Michael Phelps, a person with ADHD, is the greatest Olympian ever! (Click Here to tweet that, it never gets old!) And with his last official Olympics swim he won yet another gold medal. His swimming career has been amazing, but Michael is accomplished in other areas of his life as well, he’s also an author and he’s a good person.
And yes, he’s made mistakes, too.
I highly recommend reading his book “No Limits” to get an idea of what he’s done to get where he’s at.
When I’m focused, there is not one single thing, person, anything that can stand in the way of my doing something. There is not. If I want something bad enough, I feel I’m gonna get there.
And I believe him.
Sports Can Help ADHD Symptoms
Isn’t it interesting how sports people, like Michael Phelps, do seem to have more control over there ADHD symptoms?
Not perfect control and they are by far not mistake free, but many do seem on the whole to manage their ADHD symptoms better than average.
And it’s also interesting that many who compete professionally are not allowed to take ADHD medications.
How do they do it? Don’t you think that would be valuable information?
Why Sports Helps ADHD symptoms
I hope to shed some light with this post. In a recent interview I did with Dr. Edward Hallowell, he confirmed that the mental conditioning that people in sports learn can help with their ADHD symptoms!
In today’s post I am going to share with you a list of mental benefits that have helped me improve my ADHD symptoms.
I realize not everyone is in to sports, but for those interested in how being involved in a sport might help, I provide what playing billiards did for me.
My pool / billiards career was a major focus in my book One Boy’s Struggle: A Memoir.
This is a longer than usual post, so get a beverage if you like. It’s okay, I am going to get one, too. I’ll be back in just a second!
Oh and, pssst, this isn’t your usual list, there’s a couple secret gems from decades of competition that I reveal. No. Really. If you read closely enough you’ll find them.
1) Love for the game
People play individual sports because they love the game. To be away from the game for too long brings on feelings of desire to be out there playing and this love for the game is the key ingredient which brings incentive to learn and grow.
2) The desire to improve
In life I think we all want to improve in some way, but all too often the way to improve is about as clear as muddy water. When playing individual sports, there are specific ways to improve. Such as learning basics, fundamentals and systems. One might yawn and become bored with such lessons in a classroom, but when it comes to improving in one’s sport of choice, suddenly these lessons can be exciting and directly relevant.
Most people with ADHD give up on goals, that’s the nature of ADHD, but in sports goals are pursued with a burning desire rarely found in other places in life. The love for the game and the desire to improve are like a natural stimulant that can make the player not only want to achieve goals, but to make goals that are realistic and measurable.
Every strike brings me closer to the next home run. -Babe Ruth
And it is so important to note that players fail time and time again to reach their goals: they miss shots, miss baskets and strike out more far more often. But they don’t give up, they don’t give in and they try again and again. And they try in different ways until they find what works for them, because they seek advice from coaches, mentors and they read lots of books.
4) Getting your head clear
In order to improve in sports the player absolutely must get his or her head clear. There is no way around it. This means that things that are bothering the player mentally must be dealt with.
Many of us are more likely to seek help to improve our game than we are to seek help with every day life issues. But the reality is that those issues could be one and the same.
When playing, thoughts and beliefs, whatever they may be, become clear as day and flood the brain at critical moments. Some call it the moment of “choking”. This is less likely to happen in such a clear way during a school exam or work assignment and therefore a sport gives one an opportunity to clearly see what is blocking him or her and then seek help accordingly from a coach, mentor or therapist.
A negative, defeatist mindset can never win. It’s a cold, cold truth. That’s why coaches and mentors are so important, you never hear them on the sideline yelling “You can’t do it!” or “Lose!” or “You are cursed!” those things would sound absurd from a coach, don’t you think?
Of course they are absurd! Coaches are there helping us remove those words from our thoughts because they know the biggest obstacle we face is ourselves.
Never underestimate the value of a good coach or mentor.
5) You get to know competition
Sports are about competition and whether we realize and admit to it or not, life is the same way. We are always competing and most people are ill suited for competition in day to day life because they don’t know how to deal with it. Furthermore, they don’t recognize it most of the time because they’ve never been taught to.
In sports each player must become an unofficial psychologist, because you must know your opponent, how they think, how they feel and how they will react and you must know this from the most minimum time spent with them.
In billiards (my game of choice – replace with yours) your focus must be like a laser when shooting that critical shot (all of them are critical) and your opponent may try to distract you if they are not as good as you are. He or she may try to make you feel like you’re having a bad day or make you feel incompetent, terrible and distraught just to make you miss.
So the more you play and learn about competitors you realize their true motives. When you realize their motives, their taunts becomes powerless like dissipating vapor and they cannot distract you anymore.
6) Focus and concentration
Sports requires tremendous amounts of focus and concentration, way beyond what one would need in most any daily activity.
In billiards if my ball is only a millimeter off course I will either miss or not get position for the next shot and I will probably lose. I must focus on being precise and at the same time focus on what my next shot will be.
Thanks to billiards, I discovered that there are natural ways I can improve my focus and concentration such as Tai Chi, Yoga or meditation and most importantly, proper breathing. Doing these types of exercises are musts for improvement in one’s game.
