From Goal Line to Sideline: The Rise of Coach O


Junior women’s soccer goalkeeper, Olivia Silverman, has been declared medically ineligible after suffering her fifth concussion in the Bills’ final game against Kansas back in the fall. Silverman will remain a part of the team for her senior year and has been deemed “Coach O” due to her new role of being an assistant coach on the sideline for her teammates.

“I didn’t really feel it at first,” said SLU women’s soccer goalkeeper Olivia Silverman after taking a knee to the back of the head in their NCAA Tournament game against Kansas in November. Her pounding adrenaline kept her in the game, but the damage had already been done. Silverman collected her fifth concussion and is now medically retired from soccer.

An NCAA study showed that women’s soccer is one of the highest concussion-risk sports, with sports-related concussion rates at 6.3 per 10,000 athlete exposures. Concussions cause dangerous injuries to the brain with potentially life-altering damages. Silverman said after her most recent concussion she started suffering some memory issues that still linger even months after the concussion occurred.

Silverman has an aggressive style of play in goal. She is not afraid to jump out and put her body on the line, but aggression comes with risks, and for Silverman it resulted in five concussions.

Silverman had two concussions prior to starting at SLU, one from soccer and one from basketball. She got two more concussions in her freshman year at SLU, one in preseason and one in the spring. Silverman said her fourth concussion was concerning as the trainers said she would likely be ready to play in a few weeks. It took her over 100 days to recover.

Silverman spent the period between her fourth and fifth concussions to focus on the little things. “I started working more on my form, started working more on my technical skill, and making sure every inch was covered, protecting myself,” she said.

The fifth concussion in Kansas was another long road to recovery. Silverman said it took 102 days before she was cleared just for physical activity. Some days she was fine but others she was stuck in bed all day. She decided to talk to a doctor who ultimately gave her the choice whether she would play again.

“That was just hard to think that this situation could possibly be the ending,” said teammate and friend Brionna Halverson, pausing to take a deep breath, “her career ending factor…it was tough on a lot of us.”

After talks with doctors, friends, family and coaches, Silverman came to a decision that she would no longer play. But still eager to be part of the team, she and head coach Katie Shields came to a conclusion that would keep her as a key player. Silverman has wanted to go into coaching and said that her new role as a student assistant coach is just starting early.

Now nicknamed Coach O, Silverman plays a role in helping volunteer assistant coach Sam Lund do goalkeeper work with the three other keepers, Kasey Hartmann, Mary Niehaus and Kat Zaber.  

With Silverman out, the goalkeeper spot is up in the air. Niehaus was nursing a knee injury last season and unable to play but was a strong keeper in her last two seasons. Hartmann and Zaber are both young goalkeepers that put Niehaus to the test. Silverman has been working with the “goalkeeper sorority” and said that no matter who is in goal the team will be strong.

SLU women’s soccer coaching staff was unable to comment on any issue regarding Silverman’s retirement with medical exams and paperwork still pending, but Silverman said the coaching staff has supported her through the process, helping her come to a decision and guiding her through her new role as a coach.

“It’s bittersweet definitely,” said Silverman, “but seeing that I can still have an impact on my team is everything to me.”