top of page

By Brent Reilly | My story as a former pro-AFL football player and some tools and methods to support

Coach Janx has written this blog with help from Brent Reilly.

I was recently asked to provide a paper to our National Intensive Training Program (NITP) athletes to help advise them on overcoming adversity. Whilst writing the paper this video was going viral by Geno Auriemma (Head Coach of UCONN Huskies Women’s team):

Geno talks about resilience, enthusiasm, body language and what he looks for that when recruiting athletes. I agree! I hope this blog and story helps readers think about the importance of resilience and how those in the public eye that seem to have the world at their feet have almost always faced significant challenges and hardship to get to where they are.

Whilst watching the Auriemma video and writing the NITP paper I began to cast my thoughts to the value of blogging on the subject of overcoming adversity. I genuinely feel that dealing with adversity and building resilience is a key skill our Featured Athletes have developed that enable them to be at the top of their field as elite, young prospects.

I also cast my thoughts to who I could discuss this subject with in detail and could not go past Brent Reilly. Like our featured athletes, Brent Reilly emerged as an elite prospect at the age of 18 when drafted as 12th pick in the 2001 AFL draft to the Adelaide Crows.

I asked Brent about his transition into being a professional athlete;

Brent; “Football didn’t become serious until I was 16 when I made the Calder Cannons U18 TAC Cup squad. It was the best pathway to get drafted for a young man at my age. My second and last year of being in the competition was when I had to show my worth! I had a great pre-season which helped my performance, where I made the Victorian Metro U18 team for the national championships (which we won) and was named All-Australian for the champs. I finished 3rd in the Cannons B&F and we qualified for the Grand Final. But that’s when my I had my experience of adversity. It was the Tuesday night training session before the grand final, where I fractured my collarbone and was ruled out of the big game. Being a 17 year old, with an opportunity to play in the biggest game of the year I had to sit on the sidelines. The boys went onto win, which was great but you still don’t feel a part of the team.

I attended draft camp a few weeks later, where I was interviewed by 15 clubs. It wasn’t until draft day when my dream came true. But it was bitter sweet, as I had to make the move to Adelaide, a place where I hadn’t been to before and know idea about the journey I was about to take.”

Pictured: Brent in 2001 as he was being drafted from the Calder Cannons in Victoria.

Also like our featured athletes, and others aspiring to climb our sport's pathways, it was his character and values, as well as his skills that saw him have a long successful career in his field. All young, elite athletes, anyone pursuing excellence in their field for that matter, will be faced adversity throughout and success or failure is often based on their ability to overcome adversity, adapt and move forward.

Likewise, Brent had the need to develop great resilience; moving out of home at a young age, been in and out of the Adelaide Crows side during the Gary Ayre's (former Coach of the Crows) years, a shoulder reconstruction partway through his career and eventually an injury which caused an end to his football career.

To play at one club for a career as long as Brent's speaks volumes about who he is and here is what David Noble of the Crows had to say about him in this article ( .

"To see the transition, I think what [we] saw this morning was just a real class person," Noble said.

"The integrity and the honesty that I think Brent's embedded in the culture of our football club – they're the people that you just love to have around the place"

Brent has had some highs and lows in fairly long professional sporting career and I feel many lessons can be taken from him. Most of our elite athletes will need to leave home at a younger age than most. We compete in a global international sport and like many Brent did find this hard, especially without the luxuries of Skype, Facetime etc.

Brent: “My first two years at the crows where the worst years of my AFL career. I was homesick, I wanted to go home every weekend and didn’t embrace what the club was all about. I was stuck in a fixed mindset where I was avoiding the challenge, I was giving up easily and was ignoring useful negative feedback. It’s wasn’t until my soon to be mentor Simon Goodwin sat me down for dinner and told me to wake up to realise what an opportunity I had to play for this great club. Having the support and friendship of someone like that really helped change my mindset from a fixed to a growth mindset, where I had to embrace to challenge, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as a pathway to success and learn from criticism.”

This is very similar mindset to what many of the featured athletes have.

Isaac White talks about it in his blog;

“As you may have understood from my stories, any successes I have experienced throughout my short career, are due a relentless determination, and will to persevere through adversity. You MUST understand…… every time you find yourself struck by hardship or pain, it is an opportunity to rise, learn and grow. As a side note, it is a sweet taste knowing that those who once doubted you, are now those who preach about you.”

Or Daniel Carlin in his:

“I find myself repeating the phrase when either of us gets a hand we don't really like. It is one of the biggest lessons I have learnt on the court that has transferred to all other parts of my life. The reality is sometimes things don't turn out the way you've planned or hoped. A lot of those times these things are completely out of your control. When this moment happens you have two choices, the first option is to play the victim. This usually comes in the form of an excuse, looking for others to blame, or any other way you can avoid taking responsibility for what has come your way. The other option is to be the aggressor. When you take this stance the first step is the acceptance of the situation. After this you begin to own it, it might not be what you wanted but it's what you have. From here you can attack your problems. Maybe it requires some new goals but you are now in the driver's seat and have the ability to still create the best possible outcome for yourself. Some other things to keep in mind is that personalities can be contagious, and in some cases poisonous. Victims will drag others down, while aggressors will lead and inspire.”

