Believe it or not, many professional and Olympic athletes have something in common completely unrelated to their physical capabilities: a huge number of ultra-successful athletes all have ADHD. Having made this correlation, experts are now wondering, is there something about ADHD that allows an athlete to perform better? Or is this just an interesting coincidence?
It seems very likely that ADHD and athleticism are found together not because they are directly related, but because the restlessness commonly found in people with ADHD isoften ameliorated by engaging in activities which require close attention to a multitude of details — activities like sports, which are fast-paced and require extreme bouts of concentration on one detail for only seconds at a time before another detail must be analyzed. Psychologists who specialize in sports-related issues have, according to one Forbes article, estimated that as many as 20 percent of all professional athletes could have ADHD (compared to about four to eight percent of the entire adult population).
As psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer notes in the Forbes article, conditions of ADHD which tend to be viewed negatively in daily settings are often seen as strengths when it comes to sports. Traits such as high energy levels, the ability to thrive in chaotic situations, and the ability to “hyper-focus” in short bursts of time, are often chastised in normal school and domestic settings, but become invaluable assets in pretty much any sport. In turn, athletes find that other parts of their lives become more stable because the rigorous training schedules and strict discipline required for athletics can be applied to other activities, especially after an athlete has become so accustomed to a strict schedule that he or she applies it to daily activities without even thinking about it.
Furthermore, many athletes with ADHD have even noted that going off traditional medications and applying professional and self-taught methods to attention- and organizational-related problems was not only a healthy choice for physical reasons, but that it helped them control their ADHD without relying on medication, and knowing that they had control over their bodies and minds gave them more confidence than any drug could. The importance of this study — and the openness of so many influential athletes — will hopefully create a more welcoming environment for young people struggling with ADHD, and will teach others that ADHD is not a disease, but rather, it is a blessing.