Sports can be a therapeutic tool if you have children with ADHD. They teach teamwork, and build confidence. However, you have to be willing to explore sports out of your comfort zone to find the best fit for your ADHD child.
The Coach Matters
When I decided to get my child with ADHD involved in sports, I learned very quickly that the coach mattered. Sometimes the coach was more than the actual sport itself. What I learned through a lot of experiences with my daughter was that not all coaches have the knowledge or skills to work with children with ADHD. So I learned educating the coach was extremely important. That way, the sport became a positive experience for everyone involved, instead of my daughter becoming the child who brought down the team's morale.
For example, children with ADHD all have their breaking point. These are times when their anxiety and frustration overwhelm them and they have a meltdown and bring the game to a screeching halt. Educating the coach about the signs of your child's meltdown's approaching is a great way to help them have a positive experience in sports. That way when they see the signs, they can find ways to divert it such as having a break or switching to another activity during practice. If you want to involve your child in sports, there are steps you need to take to ensure your plan is successful.
Shop Around for Sports
I learned with my daughter, before settling on a sport it is a good idea to shop around for different sports. If your child doesn't genuinely enjoy the sport, then it is a waste of time for everyone. For parents, sometimes we just want to commit to a single sport and be done. However, for your child, just like mine, they often don't know what they like until they experience it. This is especially true for an ADHD child.
Team Oriented Sports
If your child tends to work well with others, you might start by trying some team sports. Depending on where you live, they may be available all year round or just in certain seasons. You will want to check with your local YMCA or youth leagues about availability and deadlines.
Soccer is a great option if your child, like mine, is very energetic and enjoys being around people. The great thing about soccer is especially with the lower age groups (under 8), most leagues will be accommodating about you requesting that your child is placed on a time a year younger than their age group. Some children with ADHD just need to be with a younger group of children due to their developmental needs, so don't be afraid to ask. It is no different than deciding your child might not be ready for kindergarten. If you want your child to have a positive experience, group them with children of similar developmental abilities.
We also tried softball (for boys it would be baseball). While some ADHD children may love it, softball/baseball comes with unique challenges. Sometimes an ADHD child becomes bored or frustrated when they do the same drills, or continually play the same position. If you choose to try it, try to find a coach who is willing to change up the drill patterns or positions often, so your child will stay engaged.
Social, Yet Independent Sports
We found that there were some other sports that worked well when your child has ADHD that have a nice balance between a social group activity and being independent. It worked well because of the days your ADHD child, like mine, wasn't interested in being part of a group they could still participate in the sport and get enjoyment out of it. Independent sports are great because unlike soccer or other team sports, you can try it for weeks and if it doesn't work for your child, you can move on.
Swimming was a great option we tried and found that the swim coach had incredible patience for working with a child with ADHD. We began in small group lessons with just two or three other children. Group lessons were good because my daughter was a bit hesitant about the pool in the beginning and the anxiety from her ADHD just amplified those feelings. Seeing other children working with the instructor in the pool, and taking turns trying new things, alleviated those fears. It was also short, about thirty minutes, which perfectly suited her ADHD attention span. It can also help improve their focus whether they are on medication or not.
Horseback riding is a fun option for children with ADHD for many reasons. First, in the summer a lot of your local stables or your YMCA will offer week-long equestrian camps. It is a great opportunity for your child to try out especially, if like my daughter, they are initially afraid of horses. What I learned about equestrian sports is that in the end, it was very calming for my child. The calming effect occurs because horses mirror the emotions of their rider. If the rider has anxiety, the horse mirrors it helping to make them self-aware. In our family, we found that working with horses helped make our daughter more aware of her emotions so she could use other interventions to manage her feelings. She never pursued super competitive equestrian events, but she thoroughly enjoyed spending a day or two at the barn every week. Horses were a godsend, especially when she had a bad day.
Journey to Sports
Our journey went through a lot of different sports to find the ones that my ADHD daughter had fun doing. We found that getting an ADHD child involved in sports required a lot of patience on our part, and that of her coaches. We had to educate them about signs to watch for to avoid meltdowns and had to be willing to encourage her to try all different types of sports. Eventually, we settled on a few that she enjoyed, some that were year round activities and others that had certain 'seasons.' In the end, we found sports were a great medicine to build her confidence, teach her how to manage the anxiety that came with ADHD, and build social skills.