Parents: Behind-the-Scenes Teammates for ADHD Kids in Sports
Kids with ADHD can find joining teams in competitive sports wildly beneficial. It helps them deal with social awkwardness as they join in on planned, structured activities with their peers, and sports have prescribed expectations and rules combined with physical activity, which helps improve concentration and reduce anxiety through rigorous exercise. However, in the beginning, these very attributes can also appear to be great barriers until these kids learn the rules and skills and develop habits that will help secure their success in this environment. This is because while structure, rules and prescribed expectations can help a kid with ADHD learn how to fit into the environment, these structures also play against inherent deficits such as difficulty paying attention, picking up on social cues, sharing, taking turns and following rules, etc.
Enter the crucial role of the parents: parents are the behind-the-scenes teammates for kids with ADHD in competitive sports. Parents’ coaching, before their child even meets the sports coach or her teammates, can help ensure her success. It is an active role that parents must commit to that includes role playing social scenarios for young children, encouraging practice at home, and openly communicating with coaches to let them know how best to interact with your child for the best results and success for everyone.
Below are some specific tips for parents to help them be the best behind-the scenes teammate for their kids:
Role playing: Particularly if your child is young, develop scenarios to help your child overcome social awkwardness on a sports team. Develop scenarios that include icebreakers for introductions, appropriate questions and topics for conversation, etc. Role play potential difficult scenarios such as teasing, learning curve in the sport as your child learns something new, asking for help if your child misses and instruction or doesn’t understand something, etc.
Meet with coach: Talk to the coach about positive ways to communicate with your child such as explaining that your child responds better to visual cues and demonstrations than verbal or written instructions or that your child responds more quickly to instructions about how something needs to be done correctly versus focusing on what the child did wrong. If there are potential behavior problems, be open with the coach, and discuss effective ways to mitigate potential problems and also what to do if a problem occurs. Also, be open to listening to what types of behaviors the coach cannot or will not tolerate. Some of the reasons for this interolerance may be related to safety or to prevent injury while others may be to maintain a positive experience for the other kids. It is important for both the parents and the coach to develop a mutual understanding of expectations, reasonable accommodations and what will not be allowed.
Developing skills with your child at home:
- Reduce negative self-talk: Practice with your child on using positive, encouraging language about herself and her teammates. Remind your child that as she begins something new she will need to develop new skills, and the more she does it, the better she will get at it. That’s why it is important to be positive, maintain a good attitude and embrace learning, practicing and getting better.
- Positive language: Encourage your child to use positive language through example. Maintain positive language whenever talking about the sport, and correct your child by introducing positive language to a conversation if your child switches to negative language.
- Identify potential triggers: What can happen that might cause your child to either fully withdraw or melt down during a sporting practice, game or social outing? Identifying these upfront can help you openly discuss these possibilities with your child and help her prepare for them in case one or more happen. If your child is teased, if they screw up in a game, if they get embarrassed during practice, etc. What are feelings your child may experience and what are appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle the experience? Preparation can prevent extreme events from taking place.
- Sportsmanship: Talk to your child about what good sportsmanship is, what it means to play on a team, to represent a team and to be polite to team members of your team and even opposing teams.
- Commitment: Explain to your child that she is making a long-term commitment to her teammates, and that even if she decides that she doesn’t enjoy the sport, it is important to honor her commitment to her team through the season. It’s helpful to explain the duration of the season so that it doesn’t seem like forever to your child, but that it’s important to maintain a positive attitude throughout the season.
- Be there: As a parent, particularly with a child with ADHD, it is very important to be present. Drive your child to practices, and maybe arrive a little early to check in with the coach. Attend games and cheer on your child enthusiastically and remain positive no matter how athletic she is or how good she is at the sport. But of course, feel free to encourage her to improve.
Many professional competitive athletes with adult ADHD have found that they fit in brilliantly in the world of competitive sports, but even as a child there are many benefits to kids with ADHD in sports. Having supportive parents who commit to the role of behind-the-scenes teammates can be the difference between a successful experience and an unsuccessful one and can help your child develop positive skills that can transcend all areas of her life.