Information about Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Playing Sports

Sports activities teach children the values of motivation, teamwork and winning and losing graciously. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) need not miss out on these lessons—or the fun—of taking part in sports because of symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. By making modest accommodations, parents and coaches can help children with ADHD get into the game.

Choosing the Right Sport for Your Child with ADHD

A parent needs to consider her child’s interests, abilities, temperament and ADHD symptoms when deciding on a sport.

Some children with ADHD do better with individualized sports such as swimming, diving, martial arts, or tennis. Individual sports offer structure while being active and engaging. Many of these sports also involve social interaction.

Team sports like basketball and football require a lot of physical contact and attention, which may challenge some children with ADHD: a player needs to think about zones, placement of individual players, strategy and more—and that can be unsettling or confusing.

Benefits of Playing Sports Keep Coming

Sports participation may actually improve emotional wellbeing in ADHD children, according to emerging research. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that boys and girls with ADHD who participated in sports had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, children with ADHD who took part in three or more sports over the previous year had significantly fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than kids with ADHD who participated in fewer sports.

Coaching a Child With ADHD

To promote a child’s success in sports, a parent should respectfully educate the coach about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Give a brief overview of ADHD symptoms, and explain how the disorder affects your child’s moods and behavior. The right coach for your youngster will be patient and willing to give individualized attention.

You might also share the following best practices on coaching ADHD children:

  • Keep practices simple and short to hold a child's attention.
  • Assign routine drills to prevent boredom and distractedness. The best drills have structure and repetition and require movement.
  • Coach one-on-one for best results. Keep instructions short and to the point, maintain eye contact, and use both your voice and body language to convey a play (diagrams help too). Ask the player to repeat the directions to ensure comprehension.
  • Avoid intimidation tactics, such as punishment, embarrassment and humiliation; they won’t force a kid with ADHD to pay attention and may backfire.
  • Rotate players. Give a player with ADHD the opportunity to be in different, active positions. New positions allow the player to burn excess energy and develop new skills.
  • Keep a child with ADHD busy, but offer breaks, too. During downtimes, you might offer a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder responsibilities to hold her interest, such as assisting the scorekeeper or organizing equipment. But allow her to just rest if wanted. A youngster who becomes overwhelmed needs planned breaks.
  • Remain positive. Assess the ADHD player's strengths and emphasize them in practice and in the game. For example if a child is effective at blocking a shot in basketball, consider making him a guard.
  • Do not get caught up with age. Allow children with ADHD to play sports with children a year or two younger, since young people with the disorder are less socially and emotionally developed.
  • Handle winning and losing as a team. Coaches should make sure that an ADHD player knows that winning or losing is a team responsibility. A single player should not be blamed if he or she missed the last shot or made the last strikeout. Every player deserves respect and encouragement.

By coordinating efforts, parents and coaches can help foster a love of the game and good sportsmanship among children with ADHD—and that’s a win-win situation for all.

Written by:
Stephanie Torreno

Sources: Rabiner, David. Sports Participation, Anxiety and ADHD. Available at: www.internet4classrooms.com/exceptional_children/ADHD_attention_deficit_disorder_sports_participation_anxiety.htm Accessed: June 23, 2011.

Small, Eric, and Spears. Kids & Sports: Everything You and Your Child need to Know about Sports, Physical Activity, and Good Health: A Doctor’s Guide for Parents and Coaches. Newmarket, 2002.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 24 Jul 2011

Last Modified: 27 Aug 2015