ADHD: A sporting ability?

adhdADHD is a neurological disorder which causes behavioural difficulties such as fidgeting and loss of concentration. However, for many sufferers, taking part in sport is a huge help to them.

Michael Phelps, Louis Smith and Ashley McKenzie. 3 huge sports personalities who have made their career in the sporting world; and all of them suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder- more commonly known as “ADHD”.

Olympic Medallist Michael Phelps was diagnosed when he was 9 years old, and used the swimming pool to burn off any excess energy he had to help prevent him from being disruptive in school.

Louis Smith channelled his energy in to gymnastics, which he says taught him “discipline and manners.”

Most dramatically: Ashley McKenzie. Expelled from 3 schools before he turned 11, spending time in a young offenders institute before discovering he had a knack for Judo.

We often see topics of feminism, homophobia and racism discussed within sport. But ADHD, although well known, is sorely misunderstood by those who do not have to deal with it on a day to day basis. A huge 2-5% of school aged children suffer from the disorder, but it is rarely recognised and addressed in an appropriate way, often with a stigma attached to it which can make many children feel misunderstood and worthless, only worsening their condition.

However, research has shown that participation in sport can significantly reduce the behavioural issues which affect an ADHD sufferer.

Sport is a particularly useful class in schools, according to Claire Ferley, a sports teacher from Oxfordshire.

Tim Hatton is the Senior Manager for Notts FC Football in the Community programme and also believes that participating in sport can be a huge help for an ADHD sufferer. In agreement with Claire Ferley he says that:

“Sport improves most people’s self-esteem. The social interaction and team working helps them bond with peers meaning they are more included.  Often their ADHD sets them apart meaning they are marginalised.  Sport gives them a specific focus and provides an opportunity to learn new lessons in a different environment.”

Looking back at the elite athletes with ADHD, we must ask ourselves whether or not those with the disorder actually perform better in sport compared to- for want of a better word- “normal” athletes.

According to Emily Colley, one of the Team Leaders for registered charity Community Equality Disability Action (CEDA), for an ADHD child “being physically active is an important part of managing their behaviour”. She added that although an ADHD suffered is not “automatically better” at sports, “ADHD is not a barrier”.

Hannah, aged 20, is currently a student, and has only just been officially diagnosed with ADHD. Unfortunately falling ill during part of her school life, her ADHD and Dyslexia was never addressed by her teachers. She tells us about how sport helped her to overcome the barriers that ADHD presented her with.

The most important lesson we must learn from children with ADHD is that, as Claire Ferley said in her interview, it’s not just about sport but it’s about “children in general”:

“Children can all learn from each other, and although they have different traits and behave differently, their personality or individual difficulties don’t matter. If a child can just keep focused, determined and enthusiastic about what they love, they can achieve anything.”

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