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ADHD in Children Health Center

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How Sports Can Help Kids With ADHD

How to Choose a Sport continued...

Both McGough and Salpekar say martial arts, particularly karate, tae kwon do, and others that emphasize form, are popular with kids who have ADHD. "In classes, the kids line up to do the same moves, and that reinforces timing and focus," Salpekar says. "Kids with ADHD really take to that."

Salpekar coached kids' soccer for many years. He suggests that parents pay close attention to their child's personality when choosing a sport. If your child isn’t competitive, he says, don’t choose an activity that pits one kid against another.

"Enjoyment, participation, and peer bonding are much more important in the long run than the competitive aspect," he says.

If your child has real talent and drive for a certain sport, though, encourage her to compete, McGough says. ADHD shouldn’t limit a child's ambition. Look at Michael Phelps. He has the disorder. He also has 18 Olympic gold medals for swimming.

"If you're really good, go for it," McGough says.

No matter what sport your child picks, make time to talk to the coach. Tell him about your child’s ADHD, and talk about ways to make sure your kid gets easy-to-handle instructions.

No Magic Bullet

Despite the benefits of playing sports, parents should realize that it won't affect or improve the disorder itself.

"Playing sports does not impact the core features of ADHD," McGough says. "You can't, for example, expect that your child will run off all of their energy."

As for medication, Salpekar says, some kids do fine without it, but most do better on it. "Kids often keep up much better with medicine, but it's not essential," he says. "See how it works."

The decision may also depend in part on the sport. If your child wants to try football, medication may be useful.

"Football has a lot of detail in the plays, and kids don't do as well without medications, parents have told me," he says.

Again, McGough says, the real impact of sports will be on your child's self-esteem, confidence, and social life, all of which are crucial to build up as early as possible.

"It's part of an approach to ADHD that is under-appreciated," McGough says.

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Reviewed on August 25, 2014

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