Experts say the benefits outweigh the risk of injury.

A sport like soccer and rugby with constant action and movement may be better for a child with ADHD than ones with more downtime such as baseball or softball. 

If you have a child or teenager with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, should you let him or her compete in a team contact sport like football or ice hockey? A new study suggests many young people with ADHD are drawn more to such competitions than to individual sports, according to findings by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The results surprised researchers, who expected the athletes with ADHD – which is characterized by symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity or both – “to gravitate to individual sports that allow them to have more control and repetitiveness, like golf or martial arts,” says Dr. James Borchers, one of the researchers and director of the division of sports medicine at the medical center. “In sports like these, they don’t have to worry about their own responsibilities in addition to the roles of teammates and opponents.” Instead of being drawn to individual sports, athletes with ADHD “were twice as likely to compete in team sports, and their rate of participation in contact sports, like football, hockey and lacrosse, was 142 percent higher,” Borchers says. He and fellow researchers presented the study recently at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine’s annual meeting; it’s an analysis of more than 850 athletes who played an array of sports at The Ohio State University. Nearly 6 percent of the athletes in the study were diagnosed with and treated for ADHD, which closely mirrors the percentage of ADHD found in the student population at large.

Though athletes with ADHD played more team contact sports than individual non-contact sports, researchers kept track of injuries sustained by the athletes and found there was no direct correlation between competing with ADHD and certain types of injuries. Researchers found no direct correlation among the athletes studied between competing with ADHD and sustaining certain sports-related injuries, such as concussions and injuries to the lower and upper extremities. However, athletes with ADHD may be at higher risk for injury, particularly in contact sports, says Dr. Trevor Kitchin, another physician who participated in the study. Some young people with ADHD have increased impulsivity, which could put them at higher risk for injuries, Kitchin says; further research is needed to verify such a link. Regardless, playing sports is generally a positive for young people with ADHD, he says. “Research has shown that participation in sports has been helpful in mitigating symptoms of ADHD by providing them some structure and focus in their everyday life,” Kitchin says. “Even though there may be an increased risk of injury for athletes that have ADHD and play a contact sport, we still encourage parents to let their children try whatever sport they’re interested in.”

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