Categories: 2011, June
by Margaret M. Flores, Robbi Beyer, and Tiffanye
OVER THIRTY MILLION CHILDREN
PARTICIPATE IN RECREATIONAL SPORTS activities in the
United States, providing them with many benefits such as socialization,
increased self-esteem and self-confidence, motor skill development,
enhanced mental processing, and physical exercise. Children with ADHD
may benefit from recreational youth sports activities in additional
Your child may have experienced failure in school prior to the
identification of the condition and may continue to face challenges in
academic settings. Recreational youth sports allow him or her to
interact with peers and experience opportunities for success without the
pressures of school. Having an outlet for physical activity and motor
excess is often an additional perceived benefit.
As a parent of a child with ADHD, be aware that your child’s needs
may affect his or her sport experience. Although recreational youth
sports are very different than academic settings, participating in
sports still involves learning. Similar instructional principles apply
to both situations. You may need to communicate the need for certain
accommodations to your child’s coach in order for your child to be
successful and enjoy the experience. However, before addressing how to
communicate with your child’s coach, it is important to reflect on
how ADHD impacts performance and how to advocate for your child.
How ADHD may affect sports
To understand how your child’s needs may affect
his or her participation in recreational youth sports, consider how your
child interacts during play or recreational activities at home. How
might he or she react to the events and situations presented during
sports activities such as practice and games?
One factor to consider is the amount of unstructured and undirected time
that occurs during weekly practices or games. With a large
adult-to-child ratio, there will be times during practice that athletes
will be supervised from a distance and will be expected to complete
tasks independently. During games, athletes who are not playing may be
expected to wait for their turn to play without any structured tasks to
perform. As a parent, consider how your child responds to unstructured
and undirected situations such as these and how these situations might
be designed in a more structured way.
Recreational youth sports teams may also be comprised of athletes who do
not attend your child’s school and who may be unfamiliar to him or
her. Interacting with a variety of children and meeting new friends is a
benefit, but consider how your child responds to unfamiliar situations.
Preparation through role-playing social interactions that commonly occur
in this setting may be necessary to help your child with initial
interactions with strangers.
During practice and game situations, it is likely that the coach will
give many directions, and it is likely that these will be verbal
directions. How well does your child attend to directions when given
verbally, perhaps only given one time? If there are strategies that have
been helpful to your child in school settings, these same strategies
will be helpful within the sports setting.
In addition to attending to directions, athletes will be expected to
learn and execute plays and other complex tasks in game situations. Take
into account the ease with which your child acquires and recalls
information, as well as generalizes this information across settings
(such as executing a play learned in practice during a game
Learning to play a sport or improving skills will involve comprehending
and utilizing corrective feedback. Children who experience failure on a
regular basis may have great difficulty in their initial reactions to
corrective feedback. They may internalize the negative feedback and want
to give up. Think about how your child responds to criticism. There may
be ways in which corrective feedback can be delivered successfully, or
this may be a skill that you and your child’s coach can help
develop over the course of the season.
Finally, the most obvious situations experienced within team sports are
winning and losing games. Consider your child’s reaction to
success and failure. This might be another skill that can be facilitated
and reinforced by the coach and yourself. However, before you
communicate your child’s needs to the coach, it is important to
understand the coach’s point of view.
Understanding your child’s coach
While planning interactions with your child’s
coach, it is important to understand the coach’s point of view and
background. Your child’s coach is likely a volunteer who is
donating his or her time to work with young people. Youth sports
organizations have a difficult time recruiting and keeping coaches and
may not have the resources to provide training beyond basic health and
Your child’s coach is a generous individual from the community who
wishes to share his or her love of sports with young people. This
individual’s knowledge of ADHD is likely minimal and probably
informed by various types of news media, which provide superficial
descriptions or stereotypical portrayals. Without information from you,
this individual is not likely to consider that a child’s deficits
or challenges are due to a medical condition.
Furthermore, this individual is unlikely to know how to make
accommodations for your child without some assistance. Do not assume
that the coach’s poor interactions are malicious. Your
child’s coach has the best of intentions in improving your
child’s athletic performance, but may not know how to provide
effective instruction or set up appropriate learning situations.
