Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sports and Dads

As a kid I played organized sports, so part of the excitement of being a new father was anticipating watching my son play sports and even coaching him. This happened, but not as smoothly or effortlessly as I anticipated. The introduction of special needs and the child’s individual interests into the equation complicates life and requires modifications in expectations.

I pledged that I would not be one of those overbearing dads who forced sports onto his son. Neither would I be one of those dads who structured sports training programs for their sons that resembled Marine Corps boot camp. And I haven’t—I wanted to introduce my son to the positives of sport. My son has had obvious developmental delays and awkwardness since around the age of one to two. I wanted to introduce Andrew to sports at the appropriate age when his peers were being introduced to sports, as possible options for him to explore.

It took me awhile to understand the tremendous physical and mental effort it took for Andrew to participate in these activities, which did not come naturally. We first tried soccer—it didn’t work. My wife and I had met skiing, so we tried skiing lessons for several years. We stopped skiing after Andrew asked us, “Why do you put me through this?” Andrew tried karate, but didn’t like it. We tried baseball. Andrew liked baseball, but when it turned to kid pitch, he asked to stop playing. He still liked the design and flow of the game, however. We tried basketball and he liked it (Andrew is on the tall side). What made all these sports possible was a policy and practice within our community of residence: Every kid up to the age of 14 who wants to play, plays—and plays equally. Most of the coaches (but not all), most of the parents (but not all), and many of the kids (but not all) support this policy and encourage the kids who are not quite as skilled. Andrew was blessed with several good basketball coaches and I was able to serve as the assistant coach. It was a positive and enjoyable experience for both of us.

While baseball was a challenge for Andrew as a player, he has developed into a knowledgeable and interested fan. During the past few years we have bonded by attending baseball games together and keeping informed about the game. So, while my original hopes did not come through, other enjoyments and bonding experiences did occur. We rarely leave a baseball game early, for as a friend of mine reminds us, “You never know.” You try. You see what sparks an interest. You stay patient, flexible, and supportive. You build on the positives. At Andrew’s high school, he is required to participate in sports programs of his choice. While a great challenge, he also enjoys it. And he is healthier for it.

For many children with AD/HD, it seems that the mother is the key figure in their child’s life. On October 23, 2007, the AD/HD program at the University of Buffalo’s Center for Children and Families issued a press release, “Getting Fathers Involved in Children's ADHD Treatment Programs: Sports Element in COACHES Program Improves Dads' Participation, Relationships with Children.” For many fathers and sons, participation in sports at all levels can build a positive relationship.

During the past several months, CHADD has received letters of frustration from parents whose teen or young adult child was excluded from a non-school organized sports program because they were taking medication for the treatment of AD/HD. A former U.S. Olympic athlete contacted us regarding his dismissal for use of stimulant medications. These requests and recognition of the value of participating in sports encouraged the CHADD board of directors to adopt a statement of issues, considerations, and philosophy when thinking about children under medical treatment and their participation in organized sports programs.

Sport is a vehicle for building relationships and promoting good health. It may be an appropriate vehicle for some. CHADD advocates that anyone properly diagnosed with and treated for AD/HD is assured participation in their sport of choice.



Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this. Your story is inspiring. THanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

ADHD doesn't just exclude children from sports, but it also can make it difficult to participate in other groups like Brownies and Cub Scouts. I just had one of those experiences with my daughter this week. I invite you to read about it at my blog:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your article. I, a mother, has been the primary care giver for my son and his disability. Unfortunately, my husband is physically challenged with Multiple Sclerosis. We tried soccer, but he was more interested in the rocks on the field than playing the game. So the coach, just ignored him and didn't try and work with him.

He has never expressed an interest in sports, but I feel it is because my husband was never able to toss a ball with him in the yard, as most dads do.

Fortunately, we did find a karate school that has wonderful teaches with the patience that Tyler deserves.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea this was an issue. When did you start the blog? It appears to be pretty old. I see that you're covering a lot of ground. A proud CHADD member here.

