- BC Games
Family wants greater focus on soccer safety after third concussion
A family and coach are calling for an increased focus on safety and preventing head injuries after a Burnaby teen suffered his third soccer-related concussion last month.
Burnaby Selects under-16 goalkeeper Jayden Maharaj, 15, was playing in a match against Surrey-Guildford United on Sept. 28
"A low cross came in and I went to pick it up and I had it in my hands and a few seconds later a player on the other team ran into me."
The other player was bigger and his shoulder went into Jayden's head, twisting him around. "It was a dirty tackle, it should've been a red card but it was only given a yellow."
Jayden recalled after being hit he couldn't move and was having trouble opening his eyes and keeping them open. He couldn't stand up on his own and was walked off the field after a few minutes.
"My mind was just racing even though my body was motionless," he said of those first moments after the hit.
"I was just scared because I knew this might be the one that might end my career."
It was Jayden's fourth concussion. The first was from a biking incident at age 10, but the rest have come in the past year-and-a-half on the soccer field.
The third one happened in May when the ball was kicked hard enough from only 10 feet away that it struck him in the head, knocking it back.
That incident caused him to miss the rest of the school year, and he only completed Grade 9 with the support of his teachers at Alpha secondary and the staff at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre, said his mom, Shashi Maharaj.
He was cleared to play again in August.
Shashi believes the most recent concussion could have been prevented if players were taught a greater respect for players and the game. Jayden and his teammates know that once a save is made, the play stops.
"It seemed unnecessary," she said. "This sort of injury could have lifetime effects."
She wants the BC Soccer Association to mandate injury prevention as a priority, and to educate players, teams and coaches about the dangers of head injuries.
"Basically I want them to be prioritizing player safety. This shouldn't have happened, it shouldn't have gotten to the point where Jayden is now possibly never able to play soccer," she said. "He had a huge soccer dreams and goals of playing professionally in Europe. … He should still have been able to pursue his dream."
Since this last concussion, he tried to return to school last week and lasted about 45 minutes, Shashi said. He tried to help his dad do some work in the yard but as soon as a power tool came on he had a headache and needed to lie down.
"He's not supposed to do anything that's utilizing his brain, it's really difficult."
One of Jayden's coaches, former Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Pinto, believes there needs to be stricter refereeing to prevent injuries.
"What happens is if a kid runs over another kid, and it's a free kick or a yellow card, you've really done nothing to teach them never to do it again because in their mind, it's nothing," Pinto said of the current situation. "It isn't happening game in and game out."
Jayden's concussion is not an isolated case, said Pinto, who believes they're are happening more frequently.
"Parents and coaches, all they want to do is win," he said, and players end up playing without any concept of consequences. "The person that can control that is the referee."
Pinto said a red card would not have prevented Jayden's concussion. "But that kid, he was six-foot-one, would've never done it again."
Paul Mullen, executive director of the B.C. Soccer Association, said they're looking into the family's complaint after he was made aware of it Tuesday, but noted that in the weeks after the incident, no one else had reported a problem at the game.
If the association finds the referee made a mistake, Mullen said it has the ability to re-educate the referee. All registered referees also have to go through annual refresher courses and a fitness test during which they can be made aware of major trends happening, such as an increase in head injuries.
The association has also been raising awareness of head injuries and concussion in soccer, he said, noting there is a free online course available, developed by the Coaches Association of Canada.
Mullen said he doesn't believe there are more concussions happening but rather that people are now more aware of the symptoms and better able to identify when one has occurred.
As for stricter refereeing, he said it needs to be done on the merits of each incident.
"I got one [red card] playing when I was younger, and that taught me a lesson, I never got another one in my life. There will be some people who will get 10 red cards and they'll continue into adult play and they don't learn their lesson."
Behaviour in youth soccer is a "collective responsibility," Mullen stressed. Coaches need to instill respect for officials and opposition players and parents need to teach the importance of fair play.
As for Jayden, he said there's little he can do to treat his concussion apart from resting. It's too early to determine whether he'll be able to play soccer again, but right now his main priority is to return to school.
As for life without soccer, it's difficult for him to think about. His goal was to play professionally and even if that didn't happen, he wanted to use soccer to get a scholarship to college or university.
"When I looked at my goals in life, basically all of them revolved around soccer … If I'm not able to play it's going to have to make me to rethink a lot of things."