New York, July 18, 2017 - What is four-time US Olympic indoor ace Reid Priddy doing on the beach? That’s what we wondered in May, when he appeared on the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour back in the States.
One answer has become obvious: He’s moving up the ranks. In fact, a couple of weeks ago at the AVP San Francisco Open, Priddy placed third with Ricardo Santos, the 42-year-old Olympic triple medallist from Brazil who became a permanent US resident in June. It was Priddy’s best result in five events (with four different partners).
Last month while playing an event in New York, the 39-year-old father of two explained the real reason he’s playing barefoot.
Question - After winning 2008 Olympic gold and 2016 bronze on the hard courts, is beach volleyball your full-time focus now?
Priddy - Yes. I want to make a run at one more Olympic Games and I want to do it on the beach. That’s absolutely my plan. Last spring, I was playing for an indoor club in Italy; everything was great. But for my wife, it was hard. She had no help overseas, and my son was entering kindergarten, and my daughter was 1½. I knew it was time to stop playing indoor. The next question was – I don’t feel like I’m done, athletically. After my double knee surgery in 2014, leading into Rio, I was feeling the best of my career.
Question - Wait, two surgeries on one knee? Or surgery on both knees at once?
Priddy - Both knees. I tore my right ACL in a 2014 FIVB Volleyball World League match against Bulgaria. But that was a pretty important weekend because I was wondering if it was time to be done. I’d watched the majority of my generation go away. I was playing with guys 15 years younger than me and I didn’t know where I fit. That weekend, once the adrenaline got going and we lined up for national anthems, I just knew: I love it. This is why I’m here. We got down 0-2 and we fought back and won in five and I could clearly see the role I was there to play: as the veteran guy that could not be surprised by any situation. The very next night, we were up 2 games to 1 and up really big in the fourth set 14-8 and I just came down weird and they took a tendon from my left knee to repair the right ACL. The decision to use my own tissue instead of a cadaver’s made the recovery longer. Even when my knees were good, it took a year-and-a-half to feel like I was in my own body again. It made me a long shot for the Rio Olympic team. I had to fight every day for a spot. I was grateful to be able to compete and make the team. But if I hadn’t had that clarity the night before the injury – that there is a role for me and I still love doing this – then I might have just retired.
Question - Do you have someone in mind that you want to play with? Or is it too soon?
Priddy - For me, this year is about research and development. I would have loved to hit the ground running but nobody was willing to take a risk. So it’s afforded me the opportunity to play with everybody, almost. I got to play a week with Phil Dalhausser. I got to play with Theo Brunner, Stafford Slick. I really got to know the guys – which was great. And then, I’ve decided to approach beach volleyball a little different. I’m used to structure, and the beach community is very autonomous. So instead of me learning how to be autonomous, I’m going to build structure around me. So I’ve gone out and recruited some of the best minds in sports.
Question - Like who?
Priddy - The best stat guy in the world: Joe Trinsey. He worked with the US women’s indoor team this last quad helping them to a 119-23 record. He’s a forward thinker when it comes to applied analytics. We’re crunching numbers, trying to figure out what wins points. He’s not telling me what shots to hit. But he’s saying that from these positions, there’s a higher probability of success – or this serve scores better than that serve. It provides clarity and a metric system.
Question - Who else?
Priddy - Misao Tanioka, a biomechanics expert. She’s one of the best body technicians out there. She just left an amazing job to do this. She was the head trainer at University of Illinois women’s volleyball programme. I’m turning 40 in October, so if I’m going to make this run – somebody’s got to be in charge of keeping this vessel in shape.
Question - How many people in your ensemble?
Priddy - Full-time, I think it’s going to be four or five. We converged in May to try it out. It was amazing. I trained twice as hard and felt twice as good. I’m out there with Brian Lewis who’s showing me the cut shot that he made a career on. Todd Rogers has been part of it as a consultant. We’ve got some other people that I can’t name yet.
Question - Finding a partner is important, too.
Priddy - It’s super-important; I just can’t force it.
Question - You dabbled in beach volleyball before, right? This isn’t totally new to you.
Priddy - Yeah, I’ve dabbled. The most beach tournaments I played was in 2000, right after my senior year of college. I always envisioned myself as playing beach but then, suddenly, the whole world of indoor volleyball opened up. I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t even know you could play indoor volleyball professionally. I did not make the Sydney Olympic indoor team. I was an alternate but it was cool to see the lead-up. That’s when I started to think about the national team being a worthwhile sacrifice. Two months after that, an opportunity opened in Italy. I got on a plane for a tryout. All of a sudden, I was in the best league in the world. We were the worst team in the best league (ha ha), but I signed my first deal for 55,000 Euro and it might as well have been $50 million. It kept getting better every year and now, 16 years later, it’s time to transition back to beach.
Question - Beach volleyball has changed a bit since 2000. Has anything surprised you?
Priddy - I think the most frustrating thing is the autonomy. I’m used to going into a gym with 20 other people, all together, arms linked, headed into battle. Beach just feels fragmented, like you’re kind of friends with people, but you’re not helping each other. I feed off of leaning on others, and others leaning on me. It gets a little small when it’s just you and another guy. It’s a weird dynamic, and I don’t think it really can be anything else.
Question - Which indoor habits have been the hardest to break?
Priddy - The biggest adjustment is that I’m so used to broad jumping instead of vertically jumping. I’m 6-foot-4 [1.93m], so I was always undersized indoors and I had to keep the ball in front of me so I had vision, but on the beach, you almost want to be here straight up because your shots are higher. So people right now are saying, stop broad jumping and use shots more. I understand that, but I don’t think they’re recognizing that even though I’m using a lot of power now, I was not a meathead player indoors. It’s not my modus operandi - I was always the tactician. I was outside hitter my whole career.
Question - Have any other outside hitters made it big on the beach?
Priddy - Karch, John Hyden, Mike Lambert.
USA women's national volleyball team coach Karch Kiraly won Olympic gold as a volleyball player (1984, 1988) and later as a beach volleyball player (1996)
Question - That’s a good sign.
Priddy - Honestly, what I’m setting out to do is very improbable. In no way do I make any assumptions about results. We have a four-year goal and this is Year One. It’s willy-nilly, trying to feel it out, but this fall, I think we’ll have a pretty clear idea of how to spend the next six months. I’m excited! I’ve never had an off-season as a professional. I can’t wait to have six solid months to take everything we’ve been exposed to this summer and get really specific on how we want to attack weaknesses and come into next year guns blazing.
Question - You’ve clearly proven your longevity, physically. But mentally – how have you stayed motivated all these years?