Raising Healthy Kids

What are the Best Sports for Kids with ADHD?

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Getting children involved with sports offers plenty of benefits, including physical exercise, development of social skills and even boosted self-esteem. But do all sports offer the same level of benefit for children who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

A common condition, ADHD affects more than 11.1 percent of children in Michigan ages 4-17 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The three main symptoms experienced by those with ADHD are impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, but children with ADHD tend to experience these symptoms at varying levels, said Henry Ford pediatrician Leonard Pollack, M.D.

Considering the severity of their symptoms, children with ADHD may find they enjoy playing some sports more than others. Factors like the coaching dynamic, overall pace of the sport and focus on teamwork versus individual performance may influence the decision on which sport is best.

Team Sports vs. Individual Sports
The sports that are most ideal for children with ADHD are those with a more individual focus, said Dr. Pollack. Many of these sports offer the opportunity for an athlete to compete as an individual, but they still get the experience of being part of a team because their individual scores often contribute to the team’s overall score. One major benefit of individual sports for children with ADHD is the direct interaction between the coach and the athlete.

“Individual sports offer a coaching dynamic where the instruction is more one-on-one. It’s much easier for children with ADHD to focus if there are fewer distractions and the coaching is directed specifically at them. If they are playing a sport where the coaching is directed more at the team as a whole, an athlete with ADHD may have a harder time paying attention,” Dr. Pollack said.

Because of the coaching and more individual focus, Dr. Pollack says examples of sports that a child with ADHD may enjoy include:

  • Wrestling
  • Martial arts
  • Swimming
  • Track or Cross Country

While individual sports may provide certain benefits for kids with ADHD, there are still some team sports that they may enjoy playing. If an athlete with ADHD would like to play team sports, Dr. Pollack suggests one of the following:

  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • Soccer

“Basketball, hockey and soccer are sports where the athletes are almost always moving and there’s very little idle time,” Dr. Pollack explains. “That constant motion provides a good outlet for the athletes to use their energy, and having less idle team means they are less likely to become distracted.”

Related topic: Sports Injuries & Student Athletes: A Parent’s Guide

Medication and Sports
One of the things parents should keep in mind if their child with ADHD chooses to play sports is the child’s medication schedule. Most students are treated for ADHD in a way that allows the medication to peak when the child is in school, because that’s when he or she most needs to pay attention. But, if the child plays sports after school, the child’s parents and pediatrician should make sure that the medication regimen reflects the change in schedule, Dr. Pollack added.

For older children who are interested in going on to play sports in college, there may be concern about their medication because some of the substances used to treat ADHD are on the NCAA’s list of banned substances. Dr. Pollack explains that there’s no need to worry, because the NCAA will make exceptions for athletes who have documented ADHD and a medical need for the medication. For college-age athletes or high school athletes who are planning to play in college, it’s very important that their coaches and trainers know about their medication, and that all necessary documentation is turned in to prevent any issues related to its use.

Children with ADHD can benefit from sports just as much as their peers who don’t have the condition. It’s all about finding a sport they are comfortable with and enjoy playing. If you have questions about your child playing a particular sport, ask your child’s pediatrician for guidance or schedule a sports physical.

To find a pediatrician or make an appointment, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Leonard Pollack is a pediatrician seeing patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and Henry Ford Macomb Hospital.

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