During my early days of coaching school sports, there was a young girl with an amazing amount of energy on the basketball team. During practice, she was the first one out of the locker room, dressed and raring to go. She was also the last one to leave the gym. A coach's dream? I thought so, until the frustration set in - for both of us.
Angela could really handle a basketball, having grown up in a houseful of brothers. But she didn't understand strategy or teamwork. When she was on the court, she performed as if she were the only one there. How could I help her see that enthusiasm, while admirable, was no substitute for team play?
One afternoon, when Angela's dad picked her up from practice, he asked how things were going. I voiced my frustration and he shook his head knowingly, explaining that his daughter had ADHD. He said that she loved sports and had tried several, with little success. We decided that he would attend all the practices, and together we would figure out how to help this young athlete achieve success at something that she really wanted to do.
Our effort helped Angela to see that basketball was not her sport. Her poor spatial awareness and strategic thinking, compounded by emotional triggers during a game, thwarted her success. Yet Angela also came to learn that her spirit, enthusiasm, and motivation could help her shine in another sport: cross-country track. She excelled at track in her first year of high school, and she also gained insight into her capabilities. This partnership between coach, parent, and child ended in a win-win.
Cheerlead for your child
There is no better advocate for a child with ADD or other neurological disorder - or for any child - than a parent. Parents, along with teachers and coaches, need to realize that each child's behavior is unique, even if it's not considered age-appropriate. It is our job to recognize our children's strengths and weaknesses and guide them to appropriate activities, including sports.
Team sports are particularly difficult for children with ADHD, because the variables can be overwhelming. We need to set these children up for success. You have researched, experimented, and lived with your child's special needs. Use what you know. Remember that, outside of school, most coaches are well-meaning parents who know little about ADHD. Even coaches with specialized training will value your input, expertise, and wisdom about your child, so they can support him in a team-sport endeavor.
When choosing a sport for your child, consider his challenges as well as his strengths. Some children with ADD have difficulty with losing. Try to assess whether a team sport, in which the child can absorb a loss with teammates, or an individual sport is best. A child with attention problems will likely benefit from a sport with constant motion and excitement. Share your concerns and recommendations with the coach.
Talk to the boss
I encourage you to share the following strategies with your child's coach, strategies I've learned through years of working with children with ADD and other special needs.
- Never humiliate a child. This would seem to be common sense. Unfortunately, that is not what I have observed in sports programs. Some coaches feel that embarrassment, humiliation, and punishment (running 30 laps if a drill is not done correctly) will get a child to pay attention. This approach will not work with an ADD child.
A coach should take the time to find out what a child does not understand and help her work through it. Perhaps the coach can designate a team buddy who guides your child through the plays.
- Drill with energy. Children with ADD get bored and distracted standing around waiting their turn. Encourage the coach to do drills that require change and continuous movement.
This article comes from the April/May 2004 issue of ADDitude.