Kobayashi discusses concussions, soccer
Senior Kenji Kobayashi, a midfielder and captain of the men’s soccer team, suffered a season-ending concussion in practice before the Bears began official play for the year. Since that time, Kobayashi has needed to alter his plans for his senior year both on and off the field. As the soccer team looks ahead to postseason play beginning this weekend, Student Life sat down with Kobayashi to talk about his injury and how the men’s soccer team has responded to a series of injuries to some of its key players.
Student Life: How did the injury happen?
Kenji Kobayashi: I don’t actually remember an hour before and three hours after. I was told that I went towards a ball and somebody came from my blind side and hit me on the temple. Apparently I got up and kept playing, and then I just kind of sort of stammered off the field and didn’t have any knowledge of where I was at. They took me down to the training room and I got evaluated there…I remember kind of coming into the training room and I was just very, I guess, kind of anxious in general. [I] didn’t really know what was going on, where I was at. I felt like I was spacing in and out a lot, and then they called my parents and they kind of took care of me for the night.
SL: We hear a lot about pro athletes and soldiers who suffer concussions, but what is it like for a 21-year-old college student to suffer a concussion?
KK: It’s a pretty debilitating injury. I guess if you’re a pro athlete and you get a concussion, you’re getting paid to recover and it’s fine. It was hard because it made me put my life on hold for a little bit; it was something I had to get used to. Every day you didn’t feel like a normal person because you get headaches, feel nauseous, you have to just do absolutely nothing in order to feel okay.
SL: In the time that you have been recovering, what’s a normal day like?
KK: Some of the medicine that they have me on makes me sleep literally all day—it’s not rare for me to sleep until one or two in the afternoon. Towards the beginning of all of it, I would just kind of lay in bed and watch TV. The perfect patient, the doctor would say, needed to not get out of my bed, not read, not look at the computer screen, not watch TV, but that’s literally impossible.
SL: You said you had to “put your life on hold” for a while; what exactly do you mean by that?
KK: I took a medical leave of absence from school—I’m not actually a student at Wash. U. right now. I had to withdraw all my medical school applications because I wouldn’t be finished in time to graduate in the spring. Besides putting off the medical school thing and having to come back in the fall, I’ve just kind of been almost like an extra set of eyes at practice and in games, helping out with recruiting and just trying to get the team ready for next year because I’m going to be coming back and playing next year, as long as everything turns out alright.
SL: Do you think you had misconceptions about concussions before you had one? Will you change any of your playing habits now?
KK: Yes. I just never realized that it could be like this for me. You hear the stories about the big hockey players and football players that are out for eight, 10 months. You just never really think that those things will happen to you. It has made me more conscious of the fact that brain injuries are just terrifying. When I’ve talked to Joe [men’s soccer head coach Joe Clarke] about coming [back] to play, he’s very conservative about these things and has talked about putting myself in positions where I’m not going to have to use my head as much to play and play it safe as far as all of that goes.
SL: Now let’s talk about soccer—What was this team like at the start of the season and how has it changed?
KK: Coming into the year we had a very strong group of upperclassmen and starting players that were intended to contribute and get the team started. When myself and Zac Query and [Jeremy] Kirkwood had their injuries, it was a little bit of panic on our side. We didn’t show it openly to the team, but everybody’s thinking, “Here’s three of our starters that were supposed to be a big part of the team.”…Joe kept us very calm and even-headed about it, which helped us. He’s been in it so long that he understands when key players drop out, we fill the spots, and we make do. And it’s obviously turned out well because we still have a chance to make the tournament. When all these injuries happened, I don’t know if anyone expected us to turn the season around like this…it’s a testament to the strength of the team that we’re able to pull through these types of difficulties and really build a strong team.
SL: You and your co-captains for the season, Brian Wright and Zac Query, have been playing together for three years now. What do you want your legacy to be as a group? Is it different for you now that you are out with an injury?
KK: Obviously me, Zac and Brian were expected to put up some decent numbers this year as far as playing time, making more of an effect on the offensive side…But I guess what we most want is just to keep the team morale and just the traditions of the team and all of the little things—the locker room environment and the environment on the bench—just really positive and familial. Just keep the team close and a great group of friends. Because now upperclassmen come back from graduating classes, and we’re such good friends with them that we want to keep that general environment of togetherness a part of the program.
SL: Since you can’t be on the field, what are the biggest ways you can contribute?
KK: Like I said before, just have an extra set of eyes. I feel like I understand what Joe tries to do [after] playing for him for three, almost four years now. It almost kind of helps myself being able to go up to players and understanding their point of view and being able to kind of help them out and push the team that way. Being there, I still go to all the practices and games; I think that the team has been extremely supportive of me, and I think that my being there has helped. We all know that we’re all fighting for each other, whether I can be on the field or not. That extra support and dedication to the team just kind of pushes everybody to a new level.
SL: The team has really turned things around since these injuries. How has it felt to see things pick up in a good way?
KK: It’s absolutely amazing—the excitement behind the games never has changed. We haven’t dropped expectations in terms for wanting to come out of games with the win. Just seeing the younger players get all the [playing] time and watching them develop is really exciting, especially looking forward with the program. Coming back next year with a young but experienced team is going to be huge. Also looking forward to the tournament this year, we hope to make a run for it. It’s just really exciting to push the team for the seniors—this is their last season. We want to make the best of it for them and for the team as a whole.
Note: This interview was held on Friday, Nov. 2. The men’s soccer team tied four other members of the University Athletic Association as conference champions on Saturday, Nov. 3, and received a bid to the NCAA tournament on Monday, Nov. 5.