For kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the physicality and level of concentration required to play a sport is not only beneficial, it might be therapeutic, according to a 2012 study published in the "Journal of Pediatrics." Not all sports are suitable for all children, and the best sport for a child with ADHD is likely to be one that can help her focus her energies and provide healthy exercise without setting her up for frustration or ridicule.
Keep it Moving!
Debi Pillarella, a national spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE certified personal trainer in Munster, Indiana, recommends choosing a sport that moves along quickly, without the long pauses that can provide opportunities for distraction or boredom. She suggests choosing sports that "require constant motion" and have little "down time." When playing team sports, children with ADHD might benefit most from fast-paced games such as soccer, track and swimming. Baseball, basketball, football and lacrosse are slower-placed sports that can involve multiple lengthy disruptions in the action of the game -- breaks that can distract your child from the activity on the field and frustrate him with the pace.
Sign your child up for an individual sport that will help her develop her concentration skills without the added pressure of being responsible for a team's performance. Martial arts such as taekwando, kung fu and karate give kids with ADHD the opportunity to focus and isolate the energies of their bodies in brief moments to project their strength and quickness. Gymnastics, tennis, dance, trampoline and diving will strengthen your child's body and mind by combining the concentration of learning combinations and movements with the physical endurance required of the sport. While many of these sports ultimately lead to competition at a team level, the emphasis is on individual performance, so your child is less likely to be distracted by the expectations of her teammates.
Let the sports coach or team leader know about your child's ADHD when you sign him up. Tell the trainer what types of atypical behaviors your child has and what techniques you have found to be helpful in dealing with them. According to a State University of New York graduate study, some coaches and team leaders use "negative extrinsic" motivational techniques, or " fear motivation ... based on yelling at or punishing athletes to get them to perform at their highest level." This could undermine your child's enjoyment or distract him from participating fully in the game, so it is important to disclose as much information as you can about your child's needs up front, and underscore the importance of using positive, incentive-based coaching techniques that will motivate your child without emphasizing his disability or discouraging his enthusiasm. If your child's new coach doesn't have any knowledge about ADHD, print a leaflet that explains the condition and how it might affect his participation.
Sports to Avoid
Consider carefully before enrolling your child with ADHD in contact sports such as tackle or rugby, ice or field hockey, or boxing. These sports are considered risky for "neurotypical" children, but they can present a special danger to kids whose attention is prone to stray or those who lack good impulse control. “In order to participate in a game such as football, the player must always be focused not only on his or her role in the game, but must also be aware of the actions and physical placement of other players at all times, ” says Robert Giabardo, the athletic director at Summit Camp for Youth with Attention Deficit Disorders in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. In addition, he cautions that a child with ADHD often does not take the time to "look around at other players," which can lead to accidents. If your child has his heart set on joining his school's football team, discuss the idea with his doctor and the school's coach before signing him up to play.