Some of you may know Andrew Pearcey from his time playing Senior Hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador. Others may know him from his role with Xtreme hockey, where he has been teaching kids the basics of hockey and skating since his early teens. What some of you may not know is that Andrew was recently forced to retire from Senior Hockey following a concussion he suffered during playoffs last March. This was a tough pill to swallow for Andrew, who was named league MVP in 2010 and took home 3 Herder Memorial Trophies in 8 seasons. But when it came down to it, Andrew made the choice to put his health before the game and retire from senior hockey.
Concussion-U is excited to share his views on the topic of head injuries in sport in a perspective piece he wrote for us:
Concussions: listen to your brain
It was a power play for my provincial senior AAA team. I jumped over the boards and picked up an outlet pass from a defenseman in full speed. I surveyed the ice, crossed the opposing blue line and took the puck wide. I had a half step on the defenseman, but chose to take the puck around the net. One of my linemates and I had been working on a play that had me dropping the puck to the short side as I went around the net in an attempt to get the goalie and defenseman to shift out of the way for an easy goal. The play succeeded; we scored. Little did I know that it would be the last assist of my competitive hockey career.
The penalty had expired just as I crossed the blue line; I didn’t register the new skater before going around the net and contorting my body into a vulnerable position to lay the puck back to the short side. Bang. My night was over.
After spending four weeks in dark rooms, away from the gym and work, and not being able to attend university classes due to thirteen straight days of migraine headaches, it was time to walk away from the version of the game that I loved so much. I had lost that “edge”.
Contact sport participants often consider themselves to be gladiators, soldiers, and creatures of war. You are conditioned to believe this by the environment that surrounds these types of sports. The masculinity associated with contact sports makes players believe that they have to play hurt and injured. I can still remember coaches giving pre-game speeches; “play through the pain” or “a certain body part is a long way from the heart”. Sorry, coach. Although your brain is not the closest part of the body to the heart, it controls the heart. Literally, and figuratively.
I strongly urge amateur players at all age levels to block out the internal and external pressures that accompany the healing process with concussions, and to make the right choice in delaying your return to action if you feel that you are not ready to play.
At the supremely competitive levels of hockey such as junior AAA, major junior, and Senior AAA, hockey is a business to the coaches, upper management, and support staff. At the end of the day, their main focus is to ice a team every night that can win a championship, put butts in the seats, and keep their jobs. Many amateur hockey leagues do not do baseline testing to see if you have recovered from a concussion, so coaches and management go on an estimated timeline. After a week or two, they expect you to be back out there, giving and taking checks, and “playing tough” because that is what athletes who play contact sports are supposed to do. Show no pain, no weakness. Get out there and help put another championship banner in the rafters, which will keep the revenues steady at the box office. I will give credit to amateur and post secondary institutions for improving their concussion protocols over the last decade, but not all leagues have adopted these policies.
Pressure to return to action can also come from teammates. Where concussions are so difficult to timetable a specific recovery period, teammates often look at a guy sitting out for longer than a couple weeks for a concussion as being “soft”. Soft is a word to describe weakness in contact sports, a term no one ever wants to be pegged with. Soft can get you traded, benched, or sent to a lower level. Locker rooms have a social component; players want to be accepted and to fit in with their teammates. Coming back quicker than expected from an injury shows toughness and commitment to the group, which are attributes that other “gladiators” look for in their peers.
Internally, every amateur player wants to make the pros. Most kids growing up playing all-star sports dream about it. They play on the streets as their favorite NHL or NFL player, attend every summer development camp, and work hard every practice. The first serious concussion that I received came early in my first junior season. At the time, I was playing on the first line and was receiving offers to play NCAA Division I hockey at Dartmouth College. When I got hurt, I wanted to get back out there because I was afraid of losing my position on the first line. A decrease in ice time meant that I would not get seen as much by prospective scouts, which would possibly decrease my chances of furthering my aspirations to be a pro player. This internal pressure forces guys to return to action too soon, even though their brains tell them otherwise.
I have recently retired from competitive hockey, and as a member of the Xtreme Hockey staff, I am fortunate to be able to pass on wisdom and knowledge to players who have the dream that I once had. For those of you at the high levels of amateur contact sports, listen to your brain when it comes to concussions. Your brain is the engine that makes the body go; it is critical to every function that your body makes. There is not a thing that you will do in the run of your lifetime that does not require the use of your brain. Do not let coaches, management, your peers, or the pro dream get in the way of seeing that reality. Know the symptoms of a concussion by using the avenues that are at your disposal (Concussion-U/ credible internet sources). We are lucky to live in the information age, so take advantage of that. Know the consequences of returning to action before being fully healed, and the negative short and long term effects that this can have on your brain. Before returning to action, make sure you see a doctor to make sure it is safe to get back on the ice. Even the best athletes have a shelf life, and once the game waves goodbye, they have to go find work amongst civilians. Less than one percent of players ever make the pros to begin with! So before you strap on the shoulder pads and gear up for your first game back from a concussion, listen to your brain.
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