Clearing the Minds of Champions: This Nuggets’ ‘Coach’ Keeps … – University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Supporting professional teams from the outside, fans fixate on the black-and-white peaks and valleys they watch from the sofa or the stands – the big wins and triumphant seasons along with the painful losses and agonizing rebuilds. Sometimes, as in the case of last year’s Denver Nuggets and the 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche, their team delivers pure ecstasy – a long-awaited championship.

Alex Reed, PsyD, MPH, has worked in family medicine as an educator and clinician for 22 years. He has been a team psychologist for the Denver Nuggets since 2019. He also serves on the sports medicine advisory committee of the Colorado High School Sports Association.

But from the inside, the team is a complex entity layered in shades of gray. It’s a blend of personalities, nuances and styles all striving for that elusive trophy. And, especially in team sports, cultivating esprit de corps is a challenging task. Without a unified culture, the summit remains out of reach.

Alex Reed, PsyD, MPH, the Nuggets’ psychologist since 2019, has been behind-the-scenes, supporting the patient, gradual climb of the oft-struggling team into NBA champions.

Alex Reed holds the Larry O’Brien trophy after the Denver Nuggets won the NBA championship.

Reed, an associate professor of family medicine and obstetrics/gynecology, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, first noticed that sports psychology overlapped with his clinical career while teaching a class at Wichita State University in 2006. A former athlete himself (baseball, soccer, golf) Reed’s interest in the field grew as faculty for a family medicine residency with a sports medicine fellowship in Boise, Idaho, where he began helping collegiate athletes with sports-related stress and strain.

Coming to CU Anschutz nine years ago, Reed, who is also director of behavioral health education for the family medicine residency, met CU Department of Family Medicine colleague Morteza Khodaee, MD, who is the Nuggets’ team physician. The Nuggets invited Reed to give players a session about sleep, which went well and blossomed into the team psychologist job, which is a Nuggets partnership with UCHealth and CU Sports Medicine. The role dovetails with the NBA’s push for mental health services for players, coaches and staff.

Asked what goes into developing team culture, Reed, who teaches a class called Medical Improv at CU Anschutz for medical students, said the dynamic in sports is similar to improv theater. “What I see in the (team) culture, the players support each other, make each other look good, take risks, and they also make sure to have fun and cheer each other on,” he said.

Following is a Q&A with Reed, who gives insights into the joys and challenges of providing psychological care to the reigning NBA champions. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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