Your child’s coach may be a parent, and even if he or she knows
little about learning differences, as a fellow parent, he or she shares
your commitment to advocacy for one’s own child. Conversely,
if the coach is not a parent, be aware that he or she will not have a
parent’s perspective and thus may not initially understand why you
want or need to be involved in your child’s sports experience.
Your child’s coach may have knowledge about ADHD through
experiences with family, friends, or work, and if so, this may promote
better understanding of your child’s needs. Although there is no
one-size-fits-all set of characteristics, past experiences with
individuals with ADHD tend to provide a general understanding and will
perhaps facilitate communication. When having an initial conversation,
ask about the coach’s past experience with individuals who have
ADHD. Use this experience as a starting point when discussing your
child’s needs. Education and information will improve the
situation, easing the coach’s frustration as well as your
How to communicate your child’s
Approach your child’s coach in a friendly and
helpful manner. Let the coach know how much your child enjoys playing on
the team and how excited he or she is about learning the sport. Let the
coach know that your child has difficulty learning or interacting in
certain situations and that you want to help make your child’s and
the coach’s experience a positive one.
Discuss accommodations in terms of improving your child’s skills
and encouraging his or her best performance for the good of the team.
Let the coach know that you have experienced challenges with your child,
understand the frustration, and have learned how to prevent those
difficulties by using simple strategies. A sample suggestion might be:
“I have had trouble with Jake following directions at home and it
is frustrating. But he almost always follows directions when I break
them into chunks and have him repeat them back to me.” Make this a
two-way conversation by asking if there are skills that you and your
child could work on outside of practice in order to increase
opportunities for a successful experience.
When describing your child’s needs, choose the most significant or
pressing behaviors. It is important that you have the coach’s
attention when discussing your child. Therefore, avoid providing a long
list of needs or using language that is demanding or threatening. This
might overwhelm the coach or detract from the focus of your
Sometimes there is a need to discuss a particular incident, providing
corrective feedback regarding the coach’s negative interaction
with your child. The “sandwich” approach is suggested as a
method for increasing the positive aspects of this communication: First
make a positive statement about the coach’s behavior. Then state
your area of concern. End with another positive statement and assurance
that you are supportive of his or her efforts.
The purpose of participation in recreational youth sports is to have
fun. In addition, the activities can provide your child with new
learning experiences, more social interactions, and an opportunity for
It is important to remember that the difficulties your child might have
experienced in school might manifest themselves in the sports arena as
well. Understanding your child’s needs and collaborating with his
or her coaches by providing tips and strategies can make the experience
a successful one. A positive experience will increase the chances that
your child will persist in beneficial physical activities.
1. Approach your child’s coach in a friendly and helpful
2. Let the coach know that you have learned how to prevent difficulties
with your child by using simple strategies.
3. Avoid long lists of needs or language that is demanding or
4. Discuss accommodations in terms of improving your child’s
skills and encouraging his or her best performance for the good of the
5. Ask if there are skills you and your child could work on outside of
6. Ask the coach is he or she has worked with children or individuals
with attention issues before. If so, use this as a springboard for
conversations about your child’s needs.
7. Use the “sandwich” approach if you need to discuss a
coach’s negative interaction with your child.
Make a positive statement about the coach’s
State your area of concern.
End with another positive statement and assure the
coach of your support for his or her efforts.
Here are a few examples you can use to prepare to speak with
your child’s coach.
Coach _____, I like your
enthusiasm for the game and your passion appears to inspire the team to
work hard. During the last practice, my son ran extra laps when he did
not follow directions. He ran so many laps and he was rather frustrated
with soccer that night. I am not sure that he fully understands all of
the directions when they are given. He usually follows directions when
they are repeated and there is a visual cue given at the same time. This
might help him follow the plays and reduce unneeded distractions. I
really appreciate the time and energy that you put into preparing the
team each week; I know that you work very hard.
Coach _______, My daughter,
______, has been looking forward to playing basketball this season. I
wanted to let you know that she has ADHD. Have your ever known anyone
with ADHD? Just like your ________ [cousin, nephew, etc.], my daughter
might have a hard time with downtime between activities. Is there a way
that she could help out or have an assigned task that would help with
the transition from one activity to the next?
I want to make sure that he
can be an asset to the team, so there a few things that she might need
help with [provide brief list].
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