How to handle ADHD as an Athlete

ADHD is more common in elite athletes than we may realize. Children with ADHD are drawn to sports because of the positive reinforcement and attention and focus that sports require. Children with ADHD are often encouraged to join sports to help manage their symptoms too. Athletic activities are known to increase neurotransmitters in the brain, and that increase can reduce ADHD symptoms for a short period of time. Improvements include increased ability to pay attention, stay on task, and reduced impulsivity. 

4-8% of high school athletes and 7% of college athletes have ADHD. Those 7% of college athletes are also taking stimulant medication. Researchers are beginning to believe that athletes with ADHD have an advantage over their competitors because of their hyperfocus. Athletes with ADHD naturally excel in sports like baseball and basketball because the sports involve quick movements and reactive decision making. A Mayo clinic sports medicine specialist says that researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding the unique effects of ADHD on athletes. 

There are many professional athletes with ADHD as well.

I personally have struggled with ADHD my whole life. I was constantly bouncing off the walls and I could not sit still for more than five minutes. I was put in sports and immediately found I have a natural athletic ability. I can definitely agree that my ADHD symptoms made me a better athlete. I could hyperfocus on drills and always had the fastest feet on the team. Likewise, playing sports helped me manage my ADHD symptoms and gave me a way to channel that focus, so it was a win-win.

Related: Handling Depression as a Student-Athlete

My biggest struggle with ADHD was medication management. Stimulant medication can have many side effects such as loss of appetite, weight loss, dizziness, and trouble sleeping. I experienced many of these side effects. I couldn’t eat properly, which resulted in poor performance, and I constantly felt shaky and nauseous. I wasn’t made aware of any kind of nonstimulant medication, but I feel like that would be a great option for an athlete with ADHD struggling with medication management like myself.

* Originally published on October 26, 2021, by Madison Machado

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