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ADHD in Athletes: Tips for Parents and Coaches


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may exist in higher rates in some athlete populations than in the general population. There are probably a number of reasons for this, including that ADHD symptoms can actually be assets in certain sports, such as tennis or swimming. On the other hand, ADHD can sometimes interfere with sports participation.

Here are some tips to consider in helping someone with ADHD to become involved in sports:

Benefits of Sports

Sports participation for children with ADHD can give children the confidence to work hard and succeed in the classroom. ADHD might also actually be helpful in some sports, since people with ADHD tend to be energetic and spontaneous. For example, it may be helpful for a basketball point guard to be spontaneous and unpredictable in the eyes of the opponent. Finally, there is evidence that exercise can actually help to treat symptoms of ADHD.

Talking to a Coach

It can be difficult for parents to decide if they should tell their child’s coach that he/she has ADHD. Parents should consider the skills required in a given sport, what they have observed in backyard games, and characteristics of the coach. If parents do decide to tell their child’s coach about his/her ADHD, they should explain the situation rather than just giving the label. For example, “Johnny has ADHD, which means that he has lots of energy and enthusiasm that can be helpful in sports, but it also means he has a harder time paying attention and ignoring distractions than other kids his age.”

Plan Ahead and Practice

Parents can practice strategies with their children at home. For example, they can practice how to handle distractions and performance frustrations.

ADHD Medications

Stimulants used to treat ADHD, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), are considered performance-enhancing and are restricted in higher levels of competition, such as college and professional sports. However, for school-age children, academics should be the priority, and there are not typically any bans from using stimulants at this level. There are non-stimulant medications that can be used to treat ADHD as well, and choice of type of medication, if one is needed, should be made by the child’s physician in close discussion with the family.

Coaching Tips

ADHD can interfere with an athlete’s ability to focus on, or to remember, coaching instruction. Thus, athletes with ADHD may benefit from specific coaching techniques: multi-sensory directions, clear and consistent instructions, eye contact, repetition and clarification, only one correction at a time, positive reinforcement, consistent consequences for negative behavior, and patience.

For more information:

By Claudia L. Reardon, M.D., Assistant Professor
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health


ADHDPatients and Families


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