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ADHD Natural Treatment: Sports for Children with ADHD

Hyperactive and inattentive children have a lot to gain from sports and regular exercise.  Research shows that sports offer many social and behavioral benefits such as learning to follow directions and  focus on structured tasks, and getting involved in activities. Sports are also a great outlet for any pent-up energy an ADHD child might have.  Although a sport may be a rich training ground for the sport itself and for social situations, it’s not always easy to get a child with ADHD involved.   

Most children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are their own toughest challenges on the playing field. Since focus, order, and structure are needed to succeed in sports, the very attention and behavioral issues that plague ADHD children in the classroom may only get worse once they get in the game.  Besides that, children with ADHD also suffer with learning disabilities that affect spatial awareness, game concepts, organization, and strategy. Other problems that can get in the way of sports success for children with ADHD include:

  • Issues with following directions.  Impulsive and inattentive children jump right into the game without paying attention to the rules.
  • Impulsivity. Since children with ADHD often act before they think, they do things instinctively rather than using the rules and strategies that are part of the sport. They might also have issues waiting for their turn during practice.
  • Inattention. Sports like baseball will require kids to pay attention when they are not actively engaged in the game. This is particularly challenging to children with ADHD, who are often caught daydreaming during moments of low action.
  • Low frustration tolerance.  You can’t win all the time in sports, and losing may be difficult for some children with ADHD, giving rise to aggression, tantrums, and other inappropriate behavior.

For these reasons, team sports and contact sports are the worst choices for kids who are still learning to control their ADHD symptoms.   At this level, they are still trying to grasp the play system while maintaining acute awareness and keen focus.  Since these important skills have not yet been developed, kids with ADHD get injured or injure other players, because they are not aware of their teammates’ locations, act before thinking, and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Their inability to play with a team will only increases their self-esteem issues and behavioral problems – the exact opposite of what you want for your child. 

ADHD experts agree that individual sports help children cope with ADHD better than team sports.  ADHD children are more likely to succeed in individual sports like martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, and tennis, because they receive plenty of individual guidance from coaches. Despite the one-on-one handling of these sports, children with ADHD still receive many of the social benefits of team sports because they are often taught in groups.  Tennis and swimming, for instance, will require them to play in teams; unlike other team sports, the instruction and effort are accomplished on the individual level.

Martial arts like taekwondo and kung fu have the highest success rates of improving ADHD symptoms.  Martial arts not only teach kids to control their movements and bodies; they also teach them how to meditate, which helps them with self-control.  Like swimming and tennis, martial arts are taught step by step by a coach, which leaves few opportunities for distractions. Martial arts are also great because they use a lot of structured rituals. Experts believe that rituals are good for kids with ADHD because they make certain behaviors automatic. Those behaviors can then be carried out into other aspects of their lives.

Individual sports, however, will also require certain modifications for your child to succeed. Remember, children with ADHD are emotionally and socially younger than their chronological age, which can explain their problematic relationships with their peer group.  The great thing about sports is that you can place your child in a younger age group, something you cannot do at school.  Not only will they be around a peer group they can relate to; they’ll be in a position where they can succeed.