ADHD and School Sports

School has started, or is around the corner, for most of us here. There is the usual flurry of activity. Clothes shopping, school supplies, schedules, meeting teachers, and traffic that just always seems to get worse. But then there is the tap-tap at your elbow, and your littlest one hands you a form with imploring eyes. “Join the Football Team”, it reads. And there at the bottom, where your little angel is pointing, is where you are supposed to sign on the dotted line.

If you are at all like me, then the fearful visions of injury and nights spent in the Emergency Department of the local hospital with a leg in traction are just the first of many horrific reveries. There may be reason to pause and consider potential injuries and whether your child has a greater risk. Children with ADHD often are also diagnosed with Dyspraxia, the comorbidity with ADHD is so high that it has been argued it should just be included as a symptom. But, before you write off your aspiring athlete’s dreams of being the next Bo Jackson, there may also be potential upsides to students diagnosed with ADHD participating in organized team sports.

Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that students with ADHD tend to gravitate toward team sports rather that individual sports, which could increase their risk of injury. However, Dr. Trevor Kitchin, a fellow at the Wexner Medical Center, who was involved with the study, conjectures that it is the nature of the sport itself that may increase the risk of injury. Football is a full-contact sport, there will be more injuries than tennis or golf. Kitchin also states, that a student’s preference for team sports may be beneficial. “Team sports help with socializing skills,” Kitchin explains, and can even play a role in non-sports related activities, such as academic interactions requiring group involvement.
Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California says, “sports are a terrific way to channel the energy that kids with ADHD have. They can also help with learning how to function as part of a team as well as learning discipline and reaching goals outside of a classroom setting.” Dr. Oluseun Olufade, an assistant professor of Orthopaedics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, agrees: “There are reasons to encourage sports for kids with ADHD,” he says. “Sports help with symptoms like hyperactivity and inattention.”

“We’d love for kids with ADHD to participate more often in team sports,” says Yamalis Diaz, a clinical assistant professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Competing in sports can also help kids with ADHD who have less-than-optimal motor skills and who struggle in dealing with frustration. “Playing sports is good for learning how to manage frustration and improve one’s motor skills,” Diaz says. Competing in sports can have other benefits, too, Diaz says. Some kids with ADHD don’t do well in the classroom because they find it difficult to focus on their schoolwork. For a student who feels like he or she is constantly struggling in class, doing well in sports can prompt positive feedback, which is “intoxicating,” Diaz says. “They will throw themselves into their sport if they are hearing a lot of positive feedback. Who wouldn’t?”

Dr. Jack Lesyk, of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology has an interesting article that outlines the Nine Mental Skills of Successful Atheletes. And, while some of these “mental skills” may seem out of reach for younger students, it is easy to see how adopting these as goals can move our students to higher levels of achievement and feelings of self-worth.

1. Choose and maintain a positive attitude.
2. Maintain a high level of self-motivation.
3. Set high, realistic goals.
4. Deal effectively with people.
5. Use positive self-talk.
6. Use positive mental imagery.
7. Manage anxiety effectively.
8. Manage their emotions effectively.
9. Maintain concentration.

Play Attention offers an affordable option to support ongoing strengthening of your student’s ability to maintain concentration. Using Attention Stamina and Time on Task as a cornerstone of your athlete’s training can aid in maintaining concentration. Discriminatory Processing is ideal for persons learning to filter out distractions, like a cheering crowd on the sideline, or random chatter on the field. In addition, Eye Hand Coordination and Motor Skills can help with the physical skills needed, and Social Skills can benefit those who struggle with social cues when dealing with interactions on the team.

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