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ADHD in Children Health Center

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How Sports Can Help Kids With ADHD

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Patricia Quinn, MD

Sports are a key part of many children's lives. There's no reason they shouldn't be for kids with ADHD as well. Although little research has been done on the subject, doctors often field parents' questions about the benefits of sports for their kids with ADHD.

The answer? Get in the game. Sports and ADHD are a winning combination.

Sports Boost Self-Esteem

Kids with ADHD often feel isolated from their classmates, and sports are a great way to help them get involved, says Jay Salpekar, MD. He is a child psychiatrist with the ADHD Clinic at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"Sports offer lots of social interaction in addition to physical fitness," says Salpekar. This helps kids with ADHD bond with their peers, "and it helps get them out of their shell."

James McGough agrees. "A common issue with ADHD kids is to find something to help them gain confidence and self-esteem," he says. McGough is a child psychiatrist with UCLA's ADHD Clinic in Los Angeles. "They can use sports as a vehicle for making and having friends. And healthy activities like sports are better than sitting alone or in front of the television."

Choosing a Sport

How do you know what sport will be best for your child? Ask them what they'd like to do.

Many kids, says McGough, will see or try a lot of different athletic activities, whether at school, during camp, or in after-school programs. That gives them the chance to decide what appeals the most. "Identify and support your child's own interests," says McGough. "That's your starting point."

Keep in mind that the sport should be one that will hold your child's interest. For example, McGough points out that baseball involves a lot of time standing in the outfield, and that invites distraction. Soccer, on the other hand, keeps a child moving.

McGough says that some reports -- but little research -- suggest that individual sports such as tennis, swimming, and running may better suit kids with attention problems. In team sports such as football or basketball, players need to pay constant attention to other players, strategies, and plays. That will be tough for a child with ADHD. But if your child really wants to try a team sport, you should encourage it, says McGough.

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