For Coaches
October: ADHD Awareness Month

October: ADHD Awareness Month


Editor’s Note: In recognition of October being ADHD Awareness Month SportingKid Live is sharing the following piece that offers some great tips for coaching kids who have an Attention Deficit Disorder or an Auditory Processing Disorder. This article originally appeared on the USA Swimming website and is reposted with permission. The National Alliance for Youth Sports also offers Mental Health Challenges, an online training program which is free to NYSCA coaches interested in learning more about coaching kids with mental health challenges.   

By Jan Curley

“The next set is 4 100’s free on 1:20.  Ready – Go!” "Johnny, what are you doing?  Did you not hear what I said? You need to listen when I give the set.” “Why does that kid never listen? He never hears what I say.”  

Sound familiar?  There usually is one student per classroom and one student athlete per team. Makes you wonder. Do these kids choose not to listen or could there be more to this than not listening? 

Although there are a few athletes that probably really choose not to listen, there are probably more athletes that have a hard time listening because of an underlying disorder. To most effectively coach these athletes, a coach must be aware of possible disorders. Having knowledge of a disorder will help a coach better understand an athlete who is having problems listening and following directions in the pool. A coach must use outside resources in order to come to the best conclusion as to how to most effectively communicate with these athletes.  

What could the underlying disorders be? Two disorders will be addressed in this article: APD – Auditory Processing Disorder and ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder.

Auditory Processing Disorder is a neurological dysfunction that affects how a person processes auditory input.  The difficulty is not in the ability to hear sounds. It could be a delay in processing sound input or difficulty distinguishing among various sounds in the foreground or background. Processing of auditory information involves attention, detection, identification, comprehension, and memory of a signal. A child with APD has adequate hearing acuity. They can hear sounds. However, they have difficulty in understanding or making sense of what they hear. There is a glitch between the ear and the brain.

Attention Deficit Disorder is a neurobehavioral disorder of childhood. There are three basic types of ADD.

1. Inattentive type: the child has difficulty organizing or finishing a task, difficulty paying attention to details, and difficulty following instructions or conversations. The child is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines. The child usually does not have any difficulty sitting still.

2. Hyperactive-Impulsive Type: The child is impulsive, fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long. The child feels restless. The child may interrupt a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the child to wait their turn or listen to directions. 

3. Combined Type: symptoms of the above two types are equally predominant in the child. The child has difficulty staying in one place for a period of time. In addition, he/she appears forgetful and is easily distracted. 

Every child that is hyper does not have attention deficit disorder and every child that is a poor listener does not have auditory processing disorder.  

The difference between the two disorders is the source of the distracters. For APD the distracters are external and for ADD the distracters are internal. An athlete with APD most likely will have difficulty secondary to other athletes talking, whistles being blown on the other side of the pool, or the sound of the pool pump. An athlete with ADD most likely will have difficulty secondary to thinking about the movie he/she saw last night, remembering the story a friend told them before practice, or how cool it would be to be sky diving over the Grand Canyon.  

Often athletes will be very aware if the distracters are external or internal. A coach should ask the athlete in a non public setting why they think they are having a hard time getting all the information. Parents and teachers also will have extensive knowledge as to a confirmed diagnosis or what they see in the classroom or at home.  

A child is diagnosed with ADD by a psychologist. APD is usually diagnosed by an audiologist, speech-language pathologist and a psychologist. Identification is very important in the classroom but less important in the pool. However, confirmation of a diagnosis helps all involved with an athlete in understanding and knowing the best ways to instruct the athlete.  

Neither disorder is curable. ADD is usually treated with behavior modifications, nutrition, and/or medication. APD is treated by teaching strategies and ways to compensate for the disorder.  

There are many key areas which may be affected. Six areas to be aware of are listed below.  

1. Auditory Awareness or Recognition

Often these athletes may only be hearing those speaking next to them and not aware of the coach’s voice.  It is important for the athlete to be aware of which message they should be attending to.

2. Extraction or Decoding the Message

Some athletes have difficulty understanding the message. This may include the sequence or order of what they are being asked to do.  It may also include the basic understanding of the message. “Did Coach say back or black?”

3. Attention

The athlete needs to be ready to attend to the message. They need to do more than listen. Looking at the speaker, focusing or filtering out competing noise, and striving to not lose focus are important to maintain attention. 

4. Memory

Now that the coach has told the athlete the next set, the athlete needs to remember what the coach said. The athlete needs to get the information into working memory, hold that information in working memory, and be able to retrieve that information from working memory.

5. Integration

Now that the athlete has attended to the information and has been able to memorize what to do, the athlete needs to put it all together. He/She needs to take this information and be able to do something with it. “Coach asked me to put on my fins and kick 5 100’s on 1:30. O.K. First I need to put on my fins, put my goggles on, look at the clock and leave at the top. O.K. I need to remember to kick 4 laps. Always leave at the top, and do this 5 times.”

The athlete also must have the ability to change the routine if instructed to do so.  This may include changing how he/she is swimming a certain stroke, switching lanes, or stopping during the middle of a set to talk to the coach, refocus, and pick up where he/she left off.  

6. Organization

All areas listed above require the ability to be organized. Athletes must come to practice with the correct equipment – training suit, goggles, fins, etc.

There are many strategies that a coach can implement to most effectively work with an athlete that is experiencing difficulties in one or all of the areas listed above.  

1. Communication

Communication is key. Parents, teachers, fellow coaches, and most importantly the athlete may have strategies that have worked in the past. Ask others what is the most effective way to communicate with the athlete. Always let the athlete be aware of the strategies and why you are using them.

2. Delivery Style

Concise and audible often works best. The less a coach says the less there is to attend to, remember, and sequence. If the coach is soft spoken, competing noise will most likely be heard over the coach’s voice.  

3. Preferential placement

Having the athlete in front of the coach and close to any visual information will help the athlete.  It will also allow the coach to be aware of whether the athlete is attending or not.

4. Pre-teach

Reviewing the workout before practice allows the athlete more time to instill the workout into working memory. A message repeated more than once is often easier to remember. Having the workout posted helps those athletes who are better visual learners than they are auditory learners. By pre-teaching, the athlete may have an easier time transitioning between sets. The athlete will know what to expect. This will also help with organizational skills. The athlete will be able to plan what to have at their lane.

5. Visual Aid

Often the athlete with ADD or APD is a better visual learner versus auditory learner.  Have the workout written on a white board by the pool or having waterproof note cards at the lane will help in being able to comprehend, remember, and perform what is being asked of the athlete.

6. Monitor Reception of the Message

Look for “deer in the head lights” or following what the other athletes are doing. Coaches need to be aware of whether the message was received. Repeating the message may be required. Be careful. You do not want to be repeating the set over and over.  The athlete also needs to be responsible for letting you know if they didn’t hear or understand the set.  

7. Compassion

This is the most important strategy of all. Be a positive in the athlete’s life. Help them feel successful by showing them that with hard work they can achieve their goals even with obstacles. Often these athletes have a low self esteem. They often hear that they never listen in the classroom, at home, or in the pool. Help them see that with the help of strategies that they can attend and perform to the best of their abilities.

For more information about swimming or to find a club near you, please visit

ADHD Coaching Disorders ADD

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