I met Reilly Jo through the Belmont Athletic Marketing team. She is a current athletics Graduate Assistant
and produces volleyball game days, helps out behind the scenes for media day, and probably a million other things that I’m not even aware of.
Her friendliness and helpfulness immediately stood out to me… way before I knew the depth of her story.
Let me tell you now, Reilly Jo’s words pack a punch. She’s got advice, been-there-done-that experiences of a burnt out athlete, a well-rounded mental health awareness, and more.
Feeling like you’re in a slump?
Just not “feeling it” anymore?
This one’s for you.
Growing up in Chicago, Reilly Jo was heavily involved with softball and thoroughly enjoyed it during her high school years. She committed to Drexel University in Pennsylvania as a Junior and everything went as planned. (By now, you should know that is never the case).
I had a really high freshman year, and then I hit that signature sophomore slump of coming off a really good season – nothing was going my way.
Within softball, you will fail 66% of the time. If you succeed 33% of the time, you’re doing something right. It’s a sport of lots of failure, and very little success and in that moment, she was feeling the failure.
With a coach that still believed in her ability, she received chances to perform. As we all know, COVID shut down the world, and this impacted her Junior year. They managed to play 10 games before the season was cancelled.
We were playing Hawaii, Texas Tech, and Minnesota which are all extremely good teams. I had this terrible “What’s gonna happen to me?” attitude because I had not been performing against lower quality teams.
Contrary to others I have spoken with, Reilly Jo believes that the COVID-19 shutdown helped her. It allowed her to reset and become mentally present within her sport and her team again. During the time at home, Reilly Jo realized that she needed to seek out help.
I was home with my family and I realized in my head that I wasn’t okay. I started going to a therapist when I was home because I had this time that I had away from softball – which I think was the best thing that ever happened to me, taking that time – because I was not feeling myself. I took that time to go to therapy and I came back.. and my senior year, I had the best year of my life.
Finding Her “Why”
When going through the re-evaluation of her career, Reilly found herself asking “What is my why?” “Why am I doing this” “What am I doing?”
As athletes, we put a lot of our identity in our performance. I was doing that wholeheartedly. If I had a bad day on the field, I was going to have a bad day that day.
Reilly Jo had a very close family friend who passed away. She admired how everything he did was impacted by two simple things: effort & attitude. After therapy, Reilly then began to re-evaluate various aspects of her sport and life from a different perspective.
- “Am I giving 100% effort?”
- Bring the best attitude
You could hit the ball as hard as you want, on the sweet spot of the bat, and you could hit it right at someone.
Before therapy, I saw that as “I suck, I’m never going to see the field again.”
After therapy, I saw it as a little victory that I could celebrate, but it just happened to go right to her.
Reilly had to find her “why” and mold her mindset to see the positives. A mindset that she still uses today and is instilling in others.
I’m very open about going to therapy. I’m very open about what it did for me, what my therapist did for me. I think that is something that is a huge part of my journey. It’s something that needs to be talked about… All the time.
Within her position with Vanderbilt athletics, she is sharing her journey, change of mindset, and experiences on the current generation of college athletes.
You’re human, you’re going to make mistakes. Knowing things are going to go wrong, but you have to figure out a way to turn it around and look at it in a way that you can grow from.
It is essential to have a strong support system no matter what you are going through. Reilly Jo is blessed enough to have that! Her dad’s words of “keep fighting, keep smiling” helped get her through her lowest of lows which is why it’s tattoo’d on her body. It reminds her that it is just a game and we are supposed to be having fun.
Working with her therapist to find ways in the box or on the field to talk to herself in an uplifting manner. She has had to remind herself that sometimes you’ve got to, fake a smile, make yourself laugh, and just play the game that you love.
I have so many people that care about me and love me, and here I am, crying because I can’t hit a softball with a bat.
Forgiveness… To Herself
Another one of Reilly Jo’s tattoo’s is the Native American symbol for forgiveness. It is her constant reminder to forgive herself for what happened her sophomore year. How she treated herself, the strains she had within her relationships with family, friends, team, and coaches, and a reminder that everything is going to be okay.
During her last season, she made these three her highest importance.
1) Have fun with her girls
2) Enjoy every single second
3) Put her best effort and attitude into everything… with the chance that they might win some ball games.
Remembering that every day you get to play is a gift – because not everyone gets to do that. The fact that I am out here living my dream and there’s people that didn’t make it. Understanding that we are so lucky no matter what.
Reilly Jo’s Message
You can discipline yourself and have standards and expectations for yourself, but the second you place your value as a human on how you perform, it’s going to go south… fast.
I wish my freshman year that I understood how lucky I was and how much fun softball is.
You are not invincible, you have a tank and your tank gets empty.
It’s okay to not be perfect all of the time. It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to take a day off. As long as you show up and give your 110% effort and you come with a good attitude.