Unknown said...

Hi, Thought I'd let you know I just signed up for your RSS. I'd love to stay connected because I'm the blog writer for the Edge Foundation which provides coaches for high school and college students with ADHD. ( If you are ever looking for blog content, I'd be happy to share with you. Peggy

Anonymous said...

When my son was young, sports became the best way to him to use his extra "energy." We were fortunate to have a coach at our local park who took the time to understand him, teach him and give him a love of sports. I am convinced that the lessons he learned helped him control his emotions and understand his "differences." Today, he is 16 years old, a 4.0 student and top athlete in both baseball and basketball. Please...never give up trying...there is always something out there for every child.

Anonymous said...

I am a father of an AD/HD child (now age 25) who is also developmentaly delayed in many respects. She qualifies for Special Olympics in which she has participated since 8 years old.

Special Olympics has been a fantastic opportunity for her to participate in a variety of sports as well as provide her primary and very positive circle of friends. She has trained and competed in swimming, gymnastics, basketball, soccer, alpine (downhill) skiing and equestrian. I highly highly recommend that children and adults that qualify for Special Olympics take advantage of this wonderful program.

I also have benefited greatly from Special Olympics as I have been volunteering and coaching for these many years. I can truly say that it has made me a better father, husband and employer. I have learned to really see everyone as an individual with unique strangths and challenges. We are all special in different ways.

It has also been rewarding for me to watch as the young athletes grow in ability and mature to adults with the same benefits of sport and social belonging that all youths enjoy.

So please involve your children if appropriate and volunteer your time and finacial support.

Anonymous said...

Great job with the statement. How do you plan to publicize it? Inquiring minds want to know!

Anonymous said...

I read your blog all the time. It is the best thing on the CHADD site. But I have to say this week's was one of your best. Keep on keeping us informed.


Anonymous said...

I had tears in my eyes as I read Mr. Ross' story on introducing his son to sports. My husband and I take the same approach with our 8 yr. old son. Like Mr. Ross' son, our son did not like karate, can't stand soccer, likes baseball, but really struggles now with kid pitching. He likes playing 3rd base, and does well. In watching him, I think it is because he knows exactly what he is suppose to do - catch the ball, step on base, and tag the in-coming runner. We haven't added the "throw to first, yet". The heartbreaking part is in working within our community. Although the community "preaches" an all-inclusive environment, the reality is different. The coaches during fall league get to pick their players, rather than the draft, and it turns into a clique. Children that don't perform as well, whether due to ADHD, other disability or just skill level are not allowed to play as much.
I have also privately shared with the coaches that our son has ADHD, and is on medication. I let them know that he will do better during the day, but may struggle to pay attention and follow through later in the day or at night. Our first coach was very understanding - and encouraged our son tremendously. The second season was rough, as it got much more competitive(and we are talking 8 yr olds!!) and the most attention was given to the "star" players.
My husband and I thought that the years before high school were for learning the game, and learning how to play as a team. We are constantly disappointed as we see the parents around us, screaming at their kids to "do better, work harder, don't drop the ball, pay attention...etc...etc..."
As long as our son enjoys playing - we will support him. If it gets to the point that he know longer enjoys it, we will look at other options. In the meantime, our son is learning the instrument of his choice - guitar, and looking forward to continuing his swim lessons.
Like Mr. Ross, my husband and I look forward to watching a baseball game with our son, or filling out the brackets during March Madness or watching a live performance of Eric Clapton on guitar(which REALLY interests him now!).
Thank you to Mr. Ross for sharing such an important insight into raising his son, and introducing him to the world of sports.

Anonymous said...

Good article. I was hoping to take Steven over to the new baseball stadium (Iron Pigs) to see if he would be interested. ALthough I don't try to push Steven into any sports, I do agree with the article and would like to teach him the positive aspects of sports and then see if he catches on with one. We'll day he might like to golf?