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How to Motivate Your ADHD Child in Sports: Unlock Their Potential with These Winning Strategies

April 4, 2023
Table of Contents

    Alongside other benefits, sports can be an excellent outlet for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adults interested in helping their child get involved in sports may wonder how to motivate a child with ADHD to play. So, why are sports important for children, and what are the best sports for kids with ADHD? What should parents and coaches know about motivating kids with ADHD to play sports?

    In this article, we’ll talk about why sports are important for kids with ADHD, the best activities for kids with ADHD, and how to motivate ADHD athletes. Then, we'll discuss whether ADHD can make sports more challenging, and how Joon can help.

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    Why Are Sports Important For ADHD Children?

    Many families find that sports give kids with ADHD a special zest that other activities don't. One of the most significant benefits for many kids is that they're cathartic and fun. Sports can improve confidence, motivation, motor skills, and social skills while helping kids get the benefits of physical activity - something that's critical for all kids but can make a substantial difference in managing ADHD. 

    Getting enough exercise is essential for physical well-being. CDC guidelines say that kids ages 6-17 need at least one hour of physical activity per day, with increased benefits attached to more time. Adequate physical activity can prevent cardiovascular disease and other conditions, alongside stress management and other health-promoting behaviors. It also has the potential to promote mental health, mood, concentration, and sleep, all of which kids with ADHD often face challenges with.

    Similarly, organized sports provide familiar routines that a child can depend on. Routine can be vital for people with ADHD, and the structure of sports helps kids practice skills like sticking to a schedule and using self-discipline early in life. So, while it's not a treatment replacement or cure, playing sports can be a rewarding part of a child's life.

    With all of that said, you want to ensureyour child has a positive experience. Sports can be vulnerable for some kids, and it is crucial that children find an activity they find enjoyable.

    Best Sports Activities For Children With ADHD

    There's no evidence to suggest that certain sports are better than others for kids with ADHD across the board. If your child shows interest in a particular sport and it's available for their age group in some capacity, that makes it an ideal option in and of itself. Enjoyment is an intrinsic reward, so it'll be easier for kids to self-motivate and stay engaged. However, if you aren't sure which sport would be the most ideal option for your child, you can consider the benefits of different sports activities to find the right fit.

    Here are some options for children with ADHD:

    • Track
    • Swim team
    • Basketball
    • Hockey
    • Soccer
    • Tennis
    • Martial arts
    • Gymnastics

    Many factors can affect what the "best" sport for a child is. Do they prefer an individual sport or one where they work with other players? Does your child have a particular skill that could make them apt to enjoy a particular sport? How do the coaches treat their athletes? Talking with coaches before enrolling your child can give you an idea as to what to expect. Pay attention and listen to your child's feedback about certain sports, teams, or coaches if they have any.

    Note: Do you need help motivating your child with ADHD? Try Joon. Joon is a to-do app and game designed uniquely for children with ADHD and related disorders ages 6-12+. It encourages independence, self-esteem, and motivation in kids. Click here to claim your free trial.

    Tips For Motivating ADHD Children in Sports

    Positive motivation from a parent or coach goes a long way. Whether you have a basketball player, a dancer, or another kind of athlete, here are some tips for parents who want to motivate kids with ADHD in sports.

    Try Joon To Help

    Using Joon is an excellent way to help kids organize daily tasks, routines, and activities - including sports. The app acts as a reward system and motivator, and it is designed with the ADHD brain in mind. Here's how it works:

    Parents sign up first with the Joon Parent App and create a to-do list for their children. You can add unlimited activities to your child's to-do list, which is fully customizable. Kids connect with a separate app called Joon Pet Game. When kids complete items on their to-do lists, they get rewards that allow them to take care of a virtual pet and move forward in the game. Since athletes live with responsibilities like showing up to practice on time and remembering necessary items like sports equipment, this can be valuable.

    90% of kids who use Joon finish every task their parents assign, and many users say it has improved their parent-child relationship. Joon is rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars in the App Store, with over 4k reviews from parents like you. Even better, it's backed by professionals such as child psychologists, teachers, and occupational therapists.

    Download the app and get started today.

