Olympics 2012: Which Sports Can Someone with ADHD Excel In?

With the Olympic’s closing ceremony upon us (to air Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 4p.m. ET), this is the perfect time to spotlight the summer sports featured in the games. As you may or may not know, Michael Phelps, a U.S. Olympian who has racked up over 22 medals and smashed numerous world records, has grown up with (and clearly learned to conquer) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His mother, Debbie Phelps, offers advice on how to raise a child (and future Olympian?) with ADHD in this article on ADDitude.com: “ADHD Parenting Advice from Michael Phelps' Mom.”

But let's return to the Olympics…

Here is a list of various sports included in the summer games and how a fellow ADHD’r might succeed at each one:
In honor of Phelps, we have to begin with swimming, of course. Like Debbie Phelps says of mastering the difficulties that come with ADHD, swimming requires “a willingness to meet challenges head-on.” It requires what eludes ADHD’rs: focus. In the article referenced above, Debbie describes many of the techniques that she used to help her son calm his badger mind and succeed in the sport he loved. What I found touching and effective about these is that she catered her parenting strategies to his needs, interests, and weaknesses. Throughout my own childhood with ADHD, that’s precisely the approach my mother took to help me excel. In adulthood, that method has allowed me to pursue what I love as a writer and publishing professional. It’s also what I ADDvocate here, throughout this blog.
Swimming laps was never an activity I took to, in part because my smaller body build didn’t lend itself to speed but also because it seemed too monotonous. That’s why I turned to…

As a lifelong gymnast, it’s the Olympic sport I can speak to because it’s the extra-curricular activity that I chose to pursue. Fast-paced, acrobatic, high-intensity, and yet still precise, gymnastics offers an exhausting workout that with each new stunt tests your body’s flexibility, agility, and strength. Like trick skiers or stunt doubles, you are always anticipating the next skill you can learn be in on bars, vault, balance beam, floor, or rings. I love the variety of gymnastics. As with swimming or any of the other Olympic sports, you need to learn focus to excel in this sport, but the diverse nature of its routines lends itself to those whose minds crave novelty and risk. And who could be better suited for that than those of us with ADHD?

A sport highlighted this year perhaps because of Katniss Everdeen’s recent moment in the spotlight, archery tests ones focus to the slightest degree. Shift your bow a centimeter to the left or right and you could miss your target completely. This sport could attract the average ADHD’r not because we naturally excel at concentration (although an ADHD’r skilled at archery could into shift into hyper-focus mode!), but because it tests the limits of our concentration. ADHD’rs love a challenge, and with attention as our kryptonite, there is no greater summons than archery.

I love the honesty of archery. There’s something so authentic about stripping someone down to a bow and arrow. Of course, the equipment used in the Olympic games is far from basic. Just check out the bows used in these videos and pictures: Olympics 2012 Archery. Also, as a writer, I fell for this sport as soon as I learned that someone who is fond of or an expert archer is called a, “toxophilite.” The word twists and snaps your tongue in all the right ways.

Combative and competitive, fencing appeals to the primal nature found in the heart of most ADHD’rs. We love sparring; verbal sparring, physical sparring, anything that matches our wits, strengths, and stubbornness against another’s. Although in our modern context, fencing has become more posh than primitive, it offers ADHD’rs a physical workout that uses up all of that excess energy while also engaging our minds at each second in the competition to anticipate our opponent’s next advance.

You have to admire triathletes for they excel in not just one but three Olympic races: swimming, cycling, and running. Triathlons appeal to an ADHD’rs competitive instinct by pinning you against other participants as well as your own personal records. If archery tests our ability to overcome our kryptonite (i.e. focus), a triathlon challenges us to best our biggest opponent: ourselves.

While everyone has his or her own trials to confront, the skills to overcome those hurdles reside in ourselves and the tools that our mentors (friends, family, teachers, and therapists too!) equip us with. We may not all amass twenty-two Olympic medals like our friend Phelps, but, if we take the time, we can discover the places, settings, and activities that we too excel in.
What’s your favorite Olympic sport to watch or play?

If all else fails, you can settle down your monkey mind with an outdoor yoga session.