Sports & Activities

Olympians, Professional Athletes, and Sports Legends with ADHD

An ever-growing list of elite athletes with ADHD from across the wide world of sports.

High Angle View Of Various Sport Equipments On Green Grass
1 of 17

Sports and ADHD: Is There a Connection?

From baseball and basketball to judo and gymnastics, the sports world is filled with elite athletes who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – and who have dominated in their respective athletics.

Research suggests, in fact, that ADHD may be more common in elite athletes than it is in the general population; up to 8% of athletes have the condition compared to 2% to 7% of the general population.1

Each of the athletes on this list has ADHD – either diagnosed in childhood, in the midst of their professional career, or years after retiring from the sport. Many say ADHD gives them an edge, while others say sports has given them a healthy outlet for their symptoms. Who would you add to this list?

1 Han, D. H., McDuff, D., Thompson, D., Hitchcock, M. E., Reardon, C. L., & Hainline, B. (2019). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in elite athletes: a narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(12), 741–745. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2019-100713

Simone Biles - USA gymnast with ADHD
Simone Biles photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias
2 of 17

Simone Biles

Gymnast

Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with 32 World Championship medals and seven Olympic medals. In 2022, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, becoming the youngest person to receive the nation's highest civilian honor.

Biles opened up about her ADHD diagnosis in 2016, after Russian hackers exposed confidential medical information about her Ritalin use. “Having ADHD and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I’m afraid to let people know,” she tweeted at the time.

Image by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil (CC BY 2.0)

Atlanta Falcons uploaded by CC license
3 of 17

Zach Wilson

Football Player

Zach Wilson, who played college football at Brigham Young University, was selected second overall by the New York Jets in the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilson was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and he says symptoms of distractibility and inattention have never interfered with his passion for and focus on football. “I try hard, but it’s a struggle for me because of the attention deficit,” Wilson told Deseret News about college. “When it comes to football, I can do it all day.”

Wilson is a nephew of David Neeleman, the JetBlue Airways founder who is outspoken about his own ADHD.

Image/screenshot by the Atlanta Falcons (video uploaded to YouTube with CC BY license)

Diagnosed with ADHD at age 9, Michael Phelps went on to become the most decorated Olympian of all time, swimming his way to a record-breaking 18 gold medals. According to his mother, Debbie Phelps, swimming helped her son manage his symptoms from a young age by keeping him focused and disciplined.
photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias
4 of 17

Michael Phelps

Swimmer

With a total of 28 Olympic medals, Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Phelps, who was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, remembers “constantly bouncing off the walls.” “All everyone knew, in particular my mom, my sisters, and my coaches, was that I had all this energy and that I could bleed off a lot of it by playing sports: baseball, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, you name it,” he wrote in his book,  No Limits: The Will to Succeed. (#CommissionsEarned)

Image by Agência Brasil Fotografias (CC BY 2.0)

Terry Bradshaw
via The ASI Show/Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/asishow/51321943203/in/photolist-2mc9nFH-2mc8JV3-2mc7Hzs-2mcboDX-2mc8JVy-2mc7HyL-d1H8YS-d4GVjq-d1Ha67-d1H9bC-d1Ha1Y-d1H8MG-d1H9Rd-d1H8Ws-2mcdsGy-2mc3Wis-2mccPH8-2mc8JTQ-2mc3Wcf-2mc7HrS-2mccPTy-2mc7Hso-2mc8JLF-2mccPPF-2mccPSB-2mccPKh-2mc3Wgy-2mccPKY-2mccPFe-2mc8JTK-2mc7HvQ-2mccPT3-2mc8JE3-2mcboEy-2mcboEi-2mc7Hyv-2mccPUk-2mccPUW-2mc3Wsv-2mc8JTu-2mc3Wuj-2mc8JVZ-2mc8JVJ-2mc3WtY-2mc3Wcq-2mc3Wj4-2mc8JPX-2mcboyG-2mc3Wk6-2mc8JLf
5 of 17

Terry Bradshaw

Football Player

An NFL legend, broadcaster, and entertainer, Terry Bradshaw was diagnosed with ADHD later in life – long after he finished his playing career in the early ‘80s. He described his life with undiagnosed ADHD – from school struggles to impulsive purchases – in his 2001 book, It’s Only a Game. (#CommissionsEarned)

“I truly wish I had been tested [for ADHD] when I was a child so I might have been able to reach my potential academically,” he wrote. “But I wasn’t tested, I struggled, and in football I found my answers.”

