His name is synonymous with swimming. Olympic gold medal swimming, in fact. But to his mother, Michael’s childhood was synonymous with something else: ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
It’s a condition that affects over 17 million Americans, and October is ADHD Awareness Month, a way to recognize and raise awareness for a condition that impacts both children and adults, and a way to stand with them as they develop methods to overcome the struggles that might make an ordinary day seem insurmountable.
Enter swimming. And Michael Phelps.
By the age of nine, Michael’s struggles were affecting him in the classroom to a degree that prompted his mother to cautiously pursue medication, but by the age of eleven, Michael asked to stop taking the prescription; he had committed his extra time to swimming and it was doing more good for his brain than anything else he had tried. According to a report by ADDitude Magazine, parents, children, counselors, coaches and gym teachers named swimming one of the best sports for children with ADHD.
Swimming, however, wasn’t “love at first stroke” for Michael. His mother recalls, “At age seven, he hated getting his face wet. We flipped him over and taught him the backstroke.” These creative methods to keep Michael in the water may have played into his eventual commitment to swimming, and he went on to earn 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, and today holds 7 world records.
So what was it about swimming that calmed the mind of a boy who had “immense difficulties concentrating and sitting still,” according to his third grade teacher?
Here are a few reasons:
1. Swimming Creates Routine & Structure
According to Michael’s mother, swimming provided a routine that helped him develop time management skills and valuable parameters. “The pool itself helped Michael. ADHD children need parameters,” she says. “There’s nothing better for that than two lane lines! Even if Michael’s mind was all over the place, he could focus on going up and down the pool. Plus, water itself has a calming, soothing effect. I think the pool became a safe haven where he could release his energy.”
2. Swimming Offers Opportunity For Individual Sports
Swimming, even for a team, is relatively individualistic. According to Dr. Lawrance Diller in Psychology Today, “From my years of experience treating children with ADHD, I know that they do better with individual oriented sports like swimming or track (even tennis) compared to team sports like baseball or even soccer.”
3. Swimming Is Energy-Burning Exercise
According to ADDitude Magazine, “Exercise can help control symptoms of ADHD by raising the baseline levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.” Exercise sharpens cognition and helps the brain focus, and according to John Ratey, M.D., author of Spark, “30 minutes to an hour a day of physical activity helps kids manage ADHD symptoms.” Swimming is a full body workout, burning 500-700 calories per hour, and, simply put, is a GREAT workout!
4. Swimming Helps With Focus And Attention
Maintaining consistent focus is challenging for any child, but for children with ADHD, it’s nearly impossible. “Swimming and diving are highly recommended for children with ADHD and learning disabilities that affect organization, spatial awareness and difficulty with game concepts and strategies,” says Sandy Maynard, MS Health Psychology and ADDitude Magazine contributor.
5. Swimming Builds Confidence & Improves Self-Esteem
Kids with ADHD are constantly bombarded with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, but excel with structure and guidance – and swimming can provide just that. Valuable one-on-one coaching, social interaction, the ability to excel in an individual sport and personal development without direct comparison to others are all areas in which children with ADHD can build confidence in and out of the water.
At Aqua-Tots Swim Schools we know that swimming is about more than simple strokes and blowing bubbles in the water. It can positively impact the WHOLE person – body, mind and spirit. Enroll your child in confidence-building, energy-focusing swim lessons as early as 4 months old! After all, your little busy body may be learning their very first strokes toward Olympic gold!