How Sports Can Help Kids With Differing Abilities

In honor of October as ADHD Awareness Month, USA Swimming offers tips to effectively coach kids of differing abilities.

Two kids underwater
Photo: Max Topchii/Shutterstock

When Regina Gudzinskas first enrolled her son, Dante, in swimming lessons, it was as a safety precaution. As it turns out, swimming not only taught Dante a life-saving skill, it has helped him cope with his ADHD. Gudzinskas has watched Dante's confidence soar, not to mention he's become more organized and his grades have improved since becoming involved with the sport.

Still, for kids with differing abilities to thrive on an athletic team there are adjustments that coaches need to make. In honor of October's ADHD Awareness Month, USA Swimming has released tips for effectively coaching athletes affected by auditory processing disorder (APD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD), in order to help children with differing abilities to succeed in the pool (or on the field, in the gym, etc.).

Tips for parents:

  1. Communication. It's important that parents and coaches collaborate to come up with an approach that works best for each individual athlete. Always let your child know of these strategies and why you are using them.
  2. Delivery style. Concise and audible directions are key. The less a coach says the less there is to attend to, remember, and sequence.
  3. Preferential Placement. Put the athlete close to the coach and any visual information to avoid distraction.
  4. Pre-teach. Review what will happen at practice to allow your child more time to incorporate the workout into his memory. This way, your child will also know what to expect.
  5. Visual Aid. Kids with ADD or APD or usually better visual learners than auditory learners. Have the workout written on a white board or notecards that can be easily referred to.
  6. Monitor Reception of the Message. Coaches need to be aware and determine if their instructions were absorbed. Sometimes directions may need to be repeated, but also tell your child to let the coach know if they didn't understand or hear.
  7. Compassion. Coaches need to be a positive in the athlete's life, so you want someone encouraging who will help them achieve their goals.

While joining the local team is a great way to get your kid some exercise, the values and life skills that are instilled through sports—dedication, perseverance, goal-setting—are the true prize that anyone can take home. Olympic champion and mom Kerri Strug shared in a recent Parents interview, "Not everyone can be an Olympian, but everyone can take part and learn and become a better person." USA Swimming is spreading that message of inclusivity.

Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is also our resident theater aficionado and has interviewed tons of celeb parents. Follow her on Twitter: @RuthiesATrain.

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