With the school season fast approaching, now is the time to start thinking about your child’s extracurricular activities. Think sports are not the place for kids with ADHD? Think again! Youth sports can be one of the most valuable experiences your child has in their development and is especially well-suited for kids with ADHD.
- Youth sports provide a unique, life lessons classroom. There are very few places where kids learn teamwork, where it’s okay (and in fact encouraged!) to make mistakes and learn from them, where you learn to control your emotions, and where you learn how to set and achieve goals. Kids also learn good sportsmanship – winning with class, and losing with dignity. You’d be hard pressed to find another place where you child could learn so much!
- Kids learn the benefits of routine. It’s sometimes hard to convince your child that their morning routine actually sets them up for success. But that lesson becomes a bit clearer to kids in sports. They start to understand the benefits of ‘practice’ before games, they start to understand the importance of following steps or plays to achieve a goal, and they start to see how following that routine leads to success (goals scored!). The ability to learn the importance of a routine and adhering to that routine then rubs off in other non-sports areas.
- Kids learn teamwork. Relating to other kids can sometimes be a challenge for kids with ADHD, especially in a classroom environment. In sports, success comes when kids work together and early-on kids start to see the benefits of teamwork. They understand that in order to score points, they need the other players to communicate and understand each other. And oftentimes kids with ADHD who otherwise struggle to connect with other kids can find quick common ground on the need to pass, to call for a ball, or to look ahead for a teammate. When kids can master that teamwork in the sports environment, they oftentimes can parlay those lessons into life outside of sports.
- Mistakes are okay. Kids with ADHD are often down on themselves, always being disciplined or scolded for their out-of-bounds behavior. They feel like they are always making mistakes. But in sports, mistakes are okay – actually, they are encouraged. Coaches remind kids that in order to learn how to do it right, they need to do it wrong and learn from those mistakes. And even more importantly, that past mistakes don’t matter – that you “brush it off” and “move to the next play”. Learning that type of thinking allows kids with ADHD to recognize that, for example, they might make a mistake in the classroom, but that doesn’t mean they will keep making those mistakes or will forever be the “bad kid, but instead that they can learn from their mistake and do it differently next time.
- Staying positive. Along those same lines, sports help teach kids how to stay positive. Do you remember the McDonald’s commercial where the coach takes the losing team to McDonald’s after the game, while the winning team just gets a trophy? Somehow losing was actually a more positive outcome! Kids learn in sports that there are positives to be had even in loses and that sports is about having fun, spending time with your friends, learning new skills, and trying something new. And for kids with ADHD who may feel down on themselves about school or are not looking forward to another challenging academic year, sports can be a bright spot – something for them to look forward to, to get excited about, and to be engaged with you and their friends.
- Focus on effort, not outcomes. In sports, kids learn that they can’t control the outcome – they can’t control whether they win or lose, because that really depends on the other side. What they can control is the effort they put forth. They learn to “control the controllables” – their effort, their commitment to learning, and their willingness to take risks and make mistakes to get better. That lesson, too, can translate to their life outside of sports and help them be far more resilient as they work to improve, say, their math skills.
- Exercise! Last but not least, the research is clear: kids with attention-issues benefit from exercise. Think about it: you’d find it hard to concentrate and get your work done if you weren’t allow to step away from your desk and clear your head. That’s even more true for growing kids. They need a break! They need time to run around, use their muscles, get some fresh air, and release some of that pent up energy. Running the length of a soccer field multiple times in practice and games is great for them! And when it’s over, they can then sit down at the kitchen table to tackle homework.
So go ahead! Register for a fall sport this season. One last piece of advice: introduce yourself to your child’s coach right away. Let them know that your son or daughter has ADHD, and share the strategies that work best for your child. More often than not coaches respond positively to having this information upfront. It helps them plan ahead and strategize about which ADHD management activities may work best. If your child’s coach doesn’t respond well, it may be a sign that this coach isn’t the right fit. You know your child and their ADHD better than anyone. When you partner with your child’s coach, you’ll help create an ideal environment for your child to learn and grow.