‘Struggling Through Concussions’ by Sam Junqua

At the beginning of the 2021 MLS season, I suffered my third concussion. Usually the word ‘experience’ in soccer implies something positive, but not when we’re talking about it in the context of concussions. This one was harder to recover from than the previous two. But, I found comfort in learning from people that have endured similar injuries. That’s what inspired me to write this article. It helps to understand the way forward by hearing how others made it through. 

Concussions are often misunderstood. When I had my first concussion during an academy game in high school, I was in completely new territory. I went up for a defensive header and a forward clumsily challenged for it late, hitting the back of my head. I didn’t expect it and was rattled. After a minute of rest I did the only thing that felt natural, I finished the game. 

Even after waking up the next morning feeling groggy and possibly sick, I assumed I just had a cold and played in the next match. It was after this that I stopped being able to complete simple homework assignments. It was a little unnerving to say the least.

I’ve learned that concussions are unique. Every player has different symptoms. It can be very difficult to tell what is and what isn’t a concussion. I personally experienced headaches, pressure in my head, and symptoms of a mild cold. During all three of my recoveries, I was unsure if what I was feeling was part of the concussion, or if I was “thinking symptoms into existence.” I was confused at times and unsure of what to think, how I should feel and what I should do. Maybe you can relate.

Something else to note is that people have a different threshold for what kind of a blow leads to a concussion. All three of my concussions were caused by a head to head accident, and as far as I know, I was the only one to sit out on each of the three occasions. There can be a lot of shame surrounding sitting out. The other players not sitting out made me question my decision to do so.

I wondered things like…

  • “Am I weak?”

  • “Do others experience the same symptoms, just not report them?”

  • “Should I not sit out?”

  • “Are my teammates going to think I’m not committed or tough?” 

A concussion isn’t a visible injury like a swollen ankle or broken bone, which can lead to some unique challenges. It can be difficult for others to understand why you’re sitting out. Your coaches, teammates and/or parents could question your decisions. There can be extreme confusion on what the next best steps are. Even doubt and despair can creep in if your symptoms start to linger and the improvement doesn’t come as fast as you’d like it to. 

As a professional athlete, my livelihood and job depend on me practicing and playing. The job in and of itself is stressful, but add concussions into the mix and it gets extremely stressful. I felt an immense amount of pressure to ‘brush it off’ and resume play. But, the bottom line is, it’s our brain we’re talking about. And they’re not something to mess around with! It was this realization that helped me feel at peace with taking the time to rest despite the pressure to play. I was able to gain perspective. To understand that I have one brain and that I needed to take care of it regardless of what others thought or said. 

There are a few things that go into knowing when you’re ready to return to play.

  1. First and foremost, you need to be symptom free. Heading back too early can lead to “second impact syndrome” if you’re hit in the head again. This is when lasting and more serious damage can occur. You certainly don’t want this! That being said, being “symptom free” can be difficult to judge: am I feeling light-headed because this is my first time exercising in a few weeks? Do I still feel a mild headache, or am I imagining it? You may progress in your recovery only to have to take a step or two back along the way. That’s perfectly fine. Go at your own pace. Remain positive and believe that you’re getting better and will resume play when the time’s right.

  2. Secondly, are you comfortable with the contact, the heading, and the chance of re-injury that comes with returning to play? It’s part of the process to feel fear regarding the uncertainty of returning to play. I’ve known multiple athletes, professional and non-professional, that have chosen to step away from the game after making a full recovery, while others, like myself, have chosen to continue playing. Listen to the experts and specialists who can guide you and help you better understand the process. Your brain’s vital for your overall and long term health and wellness. You have to take responsibility and decide to do what’s right for you. Only you know how you truly feel and what your symptoms are. It’s worth repeating, you have to do what you feel is right for YOU.

I’m more grateful and present!

I continue to play because I’ve given so much to the game and it has given me so much in return. I’m fortunate enough to have earned a college degree, so this decision was not based-off of having a lack of other options. I personally feel like I have the best job in the world and want to continue this journey for as long as I possibly can. In a lot of ways, concussions have made me look at my career in a new light. I’m much more aware of the fact that I don’t know how much time I have left to play professionally. It’s been a sometimes painful but much needed reminder to live life fully in the present, and to enjoy everyday I get to play the beautiful game. 

As I close, I want to encourage you.

Things do get better. They will get better! Even when it feels as though your recovery has plateaued and you’re no longer getting better, keep doing the right things to give yourself the best chance at feeling yourself again. The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, so getting out of its way can sometimes be the best thing you can do. 

Right here, right now! It’s all we got! 

If you’re struggling through concussions, or are looking to gain the mental edge, I’d love to help. Give our team a shout and we’ll schedule some time together!

Sam Junqua, #29
Houston Dynamo FC Defender

Team Banners (1).png

Are you training your brain? Either way, you should check out our online academy, Soccer Resilience® FC. The Soccer Resilience® FC membership is an online tool that’s been developed for individuals (coaches, athletes, parents, teachers) and groups (Clubs, Teams, Colleges + Schools) to help improve performance and build positive mental training habits. Or give us a shout to chat about other ways we can help you enhance your performance on the pitch and in all of life!

Soccer Resilience®: Our mission and skill is to train the most underutilized competitive edge in soccer, the MIND, transforming the mindset, performance and wellbeing of athletes, coaches and parents. We help the “software” (mental) bring the best out of the “hardware” (technical, tactical, physical). Our founders include a World Cup Champion, a MLS Cup Champion, a 20-year Psychologist and former NCAA Division I Coach/Pro Team President. We are mindset coaches, mental game advisors and content providers for tools and strategies for all levels, youth to pro. Train your brain. Transform your game…and life.


Join the online academy now for access to our exclusive content!