Thursday, February 06, 2014

Chris Reed and the Power of Positive Thinking

MSU Mankato's Chris Reed is giving the rest of the male NCAA DII athletes a break.  He's not throwing this weekend, so somebody else can grab a USTFCCCA Athlete of the Week honor.  Well , not really, he's resting and rehabing his elbow tendinitis that has flared up again after three weeks of setting personal and DII shot put records.

"My goal is to PR every week," says Reed. So far, so good. If he can keep up this pace throughout the season he could reach another goal he's set for the indoor season, reaching 66 to 67 feet indoors, take a break then ramp up again to try and throw 70 feet outdoors.  If that seems more like a dream than reality, consider this.  Reed surprised himself by throwing 61 7.75"in his first meet, which was seven days after MSU Mankato lost to St. Cloud State in the NCAA DII football playoffs. His indoor PR, which he set in finishing second at the 2013 NCAA DII shot put was 60' 5".

Chris Reed launching the shot
"I'm lucky enough to have another sport," said Reed.  His "second sport," track and field, allowed him to put the disappointment at the football loss quickly behind him as he jumped right into training for track.  The next week he had a little dip, only throwing 61' .2.5".  Then came the Northwest Open at the University of Minnesota where Reed broke his PR again, throwing 62' 10".  His improvements weren't gradual, they were monumental.

And they haven't stopped, as the next weekend Reed broke NCAA DII indoor record at the Jack Johnson Classic with a monster throw of 65' 5.5".  That put Reed within striking distance of 66', which had been his original goal for his entire college career. The next weekend on home turf in Mankato, Reed launched the 16 pound ball 65' 10.25", breaking the 20 meter barrier(20.07 meters).  All this forced a major readjustment of what might be possible.

Reed started doing the numbers.  Last year he'd improved five feet from indoors to outdoors and won the NCAA DII outdoor shot put title.  If he did that again this year, 66' would be a dot in the rear view mirror and a truly historic accomplishment could be within his grasp, 70'.  One might say that's a lot to ask, but Reed is not a glass half empty guy.  He wants to reach for the stars. One of his rules being that one never says can't.

When he talks about his sports career it's clear that those around him don't use the C word either.  Listed as 6'5" tall and 300 pounds, Reed has the right equipment for being an offensive tackle on the Mankato football team and a weight man on the track.  He's been big "ever since I can remember," he says.  "At three years old, I looked like I was six...When I was in grade school people said to me: 'Hey, you're big. You should probably play football.'" So, he did, and basketball, and track, and wrestling in Spirit Lake, Iowa where he went to school.

His mother encouraged him to be active.  In sixth grade she urged him to go out for track.  When Chris inquired what he should do, she suggested the shot put: "Oh, you just throw a giant ball," she told him.  What kid doesn't want to do that?  By middle school, Chris began to "specialise," he winnowed his sports down to track and football, the sports he's done ever since.  Asked which one he's going to do after college, Reed says he doesn't know yet.  He has one more year of eligibility left in football, so he will play next fall and make a decision after that.

The only thing he knows for sure is that he wants to do a sport at the professional level after he's done with his college career.  He may try out for the NFL.  If he does throw 70 feet or even close to it later this year track could become a legitimate option.  Both are long shots because the NFL generally doesn't drill down to the DII level for draftees, but with his size and his intelligence, Reed has all the tools to succeed in either sport, and he doesn't use the word can't.

Reed in his football gear.
He's found that the discipline, the physical and mental skills necessary to do well in both sports are the same.  The power, strength and quickness necessary to be an offensive lineman are also vital to success in the weight events in track.  Reed says he feels fortunate to have all the resources he needs at Mankato to prepare both his mind and his body.  Watching film, breaking down strengths, weaknesses, what you did wrong or what needs improvement are well supported by modern technology, from old fashioned camcorders to modern digital media, the resources are there for Reed to study what he needs to work on to reach his goals.

The strength training facilities are top notch, says Reed. The coaching expertise is also there to allow him to work on whatever physical things he needs to improve upon--his strength, his speed, technique, and specific exercises to meet those needs.  Reed also consults with a sports psychologist to allow him to get the most out of his mind as well as his body.  Visualization.  Techniques to allow you to get the best from yourself even when things are not going well.

Practice, practice, practice.  "A lot of it comes from football, the hard work, the discipline,"  Reed says. When he says work, he doesn't mean merely doing drills, mindlessly going through the motions. Everything you do has a purpose.

You get out what you put into your training.  It's something of a cliche, but you have to give it 100%, says Reed.  He learned that lesson the hard way at the 2013 NCAA DII indoor championships.  He wasn't prepared mentally. He went into the event preoccupied by the fear of fouling, which caused him not to put everything into his early throws.  He had to rally from ninth place to get to take his final three throws. He still hit an indoor PR, but he knew he could have thrown further, he could have won, but he hadn't been ready.

He resolved that this wouldn't happen again.  So, in addition to the physical things he needs to work on--his technique, improving his strength and speed, he's developed mental strategies to help him focus,  help control his aggression,  find that balance between being not aggressive enough and being too aggressive.  How to calm down or psych up when necessary.  He's always been a big meet performer, able to do his best when it matters most. He's set himself lofty goals knowing that you don't accomplish great things without the belief that you can do them.

Sports, life often comes down to overcoming adversity.  "Trust yourself," the coaches tell him.  "Trust in what you've been taught.  Trust in your body...All you've got to do is throw."  Sounds so simple.  "Get out more over the toe board.  Opening my hips better.  Don't rely on my arms and my speed."  Reed works and drills his technique until it becomes "second nature."  He's able to do them almost without thinking.  The best performances feel effortless, easy because you've finally executed flawlessly all the things you've worked on in practice.

"I'm still learning," says Reed  Still figuring out how to mesh all the "moving parts" that encompass one's performance.  If he doesn't reach his objective, it won't be for lack of trying or preparation.  Can't isn't allowed to be part of his vocabulary.

Video of Reed's latest record setting throw filmed by Sanna Caffin is HERE.

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