. His current goal is earning a berth in the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In addition to his playing career, he created and instructs the Max Potential Process mindset course and cofounded the INSAND fitness methodology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I moved around a lot as a kid. My father was a musician who became a Christian pastor. In all of those moves, I played all different sports, but at 15 years old, I was introduced to volleyball for the first time in a PE class. I liked it so much that I tried out for the JV team in high school and had a great experience. Passion quickly turned to obsession (wanted to play any chance I got) that eventually led to my profession. I played 16 years of indoor volleyball professionally all over the world, and am now entering my fourth pro season on the beach.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
Probably Michael Jordan and Karch Kiraly. Two of the greatest competitors of all time. It was inspiring to watch them as a teenager.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
One of my best friends in high school was a year ahead of me. We played volleyball together and won a state championship together. When he graduated, he got a job right out of high school and didn’t go to college. Near the end of my senior year, he came to me and told me that he would like to help me go to the junior club championships. It was an amazing gesture from a 19-year-old and he has been supporting me as a friend ever since!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
Funniest was during the opening ceremonies at my first Olympic games. During the ceremony, the athletes are put in a holding area for hours. There, we meet other athletes, play cards and drink lots of fluids! By the time it was our turn to march out into the stadium, I had to go pee so bad that I couldn’t even concentrate. The entire way through the tunnel and out onto the track I was so preoccupied with finding a way to go to the bathroom that I couldn’t think about anything else. By the time we made it to the infield, I was about to rally my teammates to make a human circle shield around me so I could go. At that moment, US Sprinting legend Sanya Richards Ross heard that I had to go and immediately shouted, me too! Connected on our mission, we did the unthinkable and left the infield, walked through other marching countries and went into another tunnel to find a restroom. From that point on, we formed a connection and laugh about it every four years. ☺
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
Become a master learner. When I was an 18-year-old freshman at Loyola Marymount University, I was told that I would be learning a new position; outside hitter. Problem was I didn’t know how to perform the most important skill; passing. It was absolutely a limiting factor and it kept me off the court because I was a liability to my team. I worked on it for years and eventually became one of the best passers in the world for over 10 years. I love to tell this story to inspire others to not be afraid to confront their weaknesses. Whatever is holding you back today, if faced can be what separates you from the rest of the world in the future.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Max Potential Process and INSAND were both born from relentlessly pursuing the answer to the question “How do I, you or us reach our max potential?” In other words, what are best practices to get the most out of ourselves and, in turn, life? For 20 years as a professional, I pursued that question, and after several years of development, I distilled the best practices into a sequential process that can be applied to anyone’s journey. It is called The Max Potential Process, or The MXP Process, and we launched the first course several months ago at www.mxpmindset.com.
Also, I cofounded a new fitness startup company called INSAND that uses a team environment, group training, integrated specialist, sand as the ultimate training surface, and the active Southern California Lifestyle to create a unique experience. Through INSAND, we are hoping to create a world where the vast majority of people wake up with clarity and confidence, and go through their day knowing exactly what to do to take ground in their pursuits. The will feel connected to a team and end their day with a deep sense of fulfillment knowing it was a day well lived and progress was made. That is living life INSAND!
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers three or four strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
I go through the process of reminding myself of who I am and what I’m about. There is no magic behind competing under pressure or “being clutch.” It is simply developing the skill of being able to operate at your highest capacity when it matters most. It’s a skill of focus and concentration. Doing the deep work of answering some fundamental questions and being clear on what you are trying to accomplish will set the stage for you to begin to do the work of building that skill of focused execution. When you know who you are, and what you are trying to accomplish, your intrinsic desire to overcome and succeed will outlast the thoughts of fear in those moments. That is the pathway to becoming “clutch” — or better, an overcomer!
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
Before every serve, I take a deep breath and remind myself: Me and the ball. Breath work is huge because it helps release tension. It is very difficult to perform with extra tension in your body. Breath work helps you release that as well as reset your focus.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus and clear away distractions?
Me and the ball. Or, 90 square feet is my workspace once I tie the shoelaces. I like to keep my meta-goal or mission top of mind. Having the mission intent in view allows me to feel the gravity of the mundane. Our coach Hugh McCutcheon always said there are no little things, and when you have the mission in view, it helps you apply the necessary energy all the time.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
Sand! Sand is my strategy these days. After being on the national team for 16 years, having an integrated team of trainers and coaches and being 39 years old at the time, I had “peaked.” We attacked every angle: from nutrition, to weight training frequency, sleep … the whole gamut. Once I hit a certain point, I couldn’t improve any more, just maintain … or so we thought.
I was 195 pounds and no matter how much I worked out and ate, I couldn’t gain another ounce of lean muscle mass. I should mention that I was also taking 2400 mg of ibuprofen every day the last years of my indoor career to curb the swelling in my joints from all the pounding on the hard surface.
Then, in retirement, something crazy happened. I retired from indoor volleyball following the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 but still had competitive fire in me to pursue pro beach volleyball. In that first year, my body went through major changes. I cycled completely off of ibuprofen and gained 5 pounds of lean muscle mass! I was stunned … and I was actually lifting less than I was when I was competing indoors. Here is what happened.
The sand is hard to move in … it requires more muscle output to move, run and jump. But, for the same reason that it makes your muscles work harder (its consistency), it makes for much-reduced impact as a landing surface. So my muscles had to work harder at virtually no expense to my joints. For this reason, I believe sand is the ultimate training surface.
Moving in sand helps me stay fit and feeling great. For this reason, we started a new fitness experience called INSAND. The goal is to create this training environment throughout the US, whether you live near a beach or not.
Another strategy I use is just honing in grooves — break skills down to their basic function and then put in the time with meaningful reps. That prepares the body to perform those skills efficiently.
