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Kids with ADD/ADHD Benefit from Youth Sports


As a parent of a child with ADD, I know finding something that works to have good days can be challenging. We toss in therapy and meditation with the shouting matches and tears on a weekly basis.  Parents like myself are always looking for advice, and the internet is not short on offering tips, advice and strategies. Let’s not forget the people, who don’t know anything about ADD/ADHD, and the comments they throw in. What works for your child may not work for mine, but there is a consensus about exercise and youth sports. Many experts and parents agree that children with ADD/ADHD benefit from youth sports.

Benefits of Youth Sports

Exercise is great for children with ADD/ADHD, but the starting a new sport or signing up for a team can be stressful. some parents avoid it altogether. History plays a big role in the fear. For me, I worry about how my child will be perceived and treated by adults and children who don’t know about ADD/ADHD.

Many children with ADD/ADHD find it difficult to fit it in at home, school and in social circles.  Outsiders often refer to children with ADD/ADHD as lazy, rude, misbehaved and hyper. I have an entire list of people who have made these comments about my son. The truth is: our children are none of these things.  ADD/ADHD is a disorder that makes it difficult to control spontaneous actions and words. Focus and engagement are especially difficult for them. do you feel the fear creeping up again?

ADD/ADHD affects everything from school work and attention to memory and collaboration with others. School is challenging because classrooms are designed with a certain child in-mind. Children with ADD/ADHD do not fit the model. Sports are different.

Sports and exercise do the following for children with ADD/ADHD:

  •      Increase production of dopamine to improve focus
  •      Produce endorphins that allow children to feel better and control anxiety
  •      Relieve stress
  •      Focus excess energy and restlessness
  •      Boost self-esteem
  •      Redirect focus
  •      Provide children—with ADD/ADHD—with a regimen and schedule. Parents know that schedules, regimens and rewards are crucial for successful days. I live my life with neon sticky notes      and to-do lists all over the house.

Best Sports for Children with ADD/ADHD

It is important to remember that not all sports are the same. My son has no desire to run or play basketball, but he loves to swim and participate in Martial Arts. Parents know their children best. As parents, we must identify our children’s symptoms, triggers and interests before choosing a sports activity. When you are choosing, consider the top sports for children with ADD/ADHD, as recommended by ADDitude Magazine:

  •         Swimming

Swimming gives your child a sense of community, as well as his/her own sense of independence. Swimming is disciplined yet social. If your child cannot sit still or stay focused on a single task, swimming is great because it is a high-participation sport. There is rarely any sitting on the bench.

Famous Olympian swimmer, Michael Phelps, has ADD/ADHD. He says swimming was a great tool to help him manage his symptoms and to stay focused.

  •         Track/ Cross-Country

Running is an excellent sport for all children. Children build endurance while working on a team with others. Running has no physical contact with other children, and there is little to no downtime.

  •         Baseball

Baseball is another no-contact sport. Baseball has drills, constant motion and alternating positions. A large percentage of major league baseball players have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.

  •         Basketball

Chris Kaman, player for the Los Angeles Clippers, was diagnosed with ADD as a toddler. Basketball players like Kaman need drills, constant running, and visual instruction. Visual instruction is what many children will ADD/ADHD need; my own son included. We have to show him tasks, not shout them out.

  •         Martial Arts

While it seems Martial Arts may promote some of the symptoms, it does not for many children. Why? Martial Arts is disciplined. Children with ADD/ADHD need a regimen and non-violent discipline. Martial Arts allows children to manage their symptoms with various techniques.

M0re Exercises that Help Children

If your child does not want to play youth sports, try other ways to get him/her active:

  • Hiking
  • Tennis
  • Aerobic exercises such as biking, running, walking and using an elliptical
  • Strength training
  • Calming exercises such as yoga, meditation and Tai Chi

Communication is Key

Parents, it is vital that you communicate with the coach. Be open about your child’s ADD/ADHD and observe the interactions.  Watch how the coach treats your child and the other children. Your child does not need a bully coach; your child needs a motivator. Tell the coach that your child benefits from visual instructions instead of verbal commands. Many children with ADD/ADHD have a hard time visualizing. They need models to understand instructions. A good coach will adapt to inspire your child, to improve his/her performance, and to see your child succeed.

Communication with your child is critical as well. You need to know what is working and what is not. Talk to your child about his/her emotions and how they feel they are responding to the activity. Try something new if your child does not like a particular sport. You might discover that your child needs 3 or 4 activities to stay busy. When Dr. John Mullen was a child, his parents had him in 4 sports to calm him down. Not only does it calm your child down, but it helps your child become a part of a larger community.   

Sports allow your child to build better relationships and to maintain a healthy life. Sports should not humiliate your child. Exercise should encourage them and help them manage their symptoms. Will it be hard work for some children? Yes, but it is worth it. Exercise and youth sports will make a big difference in your child’s life. They will assist your child in managing symptoms without isolating them from peers. Sports also build a foundation that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Our children are going to go out into this world and get jobs, form relationships, and lead their own lives outside of our homes. The best we can do as parents is give them the tools and confidence to do so. Youth sports and exercise are the perfect way to do just that.

What do you say? Will you try it out this year? Contact Dr. Mullen at COR to learn about the programs and activities at COR to help your child succeed and stay healthy for a lifetime.