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How ADHD Affects Athletes and Why it Matters

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Dr. Dawn Brown, Psych MD |

The symptoms of ADHD are easy to list: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsivity. Yet these don’t present the same in everyone. For one athlete, sports can be a place where they struggle, despite true passion. For another athlete, their sport may be the one place where they shine.

What Sports participation means for those with ADHD

Athletes with ADHD may encounter many difficulties. They may also simply find their experiences a little different than that of others on their team.

Symptoms masked by athleticism

Often, when engaged in their sport, an athlete with ADHD can achieve hyperfocus in the athletic task, so issues of focus that plague them elsewhere in their lives don’t show in the sport. Some athletes with ADHD may even find their symptoms outside of the sport improved by the benefits athleticism provides.

Doing so well at their sport can make it easy to miss the symptoms and never get tested, leading to ADHD going undiagnosed. Unfortunately though, performing well enough doesn’t mean that an athlete isn’t affected by their ADHD, and lacking a diagnosis can do a lot of harm.

Could ADHD be an athletic advantage

With or without a diagnosis, athletes with ADHD often do perform quite well at their sport.

In fact, many experts believe ADHD to actually be an advantage in athletics. An easy time switching between tasks, strength in high-energy situations, an ability to thrive under pressure, high propensity for risk taking, and more can be seen as positives of the disorder, when it comes to sports. Yes, it’s a disorder, but for many athletes with ADHD, it can be their superpower.

ADHD harming sports performance

However, there are also those athletes with ADHD who do struggle with the disorder. They may be plagued by distractibility, screams of fans pulling them away from the task at hand. They may struggle with sticking to the routines of practice and competition. They may falter when it comes to following instructions, or even just remembering instructions.

ADHD doesn’t always make an athlete’s career easy. Just as in the rest of their life, the disorder has to be understood and managed in order to succeed in the sport.

Luckily, with all the resources that are out there for ADHD, it doesn’t really have to be an obstacle in their way.

Doing better for athletes with ADHD

Many with ADHD have risen to high ranks as elite athletes, but even some of the elite athletes have needed support in dealing with the disorder. Make things easier on the athlete in your life. Parents, coaches, and other sports professionals should understand what ADHD is and how it affects their athletes. With understanding, we can adjust our expectations and provide what they need for success.

If you’re in the position to interact with and help athletes with ADHD, do the research. Be a part of their support system and a part of making things better.

One of the nation’s most acclaimed ADHD experts, double-board certified Child, Adolescent, Adult and Sports Psychiatrist, Dr. Dawn Kamilah Brown, is a two-time #1 best-selling author, Content Creator, and Keynote/Corporate Speaker. She is the Founder and CEO of Mental Healthletics™ a concierge practice and serves as the company’s Sports Psychiatrist for elite (and retired) athletes of college and national sports organizations, including the Pro Football Hall of Fame Behavior Health.

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