Also, growing up I played a variety of sports. I’ve only had one major injury and it came late in my career. The younger guys I played with specialized in volleyball from a much younger age than me. It seems that my involvement in other sports helped form balance, stability and strength in key muscle groups that helped injury prevention.
All in all, sleep is the most critical, and then in the weight room, maintaining strength and balance helps build a durable body.
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us, in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become “second nature.” Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
ABSOLUTELY! That is why our fitness company builds programs around the 21/90 principle …knowing that it takes 21 days to build a new habit and 90 days to create a lifestyle. We program with that in view and our main goal is to help our members build healthy movement and recovery patterns into their lifestyle.
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
The work that comes before trying to create a new habit is what I think is the most crucial part to forming a new habit. I’m described as an “analytical” player, and it seems that’s because I’m always trying to gain clarity on what the most important fundamentals are to “win my game.” If I can get really clear on what key fundamentals or disciplines are needed to “win my game,” then I can go all in on learning those skill sets.
For example, volleyball is a scoring game. There are six major skills in volleyball, but which of those are the most important? Which skills most impact winning? In crunching numbers, it has become clear that point scoring efficiency is directly associated with where the setter is setting from. If the setter is right on the net in the perfect spot, most teams score at +75%. However, when the setter is setting from 15–20 feet off the net, the scoring percentage can drop to about 50%. Now, for those that don’t know volleyball, you can still appreciate scoring percentages. And what impacts where the setter is setting from? Well, two skills precede the set … a pass and a serve. So, given that the location of where the setter is setting from directly impacts the scoring probability, we can learn that PASSING is the cornerstone to offensive efficiency and SERVING is the cornerstone of defensive point scoring efficiency. Learning about how the proximity of my pass has a big impact on the outcome of points won and lost gave me clarity on where to spend my time.
Time is one of the most important resources. We don’t know how much of it we have and when we use it, we can’t get it back. So I am very proactive in trying to understand exactly what my current goal is and how to quickly identify the major skills required to increase my success rate. It’s a process I use in every area of my life. Frankly, I have spent my entire adult life compelled to understand how to create environments where sustained success can happen under the most pressure. I have relentlessly been asking myself and others how do we get the most out of ourselves, our collaboration and our experiences. When we have clarity on what we are trying to accomplish and what skills are needed to find success, it matters very little how good you are at them. What matters is that you leverage your time and effort in a focused way on that handful of activities. As you master those and build them into your normal routine, they will help you find the success you are working toward.
I have used this process in volleyball, and now in business. It’s amazing to see what can be accomplished when there is focused intent in the right areas. I took this process a step further and tried to make it more accessible and actionable for others. It’s called the Max Potential Process and it has been exciting to see it provide clarity and confidence to others as they reach for success in their pursuits on and off the court.
As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
For me, it has always been about pursuing mastery. So instead of thinking about “performing,” I am trying to build proficiency or fluency of skill. When you learn a new skill or a second language, there are four main stages represented in the Conscious Competence Learning Matrix. In the end, the goal is that you become fluent in your skill. At that point, you are not “hoping to have a great day of Spanish (or fill in the language)” … no, the skill is now a part of you, and you go out and execute what has become second nature. That takes out the need to pursue “flow.” Tiger Woods was the best at this. He became so fluent in golf that he could beat the field on a day when he had what he would characterize as his B or C game.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
Every morning I sit and read my Bible. I focus my thoughts and try to stay in a disposition of gratitude. When you are in a place of true gratitude, you are less likely to be preoccupied with something that took place in the past or worried about what might happen in the future. To be a high performer of anything, you need to learn how to operate in the present moment only!
Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
This is crucial and I’m glad you asked this. I believe our thoughts have the ability to impact everything. The encouraging thing to know is that course correcting our thoughts can happen in less time than it takes to sip a coffee. It takes a long time to develop a skill or fundamental, but for most of us, it’s our thoughts that can be the most limiting barriers to us reaching our goals. Once you identify a limiting or false belief, it is much easier to see how it is negatively impacting your performance. At the same time, with this understanding, it’s easier to change that false thought or belief.
In the Max Potential Program, we have a tool call the MXP Matrix. This matrix is a great tool to help self identify and uncover some limiting beliefs that are the root of our self talk. Uncovering the root of these voices is critical to exposing and then getting rid of or changing them.
OK, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
There was a moment at the London Olympics when I saw my family in the stands and had the thought — I’m glad they are here to support my pursuit, but I hope they know that what they’re pursuing is just as noble and just as worthy a pursuit as an Olympic journey. To help people clarify what their worthwhile pursuit is and empower them to pursue it well is what I’m all in on now. There are two ways I’m doing that.
One is through our INSAND company. The vision is to flip the script on sports — the gift of playing sports is in playing it not watching it. So instead of asking people to watch me play my game, INSAND creates the opportunity for more people to engage with the sport of volleyball with their friends and family while they get healthy and fit. We offer 60-minute “Volleyfit” classes.
The other is Max Potential, as I mentioned earlier. Through these two methods, we are training both the body and the mind.
Can you share your favorite life lesson quote? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Chinese Proverb: “You are likely to end up where you are headed.” I like this because it is amazing as humans how little we like change. However, if you want to end up in a different spot than you are right now, you will have to alter your course … several times over.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Peter Thiel, as I was greatly inspired by his book “Zero to One” and it informed my decision to build something new.
Simon Sinek greatly inspired me to discover my “why.”
Joe Gibbs greatly inspired me in that he excelled in one domain (football) and then shifted to another passion and brought all the great aspects of football with him. He brought the team aspect to NASCAR and completely changed the entire industry for the better.