Reid Priddy Q&A as he embarks on his new beach career

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Reid Priddy in action in the 2016 Rio Olympics bronze-medal match/FIVB photo

Reid Priddy waited patiently last August, barely playing for the USA men’s team in the Rio Olympics before having a super match against Russia as the Americans claimed the bronze medal. It was Priddy’s fourth and final Olympic Games.

Now the 6-foot-4, 39-year-old has hung up his shoes in favor of boardies and brings a fresh and thoughtful perspective to the beach with the hope of reaching Tokyo in 2020.

The product of Richmond, Va., who played collegiately at Loyola Marymount before embarking on a long and illustrious career visited with VolleyballMag.com about not only hitting the beach, but his new book, the Rio Olympics, problems with volleyball and the AVP contract situation.

Reid Priddy hits past the block of Russ Marchewka during the AVP San Francisco tournament, August 14, 2009/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
Reid Priddy hits past the block of Russ Marchewka during the AVP San Francisco tournament, August 14, 2009/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

VBM: What attracted you to beach?

Priddy: In my mind, volleyball has so much potential to grow. That potential is something that I’ve always wanted to help move the needle. The way I like to say it, is that I think volleyball grows in two ways, exposure and opportunity.

So many great entities are providing opportunity. Coaches, clubs, we’ve got a great tour, multiple tours, we have a national team, NCAA women’s sand, boys volleyball is growing, all of these are opportunities. The thing that we don’t have on a larger scale is exposure. It’s my fundamental belief that there are fans out there that would be engaged fans, and would provide a healthy fan base to make the opportunities even greater. That’s sort of the step that I’ve been focusing on. I love to play volleyball, and it would be great if I could be one of those top players, but that’s not what I’m banking on.

VBM: How does one go about finding a partner when you have zero points?

Priddy: My personal journey in beach began with a lot of partner discussions back in the fall. I felt like a freshman entering college in the fall not knowing what to major in or even what to look for.

In not having a partner in the off-season, it proved amazing, because I got to play with everybody. Everybody had weeks where their particular partner was gone, so I was able to play with almost everybody, and just train and play both sides and play both roles and split block.

Players typically approach a season by identifying their partner first, then working from there. I’m sort of taking a different approach. I’m taking a longer view on things and trying to establish an infrastructure or framework that is similar to what I’m used to, trying to build a team around me like in indoor volleyball that can help me reach my max potential on the beach faster.

That’s been my focus, and people really get taken aback when the partner scenario is not my primary focus. At the same time, the reality is, as much as we would like it to be, professional volleyball really isn’t. There’s a very select few that are making that a reality, and I would love to be one of those select few, but I’m not. I’ve been working really hard on the business end to develop a business that could support my volleyball passion.

I would love to train full time and have that be all I do, just try to get better at beach volleyball. Plus I’m absolutely stimulated by the things that I’m partnering with to build.

VBM: Chaim (pronounced “Kame”) Schalk competes with Ben Saxton for Canada on the world tour and recently married Lane Carico, which enables him to play on the tour. Tell us about pairing up with him:

Priddy: We just decided that was going to happen. He didn’t know when he was going to get permission from USA Volleyball.

We haven’t played a ton together because he’s still playing with Ben on the World Tour, but we’ve had a handful of practices and he’s a very established beach player, he’s had great results, he has great experience (two bronze medals on the world tour in 2016), we’re going to split block, and hopefully our ability to side out and serve will allow us to hang in the tournament as long as possible. That’s our whole goal: How long can I stay in the tournament, because every match is another opportunity to learn. I’m excited, I’ve been training mostly on the right, but with Chaim, I’m going to play on the left. I’m probably a better attacker on the left.

VBM: Between the two of you, you have quite a volleyball pedigree. So how do you feel about grinding it out in the qualifier?

Priddy: I’m certainly prepared to play in the qualifier if need be. In 2000, 2006 and 2009 I got through the qualifiers and made the tour … so I feel like I’ve gone through that route. I don’t anticipate or expect a whole lot of wild cards, but it would be great to have wild cards in these first few events.

VBM: Now that we’re eight months past it and you’ve had time to reflect, tell us about your experiences with the indoor team in Rio 2016.

Priddy: In 2014, when we went to Bulgaria, I was really struggling with where we fit with that team. I had been on the team for 14 years, but now we had a new coach and a bunch of new players. I just didn’t know where I fit. A lot of my teammates were moving on or being cut. When we went to Bulgaria, got sweaty in warm-up for a big match with 10,000 people, the anthem is playing, and the adrenaline is pumping, I was just like, “This is why I do this. I still love this. I love competing at the highest level.”

Then that night, we got down 0-2, but recovered and won in five. I could really clearly see the role that was open for me to play and the role that this team needed was that veteran leader.

It was the next night that I tore my ACL. It was a tacky floor, tackier than usual, and it was just a bang-bang play.

