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News - Details

Athletes and Attention Disorders

December 31, 2003 09:00 PM

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is more frequently diagnosed today than it was 10 years ago. This is not to say more children have the disorder today than 10 years ago but rather we are better able to recognize the symptoms and treat it. What does that mean for coaches? It means that coaches today are more likely to have to attend to these disorders in some way within their sport.
A coach must first understand that ADHD is not a willful behavior. It is much like diabetes. In the case of diabetes insulin has to be administered to normalize bodily functions. ADHD is very much like diabetes in that medications may have to be administered to normalize behavior. What actually causes ADHD is not entirely known. Mounting research points to deficiencies in the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in areas of the lower brain. These areas are responsible for 1) putting the "brakes" on motor activity, 2) filtering out unimportant stimuli so that the brain does not get cluttered and 3) processing information, first through a "circuit board," so that the brain does not respond impulsively to it (Kamm, 1999).
The first response from most coaches to rectify this problem would be to provide medication for the athlete. Medication is an option for recreational athletes. However, for advanced athletes it is not an option. Medications used to treat ADHD may be stimulants. After age 14, if an athlete is on a medication for ADHD they have to stop the medications 72 hours prior to competition ("Children and Drugs"). If the athlete practices while on medication, he/she should be expected to perform differently while off the medications. This does not mean the athlete's performance will suffer. However, it is an issue that should be addressed prior to the season. The coach, parent and the athlete should discuss how to handle the issue together.
An athlete who has ADHD is not necessarily going to become "better" with medication. Family, coach and athlete may choose an alternative approach to treating ADHD. (Nassar, 2000). Whether on or off medication a coach is going to have to react differently to athletes whom suffer from ADHD. Listed below are 10 tips for coaching a child with ADHD: (Kamm, 1999).
1. Short time periods for short attention spans.
2. Communicate and coordinate efforts closely with parents.
3. Look for antecedent activities outside the gym that may be followed by an increase in target behavior during practice.
4. Be prepared to handle other parents' resentment.
5. Small groups and close adult supervision are optimal.
6. Try to showcase the athlete.
7. Provide structure.
8. "Be a slot machine for praise."
9. Avoid engaging in a debate.
10. Look for welcome behaviors and count on unwelcome behaviors.
Athletics is a time for an athlete with ADHD to excel. Athletes have been quoted as saying they felt ADHD helped them in sports (Barker 2001). As coaches, we should help the athlete see their strengths and not their weaknesses.
Barker, M. (2001, August 24). All-American Track Star Shares story of Many Ups and Downs. Neveda Journal. Retrieved September 19, 2001.
Kamm, R.L. (1999). Tips for Coaching a Child with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [Electronic version]. Technique, Vol. 19, #10. Retrieved September 19, 2001.
Nassar, L. (2000). Alternative Medical Approaches to Treating Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [Electronic version]. Technique, Vol. 20, #1,. Retrieved September 19, 2001.
Children and Drugs in sport. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2001.
Article contributed by Coaching Youth Sports, an online newsletter presenting information about learning and performing sport skills.


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