A Guide to the Best Sports Activities for Children with ADHD


Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest Olympian of all time, was once diagnosed with ADHD. Phelps’ mother, Debbie, recalls how his hyperactivity invited constant complaints from his teachers and friends. When she approached an expert to analyze his behavior, ADHD was identified as the cause. Debbie decided to help Michael with improving his behavior. She introduced him to various activities and diverted his hyperactivity into those actions. He was encouraged to pursue swimming, baseball, cross-country racing and lacrosse. But swimming became his main focus, after a while, and his dedication to excel in the sport made him the most talented swimming champion of all time. It not only helped him increase his concentration but also helped improve his conduct.

Phelps is a practical example of how children with ADHD can gain focus and improve their behavior through sports and other activities. His life teaches us how one can find opportunity in adversity and turn one’s weakness into a strength.

Research suggests that involving children with ADHD in sports and other outdoor activities provides them with a more open environment to express their feelings. Playing sports helps children reduce their anxiety and depression. It also helps them understand the dynamics of functioning in a team and inculcates the spirit of winning and losing, graciously.

How do you enlist one into an activity?

Well, it starts with choosing the right activity for your child. Pay heed to their interests! Learn about their interests and list all the activities that are suitable for your child. From the list of activities, ask your child to pick his/her favorite one. Remember to never force your child into any sport/activity without their consent, as it can become a cause for more stress. Taking part in sports and other activities can be difficult at the beginning. This is because children with ADHD tend to display hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. However, with an accommodative stance, support from parents and the right coach, getting a child into the game is doable.

What kind of sport suits your child?

As mentioned earlier, it has to be to their liking. There are many sports/outdoor activities that can help your child expend excess energy and, in the process, build concentration and team-building skills. Let us take a look at various sporting activities that can help children with ADHD. Compare and analyze all the activities and choose the one that best fits the personality of your child.

1. Tennis

Sports can be classified into team sports and sports that are played individually. Tennis is one such activity that is played individually, especially for those who find it hard to cope with a team. With tennis, children have the ability to compete against themselves and master the skill. Playing ball games is a good mechanism to release pent up anger and stress.

2. Martial arts

Martial arts training involves a step-by-step learning path. A step-wise approach is good as it helps children with ADHD learn to be focused on an activity for a certain duration of time without becoming distracted. It also helps in learning behavioral aspects such as being respectful, exercising self-control and self-discipline. Acquiring martial arts skills requires that the child receive and obey directions/instructions from their trainer. This can inculcate the habit of taking directions from others when undertaking new activities, a skill that can improve outcomes in school and work environments.

​3. Swimming

Swimming is a popular recreational activity among children of all ages. Some of these children go on to pursue it as a competitive sport. It is an excellent activity for children with ADHD, as well. Besides being fun, it teaches coordinated body movement, provides sensory comfort and enhances breathing control. It also boosts self-esteem and enhances physical fitness.

​4. Gymnastics

The equipment and movements involved in gymnastics are similar to the ones used in occupational therapy. Such activities helps children pay close attention to their body movements and body balance. It builds your child’s core strength, sense of balance and muscle awareness to better manage any deficiencies in sensory processing.

5. Wrestling

Wrestling is a great sport option, if you have a highly energetic child on your hands. It would be a good idea to channel all the excess energy into something fun and competitive. Dealing with any aggressive tendencies by channeling them into a competitive sport is an excellent strategy. It will also teach your child to exercise his/her strength with discipline and control.

6. Track and cross country

In most individual sports, children have to wait for their turn to play. However, a simple activity, such as running track or cross country, bypasses the need to wait. Also, there would be less chance of the child becoming distracted because there would be others around to remind him/her of their goal. Therefore, running helps in learning discipline and in social integration with other children.

7. Soccer

For children with ADHD, soccer is an incredible sport to play. It increases team spirit and encourages peer bonding. Healthy competition encourages the child to play actively and can be highly stimulating. Since this game requires one to act continuously, difficulties with short attention span could be improved upon through this sport.

Apart from the above-mentioned sports, there may be other sports and activities that your child is interested in or good at. These may include individual activities such as biking, running, etc., or natural activities like feeding a bird, painting a fence or raking the leaves. Always remember that team sports, such as baseball, soccer, basketball, etc., require a lot of physical contact and attention to detail as one plays. Analyze your child’s areas of needs and strengths in order to see if he/she is comfortable with physical contact and can perform the quick mental processing needed for such sports. Only after a thorough analysis, decide which sports suit them best and which does not.

Another key aspect is to find the right coach who can understand children with ADHD and give them support to excel in their favorite sport. Coaches have a huge impact on your child, so educate the coach on your child’s behavior. This gives an idea of your child’s potential and limitations to the coach, and training can be suitably modified to match the child’s needs.

Sports have a positive impact on children and can help in gaining self-esteem and confidence, along with reducing their hyperactivity. Sports are also crucial to building the social life of a child with ADHD. So, let your child play their favorite sport and see for yourself the positive changes it will bring.

Did we miss anything? Write to us and share your experiences with us. Tell us which sport(s) your child favors and how it has helped his/her behavioral areas of need and skills.

#ADHD #AttentionDeficitHyperactivityDisorder #MichaelPhelpsADHD #MichaelPhelps #Olympian #Tennis #MartialArts #Swimming #Gymnastics #Wrestling #TrackandCrossCountry #Soccer #SportsforADHD #SportsfrChildrenwithADHD

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