Just Not Worth it

blog 4As a young athlete, you look ahead at your future and see endless opportunities to be great and to achieve your dreams. The older you become, the more you begin to realize and recognize your potential and the effort it will take to achieve those once seemingly infinite opportunities. College athletics isn’t for everyone; it takes a dedicated and passionate person willing to give up a portion of their college experience to be able to play at this level. I knew that I would be playing colligate soccer towards the end of my high school career; the only question that remained was where I would choose to go. Ultimately I decided to attend a NCAA Division 2 University, Notre Dame de Namur. When I signed my national letter of intent to play I made a promise to myself that I would work hard and earn my spot on the starting line-up and live out my dream for the next 4 years; unfortunately my fairy tale ending never came.

signing day 011
Signing my National Letter of Intent

Just about halfway through the first season of my freshman year, I managed to secure my spot as the starting goalkeeper and played each game with my whole heart; until I couldn’t any longer. 72 minutes into the match against Dominican University I collided with an opposing player, and I still haven’t fully remembered the events that followed.

Fearless Goalkeeper
The hit that changed my career

After collecting stories from teammates, coaches and my athletic trainer it turns out that the hit briefly knocked me out and all that I can seem to remember is the trainers leaning over me telling me not to move and a massive headache that has never really gone away. I was taken to the emergency room and told by the physician that I had a grade 1 sprain in my neck and a pretty serious concussion; he sent home to rest and recover. Under the care of my athletic trainer I was prevented from playing for a few weeks and once I saw the team doctor he advised that we wait until symptoms stopped before I was able to get back on the pitch. 6 weeks after the event, I still wasn’t feeling better, and was referred to a neurologist to shed some light as to when I would be able to play again. At this point, the season was pretty much over and since I was only in my first year, my sports medicine team advised me to just sit tight and get back out there next season after plenty of rest. I was fortunate to cultivate a deep relationship with my athletic trainers and they watched me like a hawk through my recovery. Even though I didn’t report my headaches and my lack of concentration in class, they were able to observe differences in my personality and the way I acted, and kept me off the field probably saving me from more brain damage.

Sadly not every athlete has a sports medicine team that is able to keep them safe. As we have seen in the article Pressure on Sports Medicine Clinicians to Prematurely Return Collegiate Athletes to Play After Concussion, athletes will not report symptoms in the hopes of being cleared to play or coaches will pressure clinicians to clear their “star players” so they can win the season. This problem needs to be resolved by the sports community and the health of players needs to be put in the forefront; unfortunately it isn’t such a simple fix. Recently, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), the American Neurological Association, and the Child Neurology Society have joined together to produce a document on the legal and ethical implications on the evaluation and management of sports-related concussion. Medscape’s Sue Hughes wrote a discussion on the publication and notes about the issue in which athletes visit numerous physicians until they get the result they want. To deal with this situation, the new document suggests that physicians ask athletes and their families to sign a waiver before the consultation stating that the information can be shared with the athletic coach or school. An idea like this could make huge strides to help protect the future well-being of athletes.

concussiondiagram

Fast forward two years and two more concussions later and I’m getting my Master’s degree in Kinesiology learning about the damaging effects of concussions and trying to understand my own disabilities. I’m thankful that I am still able to learn and achieve great things at this point in my life, but I’m also terrified of what is to come of my cumulative brain injuries. Boston University’s CTE Center discusses the dangers that are caused by mild traumatic brain injuries and I can’t help but feel panicked at the idea that one day I might be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I have no way of knowing what will come from my injuries, but for now I am determined to understand and make some sort of impact on the sporting community and raise awareness of the dangers of concussions, especially in youth sports. Information sheets from the Center for Disease Control and the NCAA both are a great way to teach players and parents of the signs and symptoms of concussions. From my experience the player needs to be aware of the severity of the long term effects concussions can have. If I could go back and tell my younger self that my soccer career wasn’t worth the constant struggles that I face today I would in a heartbeat, and I know many other concussed athletes who would too.

Play like a Girl

Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry, Julie Foudy. To some people these names might not mean anything and to other they might sound familiar as part of the team that helped the U.S. Women’s Soccer team win the world cup in 1999; but to me, these are my heroes, the ones that should me what it means like to “play like a girl”. I’ve played soccer my whole life, and I have faced my own set of challenges as I strived to be the best player I could be. I chose to play goalkeeper which is considered one of the least “ladylike” positions and I was a fearless player who didn’t have a problem getting messy. I didn’t care that I didn’t look pretty; I wanted to be the best.

Fearless Goalkeeper
Fearless Goalkeeper

The challenges that I encountered in my time in sports were similar to many other women and girls in the sports arena. Perhaps one of the best parts about facing challenges is overcoming them, and making an impact on the world.

                An important moment in all of sports history was when Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s world cup final and ripped off her shirt in celebration. This iconic moment was captured and spread around the world on front covers and headlines; it changed the way people looked at women’s soccer in the United States.

This is what winning feels like
This is what winning feels like

Unfortunately, with an event as big as this was, there was disapproval. Critics made accusations that Chastain did this to focus the attention away from the tournament and the game and towards herself, but in an interview with BBC, Chastain explains “There’s something primal about sport that doesn’t exist anywhere else – when you have a moment like scoring a winning goal in the World Cup championship, you are allowed to release this feeling, this emotion, this response that is not elicited anywhere else.” Even with the critics, Chastain and the Women’s team were able to draw record crowds to the event and it opened the public’s eyes to the sport, and as reported in the same BBC interview, Chastain points out the significant increase in girls playing the sport [myself included!] “More girls are playing football in America than any other sport,” she says. “When I played college soccer there were 75 teams – now there are over 320 teams at the Division One level… women and men play it alike.”

More recently, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team won the 2015 world cup in Canada. After 16 years of defeat, the national team was able to lift the world cup trophy high and earn their third star, and the first country to do so. This time around it was different for the team; women’s soccer was already on the map and the pressure was on, and the women delivered.

USWNT World Cup Champions
USWNT World Cup Champions

The way this team won the cup overcame many obstacles that are present in women’s sports. As national soccer player turned sports writer Julie Foudy explains in her ESPNW article, “World Cup was not just that the U.S. women won it, but the way they won it. It was emphatic. It was emotional. It was uncorked. It was decisive. It was ‘Merica… Yes, we will always remember the ’91ers and the ’99ers. Both were important moments in history never to be forgotten, but this next generation — both girls and boys — will get inspiration from an amazing group of women who showed the world that even when others doubt, you cannot.” Along with their win, the 2015 USWNT was invited to the White House by President Obama. In his speech, Obama praised the team for their astounding win and recognized the impact these women are making on the next generation by saying, “This team taught all of America’s children that playing like a girl means you’re a badass.”

As wonderful as this triumph is for women’s sports, there are still major challenges that plague women in the sports world. One such example is the while their effort on the field has led to great accomplishments, upon retiring former USWNT players are finding difficulty in making an impact in the coaching realm. As seen in an USA Today article by Laken Litman women, especially former players, in coaching could dramatically influence players to stay in the game but it seems like no one wants them there. Being able to give back to youth development is something that all current and former players alike want to be influential; current USWNT player Tobin Heath explains how being inspirational to youth after her playing career is something that she strives for. This example that challenges women athletes is just another version of gender discrimination in sports; if women aren’t able to make an impact though coaching, how are girls able to really learn what it means to play like a girl?