Managing a schedule when you have a child or adolescent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can feel stressful. Simply dealing with challenges at home or school can feel like a full load, so adding extracurricular activities or sports can seem like taking on too much in a demanding schedule. But many doctors and mental health professionals frequently recommend active exercise as a valid intervention for the symptoms of ADHD, which can include hyperactivity and inattention.

Thirty minutes to a full hour of physical activity per day can make a huge difference in anyone’s mental and physical health, but especially for a child with ADHD. A child with ADHD who is regularly active may sleep better and experience fewer emotional outbursts at home and school. 1 They may see benefits from the structure and organization of being part of a team and learning the rules of a new game or activity. Kids can also learn communication and social skills, increase coordination skills, and build up their self-esteem by being part of a sport or other activity. And because people with ADHD are at increased risk for developing depression, activities that involve exercise can lower their risk for depressive symptoms. 2

If you’re thinking about getting your child involved in sports or other activities, you can start by considering the potential barriers or challenges your child may face on the field or the court. For example, many stimulant medications used to treat ADHD may wear off by the afternoon. You might want to consider talking to your child’s doctor about extended release medication options or finding a sports your child can participate in during mornings or weekends.

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Another potential challenge may be the nature of the sport your child chooses. For example, sometime fast-moving sports can work best to curb symptoms of inattention. These might include:

  • basketball
  • swimming
  • soccer
  • hockey
  • cross country.

Sometimes slower sports that stop and start, like baseball, might not work, but never assume they won’t if your child expresses interest. If the pressure of competition or the required skill level is too much, then activities like martial arts, hiking, ice skating, or others might be a good starting point for your child.

If your child is not interested in sports, there are many extracurricular activities which can help your child exercise their mind and body. Some of these activities can include:

  • dance
  • choir
  • band
  • Boy or Girl scouts
  • drama
  • volunteering.

Where do we start?

 Above all, it’s important to remember that it might take several tries before your child finds the right sport or activity for them. It may be too much to try multiple things at once, so consider trying different sports or activities in different seasons and then letting your child decide what they like best. Never underestimate your child’s abilities because they have ADHD. Many successful athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Michael Jordan, and Terry Bradshaw have shared their experiences with the disorder. Artists like actor Jim Carrey, musician Adam Levine, and writer Jenny Lawson have gone on to create inspiring things while living with an ADHD diagnosis.

When your child starts a sport or extracurricular activity, also consider having a conversation with the coach or leader. Talk to them about your child’s ADHD and ways of responding to symptoms that are positive, like acknowledging successful behavior and encouraging confidence. Also talk to the coach about the medication your child takes and whether increased heart rate or blood pressure are potential side effects.3 With 11% of American children diagnosed with ADHD, chances are another member of a team or activity can also relate and benefit from an informed leader. 4

When it comes to sports and extracurricular activities, there will be stops and starts along the way. Some sports may not work out, and your child may lose interest in an activity over time. But the benefits on your child’s health and confidence outweigh the costs of trying something new. Give your child the freedom to have fun, move their body, and see what can happen. You might be surprised by how quickly they adapt and excel at something new.

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Last Updated: Apr 30, 2019