10 Popular Sports And How They Affect A Young Athlete With ADHD

ADHD is often misunderstood but there are many elite athletes who have this neurological condition too

Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.
7 min readJan 3, 2021
Photo by Oliver Sjöström on Unsplash

For years I dealt with young people with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The experiences have left me self analyzing my brain and behavior like never before.

Being around a person with ADHD stirs up so many emotions. Laughter, anger, disgust, sympathy, feeling awkward, happiness, delight are just a few. But, most of all, adults that deal with people who have ADHD will report that they are constantly feeling as if you`re on their toes!

What is Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder?:

ADHD is a neurological impairment. Having it can mean that young people do not perceive things in the same way as other people. In many instances, their brains are not working in harmony with their bodies; also, their brains are not syncing in a way that many so-called ‘normal’ brains do.

How do I know if a youth has ADHD?:

  1. Often a young person with ADHD shows signs of being inattentive. They may appear as if they are delaying their tasks or purposely not organizing themselves as well as others in a classroom or group setting, when in fact they are simply unable to. Their concentration is affected as they are daydreaming about other things whereas others around them are easily stimulated by what’s going on.
  2. They may also be impulsive and blurt out answers to questions before they are fully asked or even a while after they were asked in the first place. Interrupting others at inappropriate times may also be a little quirk of theirs.
  3. Not always, but sometimes, young people will also have a hyperactive urge that must come out through rough play, constant movement, fidgeting, or even harm of others.

Although ADHD is a challenging neurological disorder many people with it do very well in life. Many successful sportspeople have ADHD. Here is a look at some of the major sports, their successful athletes who have had ADHD, and some of the challenges that may be there for an aspiring young athlete with ADHD who tries to be a successful playing sport.

Photo by Keith Johnston on Unsplash

1.American football:

Former footballer Terry Bradshaw has ADHD. He was quoted as saying:

“When you’ve got something to prove, there’s nothing greater than a challenge.”

-(Brainy Quote)

Although football is a very active sport one of the things that may bother someone with ADHD is that there are many breaks in the play. These breaks, if synchronized with a person’s concentration, may prove to be ideal for the person with ADHD. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult if not impossible, to calibrate these breaks in play with the brain of an individual who can get overstimulated by lots of things at any one time.


Famous Major League Baseballer Pete Rose also had ADHD. He said:

“See the ball; hit the ball.”

- Brainy Quote

Even though this is a very short explanation of how he played the game it can be quite accurate for someone who has ADHD. The challenge for them is actually ‘seeing’ the ball in the first place as their mind may wander and they may be thinking of something different and finding it impossible to keep that eye towards where the ball is coming from in the first place.


For many, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketballer of all time and yet he had ADHD. Jordan said:

“To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don’t isolate.”


Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa on Unsplash

Chris Kaman, who was the center for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers also had the condition. He noted that:

“If I mess up, I mess up. I don’t let ADD bring me down.”

-(Attitude Mag)

Having ADHD and playing basketball can be an interesting mix. There are advantages to having ADHD in basketball as the game is very active all the way through the entire contest. As there are little breaks in play the athletes move a lot and so they are not prone to break concentration as they would in other sports.


I never refused an autograph, never refused to buy someone a drink. Now I’m learning to say I’ve got other things on, instead of doing it and wondering why”

- (AZQuotes)

England is the home of football and although it has not won the World Cup since 1966 by the time the early 1990s rolled around the nation was starved of a football victory another football legend. Up stepped Paul Gascoigne, fondly referred to as Gazza.

Gazza was an all energy midfielder who could pass, score, and tackle like few players who have ever played the game. Perhaps though the skill he was best known for was his dribbling ability. Essentially his talent lay in his capacity to put the ball where the opponent did not go. This suited his impetuous mindset and made him a huge success in football.


Cammi Granato won an Olympic gold and silver medalist in women’s hockey. She explained:

“My success in sports forced me to deal with ADHD.”

-(Attitude Mag)

Hockey demands that a player has skill, movement, and teamwork. The ball is very small and moves at a rapid pace. When a person’s concentration is on a small rapidly moving ball, the inconsistency of the ball’s movement can suit the person with ADHD.


Professional golfer Bubba Watson once said:

“I have a good team around me. I have people I trust around me. If I go the wrong way, they will yell at me. Just as they have in the past.”

-(Quotes Mentor)

He won the US Masters green jacket twice in his lifetime but claims to also have ADHD. Many professional golfers have reported that out on the course he can be chatty and fun which is unusual for the game’s top players.

Golf is a game that demands high concentration over a much longer period than most other games. There is also nowhere to hide as; in general, it’s not a team game. Being able to express yourself between shots and have a good caddie will certainly help the youngster with ADHD who wants to get good at the game.

Photo by Cristina Anne Costello on Unsplash

7. Tennis:

Spanish professional tennis player Fernando Verdasco has ADHD. He is known to have uttered:

“I know a few persons who have that (ADHD), too, and much more than I do. But I speak with them and they are thinking about pigs flying in the sky. I am, like, ‘Hello, I am here talking to you’”

-(Tennis World USA)

As tennis consists of rapid movement both of the body and the ball it can suit many with ADHD. However, switching services every second game can also prove to be problematic for a person with ADHD.

8. Swimming:

Michael Phelps has ADHD and yet was the greatest Olympian of all time. He was quoted in explaining about his teacher that:

“I had a teacher tell me that I would never amount to anything and I would never be successful.”

-(ADHD Center For Success)

The human body moves a lot during swimming and all the major muscle groups are being taxed throughout the various strokes. Although many swimmers have some talent in the water often they only concentrate on one stroke to flag ship their career. But, like Phelps, a person with ADHD will get better benefit from doing a variety of strokes instead.

9.Track and field

Justin Gatlin was a world-record-holding sprinter. He considered himself so fast that he said of himself that:

“Nothing could stop me — not even ADD.”


Many ADHD athletes can benefit from track and field because there is a variety within the disciplines and, from a cardiovascular perspective, they are very challenging. As sprinting demands huge energy in a short space of time it can also benefit a person with ADHD. Also, the tactics are usually simpler to employ if and when concentration waivers.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

10. Bob Sleigh:

Bobsleigh is not the most popular of sports but it is one that can best describe how a person with ADHD may feel during competition.

Most of the physical work with bobsleigh comes in the first few seconds as soon as the race begins. Right away there is a frantic sprint to push the sleigh and get ahead. Then, once the speed has been built up it’s a matter of being brave and riding it out within the sleigh.

Many young people how have ADHD will love the fact that their hyperactivity gets a bonus at the start of a race and then they are visually stimulated by flashing scenes of speed all around them throughout the contest.

It’s an unusual sport and not many do it, but ADHD is seen as odd and few athletes have it. In this way, the square peg may fit with the round hole in some sports such as this.

If that peg does not fit, there are no worries because at the end of the day it’s about who gets there first and not how.

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Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

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