Actually, even though most of us know such exercises will help, we tend to not do them or avoid them. I believe that if you have a direct understandable reason and can measure the results you are more likely to learn and do them, and sports can provide that reason.
The desire to improve and win is a powerful stimulant, indeed.
(Keep in mind I cannot tolerate ADHD medication, therefore, natural, healthy stimulants are important for me. Besides, back when I learned about Tai Chi and proper breathing techniques, I did not know I had ADHD. That’s why my memoir is subtitled “Surviving Life with Undiagnosed ADD”.)
7) Don’t know much
Before I started playing I thought I had all the answers and where I was emotionally and psychologically was where I was going to stay. It was me and that was it, take it or leave it.
I was so wrong. Soon, when I hit roadblocks in my game I became willing to take advice, be coached and have a mentor. I was willing to listen, learn and admit I really didn’t know as much as I thought I did.
I still don’t know much.
Once the mental guards came down I started to improve in all aspects of my life, but I dare say I wouldn’t have if I had not been fortunate enough to have such a strong desire to improve in playing billiards.
Let’s be honest, most people will not admit that their attitude has any role in their circumstances. I’ve seen people more crippled by their attitude than anything else. But, I have also seen some of those same people take a closer look at their attitude when playing a sport they love.
It’s amazing to watch the world start to open up for people who work on their attitude.
I speak from experience, as my attitude improved, my game improved and so did my life!
8) True meaning of the word “Can’t”
“Can’t” is a very powerful word and without an equally powerful enough desire to counter it that word can sabotage one’s talents and abilities.
The mental conditioning required in sports also requires elimination of the word “Can’t” and to see it for what it really is. The word is self-imposed even if apparently justified it will still hold one back even if all other obstacles are overcome.
Keep in mind if we use the word “Can’t” then we must constantly and consistently justify it whether we realize this or not and that sets limitation we will not, and cannot, step beyond because subconsciously we must keep the proof alive and well.
With the word “Can’t” there must always be a “because”.
Those are the justifications and they are powerful, real and valid. The more someone says them the more powerful they become. Today, just for the sake of it, write the words “I can” and then write “because” with ten reasons why you can.
One of the greatest things about sports is that you will realize your improvements no matter how small, quicker and more obviously than in perhaps any other aspect of life. This is very, very important for someone with ADHD.
These improvements help build confidence to try again tomorrow, to strive again tomorrow and to thrive again tomorrow.
Too often I ignored incremental improvements and stepped back more often than I stepped forward because the improvements seemed too little, too few that I hardly noticed or gave them proper credit.
I discovered through billiards that every positive step forward, even the smallest, is like a brilliant light that gave me reasons to press-on. It built my self-confidence and enabled me to see positive steps in my life as well.
In other words the pay-off REWARD is seen and acknowledged and does not have to be a quantum leap to be measured.
Even with ADHD, the smallest steps become the biggest steps of all. (Go ahead, tweet that, too, if you like!)
It’s a humbling experience because you soon realize what you must do to improve. Daily life rarely gives us such clear directions.
In sports, all of your mistakes, your thoughts, your beliefs and your entire mental perspective become ever so clear. To improve your game, your perspective must be modified and improved, there’s simply, absolutely no way around it.
The real issues we are born with and the issues we have self-created from our own mental image all are exposed before us. This clarity is what gives us direction for our efforts to improve. Many who otherwise would rather never face these issues, much less realize them for what they truly are, suddenly will do so for the sake of improving his or her game.
It’s a very humbling experience and is one of the main reasons I originally sought therapy as I described in my memoir. I wanted to improve at billiards and there was no way around it than to come face to face with the man in the mirror.
Even with ADHD it is possible to become disciplined and develop good habits, both physically and mentally, but I personally never discovered those ways in any other place in life before billiards.
Suggestions and Tips I Write About
Most of the suggestions and tips I write about in my books and blog have come in some form or fashion from the mental aspects of playing the game I love so much, billiards.
However, let me be clear none of the above cured me of ADHD. I gave up for a while due to being too distracted by random things, which actually led to my seeking help and eventually being diagnosed with ADHD.
What it did do was put a light on aspects of my symptoms that I could learn to manage in specific ways contrary to what I believed and what I was doing prior. We all know how the ADHD brain enjoys and strives for instant rewards, in sports, even when simply training, those rewards are always present.
In daily life sometimes we have a vague idea of where we need help and of what can help, whereas individual sports demands a high level of mental conditioning from all people who play. To improve our game, limitations become obvious, clear and allow us to have a vision of what we need to do to improve in a way that real life seldom does. We will fail, we will hurt and we will feel as though the world is against us.
That’s why it is called the agony of defeat.
I’ve been through plenty of agony and plenty of defeat.
I sincerely mean it when I say no other place in life, other than competitive sports, have I learned so much. And the great thing is that you do not have to be a professional or an Olympian to gain the mental benefits that competing in sports offers! Although I focus on individual sports because of my background, team sports provide most of the same benefits.
Have you played individual sports competitively? Did it help with your ADHD symptoms? Tell us in the comments, myself and I am sure many readers, would love to know.
Next: An Exlusive Interview with Dr. Lara Honos-Webb. She minces no words on “The Gift of ADHD”. To get updates: subscribe, join the ADDer World Social Network or ‘like’ my facebook page!