Pictured: Past blogger Daniel Carlin competing for Westmont College in the NAIA in the United States.

Or Nicole Seekamp in hers:

“Although that does sound disappointing, every team must face adversity in order to make themselves tougher and better equipped in the future. And that is exactly how we looked at it.”

From a resilience perspective here is an extract from the paper I developed for the NITP program. It includes many ideas and concepts from my own experiences in life, also working on significantly guiding many elite youth athletes (including all of the Featured Athletes, a lot, at various times) through overcoming and achieving in the face of adversity, also lots of study in the field whilst completing my MBA degree. I hope that readers review the paper and think about some of the ideas in it. It is a great tool for young athletes, or anyone for that matter, to use any field of endeavor.

Anyway back to Brent. Brent did overcome the challenges of his first 2 years, a rising star of the AFL, as seen with nomination for the award with the same name, and went onto have long , professional sporting career;

“Over my career I had plenty of ups and downs but it was the persistence and perseverance I had no doubt helped me achieve what I achieved in my 203 game career. I was living my dream playing the game I loved from a young age.”

Pictured: Brent in his prime of a successful, long, professional career with the Adelaide Crows.

However, again he was faced with adversity. The inevitable end we all face in our on field sporting careers be it amateur, semi-pro or professional. The nature of how his career ended would have been incredibly difficult for anyone. Brent discusses that here;

“Then my perfect world got turned upside down. Within a click of the fingers my dream was over. During a pre-season training drill I went back into traffic to get a ground ball, was running a little too fast for my own good and BANG…. Smashed my head into a teammate’s knee. That was at 9am in the morning and I cannot remember anything until 9:30pm that night.

I woke up in ICU with 70 staples in my head, I was confused and disorientated, I had no idea what had happened. I had seizure while I was waiting for surgery and was rushed into emergency surgery. I was in surgery for 2 hours. The diagnosis was a depressed fractured skull which required 3 plates, severe concussion, fractured jaw and a case of dysphasia. I did a good number on myself!

My speech was impaired, I couldn’t communicate what I was thinking. I had fears of looking like Shrek for the rest of my life, will I be able to read or speak again to live a normal fulfilled life again?? But what got me through this big adversity in my life was to have a positive attitude. This helped me embrace the injury. I can’t changed what happened so what do I need to do to get my life back to where I wanted to go? By having a process in place to help me get better and help me transition out of the AFL system into the real world. Be positive!!

The decision to retire was an easy one but a tough one to process. I knew my football career was over when I was lying in hospital, but it’s hard to fathom that I will be never putting the boots on again. It was an unknown and I had no idea what to do!”

Pictured: Retirement day. We all go through it but very tough when it is forced and it is what you do for a living.

For all athletes striving for elite excellence be it elite junior players, college athletes, professionals and premier league players at some stage we will not be able to do what we thought we could. The outcome is taken out of our hands and we have no control over it. That is similar to the end of Brent's career. However, the values and resilience capabilities we develop on the sporting fields helps us through. What Brent does next demonstrates how he was able to overcome an extremely significant event to become successful in his life after sport, where today some of our top, elite sporting organisations entrust him to guide their athletes in developing resilience programs.

Brent: “After a successful recovery and back living a normal life, I got an opportunity to work at South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) in the Wellbeing and Resilience Centre. I now oversee the Sport aspect of the WRC, and offer help, support and direction, for aspiring young, and also established Sportspersons.”

Brent is applying his skills in his new role at The Wellbeing and Resilience Centre at SAHMRI, applying the skills, experience and knowledge he developed first hand for South Australia's wider community. His specific focus is on working with sporting organisations, professional, peak bodies, associations in equipping leaders to develop resilience amongst athletes, workers and leaders across their organisation.

Brent: “The sports program that I’m developing is aimed at athletes ‘being the best you’, both professionally and personally. The resilience skills will help athletes accept challenges, make choices, manage change, cope with frustrations and how to deal with the unexpected. These skills will help athletes bounce back after injury, manage expectations, perform, build and maintain strong relationships, and cope with relocation.”

I feel many sporting organisations at any level have a responsibility to develop successful programs. I feel part of this is ensuring the holistic development of those young men and women you guide. When you do that you ultimately attract the best talent, mentor, develop and grow that talent, retain talent and at then end of the day this will help your organisation succeed.

Brent gave us his contact email for everyone that is interested in finding out more about his programs - We can't thank Brent enough for sharing his story.

Pictured: Brent is today forging a successful career at SAHMRI. Taking his career and lessons learned and helping guide sporting organisations and their athletes to become more resilient.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page