Concussion issues as an elite athlete is a topic we hardly heard about (back in the day). 

concussion and rugby with greg smith

Concussion issues as an elite athlete is a topic we hardly heard about (back in the day). 

Former Flying Fijian, Chiefs and Waikato player Greg Smith shares his journey and talks about the concussion issues he dealt with. 


Concussion issues as an elite athlete is a topic we hardly hear about. You’ve dedicated years of hard work as a professional rugby player but concussion issues may be getting in the way of putting on your best performance that could lead to hanging up the boots. What comes next can be the hardest part. Where to from here? How do I decide what to do?  


Former Flying Fijian, Chiefs and Waikato player Greg Smith had an impressive career spanning over multiple World Cups from 1995-2003. We discuss the decisions he made when exiting rugby due to injury (concussion issues). 


After stepping back from the game multiple times he realised that there is more to life than just playing rugby. That family, personal health and mental health especially were crucial to a happy, healthy life post rugby.  


“I saw men that I looked up to who were 10 or 15 more years my senior that were getting knocked about the same way I did and they just carried on.  

It was an understanding more than science at the time what I thought of when one had a concussion. You just carry on.” 


“So the last few that I had were kind of significant and while there was a really significant one, it seemed every subsequent knock on the head, I had greater impact or greater symptoms.” 


“So, the knocks were getting less than the impacts and I forgot words that started in P and M, and S. I went to say something and I couldn’t say it, I couldn’t be on a phone like this. 

I couldn’t be on a computer. I couldn’t drive or see light, you know, I was just minerals. There were a whole lot of things that had gone wrong with me…” 


“There was a neurologist who I found helpful and described three sorts of concussions.  

… the first one being if you’re knocked out for like 30 minutes, plus one is a soccer-like one with a bit of a short-term memory loss type scenario, you’re not losing consciousness, but something’s happened to you and sort of a bang on the head.” 


“If you have a number of those 30 minutes plus incidences, you are likely to experience cognitive deterioration in your brain.” 


Greg mentions that the most common concussion that is likely for rugby players is the short term loss type scenario where you’re not losing consciousness, but you know something happened.  


He found that overcoming the effects of the concussion for him was seeking the advice of specialists, understanding what was happening and connecting with friends and generally leading a more full life by creating space to breathe. 


Greg references before we signed off that of course there is also that direct correlation between your mind and your head being well and looking after your body to maintain health means you’re also looking after your mind. It’s all one system.  


“Rugby damaged the body but fills the soul. Injuries are part of it but builds resilience to be a better person and rugby player.” 


The biggest influence outside of rugby was his mother, she taught Greg that education was very important and challenged him to continue to study. He went back to university and studied an MBA which bridged the end of his career and the start of a new life outside of rugby.  


“When I knew I was nearing the end of my career I realised that I needed something to transition out into as rugby was all I really knew how to do.” 


After he finished his studies, Greg found himself in a couple of roles within rugby but had to step down due to health issues. It wasn’t meant to be. The Professional Development coach for the chiefs came calling and thought it was a great opportunity to guide the next generation of players with their future endeavors.  


“Personal development pathways only came along at the very start of pro rugby and a lot of people couldn’t wrap their heads around what professional rugby was at the time. It still had an amateur feel to it.”  


Greg has a lot of passion for his role as development officer as he thinks it is a crucial part of player management and their well-being. He thinks it is a huge step in the right direction.  


But during the transition Greg found the most important thing is to have a great network around you to support you and your decision making. It is a difficult time in the lives of rugby players and is great to see more resources for them to use now.  


Advice for young players: Even though rugby is an amazing journey it’s not everything in life. Always continue to learn and educate yourself and also keep an eye on balance in your life.  


If you need support, do not hesitate to contact us here.


Article co-written by:
Louis Flavell-Birch & Vanessa Leota


By | 2022-03-28T11:22:38+13:00 January 26th, 2022|