“I’m Gonna Be a New York Yankee!”
Many kids with ADHD long for a career in sports, but is it a pipe dream or a possibility? Learn how being organized and learning good team interaction can help make it a reality.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” There’s hardly a 5-year-old in America who hasn’t been asked this question. It’s understandable, because most kids start to dream about adult aspirations early on.
A teacher, an astronaut, a ballerina, a doctor … these are common and quick kid responses to the question. But there’s one answer we hear a lot, and especially from kids with ADHD: a sports star.
We are a nation obsessed with sports. We treat star athletes like royalty, and top players make millions in salaries and endorsements. It’s no wonder today’s youth yearn to be like them. Add to that the fact that children with ADHD have energy to burn and often channel that energy into sports, and we can see why many set their sights on the athlete’s life.
But is a sports career a realistic goal for a child with ADHD – or for any child? Sure, a few get to the top. But most aspirants don’t. When we look at sports as a profession, we’re looking at a prime example of fantasy versus reality. With the “glamour” professions (sports, acting, broadcasting, writing, and so on), you have to see past the fantasy to find out what the career really offers.
What are the required skills, and does your child possess them? What kind of lifestyle is typical of the profession, and can your child adapt to it? How would ADHD affect the probability of success? In fact, there’s some clear data to help you answer these questions.
The Right Stuff
Only the very best players can expect to be considered for sports careers. What does this mean, for example, to a high school football star? It means that he must possess all of the following in order to compete:
Superior ability to perform in the given sport, at an exceptional and consistent level.
The ability to maintain overall body strength and health through exercise and strength training to prevent, offset, and rehabilitate injuries.
The discipline required to stick with a healthy, regimented diet.
A complete understanding of all rules and regulations of the sport.
Available time for hours of practice each day.
The ability to accept criticism in order to improve skills.
The educational foundation for a career transition after sports.
Pay to Play
Very few make it big in U.S. pro sports. The majority of professional athletes work in “farm systems,” at basic salaries, or outside U.S. arenas, where income may be even lower. In such cases, the athlete has the additional burden of paying some or all of his or her own expenses.
In the year 2000, the median income of athletes was $32,700, with the lowest income being below $12,630. In addition, of 129,000 total sports workers, only 19,000 were athletes. With these eye-openers in mind, consider some other factors of the athlete’s lifestyle:
- Work hours are often irregular and travel may be extensive.
- Private life must come second to the priorities of a sports career.
- Job security is nearly non-existent due to competition and injury.
- Career-ending injuries are a constant threat.
The ADHD Challenge
ADHD symptoms are a factor in any career choice, and individuals with ADHD have unique symptoms with which they struggle. But there are modifications and accommodations that can often offset ADHD as a job barrier. Here are some of the issues a person with ADHD will need to address in a professional-sports career:
- Staying on schedule. This might not matter in sports where managers and coaches do the planning. But in individual sports, such as tennis, golf, or bowling, scheduling may be a challenge. Charting daily routines or using task checklists can help.
- Paying attention. An athlete who cannot stay focused may miss an important rule, regulation, or other information relevant to sports success. This might be offset, however, with the use of personal data electronics to instantly record pertinent information.
- Being organized. If, for example, an athlete can’t find his equipment or loses a part of his uniform, play could be affected. Checklists, special containers, and closet organizers are tools for an ADD athlete.
- Maintaining memory. Players need to remember specific techniques and plays. However, memory may be improved by the use of personal coaches, time reminders, and mnemonic techniques.
- Socializing appropriately. Good team interaction is essential to success in many sports. By working with a therapist, counselor, or coach, social behavior can be enhanced by learning to read non-verbal cues, curbing impulsive or inappropriate responses, and learning to be mindful of others’ feelings.
Remember that the degree to which these adaptations succeed in leveling the playing field depends on other factors, such as motivation, support systems, and history of success in these areas.
When considering any career, particularly a glamour career, thorough research is essential. Work with a career counselor to see if the fit is there. This will help your child see if his dream of a sporting life can become a reality.