Image by The ASI Show (CC BY 2.0)

[Read: How to Help Young Athletes]

Credit: Michael E. Lee https://www.flickr.com/photos/themikelee/2036982364/in/photolist-4714TA-3JvQr3-6c7tEW-6c7t5C-6c3iDZ-fK6TtD-6c3ise-843VAQ-6c7sr7-83ZNQz-6c7rq3-6c3k3V-83ZC4t-8442vC-6c7scw-7PYJFe-6c3kBP-7Q33Ms-6c3kF2-6c3kDx-6c3kf4-4UQKJA-6c7sG1-6c7rc9-843Sky-8442aW-83ZU1D-6c3iQB-843T5C-843S1L-83ZRMc-843ZEQ-83ZCVM-83ZWwT-843Zx9-83ZUGv-83ZWR2-7PYJu6-843Jr7-83ZSp2-6c7r1y-83ZVLV-843Vg1-83ZQnt-83ZQyP-83ZVfr-8441XJ-843UCu-83ZSbP-83ZNuk
6 of 17

Kevin Garnett

Basketball Player

Kevin Garnett played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Boston Celtics, and the Brooklyn Nets during his storied NBA career, which spanned 21 seasons. He announced his retirement from professional basketball in 2016, and he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2020.

Garnett revealed in his memoir, KG: A to Z, (#CommissionsEarned) that he has ADHD and dyslexia, and was only diagnosed in “the last years of my NBA career.”

“As a kid, all I knew was that reading was tough and focusing was even tougher,” he wrote in his book.

Image by Michael E. Lee (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Image by Filip Bossuyt https://flickr.com/photos/filipbossuyt/
7 of 17

Michelle Carter

Shot Putter

Michelle Carter is a three-time Olympian who made history in 2016 when she became USA’s first-ever female Olympic shot put champion. As of 2022, she remains the American record holder in the event.

Carter was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child. “I was definitely a handful back then,” she said in an interview with Understood.org. “I could not sit down long enough to study and to learn.”

After a 25-year career, Carter announced her retirement from competitive athletics in 2022, but she promised she would not walk away from track and field completely. She continues to run You Throw Girl, a sport confidence camp for girls.

Image by Filip Bossuyt (CC BY 2.0)

8 of 17

Molly Seidel

Long-Distance Runner

Molly Seidel won bronze at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo in what was her third marathon ever. Later that year, she became the fastest American woman to ever run the New York City Marathon.

Seidel revealed that she was diagnosed with ADHD in 2022 after seeking help for mental health issues. “It would probably be appropriate to describe it as life-changing,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “For the first time, I felt like I was able to get the quiet, functioning brain in my day-to-day life that I could previously only achieve with intense physical activity.”

In the same post, she wrote that she was seeking a therapeutic use exemption from the World Anti-Doping Agency so that she could compete while on Adderall, an ADHD medication.

Image by Chiefbritton (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Credit: Citizen59/Flickr
9 of 17

Justin Gatlin

Sprinter

Justin Gatlin is a five-time Olympic medalist who retired in early 2022 as one of the most decorated sprinters of all time. Gatlin revealed that he had been treating his ADHD with medication for years after a positive amphetamine test led to a temporary ban from competition early in his career. (He stopped taking ADHD medication after the experience.)

ADD sucks during training, but coming into finals I actually feel such an energy burst,” he told The Independent in 2019. “When I step out onto the track, and I hear so much and I see so many people and my mind gets distracted, I kind of just feel at home actually. It’s eerie but it makes me feel good there’s so much going on.”

Image by Citizen59 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

[Read: Activities That Boost Self-Esteem, Social Skills & Behavior]

10 of 17

Brittney Griner

Basketball Player

Brittney Griner, an eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013. In the WNBA off-season, Griner also played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian basketball team.

She was traveling to join that pro team in February 2022 when she was arrested at a Russian airport for allegedly transporting hashish oil into the country via vape cartridges. She has been unable to leave Russia ever since and was convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to 9 years in prison in August 2022.

Griner’s ADHD diagnosis reportedly came up during her trial, which has garnered international publicity. (The U.S. considers Griner wrongfully detained.) The Russian team’s doctor, to bolster Griner’s explanation that she mistakenly carried cannabis oil into the country because she had packed in a rush and was not paying attention, told the court that Griner has ADHD. Griner has neither confirmed nor denied this information.

