Soccer is the greatest game on Earth! It's the favorite sport of nearly every country in the world. As a young soccer player, you are all part of a sacred family, the family of Footballers! Like most sports, our beautiful game has its share of injuries. Some, like my concussion in April 2010, are rather severe and can affect you for a long time. You or your parents might be unsure if it’s a good idea to play soccer because of a possible injury like a concussion.
This past January, I was at a huge convention in Philadelphia and was asked a very interesting question: “If you knew that sustaining a concussion would change your life in the way it has, would you still have chosen to play soccer?” I took a deep breath, paused, and then I said, “Absolutely, unequivocally, yes, every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I have played 173 games in the name of the United States with honor. I’ve stood on the podium twice and heard the National Anthem played in the Olympic Games, I lived my dream for 15 years … I wouldn’t change a thing.”
When it comes to taking a significant hit to the head, being honest about how you are feeling and telling your parents and coaches is the most important thing you can do.
Do I wish I could have gotten out of the way of the onrushing forward like I’d been able to do hundreds of times before so I didn’t sustain a serious concussion? YES! Do I struggle on a daily basis coping with memory loss, lack of concentration, headaches, mood swings, and several other post-concussive-syndrome symptoms and wonder, why me? Yes. However, the truth is it did happen to me. And I do have to find a way to cope. I choose to pursue my recovery, raise awareness and education of concussions with the same zest and zeal that I did playing soccer. I choose hope, I choose light instead of darkness. I choose to believe that I can have an inspirational future as impactful as my past when I played the game.
I love soccer and I wouldn’t change a day of the joy, success, and relationships that I have experienced. However, like all sports, injuries do happen and sometimes only the player knows how bad the symptoms can feel. When it comes to taking a significant hit to the head, being honest about how you are feeling and telling your parents and coaches is the most important thing you can do. I understand it is hard not to finish the game or to possibly miss out on the next big tournament, and trying to “play through,” “shake it off,” or “walk it off" when you “get your bell rung” may seem like the tough thing to do for the team at the time. But I am here to tell you that the right thing to do is to tell your parents and coaches if you feel dizzy, get a headache, feel sick, if sounds seem louder, your vision is blurry, or you just don’t feel right. Telling the truth and being completely honest about what you feel is ALWAYS THE BEST thing for everyone.
The fact is that there can be dire consequences if you don’t speak up and tell the truth about how you are feeling. If you get hit again after sustaining a concussion, the effects can be much more dangerous in the short- and long-term. I know it stinks to have to sit on the bench and watch your teammates finish a game or two, but getting the proper rest after a concussion right after it happens is crucial. It’s better to miss one or two or three games than a whole season … or to have symptoms that could change who you are now and in the future.
Soccer is so much more than just kicking a ball to each other and trying to score between two goalposts. Like many other team sports, it teaches valuable life skills such as team work, getting along with others, learning and problem solving, Personal skills are also developed playing the beautiful game: confidence, self-esteem, and setting and achieving goals. What more could you want in a sport? What more indeed? So play with fire, with determination, with passion, with your whole heart and mind. Learn the proper skills and techniques, play with joy, happiness, and a smile on your face and your eyes open wide.