By Holly Rilinger
I was a basketball player for the first 20 years of my life.
"To reach a dream that was 15 years in the making was mind-blowingly rewarding."
No seriously, I was. I started playing basketball when I was 6 years old, and went on to play pro. For 20 years I woke up passionate about life, excited to practice, and focused on what I wanted to achieve. To reach a dream that was 15 years in the making was mind-blowingly rewarding. It was one of those fall down on your knees and begin to weep moments, because although I enjoyed every moment of the journey, there was a clear destination I had in mind.
I’m sure you can imagine the feeling when my basketball career ended. Heartbreak. Loss. Confusion. Depression. Pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum. I remember flying back from France, and I had no idea what was next. This was as far as I had ever taken aim.
"When my basketball career ended it felt like a bad breakup, and the absolute last thing I was ready to do was date."
It seemed like a logical decision to become a trainer. I didn't have any desire to coach basketball. When my career ended it felt like a bad breakup, and the absolute last thing I was ready to do was date. What I didn't realize was I wasn’t ready for any kind of coaching. With or without a ball.
I’m 5’4". If there was anything I had learned, it was how to make MY BODY quicker, faster, and stronger. I knew how to motivate myself. I knew discipline. I knew how the mind affected the body, and I knew all about nutrition. I loved it. But I loved it in the context of making MYSELF a better athlete.
So there I was. My first client. He was a lanky boy in his 20s who wanted to put on muscle. I created a program for him and we started training together. He was bench pressing one day, and halfway through the set, he said, “I can’t,” gave up, and we racked the weight. I looked at him in disbelief. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T??
"It was in that moment that I realized that not only had I been a player my whole life (not a coach), but I had a very hard time understanding anyone who was different from myself."
It was in that moment that I realized that not only had I been a player my whole life (not a coach), but I had a very hard time understanding anyone who was different from myself. I didn’t know what “can’t” meant. There wasn’t a part of me that went into the coaching mode where you show someone how they can. I just shut off.
I decided to leave training and sell real estate for the next 5 years.
Sometimes we need to walk away from the things that are right to really understand them. I had to grow up a little bit, and figure out who I was as a trainer. Figure out if I had it in me. It was time I did some soul searching.
What I’ve come to realize over the years is that because I was coached for so long, I unknowingly had all the skills I needed. I just needed to uncover them, and then be WILLING to help other people. The beauty of having so many coaches is that I know what worked for me and what didn’t. I’ve had coaches that have screamed in an attempt to motivate me through fear and aggression. I hated basketball during those years. I’ve had coaches (like my college strength and conditioning coach, Greg Werner) who not only believed in me, but helped me believe more in myself. The most amazing coaches are selfless. They care deeply about each athlete or client, and treat their successes and failures as if they were their own. The best coaches (and trainers) understand that this isn’t about them, it’s about their players and clients.
"I wake up on fire because I change lives every single day."
I’m thankful I stepped away from training. There’s no doubt I know what passion feels like. There was a moment where I wondered if I would ever experience passion at that level again. I wondered if I would wake up on fire again. I didn’t understand how that could be possible with the game behind me. Now I understand. Because I’m there. I wake up on fire because I change lives every single day. I stir passion in others. I am closing the circle by giving back, and sharing everything I’ve learned and experienced on my personal journey.
I’m a COACH.
Holly Rilinger is a certified personal trainer, master trainer at Nike, and Master Trainer at Flywheel.
Picture a childhood bedroom: posters of Michael Jordan, motivational quotes plastering the walls, sneakers and gear piled everywhere, and a young girl lying in bed, tossing a basketball into the air. Picture the chart this girl pinned to her garage wall to keep track of her daily workouts, percentage of shots made, and areas for improvement. Now, picture this young girl as an adult, one who turned hesitations about her 5’4” frame into fuel for making her basketball dreams come true. But this is not a story about dreams – it is one about reality. This is the story of Holly Rilinger.
Holly came to be named the #1 Freshman Pointguard by USA TODAY, the All-Time Leading Scorer at James Madison University, and a Strength and Conditioning All American. After all, her talents on the court were undeniable. However, things took a turn when reporters and coaches wary of her height aired their doubts about whether she could “wow” in the pros. After being turned down consistently by US agents, Holly discovered a New Zealand coach who had watched her game tape and wanted to give her a try. Holly drove his team to the National Championship that year. Finally attracting the attention she deserved from agents, Holly was quickly signed for her first pro gig in Germany, and subsequently for a cameo appearance on the WNBA team Phoenix Mercury.
Today, Holly channels the same drive, discipline, and heart it took for her to make it in the pros into every one of her clients. “Sharing the hope,” Holly says, “that is where the magic lies.”