    Cheer for your child

    Verbal praise is a major motivator for kids. When you watch your kids play sports, cheer enthusiastically. After a game or while they practice, it can be helpful to congratulate children on specific, non-competitive actions. As an example, you may compliment a child on teamwork skills or how much hard training and work they put in. Unintentional negative messages can be conveyed when kids only get praise if they win, so it can be beneficial to recognize other signs of achievement.

    Avoid criticism in front of a large group 

    What if a child has a low frustration tolerance or acts out at practice? During times like these, you may have to give a child critique and appropriate consequences - something that's harder for most coaches and parents than praise. Whether the goal is to redirect negative behaviors or tell kids what they must do differently to succeed while playing the sport itself, softly-spoken constructive criticism is the key.

    Especially in ADHD athletes, where rejection sensitivity is a factor, it is necessary to avoid giving criticism in front of a large group. Remember that even kind critiques and helpful tips can be interpreted as angry screaming by those with more sensitive brains. Don't criticize kids or point out what they did wrong in front of their peers. Instead, speak calmly, kindly, and away from other people.

    Win and lose as a team

    Similar to how it can be best to compliment an athlete on their effort and behavior instead of focusing on winning alone, choosing a league where kids win and lose as a team is often more motivating and beneficial for kids involved in team sports. This can enhance teamwork skills. It is also an opportunity to let go of standard expectations and look at other ways to define success. 

    Change positions and roles

    ADHD symptoms can mean that kids lose interest in activities easily. Changing roles and positions can be beneficial to keep kids engaged and motivated to play sports while maintaining focus. When kids learn how to fulfill new roles or positions, set attainable goals, and continue praising things such as effort and good behavior.

    Talk with the coach

    More often than not, individuals coaching kids will have worked with athletes with ADHD before. Even if this isn't the case, do not negate how much short talks with a coach to fill them in on what's going on with your child can help. Just as you'd discuss problems in school with a teacher, talk with your child's coach if you notice your child is struggling with anything in particular. You may be able to collaborate and find solutions together. For example, some kids might benefit from getting to practice early, or they might need a coach who understands their need to fidget appropriately. Often, accommodations can be made.

    Similarly, while many coaches will have worked with kids with ADHD, not all are versed in it. Explaining and detailing a child's needs to their coaches can be helpful if that's the case.

    Do ADHD Kids Struggle In Sports?

    Quite a few star athletes have ADHD. Some kids with ADHD might even find new role models in their sport. Still, while some kids with ADHD find that they're natural athletes, others struggle in sports. In kids with ADHD who find sports more difficult, there could be a number of different contributing factors. Factors that may affect kids with ADHD during activities playing sports can include but aren't limited to the following.

    • Co-occurring conditions and concerns. For example, a kid with dyspraxia, autism spectrum disorder, or anxiety might experience challenges while playing sports that aren't necessarily related to ADHD itself but are associated with these common comorbidities. In some areas, you may be able to find sports leagues for kids with certain disabilities, which could be a helpful option when relevant.
    • Social challenges. ADHD symptoms like trouble with impulse control and interrupting others can come with social challenges, which might make team sports harder. Similarly, if a child has had a negative past experience (like being bullied) in activities that involve other kids, it can have an impact.
    • Trouble with emotional regulation. Kids with ADHD may struggle to regulate emotions. If that's the case, it can be tough if a child gets overwhelmed, upset, sad, or angry during a game or practice, especially if this is frequent and results in outbursts. Learning to recognize early signs of outbursts and finding coping skills can help.
    • Being easily distracted. General challenges with focus, trouble listening when spoken to directly, making seemingly careless mistakes or difficulty following directions, and other symptoms of inattention have the potential to affect all areas of life for kids with ADHD, including school and sports. 

    Treating ADHD symptoms and working with a therapist or other relevant professionals depending on your child's needs can help them find the tools they need to navigate specific concerns. This is another time when talking with a child's coach may be helpful. Although ADHD can impact athletes, many children can find a way around hurdles with the right support.


    Many children and parents find that playing sports builds confidence alongside other benefits. While some thrive naturally, an athlete with ADHD may encounter some additional challenges, like trouble with focus, emotional regulation, or impulsive behaviors. With that said, the right support can go a long way for children with ADHD who want to play sports. Cheering for children, keeping things interesting by switching athletes' roles in sports that allow you to do so, and taking a gentle approach to criticism can all be critical in helping your child get the benefits of sports and in keeping things fun.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.