From 15 years of using recreation and sports in the treatment of hyperactive children, it is my impression that certain activities are much better than others. Baseball, for a negative example, can be a nightmare for these children because of its slow pace and the need for well-developed motor skills and hand-eye coordination skills. However, other activities help children learn to enjoy athletics and, in fact, often awaken in them a passion for sports.
Soccer is one of the most attractive sports for young children with attention deficit disorder. Currently it is the second largest sport for children in the United States, quite remarkable for a country without a soccer tradition. For young hyperactive children it is often ideal because it entails ample participation for all, lots of running, and kicking a relatively large ball. Position play is not terribly important at younger age levels, and the natural impulsiveness of hyperactive children does not interfere with their performance. In addition, since most coaches of youngsters in this sport are parents who do not particularly know the nuances of soccer, they usually allow the children to go out and have a good time.
Soccer is a good building block for other sports because it enhances speed, endurance, and leg strength, and is very safe. In addition, the hyperactive child does not look that much different from other kids on the field. Most communities have summer and fall soccer programs, and warmer climates provide for soccer year-round. Older children may find soccer enjoyable if they can be coached, i.e., if they listen well, follow instructions, and learn to play positions.
Taekwondo and karate are, in my experience, the most enjoyable sports for hyperactive children after soccer. Parents often do a double take when these sports are mentioned, fearing that a martial art will lead to serious social problems for their children because of their impulsiveness and aggressiveness. However, to me, Taekwondo and karate are two of the most therapeutic programs for children with this syndrome, and children can start as early as 4 or 5 years of age.
These sports are beneficial because they involve structure, rules, rituals, a stop-and-think attitude, and absolute obedience. No techniques are taught until the children have learned to stop, listen, and think. Classes usually are small. The techniques are monitored carefully, emphasizing over and over that these are sports and are not to be used for any aggressive play. Students who disobey the rules usually are expelled from the class.
Swimming usually is well suited to children with attention deficit disorder. Swimming tends to be a fairly explosive activity in which impulsiveness may be an advantage. In general, swimming is highly recommended for children with motor coordination problems.
Wrestling programs for hyperactive children also have been quite successful. In wrestling, the coach usually teaches the athlete one-on-one, which enhances listening and works better than group teaching. As in swimming and soccer, endurance and stamina are improved, as is strength of all muscle groups.
Other activities in which hyperactive children have been particularly successful are diving, weight lifting, track and field, gymnastics, and, in some cases, tennis and golf. Tennis and golf, however, are difficult to learn and often end in frustration, which may bring out more of the attention deficit symptoms. Weight lifting is a fairly explosive sport which does not require sustained concentration, but it should be done under the guidance of a coach and should be reserved for children who are physically mature enough to avoid injury.