Michael Phelps is not alone.
A surprising number of professional athletes have attention deficit disorder (ADHD). In fact, an estimated eight to ten percent of all pro athletes have the condition, as compared to four to five percent of the general population of adults.
Many experts say a connection between ADHD and athletics makes sense. "Having ADD can actually be an advantage in certain sports for ADHD children," says Mike Stabeno, author of The AD/HD Affected Athlete. "While some activities require intense concentration, that's not always the case with athletics. Everything happens instantaneously. You're in there for 10 minutes, you've got five people trying to take your head off, three referees, four teammates. You need to take in everything that's going on all at once. That's how people with ADD go through life. So it makes sense that they thrive in this field."
Of course, ADHD does present certain challenges. Perhaps the biggest, say experts, is that many athletes are unaware that they have the condition. "A lot of athletes have ADD and don't know it," says Eric Morse, M.D., president of the International Society for Sports Psychiatry. And no wonder, says Stabeno, himself the father of two sons with ADD. "Chances are, no one ever considered testing athletes for ADD," he says, "since they are good at what they do. Sure, that pitcher may be a little flaky, but who cares, as long as he can throw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball?"
Among the athletes who do know that they have ADD, few are open about it. "They're often scared of what it could do to their career," says Morse. "In sports, no one wants to admit to a weakness."
Despite the risks, a growing number of athletes have come forward to acknowledge that they have the condition - including Terry Bradshaw, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s; swimmer Michael Phelps, the first American to win eight medals in a single Olympic Games; and Pete Rose, whose ADD probably helped propel him to become the 1975 World Series MVP and to hold the major league all-time hit record - but also may have fueled the gambling addiction that led to his lifetime ban from baseball.
In this article, you'll meet three standouts in the current generation of ADD athletes. Each has had a different experience with the condition, but all are open about how it helped them, held them back, and ultimately shaped them into who they are today. Their stories, struggles, and solutions are reminders that ADD doesn't have to limit what anyone does in life.
This article comes from the June/July 2006 issue of ADDitude.