The very first step in helping any child cope with ADHD is by arming yourself with the right information, starting with the basics:
ADHD is a mental disorder wherein a person is consistently inattentive, impulsive, and/or hyperactive. Inattentiveness includes an inability to sustain focus, persist on a single endeavor or topic, and maintain being organized – despite their willing participation and full understanding of a given situation.
Being impulsive means taking action or making important decisions without considering consequences, an inability to delay gratification (highly prefers immediate rewards), and sometimes being socially intrusive.
And last but definitely not least: hyperactivity commonly manifests as excessive fidgeting, talking, tapping, restlessness, wearing people out with conversation/activity, and an inability to stop doing any or all of these even in situations where such behaviors are obviously inappropriate.
When a person exhibits any or all three of these characteristic indicators of ADHD, it’s bound to interfere with normal functioning as well as the person’s ability to learn and develop certain skills.
Effective ADHD Treatments Include Medication, Therapy, and Participation in Certain Sports
Thankfully, the years of studying the effects and possible causes of ADHD have yielded various treatments that’ve been proven to be effective at helping children and adults cope with the disorder.
It’s important to note that most if not all treatments are more likely to be effective when administered during childhood – which is not to say that post-childhood treatment is ineffective. It’s just easier to modify and correct certain behaviors during a person’s formative years. The sooner you can start therapy after proper diagnosis, the more you can expect positive results.
Often, a combination of prescribed medication and carefully chosen forms of therapy can be enough to allow a child with ADHD to grow up into a productive and responsible adult. The best person to decide on which treatments to administer is of course, the child’s doctor.
However, if you’re the child’s parent or guardian, you’re in a unique position to administer a highly effective form of therapy which can help strengthen the child’s mental and physical well-being: taking up a sport.
As you can expect, some sports or activities are better for treating ADHD than others. If you find the right sport and environment for your child, it could potentially raise their baseline levels of both dopamine and norepinephrine – neurotransmitters that allow the brain to control anxiety, mood issues, inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.
On the other hand, choose wrongly and your child’s foray into a new sport could just cause frustration, anger, feelings of inadequacy, and other negative factors that can worsen their existing ADHD symptoms.
Don’t worry: it is our hope that by the end of this article, you’ll have a clear idea of which sports/activities can actually help your child cope and possibly overcome ADHD in time.
ADHD Therapy Through Sports is Only Possible With a Patient, Dedicated, and Hands-On Teacher/Coach
Some adults who’ve never had ADHD are able to positively reminisce about abusive coaches who’ve either embarrassed them or traumatically pushed their mental/physical limits in the past. It can even be a bonding experience for peers who’ve gone through the same or similar experiences.
If you’re a person with no developmental or functional disabilities during childhood, there’s a chance that in adulthood, you can just laugh off your childhood memories of being under the reigns of a strict and terrible coach/taskmaster.
Unfortunately, most children and adults with ADHD are unlikely to remember such memories fondly. If you’ve been struggling to function and develop normally since you can remember, you’re bound to be much more sensitive to potentially traumatic events that can be directly connected to your mental disorder.
This is why it’s important to find the right coach to take your child under their wing. Not only does the coach need to be patient and compassionate, she or he also needs to understand how to teach and develop the skills a child who has ADHD – all without using methods that could potentially be traumatic.
In short, you and your child’s coach need to be on the same team, with the same goal of helping your child cope (and possibly overcome) ADHD by participating in the right sport.
Now that you know what to look for in a coach, the next step is knowing which sports are most ideal for the purposes of treating ADHD.
Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, and Other Traditional Martial Arts Teach Discipline, Focus, Self-Control, and Routine
Martial arts that measure advancement and assign rank using belts usually emphasize developing skills that can be useful to someone who’s struggling with ADHD.
The combination of having to use the entire body while following step-by-step instructions leaves very little room for distraction, which can hone focus. There’s also the opportunity for personal advancement while being surrounded by peers whom you’re required to treat with mutual respect; this can strengthen your child’s ability to read and react to social cues.
Executing martial movements correctly not only requires discipline, but also the efficient use of both mental and physical energy. This allows your child to fully exert her/himself in the safety of a healthy environment – one that’s actually designed for controlled exertion, ultimately aimed at developing martial skills without losing control.
Whether your child’s preferred martial art involves striking, grappling, or a combination of both, it can be a venue for releasing energy and aggression without your child getting into trouble or injuring anyone. And when your child does get accidentally injured or causes injury, the coach or sensei should be able to handle such incidents in a way that mitigates both the mental and physical trauma of everyone involved – another reason why it’s important to find the perfect coach.