Image by Lori Shaull (CC BY 2.0)

Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0
11 of 17

Chris Mazdzer

Luger

Chris Mazdzer is a four-time Olympian who won silver in the men’s single luge at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Mazdzer was diagnosed with ADHD as a young child and says luge helps him manage his symptoms. “I have ADHD, and [the track] is the only place where I’m fully focused on a singular task,” he said in an NBC interview. “I think of it as my medicine, basically.”

Image by Sandro Halank (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Christopher Amrich
12 of 17

Cammi Granato

Ice Hockey Player

Cammi Granato captained the U.S. women’s hockey team to gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan – the same year women’s ice hockey made its Olympic debut. She then led her team to silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. In 2010, she was one of the first two women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Granato was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult after listening to a sports psychologist talk about the condition. “ADHD comes with certain strengths and weaknesses that have made me who I am, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” she said in an ADDitude interview.

Image by Christopher Amrich (CC BY -SA 2.0)

Credit: Jonathan Korn/Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/jkorn/4842476783/
13 of 17

Andres Torres

Baseball Player

Andres Torres spent a decade playing for minor league teams, hoping for a big break. His play at last transformed when he began treating his ADHD – five years after he was diagnosed close to the start of his career.

“With the medication, everything started clicking,” Torres told The New York Times. “From then on, it changed.”

A few years into treatment, Torres signed with the San Francisco Giants, and won his first World Series ring with them in 2010.

Image by Jonathan Korn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By los_bandito_anthony on Flickr.
14 of 17

Louis Smith

Gymnast

Louis Smith won silver and bronze medals on the pommel horse across three Olympic Games, and he earned several world and European championship medals before he retired from the sport in 2018.

Smith, who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 7, said gymnastics was an outlet for his symptoms. ”It gave me the tools necessary to channel my ADHD throughout my childhood,” he wrote in his retirement message.

Image by los_bandito_anthony (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: IBA Boxing
15 of 17

Nicola Adams

Boxer

Nicola Adams became the first-ever Olympic gold medalist in women’s boxing at the London 2012 Olympics Games. She went on to win gold again in 2016 at the Rio Games. After claiming multiple boxing titles in her professional career, including the World Boxing Organization Female Flyweight championship in 2018, Adams announced her retirement in 2019.

Adams was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 15 years old. “I think it’s helped my training,” she told The Guardian in a 2017 interview. “I never get tired. I’ve always got energy. It helps with my shots. I’m always trying new things.”

Image by IBA Boxing (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Credit: Jim Thurston
16 of 17

Ashley McKenzie

Judoka

Ashley McKenzie has represented Great Britain in judo in three Olympic Games and in multiple World and European Championships. In 2022, he won gold in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Apart from his professional judo career, McKenzie is also known for his appearances on reality TV shows like Celebrity Big Brother (UK).

McKenzie was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and credits judo for helping him overcome behavioral and emotional challenges. “The constant need for discipline keeps my ADHD in check,” he said in an interview with The Mirror.

Image by Jim Thurston (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By chrisinphilly5448 https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisinphilly5448/2990756598/in/photolist-5yhpJW-DyfJwy-D35ncn-DsiUWr-D9sis9-5yvgKC-DqaH9N-DqakDo-tD1DUV-D364VX-CD4BF7-5MM22m-wjMVq3-CNu4ZX-D9sQg3-wNQGtd-5MGLW8-dXn7M6-tDc5L8-tARjZ1-oy8ByB-tDfAXb-tmuMup-x1BLQd-tmAFpL-tmTAcY-xxyxDP-tDgXrD-tmsmNV-tmzjRW-tDF8Ux-tDhEZt-tmnMjN-tDrA82-sGmRQN-5MM2ow-tARHML-tmvqfN-sGmdna-tmrQCf-tCQj2L-tCCavw-tmo5RU-tD4JV6-tACLbu-tmkELy-tDawo1-tmvr3w-sG7zds-tAYi4d
17 of 17

Scott Eyre

Baseball Player

Scott Eyre played for five MLB teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series champion team, during his 13-season career.

Erye was diagnosed a few years after the start of his professional career, when symptoms like hyperactivity and inattention started to interfere with his game. Medication helped him focus while out on the field. “I can think about a pitch and also cover first base now,” Eyre said in an ADDitude interview. “I can stand on the mound and not hear the 40,000 people screaming.”

Image by chrisinphilly5448 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Athletes with ADHD: Next Steps


SUPPORT ADDITUDE
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.

Leave a Reply