By Steven Richfield, Psy.D.
When kids compete in sports, their own mental and emotional issues can quickly become their fiercest competition. This is especially true of young athletes coping with learning disabilities (LD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). Fragile egos and personal struggles make them more prone to internal and external interference. Performance on the tennis court or soccer field takes on undue importance as a host of issues are brought to the fore. Trouble with frustration tolerance, recovery skills, communication, or self-assessment can transform sports into a battleground of negative self-talk and limited self-control.
You may wish to be proactive in coaching the "mental game" to your child who struggles with learning and/or attention problems. Strategies that help kids manage the emotional challenges of competition help preserve the fun and positive contributions sports can make to character development. Also, sensitizing your child's coach to the challenges LD and AD/HD present during sports can further protect your child from future problems.
Coaching Your Child before the Game
Help your child understand that sports are as much a mental pursuit as a physical game. Explain how having LD or AD/HD poses additional challenges due to the cluster of symptoms that can interfere with one's performance. Such symptoms include:
Gently suggest that your child's sense of sportsmanship and teamwork may also take a backseat when these troubles surface. Offer an optimistic forecast that preparing for these hurdles will increase the odds of your child enjoying - and succeeding - at sports. While it's important to carefully consider your child's preferences in sports, don't hesitate to tactfully present your own point of view. Certain roles, such as infielder in baseball or offense in soccer, offer much more "game-time stimuli" to keep your child's attention on the game. However, children with certain types of LD are better served by team roles offering intermittent stimuli since they have more time to prepare themselves for the correct response. Other factors, such as a preference for team vs. individual sports, should also be reviewed in light of your child's unique pattern of strengths and limitations.
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