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ADHD Game Plan: The Best Sports for Kids with ADHD

21/03/2018
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Just like anybody else, a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can excel in sport. In fact, certain traits of ADHD such as being super energetic and quick-thinking may even help them to be successful. 

In this article, we consider the pros and cons of sports participation for kids with ADHD. We also make some recommendations about suitable activities and offer tips to help you to best support your children in sport.

Exercise and ADHD

It’s well documented that exercise benefits kids with ADHD. Physical activity increases the production of dopamine and noradrenaline which can help to increase attention and ease symptoms of ADHD such as hyperactivity. Plus it’s healthy for anyone to have a hobby or an interest outside their daily routine.

Which sports are best for children with ADHD?

Not all sports are created equal and ADHD characteristics may make it difficult for children to thrive in certain activities. Playing the sport itself may prove as difficult as beating an opponent. The everyday challenges that ADHD kids experience in the classroom and at home will be the same challenges they will have in sports practice. 

Playing sports with other children can be difficult for a child with ADHD. They may:

  • Be easily distracted
  • Find it difficult to follow instructions
  • Be disorganised
  • Be easily frustrated
  • Find it hard to pay attention
  • Act impulsively

Kids with ADHD can find it hard to be on a losing team. While learning to lose gracefully is an important lesson, it’s difficult when it can cause meltdowns and possibly lead to aggression.

The trick is to find the sport that suits each child best. This may require some trial and error. As a parent, you tend to know pretty quickly if an activity is worth pursuing or not. Follow your gut instinct on this and remember that kids can often surprise us so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Team games or individual sports?

ADHD children often struggle to work as part of a team. On the whole, kids with ADHD do better when they get plenty of individual attention from coaches. However, if they can participate, team sports are brilliant for making them feel accepted and giving them a self-esteem boost, especially if they struggle academically or socially. We have mostly focused on individual sports here but don’t dismiss team games; if you can find the right one, you might just hit the jackpot!

Here are some ideas for sports that children with ADHD can try:

Martial Arts

Martial arts like taekwondo and karate are ideal for children challenged with symptoms of ADHD such as inattention and impulsivity. In martial arts, kids are taught self-control, self-discipline and concentration. Each routine is practised with close attention to detail. Because kids master each martial art routine in a step-by-step manner and routines are instructed rather than coached, there are few opportunities for distractions. Furthermore, martial arts feature rituals encouraging respect, such as bowing to instructors at the beginning and the end of each class. This can also help teach kids to accept authority.

Swimming

Swimming is a great way to help an ADHD child excel with guidance and structure. If a class with other children is too distracting, swimming coaches often provide one-to-one sessions. It’s also a valuable life skill that can be learned from any age.

Michael Phelps is one of the world’s fastest swimmers and he has ADHD. He is the most celebrated Olympian of all time who has won 23 gold medals for swimming.

According to Phelps, swimming has helped him manage his ADHD symptoms by helping him maintain focus and discipline. While not everyone will be a celebrated swimmer like Michael Phelps, he is a great role model and inspiration to anyone diagnosed with ADHD. It’s a great reminder that everyone is good at something, you’ve just got to find it.

Gymnastics

Gymnastic routines require close attention and retention of body movements, helping children with ADHD improve focus. Gymnastics is a good fit for a child with a sensory processing disorder, which can be present alongside ADHD. Routines and equipment in gymnastics are similar to equipment used in occupational therapy. These help your child develop core strength, muscle awareness and a sense of balance – important factors in sensory processing.

Tennis

Tennis requires energy, strength and coordination. Tennis doubles also encourages teamwork and communication. It’s a quick and fast-paced game, which is perfect for kids with ADHD. When players hit the tennis ball, it’s sometimes hard and always with control. It is a great way for kids to release pent up frustration after a long day in class.

Athletics

Athletics events give your child an opportunity to improve themselves without always competing with other children. Different events provide variety for children who are easily bored and different skills are required such as running, jumping and throwing. Track and field events are an effective way to teach kids discipline, pacing and routine.

Football

Football is a perfect sport to teach your child sportsmanship, teamwork and patience. Football is a great way to make friends and burn off energy. As it’s a team game, it might be difficult for a child with ADHD to manage, but even if your child only plays football for a short while, it might encourage them to follow a team and maintain an interest in football.

Horse riding

Children who struggle with social and communication skills sometimes feel a strong bond with animals. Spending time with horses can have a calming effect on children with ADHD and equine therapy is used as an ADHD treatment. Horse riding improves balance, posture and core strength. Also if a child can be involved in caring for a horse, it’s a great way to teach them responsibility.

A few more tips

Talk to your child

Whatever sports you think will be suitable for your child, it is important to talk to them about it before they start. Make sure they know what is expected of them and what might happen during the session. If they’re trying something new, show them clips of other people doing it, or even better, get them involved in it by following sportspeople at the Olympic Games or any other current sporting event. Remember your child might be anxious about starting something new and may need to just watch the first time they attend. Make sure you recognise any success they have, no matter how small. Be your child’s number one cheerleader and supporter.

Talk to the coach

Most coaches have little knowledge about ADHD, but a strong and understanding relationship with a coach can really motivate a child to take part. Talk with the coach about your child’s special needs; a good coach will treat this as a gem. Whether they opt for a team or an individual sport, an understanding coach or teacher can make or break your child’s experience.

Things to consider

As a parent of a child with ADHD, it is important to consider their skill sets as well as their symptoms. Which sports will showcase your child’s strengths and abilities? Can you pre-empt what they may struggle with? If you’d like your child to participate in more active sports but you don’t think they’ll be able to handle it, it might be worth seeing if there are any special needs teams in your area. A good place to start would be by asking your child’s school or local council if they know of any suitable organisations that can help.

Monitor tiredness

While kids with ADHD may seem to have energy in abundance, they can get overtired too and may struggle to calm down after exercise. Monitor this carefully and try to bring them down gently after exercise. Give them plenty of time to calm down before they go to bed. 

If you would like some further guidance and support on managing ADHD, then please contact us at The ADHD Centre on 0800 061 4276 or via connect@adhdcentre.co.uk. We can provide you with an in-depth ADHD assessment to improve your understanding of the condition and to know what treatment method is fit for you.

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