The Parent Coach: Sports Coaching The Child With ADHD


Countless parents of children with ADHD face the daunting question, "What do I tell my child's coach about his/her problem, and do I dare say anything at all?". This dilemma pits parent's instincts to help their child against fears that revelations will backfire. Considering the varied and controversial opinions held about ADHD and its treatment, parents are wise to proceed cautiously. However, too much caution can invite disaster when ADHD children take to the athletic field while their coaches remain in the dark about their disorder.

 

While many parents benefit from discussing the question with others in similar circumstances, don't rely on a "rule of thumb" but consider all the individual factors at play. These include the skills specific to the sport in question, the degree of interference parents have observed in backyard games, and how much is known about the coach. If there is a clear rationale to approach the coach about your child's ADHD, these tips can help young ADHD athletes flourish on the sports field:

 

  Define the problem rather than simply give a label open to interpretation. Explaining that your child has ADHD to an uninformed adult can invite misunderstanding and misjudgment. Well intentioned coaches might err in the direction of "gover-accommodating" to the problem, creating the impression that your child is receiving preferential treatment. Likewise, it could lead the coach to reduce your child's playing time, defeating your purpose.  Consider the following explanation, "My child has ADHD, which means that his ability to pay attention for extended periods and control distracting behaviors is not as strong as others his age.

 

If these problems surface, please privately discuss them with him and remind him that he has asked to be on the team and this carries responsibilities. Also, let me know if this happens."

 

   Offer ideas to the coach that are easy to implement, non-embarrassing, and linked to home-based strategies. Most coaches will gladly accept simple and effective suggestions. One unobtrusive one is designed to reinforce the need for appropriate behavior if he observes your child clowning or misbehaving. Suggest that he call out his name and point to his own head with a forefinger to signify the need to keep his thinking side in charge. Another idea is to tell him that ADHD may make it hard for your child to pick up important clues in the game that are used by players to give themselves directions, such as the need to back up the short shop if playing in left field. Suggest that he periodically conference with your child about the role of clues and self-directions as they apply to the game. Thirdly, emphasize that the presence of other misbehaving teammates can be especially tempting to ADHD children. Suggest that he not overlook the baiting behavior of these other players when intervening.

 

   Tactfully stress the importance of positive reinforcement, close supervision, and appropriate boundaries and consequences.  Coaches should be aware that ADHD children's behavior varies greatly depending upon various factors in their environment. Clearly explain how temporarily relaxing rules and boundaries could be especially problematic for your child since they already have a tendency to overstep them. Alternately, coaches who lose their temper may set in motion a similar reaction in your child.  The challenge is to be able to communicate this information without insulting the coach or appearing like a pushy parent. Consider ending your comments with these words: "I appreciate your willingness to listen to my suggestions and I realize that in the heat of competition you won't be able to follow them all. All I ask is you try and keep me posted."

  

  Ensure your child is aware of your discussion and prepared to receive the coach's signals.  Explain the importance of preparing themselves before games and practices so that the coach will not have to provide frequent reminders. Strategize how they will handle fooling around by teammates, distractions on the field, and performance frustrations, such as striking out or dropping the ball. Inoculate them to these inevitable experiences by having them rehearse self-control strategies while practicing in the backyard.

 Contributed by: Dr. Steven Richfield (Posted on 2005-04-24)

 

Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA.   He has developed a child-friendly self-control/social skills building program called Parent Coaching Cards.  His new book, The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Todayfs Society  is available through Sopris West (sopriswest.com or 1-800-547-6747) He can be contacted at www.parentcoachcards.com  or 610-238-4450

 

 

 

 

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