It’s just one of those non-impact injuries, my foot just stuck, it was a very tacky floor, more tacky than normal, I landed and the ACL just ripped right off. Without the night before , I don’t even known if I would have come back, but I now knew clearly that there was a spot for me, and I was motivated to make this comeback. It took longer than I would have liked, and there were so many mountains to climb, but coming into Rio, I was prepared to lead from the front, but I was sort of asked to lead from the back. I had to work through those two weeks and figure out what that looked like.

I came up with four areas in which I could contribute, my role, and when we lost against Italy in the semifinal, up to that point I was able to stay engaged and contribute without touching a ball, but when that loss happened it was pretty devastating. If was very difficult to recover over those next 18 hours before the next game.

For me, it was sort of full circle from the whole journey and that Saturday night is when I was just sort of reflecting, and trying to figure out, like, I’ve been able to manage positivity up to this point, and the last thing I want to do in my last game, is harbor any kind of bitterness, you know? And so, in that space, it was just clear to me that it was worth the sacrifice. All the hard work, it was worth it, it wasn’t about wins and losses, it wasn’t about playing time, it was about the relationships and the experiences that happened along the way, and even though I’m wearing the same jersey, I’m not the same person filling that jersey. I’m a different person because of this experience, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. And so in that place, I just felt tremendous gratitude, by the time that match started, on that last day, I was absolutely content. I had already won. It was already a success. I anticipated not playing, and I wrote in my journal. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m ready for anything,” whether I played or didn’t play.

When my number was called, I was absolutely clear-headed. There was no sense of having to prove anything to anyone, I was just ready to play, and I was able to reach my maximum potential, and play to the best of my ability. It was because of that process and I knew that the result did not matter. It was an opportunity to go out and play, I was grateful for the opportunity, I was prepared for anything. That’s what took place in that game.

(The USA came back from 0-2 to win 23-25, 21-25, 21-19, 25-19, 15-13 behind Priddy’s 17 kills and an ace).

VBM: After retiring from indoor, what motivated you to publish your book?

Priddy: The way that got started was that I filled in on two different events. One was a camp for Matt Anderson when he had to leave the country early and the other one was Casey Patterson had a speaking engagement that he wasn’t able to make. Both those guys, on separate occasions, said, “Hey, can you go do these things?” so I did.

I didn’t know what was expected. I just sort of shared my story, shared my expertise, but mainly it was my story. The response from both of those events led to multiple other events, which continue to snowball. It became very clear to me that my message, my story, was a very human story. It is filled with failure and overcoming adversity. I felt tremendous satisfaction that people were connecting with my journey and being inspired by it. The book just came from all of that.

I never sat down and had a plan to write a book, believe me. People have always been saying, “You have to build a brand, you have to do this and that,” and I never understood what that meant. In sharing in this format, I really feel like I’ve found my voice, and hence, my brand, the stuff that I do stand for.

When you’re playing volleyball, especially for a pro indoor player, there’s no off season. There’s no time for reflection. It’s just constant motion. I think this down time of not having to be at a certain practice on a certain day has really helped slow things down and the book came out of this and it was a totally awesome experience writing it and the feedback from people has been inspiring me to keep being honest and keep answering questions.

VBM: Finally, now that you’ll be part of it, what’s your take on the AVP player agreement situation?

Priddy: I think I’ll let somebody else answer that question. I don’t know that I can answer that properly at this time, everything is so fresh. I do think that the AVP brand and name is extremely valuable. It was here long before any of us players were involved and will be here long after we’re all done playing. It’s the brand that America knows about.

In my mind, I am extremely fatigued with squabbling amongst ourselves. The only thing we should be thinking about are the fans. How do we add value to their lives? How do we engage or offer something that they would invest their time or money in. That’s all that matters. This player-centric ideal goes nowhere. The sponsor-driven model goes nowhere. We need to figure out a way to come together and build and service a fan base. That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve. And I’m not relying on any entity to do it.

I once held that the notion that if I could just win, if I could be the best and win a gold medal, I had this weird expectation and hope that things were going to come after that. USA volleyball is a $30M entity, but it’s not a marketing entity. They don’t grow fan bases. They offer opportunities for players, amazing opportunities for players. I think we have this ideal and expectation that these entities are somehow going to provide great opportunities beyond us spiking and that’s just not what they’re designed to do.

I think it’s going to take players like myself who have lived the life cycle to try and connect the dots and see if we can’t campaign together to tell a more complete story and give something to fans that they can sink their teeth into, get excited, and get engaged with. That’s where my focus is.

So honestly, I read the agreement yesterday for the first time. I’m way more focused on how to build a fan base. If we can grow a fan base and provide value to them, and be in the customer service business, the opportunities are going to be exponential. I have a great relationship with (AVP CEO) Donald (Sun),  I support the AVP. 

Priddy’s Maximum Potential Playbook can be downloaded for free by clicking here

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