Karate or Kickball? Fencing or Football? The Best Sports for Kids with ADHD
Active kids are healthy kids, but not all sports play well with ADHD traits. Learn why parents and ADD experts recommend martial arts, swimming, tennis, and 7 other activities for kids to promote health, self-esteem, and teamwork.
Exercise can help control symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) by raising the baseline levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. So registering your child for an after-school sport is a great idea, right? Well, it depends on your child’s unique set of ADHD symptoms. Use this list to determine which activities for kids will showcase and strengthen your child’s abilities so she can shine on the court, in the field, or in the pool.
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ADHD & Sports: The Coach Matters
When picking a sport, remember that coaches have a huge impact. Most coaches are well-meaning parents who know little about ADHD, so it's important that you share your expertise about your child. Let a coach know, for example, that making your child run 15 extra laps for not paying attention is not effective, just humiliating. Sports should allow your child to build relationships and work on self-confidence outside of the classroom, not further increase his anxiety and stress.
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Best ADHD Sports: Swimming
Kids with ADHD excel with structure and guidance — and a swim team can provide just that. Swimmers receive valuable one-on-one time with coaches, while still enjoying the social benefits of being part of a team. Your child will be able to focus on personal development – by improving personal swim times – without any direct comparison with others on the team. Olympian Michael Phelps says that swimming helped manage his ADHD symptoms by keeping him focused and disciplined from a young age.
Self-control, discipline, and respect are just a few of the skills emphasized in martial arts classes. Students master each new martial arts combination through step-by-step instruction – leaving little opportunity for distraction. One surprising benefit of martial arts is its use of rituals, such as bowing to the instructor, which can help teach kids with ADHD to accept, develop, and use routine in other areas of their lives.
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Best ADHD Sports: Tennis
Tennis is an ideal sport for individualistic kids who thrive when competing against themselves to master a new skill. Tennis does require coordinated teamwork and communication when playing doubles, but it's active, fast pace holds kids' sustained concentration — a plus for many kids with ADHD. Plus, hitting tennis balls can be a great way for your child to release any anger or frustration he feels from a challenging day at school.
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Best ADHD Sports: Gymnastics
Studies have shown that activities requiring close attention to body movements, such as gymnastics, may help kids with ADHD and LD improve their focus. Gymnastics equipment and movements are very similar to those used in occupational therapy and can help manage your child’s sensory processing disorder by developing her core strength, sense of balance, and muscle awareness.
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Best ADHD Sports: Wrestling
If your child has misguided aggression or seemingly boundless energy, wrestling may be a fun (and safe!) way to channel these emotions into something positive. For Dr. Michele Novotni’s son, the wrestling mat became a safe haven, "the only place where he could knock people down without getting into trouble."
Being on a soccer team gives kids a sense of camaraderie, which can be especially helpful for kids with ADHD and LD working on their social skills. If your child is developmentally or emotionally delayed, sign her up for a team with slightly younger kids who are at a similar maturity level. You'll also find that the constant action in soccer games is ideal for holding short attention spans.
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Best ADHD Sports: Horseback Riding
Horses have the ability to mirror the emotions and attitudes of their handlers, a skill which is utilized in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). As your child with ADD interacts with the horse, she will learn to observe and react to the animal's behaviors instead of responding with the same behavioral patterns.
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Best ADHD Sports: Track and Cross-Country
In other sports, kids often warm the bench for a while before earning any game time, which might result in boredom-induced behavior problems for kids with ADHD. Running track or cross-country, on the other hand, is generally all-inclusive with very little down time. Running teaches kids discipline and pacing, plus your child will still gain the social benefits of being a member of a team, without directly competing with other children.
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Best ADHD Sports: Archery
This old-fashioned sport has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity due to arrow-slinging heroines Katniss of The Hunger Games trilogy and Merida from Disney’s Brave. Sure, arming your child with ADHD with a sharp weapon may seem counterintuitive, but when carefully supervised, archery can have major benefits. It is proven to teach responsibility while improving focus, concentration, and self-confidence — important skills for kids with ADHD and learning disabilities.
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Best ADHD Sports: Baseball
America's favorite pastime, baseball can teach your child with ADHD patience, sportsmanship, and teamwork — but modifications designed to keep your child active and engaged are crucial to his success. Talk with your child’s coach about: 1) Frequently changing drill patterns and field positions, 2) Alternating between multiple practice stations, and 3) Giving your child a coach's assistant job while waiting for his turn at bat.