Additionally, the rituals that usually accompany traditional martial arts can be very effective at teaching your child the purpose and value of following routines, allowing them to understand how routine and repetition can be useful in different areas of their lives (whether at home, in school, with friends, or during other extracurricular activities).
While the idea of allowing your child to learn traditional martial arts can be intimidating, they’re actually a lot safer for children than you probably think. Being fully aware of how the body works and responds to martial techniques are usually the first principles taught to all newcomers, especially if the students are children. To say that safety is a priority would be an understatement.
In fact, in certain gyms or dojos, the most devastating techniques are only available to those who’ve already achieved higher ranks or belts.
Beginners are advised and sometimes forbidden from even trying to learn such techniques – not just because they’re hard to learn, but mostly because beginners typically do not have the mastery to use such techniques without injuring themselves or their fellow students. It’s another layer of discipline that your child can draw useful parallels from – applicable to many other aspects of life.
Swimming Is a Valuable Life Skill that Emphasizes Focus, Discipline, and Endurance
The most decorated Olympian in the history of competitive sports – Michael Phelps – has credited learning swimming at a young age for helping him manage his ADHD symptoms as a child. He was just another kid who had trouble with focus and discipline, but after taking swimming seriously, his development eventually allowed him to become a well-adjusted adult – not to mention the fastest swimmer the world has ever seen.
It’s a shame that not many parents know how swimming can be highly conducive for managing and mitigating symptoms related to ADHD and producing well-adjusted adults. In terms of coping with ADHD, training to become a competitive swimmer has exactly the right amount of team involvement and focus on personal development.
Swimmers train in teams, but unlike other sports that require you to compete with fellow students/players in order to advance in rank or develop your skills, swimming requires to surpass no one else but yourself.
Of course, during competition, the goal is to be faster than the competition, but when it comes to training, there’s no other way to get better other than improving your own personal swim times.
While your child will of course be tempted to compare how much faster or slower they are than their other team members, a good coach will instruct them to focus on their own numbers and no one else’s.
In the process of trying to swim faster than they did yesterday or last week, your child needs to focus on executing proper swimming technique, maintain self-discipline by training consistently, and inevitably develop tremendous physical endurance from the physical and mental exertion required by regular training.
Avoid Team Sports and Look Into Individual Sports
While this is not 100% applicable to every single child with ADHD, it’s a general rule of thumb that can be applied to most kids who exhibit intense and/or varied ADHD symptoms.
Although team sports are not always the worst thing for a child with ADHD to get into, there’s just more potential for frustration and injury than there is for learning and development, especially for a child who not only has ADHD but is also only starting to learn how to be athletic.
In sports like basketball, football, and even soccer, the rules can be too complicated for a child with ADHD to fully grasp at first, leading to penalties, possibly humiliation, and maybe even injury due to not fully understanding where to go or what to do. Of course, getting into trouble by not following certain rules could be a good life lesson for your child, but a negative experience in group or team sports is one of the worst ways to instill such a lesson.
The problem is that sports which involve team-to-team competition will require the child to be aware of everything that’s going on in the playing field. Competitive team sports require sharpened focus and discipline from the start – the type of focus and discipline that a child with ADHD may not have already developed.
A safer way to develop these important mental faculties is through sports focused mostly on individual development. Apart from karate, jiu-jitsu, and swimming, this includes wrestling, gymnastics, tennis, track, horseback riding, yoga, and even archery. These are all sports and activities that require children to focus mostly on their own skills instead of having to be aware of how and what others are doing (which is extra difficult for children with ADHD).
Once your child develops enough focus and confidence, only then can they safely tackle group or team sports that demand more of their physical and mental attention.
Dynamic ADHD Treatment Comes in All Shapes and Sizes
Learning how to play a sport is just one of the many activities that can help your child develop the skills necessary to overcome ADHD and grow up into a productive, responsible, and confident adult.
Anything that can help your child to overcome inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and other related symptoms can be highly beneficial for their development and ability to function normally. This includes activities like painting, sculpture, DIY crafts, meditation, and even practical but interesting stuff like basic carpentry.
If it teaches focus and discipline, allows your child to express his/herself, gives your child a good reason to expend mental and/or physical energy, and achieves some or all that without risk of significant trauma, it could potentially help your child overcome ADHD.
If you’re unsure whether or not a certain activity is safe or relevant to coping with ADHD symptoms, you can always consult your doctor on the best course of action.